Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

In a major policy revision intended to encourage more schools to welcome children back to in-person instruction, federal health officials on Friday relaxed the six-foot distancing rule for elementary school students, saying they need only remain three feet apart in classrooms as long as everyone is wearing a mask.

The three-foot rule also now applies to students in middle schools and high schools, as long as community transmission is not high, officials said. When transmission is high, however, these students must be at least six feet apart, unless they are taught in cohorts, or small groups that are kept separate from others, and the cohorts are kept six feet apart.

The six-foot rule still applies in the community at large, officials emphasized, and for teachers and other adults who work in schools, who must maintain that distance from other adults and from students.

Most schools are already operating at least partially in person, and evidence suggests they are doing so relatively safely. Research shows in-school spread can be mitigated with simple safety measures such as masking, distancing, hand-washing and open windows.

“The big discussion is about three feet versus six feet, and there’s no question that going from six feet to three feet is going to add a small amount of additional risk,” said Lynsey Marr, an experts in airborne viruses at Virginia Tech. “But so far, from studies we’ve seen, the difference between three feet and six feet is not substantial.”

“My one caveat is that they should really make it clear that you can go to three feet only if you have done everything else correctly,” she added. “You’re requiring masking, you have checked your ventilation and added filtration if the ventilation’s not good — those types of things.”

Dr. Westyn Branch-Elliman, an infectious diseases specialist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, led a recent study on schools in Massachusetts that concluded three feet was a safe distance. “The reality is that the biggest barrier to getting kids back in school was this question of three versus six feet,” she said. “This breaks down a couple major barriers to getting kids back to school.”

In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.”

In announcing the change, the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, cited findings from studies in several states. “We are following the science,” she said.

Teachers’ unions across the country have argued forcefully for six-feet of distancing, and have lobbied the C.D.C. and the Biden administration to maintain the previous guidance.

On Friday, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest educators’ union, released a statement saying she would “reserve judgment” on the new distancing guidelines pending further review of research on how the virus behaves in school settings. Becky Pringle, president of the largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, raised similar concerns.

At the White House virus briefing on Friday, Dr. Walensky said she had spoken to the teachers unions. “They know that we need to follow the science and to make our guidance based on that science, and they’ve been very respectful of that,” she said.

Still, the statement from the C.D.C. lags behind some local health agencies across the country. Illinois and Massachusetts have already indicated that three feet of distance can be appropriate in schools. County-level health officials have also played an important role in guiding the decisions of school boards and superintendents, who have often been overwhelmed by conflicting public health guidelines.

Dr. Walensky explained that the agency is always updating its guidance as new evidence becomes available. A recent study in Boston found no significant differences in the number of infections in school districts in Massachusetts that adopted a three-foot rule, when compared with those that required six feet of distance. Additional C.D.C. studies examining safety in schools were also released Friday.

The new guidance emphasizes that good air flow and ventilation in school buildings is a critical component of maintaining a safe environment, and continues to stress multiple layers of preventive behaviors including universal masking, hand washing, cleaning buildings and doing contact tracing, combined with isolation and quarantine.

Adults in schools must continue to stay six feet apart from other adults and from students, officials said. The six foot rule still applies in common areas of schools like lobbies and auditoriums, any time students are eating or drinking and cannot wear a mask, and during activities that involve more exhalation — like singing, shouting, band practice, sports or any exercise, activities that “should be moved outdoors or to large well-ventilated spaces whenever possible.”

Other scientists say the guidelines may not go far enough. There’s not clear evidence that high levels of community transmission make in-person schooling riskier, said Dr. Elissa Perkins, the director of emergency medicine infectious disease management at Boston University School of Medicine, who co-authored the Massachusetts study.

“I applaud the move to get elementary schools back in person regardless of community transmission.” she said. “And I also understand that there is some hesitancy about applying that to middle and high school students, although I’m not sure that it is fully in keeping with the evidence that we’ve seen to date.”

While the majority of school buildings are currently open at least partially, the six-foot rule has prevented many from shifting to full-time, in-person schedules.

In liberal states and districts where teachers’ unions have collective bargaining power, the new C.D.C. guidance may strengthen the negotiating position of district officials seeking to return students to more normal, in-person schedules.

But many issues remain contentious and unresolved. Although the C.D.C. is continuing to recommend six feet of distance when children are eating, the fact that students need to remove their masks at lunch has raised concerns for educators and their unions.

It is not unusual, across the country, for schools to remain closed one day per week — typically Wednesdays — for what is sometimes described as a day of “deep cleaning.” Yet many experts have emphasized that because the coronavirus is spread through the air, surface disinfection is less important than masking and ventilation.

The days out of school are used by many teachers to prepare lessons and strategies for what remains a new and challenging mode of instruction, in which some students are in classrooms while others remain at home. Indeed, there is still a significant minority of parents, many of them Black, Hispanic and Asian, who are hesitant to return their children to schools during the pandemic.

C.D.C. officials relied on the findings of several other new studies about transmission in schools to rewrite their guidelines. The studies, published Friday, examined viral transmission in schools in Florida, St. Louis and Springfield, Mo., and Salt Lake County, Utah. The findings varied, but all papers emphasized the critical role that universal mask-wearing plays in curbing school-associated infections.

United States › United StatesOn March 18 14-day change
New cases 60,859 –13%
New deaths 1,558 –28%

World › WorldOn March 18 14-day change
New cases 553,661 +23%
New deaths 10,422 +2%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Where states are reporting vaccines given

Prime Minister Jean Castex of France receiving a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday. 
Credit…Pool photo by Thomas Coex

France resumed administering the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday, but only to people aged 55 and above, as the country’s prime minister himself got a shot live on television to restore crucial trust in the jab.

The Haute Autorité de Santé, France’s top health regulator, officially gave its green light to resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations on Friday “without delay.” But noting that the rare cases of blood clotting disorders recorded around Europe had occurred among people younger than 55, it recommended using the vaccine only for people older than that.

Jean Castex, the country’s 55-year-old prime minister, flashed a thumbs up at television cameras after getting his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a military hospital in the Val-de-Marne area, southeast of Paris.

Unlike leaders in other countries, top government officials in France had thus far been reluctant to promote vaccination by getting their shots in public, many of them arguing that they did not fit the criteria currently defined by French health authorities and that they would wait for their turn.

But trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine was badly shaken after several countries, including Germany, Italy and France, temporarily suspended its use over worries about rare cases of blood clotting disorders among those who had gotten the shot.

France has been experiencing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, jumping 24 percent in just a week. The variant first identified in Britain now represents three-quarters of new cases, and several regions, including the hard-hit area that includes Paris, began a new lockdown on Friday that will last for at least a month.

Last week, health officials in Paris ordered hospitals to cancel many of their procedures to make room for Covid-19 patients. And this week some patients were transferred to other regions to ease the pressure on hospitals.

The health regulator said that France had only recorded three cases of clotting disorders after administering 1.4 million AstraZeneca doses: one involving a 26-year-old woman who experienced disseminated intravascular coagulation; and two cases of cerebrovascular thrombosis, one in a 51-year-old man and the other in a 24-year-old woman.

Until “complementary data” was available on these rare cases, messenger RNA vaccines like the Pfizer one should be used for people younger than 55, the regulator said.

Credit…Pool photo by Seth Wenig

A federal investigation into Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic has focused in recent weeks on whether the governor and his senior aides provided false data on resident deaths to the Justice Department, according to four people with knowledge of the investigation.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have contacted lawyers for Mr. Cuomo’s aides, interviewed senior officials from the state Health Department and subpoenaed Mr. Cuomo’s office for documents related to the disclosure of data last year, the people said.

The interviews have included questions about information New York State submitted last year to the Justice Department, which had asked the state for data on Covid-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes, according to the people. False statements in such a submission could constitute a crime.

In some cases, agents traveled to the homes of state health officials to interview them about the data. In others, they spoke to officials by phone, according to the people, who requested anonymity to discuss the active investigation.

The actions, which came in recent weeks, appeared to add to the legal pressure faced by Mr. Cuomo, as well as by his most senior aides, who may have played a role in withholding the true count of nursing home deaths from the public for months.

A spokesman for the Eastern District of New York, which is overseeing the investigation, declined to comment.

Elkan Abramowitz, an outside lawyer hired by the state to represent the governor’s office in the federal inquiry, said in a statement that “the submission in response to D.O.J.’s August request was truthful and accurate and any suggestion otherwise is demonstrably false.”

Mr. Cuomo has faced scrutiny for months over his policies related to nursing homes. The question of how many nursing home residents had died — both in the facilities and after being treated at hospitals — became a political issue for Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, as he came under criticism from both Democrats in Albany and from national Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump.




Biden: U.S. on Track for 100 Million Vaccinations Since Jan. 20

President Biden said Thursday the U.S. would on Friday reach his Covid-19 vaccine goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, though he had earlier conceded they should aim higher.

In the last week, we’ve seen increases in the number of cases in several states — scientists have made clear that things may get worse as new variants of this virus spread. Getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to fight back against these variants. While millions of people are vaccinated, we need millions more to be vaccinated. And I’m proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans. That’s weeks ahead of schedule. Eight weeks ago, only 8 percent of seniors, those most vulnerable to Covid-19, had received a vaccination. Today, 65 percent of people age 65 or older have received at least one shot. And 36 percent are fully vaccinated. This is a time for optimism, but it’s not a time for relaxation. I need all Americans, I need all of you to do your part. Keep the faith, keep wearing the mask, keep washing your hands and keep socially distanced. We’re going to beat this. We’re way ahead of schedule, but we’ve got a long way to go.

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President Biden said Thursday the U.S. would on Friday reach his Covid-19 vaccine goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, though he had earlier conceded they should aim higher.CreditCredit…Jon Cherry for The New York Times

Floridians 50 years and older will be eligible to get a vaccine on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, and there are plans to make shots available for all adult residents in the coming weeks.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said it made sense to broaden eligibility now that, he said, 70 percent of Florida’s senior population has been vaccinated.

Some counties, including Orange and Miami-Dade, have expanded eligibility ahead of the state doing so. On Monday, Orange County residents 40 years and older, and Miami-Dade residents 50 years and older can start signing up for shots, their local officials said.

At least 17 other states have announced expansions to vaccine eligibility as the pace of daily shots administered across the country has steadily increased to an average of about 2.5 million doses a day, as of Thursday, according to a New York Times analysis of data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is a rate that is now 12 percent higher than it was a week ago.

“The light that we can see at end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Democrat of Illinois, said Thursday when he announced expansions to vaccine eligibility in his state.

Last week, President Biden set a deadline of May 1 for states to make vaccines available to all adult residents.

States have been able to open vaccinations up to more people as supply has steadily increased; the Biden administration has bulked up the vaccine production and distribution campaign, though its key elements were in place before he took office. The White House press secretary, Jennifer Psaki, said this week another 22 million vaccine doses were to be sent to states, jurisdictions and pharmacies this week.

As of Thursday, more than 115 million shots have been administered since inoculations began in mid-December. Since Jan. 20, the day Mr. Biden was sworn in as president, 99.2 million shots have been administered across the country as reported by the C.D.C.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a trip to Georgia on Friday, Mr. Biden suggested the United States could reach a point in the future where officials are administering five million doses a day. “Hopefully we’ll keep the pace of about 2.5 million a day,” he said, “which we may be able to get to — we may be able to double.”

The president said a day earlier he expects to reach his goal of the United States administering 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days on Friday, six weeks ahead of his self-imposed deadline.

During those brief remarks on Thursday, the president maintained that the 100-million-shot goal was ambitious, even though he conceded in January that the government should be aiming higher.

Mr. Biden’s comments on Thursday continued to claim unexpectedly fast progress in meeting his vaccine goal, even as public health officials have said that his goal was less ambitious and easier to achieve.

Five days after he was inaugurated, Mr. Biden had said the United States would aim to administer 1.5 million vaccine doses a day, a target that was reached a few weeks later.

Eligible only in some counties

Eligible only in some counties

Eligible only in some counties

More than 75 million people in the country have received at least one shot of a vaccine, which is about 23 percent of the adult population, and about 12 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated, as of Thursday.

Florida is in line with the nation’s overall progress, with 22 percent of the population receiving at least one shot, and 12 percent fully vaccinated.

Currently, Alaska leads the rest of the country, with 19 percent of its adult residents fully vaccinated. The state’s success is in a large part because of the steady supply of vaccines that were made available to Native Alaska tribes and a massive delivery effort that involved bush planes, boats, sleds and snow mobiles. Everyone who lives or works in the state and is 16 or older is eligible for the shots.

Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa, center behind brown box, who plans to climb Mount Everest, arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Monday.
Credit…Nishant S. Gurung/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KATHMANDU, Nepal — A peculiar vaccine drama is unfolding at the international airport in Nepal’s capital. It involves a member of Bahrain’s royal family who arrived with thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccines from China for an expedition to Mount Everest.

Before setting out, a team of Bahraini climbers led by Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa had announced that they would be coming with 2,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, which Nepal’s government said would be of the AstraZeneca kind.

This move would fulfill a pledge that the climbers had made to local villagers during another expedition last September — a promise of generosity that led the villagers to name a local hill “Bahrain Peak.”

But when the climbers arrived in the capital, Kathmandu, on Monday, an inquiry by Nepal’s drug regulators found that the vaccines they were carrying were actually the one developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned vaccine maker.

The Nepali authorities now find themselves in a fix: whether to accept the vaccine doses or refuse.

The doses are being held in cold storage at the airport, and the climbers have been quarantined at a hotel as the authorities ponder how to handle the situation.

Nepal has largely relied on the AstraZeneca vaccine for its rollout, which is off to a slow start. Relying on a donation of one million doses from India, Nepal has vaccinated about 1.7 million people in a country of about 30 million.

Its efforts have been slowed because of a delay in the delivery of two million vaccine doses that it bought from the Serum Institute of India.

Although Nepal approved the emergency use of the Sinopharm vaccine after China pledged to give 500,000 doses to the country, it has not received the Chinese donation.

In September, the Bahraini climbers arrived in Nepal in a chartered plane to climb two mountains, Mount Manaslu and Lobuche Peak. The vaccine doses they were carrying this week were a gift for villagers in Samagaun, a gateway to Mount Manaslu.

The team of Bahraini climbers could not be reached for comment. But Mingma Sherpa, the owner of Seven Summit Treks, the agency that has been organizing the Bahrain team’s Everest expedition, said the complications might have resulted from miscommunication between Nepal’s foreign ministry and the health ministry.

He said the Sinopharm vaccine had also been used during Bahrain’s vaccination drive.

“It’s up to the government,” Mr. Sherpa said. “If they think it’s OK, the vaccines will be administered to villagers. If they think it’s risky to vaccinate the people, the team will take the vaccine back to Bahrain.”

Marge Rohlf receiving a vaccination at the Madrid Home in Iowa in January.
Credit…Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register, via Associated Press

For the first time in nearly a year, Iowa is reporting that there are no active coronavirus outbreaks in any of the state’s long-term care facilities.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 2,200 residents of those facilities have died from the virus, according to Iowa’s Covid-19 dashboard. But the rate of outbreaks began a steep decline in January, when the state ramped up vaccinations for residents and staff.

In the first two weeks of January alone, cases declined 70 percent, from 410 to 119 by mid-January, according to the Iowa Health Care Association. Of the state’s 445 skilled nursing homes and 258 assisted-living facilities, 146 were experiencing outbreaks in December.

“This is a big milestone,” said Nola Aigner Davis, the public health communications officer for the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. “It really speaks volumes of how effective this vaccine is.”

For much of the pandemic, residents and employees in nursing homes have been among the most vulnerable people in the country.

The coronavirus, as of late February, had scythed through more than 31,000 long-term care facilities and killed at least 172,000 people living and working in them. More than 1.3 million long-term care residents and workers have been infected over the past year.

Of Iowa’s 5,673 deaths, nearly 60 percent were people over age 80.

That has changed, however, with the advent of vaccinations.

Facilities for older people were given early priority for shots, and from late December to early February, a New York Times analysis found, new cases among nursing home residents — a subset of long-term care residents — fell more than 80 percent. That was about double the rate of improvement in the general population.

Even as fatalities were peaking in the general population, deaths inside the facilities decreased more than 65 percent.

About 4.8 million residents and employees in long-term care facilities have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 2.8 million have been fully vaccinated.

Maria Alyokhina, center, a member of Pussy Riot, at a hearing at the Moscow City Court in February.
Credit…Moscow City Court Press Service, via Shutterstock

A Russian court has confined some of the country’s most prominent opposition figures to house arrest on accusations that they violated coronavirus safety rules, in what appears to be a government effort to use the restrictions to muzzle its opponents.

The legal action, known as a “sanitary case,” targets 10 opposition politicians and dissidents, including the senior leadership of Aleksei A. Navalny’s organization and members of the protest group Pussy Riot. All are accused of inciting others to violate rules introduced last spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Their lawyers have denied that they did.

Prosecutors say their social media posts promoting a protest in Moscow in January resulted in attendance by 19 people who were legally required to isolate because of positive Covid-19 tests, thus putting at risk others who attended.

Defense lawyers say the authorities are cynically twisting coronavirus rules to isolate people who pose no infection risk but are seen by the government as posing a political one.

“The ideological intent is to label opposition figures as infectious, as toxic, as poisoners of the public,” said Danil Berman, a lawyer for Maria Alyokhina, a member of Pussy Riot who was one of those targeted. Isolating key leaders before parliamentary elections scheduled for this year also hobbles the opposition, he said.

Many people around the world have complained that coronavirus restrictions have infringed on their freedoms as a byproduct of safety measures. But the Russian opposition members argue that the government is using the restrictions against them with the specific aim of curbing their liberty.

Online posts from the opposition figures promoting the protest did not specifically encourage people who were sick to attend, as the government charged, defense lawyers say. Lockdowns in Moscow had in any case been mostly lifted months earlier.

Also, the defense lawyers say, the rules are selectively enforced to restrict opposition activity while allowing pro-government events to go ahead with few restrictions, though the virus would spread as readily at either type of gathering.

Hiking at Zion National Park in Utah in November.
Credit…Nikki Boliaux for The New York Times

Last June, as Americans began to emerge from lockdowns and into a new yet still uncertain stage of the pandemic, Amy Ryan and her family set sail in a 44-foot catamaran and headed up the Atlantic coast. They haven’t stopped sailing since.

Ms. Ryan’s husband, Casey Ryan, 56, was on partly paid leave from his job as an airline pilot. School was remote for their daughters, now 7 and 11. Ms. Ryan, a real estate agent, could manage her team from anywhere.

For nine months, the Ryans have been hopscotching, first up the coast and later in the Caribbean. “We’re so secluded most of the time, we won’t see any people on land for weeks at a time,” Ms. Ryan said. The biggest challenge is finding a Covid-19 test before setting sail for a new location.

For many people, the past 12 months have been lived in a state of suspended animation, with dreams and plans deferred until further notice amid worry over venturing out for even basic excursions. But some people, like the Ryans, took the restrictions — virtual school and remote work — as an opportunity to pick up and go somewhere else. With a good internet connection, a Zoom conference call can happen just as easily on a boat or in the back of a camper as it can in a living room.

Many people bristle at the idea of anyone taking a trip at all, let alone traveling indefinitely at a time of immense suffering. School and office closings weren’t meant to make it easier to see the world; they were intended to persuade people to stay home and slow the spread of a deadly virus. And with many out of work and struggling to pay bills, or trying to balance parenting with the demands of remote work, it would have been impossible.

But these families insist that their “slow travel” methods — allowing for only rare encounters with other people indoors — are no more dangerous than staying home. Spend your time crisscrossing the country in a camper and staying in state parks, and you rarely encounter anyone outside your family, except to get food and gas.

“This pandemic has been so incredibly hard for everybody, and people are finding their ways of managing and getting through it,” said Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adding that isolated activities like sailing and camping are not inherently risky.

Until the pandemic, the Ryans weren’t sailors, nor had they ever planned to be. But they spent the lockdown watching YouTube videos about families that sail. By May, they had bought a boat with no idea how long they would be on it.

“If it hadn’t been for Covid,” Ms. Ryan said, “there is no way this would have happened.”

On a bus in central Kyiv in January.
Credit…Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Ukraine’s capital will become the latest European city to go into lockdown, with strict three-week measures being introduced for Kyiv on Saturday as vaccinations failed to prevent a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Restaurants, offices, schools, and shops selling goods other than food were ordered to close after months of relatively relaxed enforcement of safety measures.

The closings come as other parts of Europe are struggling with a surge in infections. A nationwide lockdown for Italy was announced on Monday, and several regions in France began a lockdown on Friday that will last for at least a month.

Even as case counts rose recently, Kyiv’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene often looked almost as if there were no pandemic. Night clubs stayed open, though they required mask-wearing on the dance floors.

But the partial measures did not work. Coronavirus hospitals in the city are 70 percent full, and Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday that 1,210 people had tested positive in the capital over the past 24 hours. Across Ukraine, the health authorities registered an average of 11,315 new cases a day over the past week.

“The situation is difficult and can become catastrophic,” Mr. Klitschko said this week.

Ukraine, which obtained vaccines in deals with India and China, has been slow to inoculate a population in which hesitancy over the vaccines is widespread. Just 0.2 percent of Ukraine’s population has been inoculated.

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