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Fauci Warns New Virus Mutations Are a ‘Wake-Up Call’On Friday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned that new virus variants, despite the global vaccine distribution, should offer a wake-up call to the continuing dangers of the pandemic.
We’re all aware of the variance that we knew dominated — the U.K. B.1.1.7 , the B.1.351 in South Africa and other variants, such as the P.1. in Brazil. When these variants were first recognized, it became clear that we had to look at, in vitro, in the test tube, whether the antibodies that were induced by the vaccines that we had available would actually neutralize these new mutants. Antigenic variation, i.e. mutations that lead to different lineage do have clinical consequences because as you can see, even though the long-range effect in the sense of severe disease is still handled reasonably well by the vaccines, this is a wake-up call to all of us that we will be dealing as the virus uses its devices to evade pressure, particularly immunological pressure, that we will continue to see the evolution of mutants. So that means that we as a government, the companies, all of us that are in this together, will have to be nimble to be able to just adjust readily to make versions of the vaccine that actually are specifically directed towards whatever mutation is actually prevalent at any given time.
On Friday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned that new virus variants, despite the global vaccine distribution, should offer a wake-up call to the continuing dangers of the pandemic.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned Friday that new clinical trial results from Johnson & Johnson, showing that its vaccine is less effective against a highly infectious variant of the coronavirus circulating in South Africa, were a “wake-up call.” He said the virus will continue to mutate, and vaccine manufacturers will have to be “nimble to be able to adjust readily” to reformulating the vaccines if needed.
Dr. Fauci’s warning, at the White House briefing on the virus, comes amid increasing concern about new and more infectious variants of the virus that are emerging overseas and turning up in the United States. This week, officials in South Carolina reported identifying two cases of the variant circulating in South Africa, and officials in Minnesota announced they had found a case of the variant that was first detected in Brazil.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was also at the briefing, said another variant, first identified in Britain, has now been confirmed in 379 cases in 29 states. She said officials remained concerned about the variants and were “rapidly ramping up surveillance and sequencing activities” to closely monitor them. Unlike Britain, the United States has been conducting little of the genomic sequencing necessary to track the spread of the variants.
Dr. Walensky also issued a plea to Americans to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing, and to avoid travel. Earlier this month, the C.D.C. warned that the variant circulating in Britain could become the dominant source of infection in the United States and would likely lead to a surge in cases and deaths that could overwhelm hospitals. And given the speed at which the variant swept through that country, it is conceivable that by April it could make up a large fraction of infections in the United States.
“By the time someone has symptoms, gets a test, has a positive result and we get the sequence, our opportunity for doing real case control and contact tracing is largely gone,” she said. “We should be treating every case as if it’s a variant during this pandemic right now.”
Friday’s briefing, the second in what the Biden White House has promised will be thrice-weekly updates on the pandemic, came just hours after Johnson & Johnson reported that while its vaccine was 72 percent effective in the United States, the efficacy rate was just 57 percent in South Africa, where a variant has been spreading.
Public health officials including Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky say the emergence of these variants is heightening the urgency of vaccinations. Dr. Fauci also said Friday that children under 16, who are not currently eligible for the vaccine, will likely start getting vaccinated “by late spring or early summer” if small-scale clinical trials show that it is safe and effective to do so.
He noted that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85 percent effective against severe disease, and called the results “very encouraging,” even though the vaccine is not as effective as those by Pfizer and Moderna, which have emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Johnson & Johnson will now seek its own emergency approval.
“This really tells us that we have now a value-added additional vaccine candidate,” he said.
But Dr. Walensky offered a far more sobering observation. While the daily number of new virus cases has been declining, the figures were still much higher than a period last summer, and deaths currently remain worrisome.
According to data compiled by The New York Times, new virus cases have averaged about 160,000 a day in recent days, compared to about 40,000 new cases a day around early September. As of Thursday, the seven-day average of new deaths was more than 3,200 a day, still near peak levels. The daily death toll has topped 4,000 deaths six times in the United States, including twice this week.
At Wednesday’s briefing by the Biden virus team, Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said the United States is lagging far behind other countries in sequencing the genomes of the new variants — a delay he called “totally unacceptable.” Dr. Walensky said she is working to change that.
“We have scaled up surveillance dramatically just in the last ten days, in fact, but our plans are more than what we’ve done so far,” Dr. Walensky said, adding that the C.D.C. is now asking every state to track for worrisome variants and sequence at least 750 samples from patients per week. In addition, she said, the agency has seven collaborations with universities to scale up surveillance to cover thousands of samples per week.
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Columbia University has mostly offered online instruction during the pandemic, and allowed only a sliver of students to live on campus or attend in-person classes. Credit…Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
Over 1,100 undergraduate and graduate students at Columbia University have pledged to withhold their tuition for the spring semester to demand a discount for what they see as a lost spring term.
While some universities have brought students back to campus, Columbia has mostly offered online instruction for students and allowed only a sliver of them to live on campus or attend in-person classes.
In response, students are asking the university to reduce their total costs — including tuition, fees, and room and board — by at least 10 percent, following suit of several schools including Georgetown University, Princeton University and Williams College. Columbia College, the university’s undergraduate school, can cost more than $80,000 a year for students not receiving financial aid.
Strike organizers said that both graduate and undergraduate students were participating; the university has more than 31,000 students.
“It’s a reasonable demand,” said Matthew Gamero, 19, a sophomore who is one of the strike organizers. “This is about the university providing an education of its worth, and to have it online is certainly not what we’re paying for.”
“This is a moment when an active reappraisal of the status quo is understandable, and we expect nothing less from our students,” the university said in a statement. “Their voices are heard by Columbia’s leadership, and their views on strengthening the University are welcomed.”
A tuition discount is only one of a series of demands made by strikers. They have also called on the university to reduce funding for campus policing, improve working conditions for graduate students and provide aid for the surrounding West Harlem community.
The tuition strike was officially kicked off after the spring term bill was due last Friday. For undergraduates, the university could impose a $150 late fee and prevent them from registering for summer or fall classes. The university could also penalize seniors by withholding their diplomas until their balance is paid.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was last held in 2019.Credit…Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which draws more than a hundred thousand fans daily from around the world to Southern California, is off for a third time.
A county health order canceled the event, as well as the country music festival, Stagecoach, on Friday, citing the recent virus surge that has plagued California for months, despite some recent progress. Both were to begin in April.
In the order, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, a public health officer for Riverside County, said both events are “gatherings of an international scope” that were too risky amid the surge and appearance of more contagious variants.
“If Covid-19 were detected at these festivals, the scope and number of attendees and the nature of the venue would make it infeasible, if not impossible, to track those who may be placed at risk,” the order said.
The Coachella festival, founded in 1999 and held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, draws up to 125,000 people a day and has come to be a bellwether for the multibillion-dollar touring business.
The festivals were some of the first major events canceled back in April 2020 in the early days of the pandemic. They were rescheduled for October, and in the fall were again postponed for April 2021.
New dates have not been announced.
On Friday night, Stagecoach’s homepage had its refund policy from 2020 posted on the landing page, but had not yet issued a statement. Coachella’s website did not mention the cancellation of the festival but highlighted its new clothing line released late last year.
While Coachella is one of the country’s biggest and most celebrated music events, Stagecoach is a smaller country music festival presented by the same promoter, Goldenvoice.
Last year’s Coachella was initially set to be headlined by the rapper Travis Scott, the singer Frank Ocean and a reunited Rage Against the Machine, along with dozens of other acts from across genres. Stagecoach was scheduled to feature Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, ZZ Top and more.
The concert industry has been essentially frozen since mid-March, when AEG and Live Nation, the corporations that dominate the live-music sphere, suspended all touring in North America in response to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving artists — as well as their crews and all other affiliated workers — unsure of when such large-scale events will return. Other major music festivals, including Lollapalooza in Chicago, Levitation in Austin and Summerfest in Milwaukee, have also been called off for the year.
E.U. Plans to Halt Vaccine Exports Until Supply Contracts Are MetThe European Union announced a plan that would effectively stop AstraZeneca from shipping Covid-19 vaccine doses manufactured in the bloc to other countries until its E.U. supply contracts are met.
The commission has adopted a strictly targeted measure that will allow us to gather accurate information about the production of vaccines and where manufacturers intend to ship them. The measure is time-limited and specifically applies to those Covid-19 vaccines that were agreed by advance purchase agreements. The measure is intended to run until the end of March. The aim is to provide us immediately with full transparency, transparency that until now has been lacking, and what Europeans expect. And if needed, it also will provide us with a tool to ensure vaccine deliveries.
The European Union announced a plan that would effectively stop AstraZeneca from shipping Covid-19 vaccine doses manufactured in the bloc to other countries until its E.U. supply contracts are met.CreditCredit…Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
BRUSSELS — The European Union on Friday announced plans to effectively halt any attempt by AstraZeneca to move vaccine doses manufactured in the bloc to other countries unless it first meets its supply obligations to the bloc’s 27 member states.
The move, the latest escalation in a dispute between the bloc and the pharmaceutical company over reduced supplies, came as the European Union’s drug regulator authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for use across its member states.
AstraZeneca said this month that it would significantly cut its promised delivery supply of the jab to the European Union as of mid-February. That pitted the bloc against Britain, a former member, which has been receiving a steady flow of vaccine doses from AstraZeneca since approving it well ahead of the E.U., in early December.
AstraZeneca, headquartered in Britain, developed its vaccine in cooperation with the University of Oxford, and is producing it at multiple plants, in Britain and on the continent.
The European Union accused the pharmaceutical company of using its promised doses to serve Britain, despite having paid the company about $400 million in October to help it scale up its capabilities and produce doses ahead of authorization.
The policy, which will go into effect on Saturday, presented as a “transparency tool,” will ask all pharmaceutical companies manufacturing coronavirus vaccines in factories within the bloc — currently Pfizer and AstraZeneca — to submit paperwork alerting the European authorities of any intention to move their products to non-E.U. countries. It will be in place until the end of March and will not apply to exports to poorer countries.
The Commission said it reserved the right to block such exports if it determined that the pharmaceutical companies were not meeting their contractual obligations with the E.U. first.
The British government said it was urgently seeking clarifications from the E.U.
The measure could theoretically also affect Pfizer clients, but the Commission has said it is happy with how that company has handled a supply disruption in its Belgian factory that is setting back deliveries. The company has spread the pain among its clients, which include the E.U., Britain and Canada.
The Commission said that AstraZeneca’s decision to maintain delivery volumes to Britain while slashing its deliveries to the E.U., after a problem arose in a Belgium-based plant, was in bad faith and breach of the company’s contractual obligations.
The company’s chief executive responded that he regretted the situation, but that his company had not committed to a specific schedule, but rather to a vow to make its “best effort.”
The Commission dismissed the claim, and published a heavily redacted version of the contract with AstraZeneca. The contract affords the company many standard protections in case it fails to deliver, but includes some clauses that could be seen as favoring the E.U. interpretation that AstraZeneca is obligated to turn to other factories, including in Britain, to fulfill its delivery promises.
The dispute with AstraZeneca is occurring against a backdrop of severe shortages of doses at vaccination centers across Europe. French and German regions have reported that they are nearly running out, and the Madrid region of Spain has suspended its rollout for at least two weeks until fresh deliveries arrive.
The E.U. regulator stopped short of imposing an age cap on the use of the vaccine, despite concerns about a paucity of data on the vaccine’s efficacy in people age 65 and older.
N.Y.C. Indoor Dining to Reopen on Valentine’s DayOn Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that indoor dining in New York City could resume at up to 25 percent capacity starting on Valentine’s Day.
New York City restaurants, on our current trajectory, we can reopen indoor dining at 25 percent on Valentine’s Day. The restaurants want a period of time so they can notify workers. They can get up to speed for indoor dining, order supplies, etc. So we’re saying indoor dining. 25 percent on Valentine’s Day. Going forward, we are very excited about the possibility of reopening venues with testing. Restaurants are opened on Valentine’s Day. You could make a reservation now or plan dinner on Valentine’s Day, you propose on Valentine’s Day. And then you can have the wedding ceremony March 15, up to 150 people. People will actually come to your wedding because you can tell them with the testing, it will be safe. Everybody there will be tested, and everybody will be safe.
On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that indoor dining in New York City could resume at up to 25 percent capacity starting on Valentine’s Day.CreditCredit…Clay Williams for The New York Times
Indoor dining will resume with limited capacity in New York City restaurants next month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Friday, more than a month after he had banned it to combat a second wave of the coronavirus.
Starting on Feb. 14, the city’s restaurants can seat customers indoors at 25 percent maximum capacity, he said.
The announcement was a source of hope for the restaurant industry, an important driver of the city’s economic engine, which has been decimated by ever-changing virus-induced restrictions that have forced many restaurants and bars to go out of business and caused thousands of workers to lose their jobs.
After shutting down restaurants in March, Mr. Cuomo allowed the city’s indoor dining to restart in late September. He prohibited it again in mid-December as holiday travel threatened to increase transmission of the virus and overwhelm hospitals.
Restaurants and bars that have stayed afloat have relied on takeout and delivery, as well as outdoor dining, an increasingly untenable option as the frigid winter advances.
It did not take long for New Yorkers to try to secure what will likely be a coveted reservation inside for Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
Cote, an upscale Korean barbecue steak house in the Flatiron district, will be able to double the number of people it can sit to about 100, up from the estimated 50 it can serve in its outside cabanas, according to the owner, Simon Kim.
“It’s been very challenging,” said Mr. Kim, adding that the restaurant already had a 100-reservation waiting list for Valentine’s Day. “Now that we are opening indoors, it’s going to mean we no longer have to hemorrhage tens of thousands dollars each week.”
Starting March 15, wedding receptions with up to 150 attendees will be allowed in the state, the governor said, as long as the venues are at no more than 50 percent capacity. The gatherings would have to be approved in advance by a local health department, and all attendees will have to be tested.
“We want to use testing as the key to reopening events,” Mr. Cuomo said.
The governor’s decisions come at an precarious phase in the state’s battle against the virus, which has killed more than 42,500 people in New York State, a one-time center of the pandemic.
Yankee Stadium will open its doors as a mass vaccination site, Mr. Cuomo said, pointing to high positivity rates in the Bronx. He did not specify a time frame.
Participating in a Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial at the Desmond Tutu H.I.V. Foundation Youth Center near Cape Town last month.Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times
Johnson & Johnson said on Friday that its one-dose coronavirus vaccine provided strong protection against Covid-19, offering the United States a third powerful tool in a race against a worldwide rise in virus mutations.
But the results came with a significant cautionary note: The vaccine’s efficacy rate dropped from 72 percent in the United States to 57 percent in South Africa, where a highly contagious variant is driving most cases. Studies suggest that this variant also blunts the effectiveness of Covid vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax.
The variant has spread to at least 31 countries, including two cases documented in the United States this week.
Johnson & Johnson said it planned to apply for emergency authorization of its vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration as soon as next week, putting it on track to receive clearance later in February.
“This is the pandemic vaccine that can make a difference with a single dose,” said Dr. Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer.
The company’s announcement comes as the Biden administration is pushing to immunize Americans faster even as vaccine supplies tighten. White House officials have been counting on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to ease the shortfall. But the company may have as few as seven million doses ready when the vaccine is authorized, according to federal health officials familiar with its production, and no more than 32 million doses by early April.
The variant from South Africa, known as B.1.351, could make the vaccine push tougher. Given the speed at which the variant swept through that country, it is conceivable that it could make up a large fraction of infections in the United States by April and therefore undermine the effectiveness of available vaccines.
The two vaccines approved by the U.S. government have been found to be less effective against the B.1.351 variant in clinical trials, a development that has unsettled federal officials and vaccine experts.
Many researchers say it is imperative to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. Lowering the rate of infection could thwart the more contagious variants while they are still rare.
“If ever there was reason to vaccinate as many people as expeditiously as we possibly can with the vaccine that we have right now, now is the time,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert. “Because the less people that get infected, the less chance you’re going to give this particular mutant a chance to become dominant.”
A pregnant woman being vaccinated in Tel Aviv. Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The World Health Organization on Friday changed its guidance for pregnant women considering a Covid-19 vaccine, abandoning opposition to immunization for most expectant mothers unless they were at high risk.
The change followed an outcry to the W.H.O.’s previous stance, which stated that the organization did “not recommend the vaccination of pregnant women” with the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Several experts had expressed disappointment on Thursday with the W.H.O.’s earlier position. The experts noted that it was inconsistent with guidance on the same issue from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and would confuse pregnant women looking for clear advice.
The vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, while they have not been tested in pregnant women, have not shown any harmful effects in animal studies. And the technology used in the vaccines is generally known to be safe, experts said.
The W.H.O.’s new phrasing reflects this information:
“Based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women.” The recommendation is now closely aligned with the C.D.C.’s stance.
Experts praised the shift, welcoming agreement between the world’s leading public health organizations on this important issue.
“I was very pleased to see that W.H.O. changed their guidance regarding offering the Covid-19 vaccine to pregnant women,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, an obstetrician at Emory University and a member of the Covid expert group with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The association was among the many women’s health organizations that had urged Pfizer and Moderna to speed up vaccine tests in pregnant women.
“The more permissive W.H.O. language provides an important opportunity for pregnant women to get vaccinated and protect themselves from the severe risks of Covid-19,” Dr. Jamieson said. “This impressively rapid revision by W.H.O. is good news for pregnant women and their babies.”
Pregnant women have traditionally been excluded from clinical trials, leaving a dearth of scientific data on the safety of drugs and vaccines in women and their unborn children. Vaccines are generally considered to be safe, and pregnant women have been urged to be immunized for influenza and other diseases since the 1960s, even in the absence of rigorous clinical trials to test them.
Pfizer will test its vaccine in pregnant women over the next few months, according to a spokeswoman for the company. And Moderna plans to establish a registry to observe side effects in women who were immunized with its vaccine.
Canadian Airlines Suspend Flights to the Caribbean and MexicoPrime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced on Friday that major airlines have agreed to suspend flights to sunny vacation spots as new coronavirus quarantine measures are put into place.
The government and Canada’s main airlines have agreed to suspend service to some destinations right away. Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat are canceling air service to all Caribbean destinations and Mexico starting this Sunday up until April 30. Starting next week, all international passenger flights must land only at the following four airports: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. In addition to the pre-boarding test we already require, as soon as possible in the coming weeks, we will be introducing mandatory P.C.R. testing at the airport for people returning to Canada. Travelers will then have to wait for up to three days at an approved hotel for their test results, at their own expense, which is expected to be more than $2,000. We will also, in the coming weeks, be requiring non-essential travelers to show a negative test before entry at the land border with the U.S. And we’re working to stand up additional testing requirements for land travel.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced on Friday that major airlines have agreed to suspend flights to sunny vacation spots as new coronavirus quarantine measures are put into place.CreditCredit…Blair Gable/Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced Friday that flights between the country and several sunny vacation spots will be suspended, as new testing and quarantining measures are put in place for most air travelers entering Canada.
After previously requiring that air travelers coming to Canada for nonessential purposes show evidence of a negative coronavirus test result from within 72 hours before being allowed on planes, Mr. Trudeau said that they will now also be tested when they land upon their return to Canada. Travelers will have to wait for the results of that second test for three days in a government hotel at their own expense under the new measures.
“Now is just not the time to be flying,” Mr. Trudeau said at an outdoor news conference. “By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time when we can all plan those vacations.”
During most of the pandemic, international flights leaving and entering Canada have been limited to four airports. The flights that are canceled under the new order mainly service resort areas in Mexico and the Caribbean. Airlines are making arrangements to return Canadians who are already in those areas, Mr. Trudeau said.
In December, Canada temporarily stopped air travel to and from the United Kingdom following the appearance there of a new variant of the coronavirus.
Mr. Trudeau estimated that the mandatory three-day stay would cost travelers about 2,000 Canadian dollars, or about $1,570. Travelers with a negative test result will then need to quarantine for 11 more days at their homes. Those with positive test results will be sent to government facilities.
Travelers entering Canada on nonessential trips at land border crossings will also soon be tested, Mr. Trudeau said. They have long been required to quarantine for two weeks.
The premiers of Ontario and Quebec, the country’s two most populous provinces, have been pressuring Mr. Trudeau to introduce testing upon arrival at airports and introduce further flight restrictions. Several Canadian politicians and officials have also come under severe criticism and, in some cases, resigned their positions for traveling outside of the country for vacation.
Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that the percentage of Covid-19 cases in Canada linked to foreign travel is “extremely low.” But he said that the new restrictions should limit the risk posed by new variants of the virus.
“These variations represent a very real challenge,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Along the Seine in Paris on Tuesday. Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times
France and Germany announced on Friday new restrictions to curb the spread of infectious coronavirus variants, with the two neighboring countries closing boarders and limiting incoming travel.
Jean Castex, the French prime minister, said that all travel between France and nations outside of the European Union would be banned starting on Sunday, with exceptions made only for urgent matters. All travelers from E.U. countries, except for cross-border workers, must present a negative coronavirus test to enter the country, Mr. Castex added.
In Germany travel will be restricted from a handful of countries, including Britain and Ireland, going beyond the measures recommended by the European Union. Under the new travel ban — which also applies to passengers coming from Portugal, Brazil, South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) — German residents will be able to return home, but non-German residents from the areas in question will be refused entry, even with a negative coronavirus test.
“It’s about stopping the entry of a highly infectious virus,” Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, said on Thursday, a day before the federal cabinet approved the restrictions.
The new rules also forbid transportation companies — airlines, train and bus carriers, and ferry services — from bringing nearly all nonresidents into Germany. Exceptions will be made for health workers or those who must travel for urgent humanitarian reasons.
After more than six weeks of a strict lockdown — during which restaurants, bars, nonessential shops and most schools have been shuttered — Germany is starting to show slight improvement in its daily case numbers. On Thursday, health authorities reported 14,022 infections in a 24-hour period, nearly 4,000 less than the amount registered one week earlier.
The new restrictions for France and Germany will start this weekend.
The variants that emerged in Britain and South Africa have both been detected in France, and the country’s vaccination campaign has slowed amid disruptions in the E.U. supply chain. The number of new cases has continued to rise in France over the past few weeks, with nearly 23,000 new cases reported on Friday, though they have not skyrocketed like they have for some of France’s neighbors.
Speaking after a special cabinet meeting in Paris, Mr. Castex acknowledged France faced a “strong risk of acceleration of the epidemic” because of the more contagious British and South African variants of the virus, and said debates over a new nationwide lockdown were “legitimate.”
“But we all know the very heavy toll it has on the French, on all counts,” he said of a lockdown. “This evening, we consider that in view of the numbers over the past few days, we can still give ourselves a chance to avoid one.”
A woman walks past a sorority house on the University of Michigan campus, where more than a dozen cases of a coronavirus variant were found.Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Fourteen students at the University of Michigan have contracted a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus, leading health authorities to issue a stay-at-home recommendation for students living on and off campus.
Students were advised to not leave their residences until Feb. 7, except to attend classes, seek medical treatment or run essential errands.
The outbreak of the variant, first detected in Britain and known as B.1.1.7, appears to have started with a student who traveled to the United Kingdom over the winter break, according to Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County Department of Health.
The first case on the university’s campus was identified on Jan. 16 after the student tested positive and notified officials that he or she had traveled to an area where the variant was prevalent. That prompted additional sequencing that identified the student was infected with the variant, Ms. Ringler-Cerniglia said.
Since then an additional 13 students who are positive with the same variant have been identified. One of them had visited a local indoor mall and a grocery store before testing positive, leading authorities to issue a public notice to people who had visited those locations, asking them to seek testing.
Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the university, said that all the infected students were in isolation with mild symptoms.
The stay-at-home recommendation announced by the Washtenaw County Health Department this week applies to the Ann Arbor campus but not to the broader community.
Michigan athletics also imposed a two-week pause in competitions and practice, citing the emergence of the variant as the reason. Five of the cases involved individuals connected to the athletic program.
The variant is regarded as 50 percent more transmissible than the standard form of the virus but it isn’t more dangerous, and the vaccines that are currently on the market appear to be effective against it.
Since Michigan’s winter session began Jan. 19, the university has identified a total of 175 coronavirus cases, including the 14 cases of the variant.
In other news from around the United States:
In South Carolina, health officials announced they detected two cases of the coronavirus variant that emerged in South Africa. It is the first-known report of the variant in the United States. The two cases are both adults with no known travel history, according to officials.
Two Democratic members of Congress from Massachusetts have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days. Representative Stephen F. Lynch’s office announced he had the virus on Friday and said he was asymptomatic. He has received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. On Thursday, Representative Lori Trahan announced she had tested positive and was also asymptomatic. Both representatives said they would cast votes next week through the House’s proxy voting system.
In Seattle, two hospitals scrambled to get out coronavirus vaccines after the freezer the vaccines were stored in stopped working, according to The Associated Press. It was unclear what caused the freezer failure, however more than 1,300 doses were used after calls were made out on social media for vaccine recipients.
National Guard troops are giving over 51,000 shots per day across 38 states. In a call with reporters Friday, Major Gen. Jerry L. Fenwick, director of the National Guard Bureau, said that there are at least 22,900 members of the National Guard in over 260 sites supporting vaccination efforts as the country pushes to inoculate more people.
A nurse administers a coronavirus vaccine at a community center in Rohnert Park, Calif., on Wednesday.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
About seven weeks since the United States began rolling out vaccines against the virus, at least 47 states are offering shots to older people, a New York Times survey shows. That’s a significant shift from a few weeks ago when most places were focused on inoculating residents of long-term care facilities and frontline health care workers, and the rollout remains a dizzying, shifting patchwork as states set their own eligibility rules and residents try to keep track.
Many of the expansions follow a federal appeal to prioritize all people 65 and older. More than half of states have since expanded eligibility for those seniors but have had varying degrees of success in delivering the promised shots into arms. As of Friday, states have given out 57 percent of the shots delivered to them so far, and 6.9 percent of the nation’s population now has at least one shot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This does not mean that right away you will be able to get the vaccine as quickly as you have in the past gotten your flu shot,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, who allowed residents 65 and older statewide to schedule appointments starting this week. He said that 3.2 million of the state’s 12.6 million residents fall into the group newly eligible for shots, adding, “so there will be far greater demand than supply at least in the near term.”
Some states, such as Alabama, Ohio, and Vermont, are allowing seniors 75 and older to receive a first dose. South Dakota is restricting the pool to 80 and older. In Iowa, only health care workers and long-term care residents can get vaccinated, and the health department has said it will not begin vaccinating older people until February.
Meanwhile, 16 states have begun vaccinating adults with high-risk medical conditions as they continue their ongoing efforts with other groups. New Jersey expanded access to such a category, including smokers and those with heart conditions and diabetes. And in Texas, cancer patients and pregnant women can get a shot.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan blessed the crowds from the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan after Easter Mass in 2016.Credit…Kathy Willens/Associated Press
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, was in quarantine on Friday after he interacted last week with a person who later tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a spokesman.
In a statement, the archdiocese said the cardinal “has not tested positive, feels fine, and has no symptoms.” Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the cardinal is tested regularly, had tested negative since the interaction, and would be tested again “in a few days.” He did not specify what kind of tests were used nor the timing of when he cardinal was tested after the interaction.
Tests taken too soon after exposure may return false negative results, because the virus has not yet had time to build up to detectable levels. People are thought to carry the largest quantity of virus around the time their symptoms appear, if they experience symptoms at all.
The cardinal’s quarantine had not previously been announced by the archdiocese. Mr. Zwilling said the cardinal had been in quarantine since Wednesday but that no announcement had been made because the infected individual had not received the results of their coronavirus test until Thursday.
“He did not have any public events, and all of his meetings were via Zoom, etc.,” Mr. Zwilling said in an email, referring to the cardinal. “We are announcing today because the exposure was confirmed, and the first public events — Mass tomorrow evening and Sunday morning — were coming up, and he will obviously not be present for those events.”
The cardinal will “continue to follow health and safety protocols as instructed by medical professionals, as will others on his staff who also had close contact with this individual,” the statement said.
Cardinal Dolan is one of the most influential figures in American Catholicism, and the Archdiocese of New York is the second-most populous in the United States, with more than 2.8 adherents living in a territory that stretches from Staten Island into the Hudson Valley.
He had celebrated Mass last Sunday at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and interacted with other priests and parish personnel, all wearing masks, at that time, according to online video of the service.
A protest outside the Denver office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year after hundreds of workers at a Colorado meatpacking plant developed Covid-19, six fatally.Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The federal occupational safety agency on Friday posted new guidance for employers on reducing the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace, just over one week after President Biden signed an executive order directing it to do so.
The move by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Labor Department, includes only recommendations, not requirements. But the agency said it was exploring a rule mandating certain protective measures.
The agency declined to issue such a rule, known as an emergency temporary standard, during the Trump administration. But Mr. Biden indicated support for a standard during the campaign.
The new guidance makes fewer distinctions than the Trump administration’s version based on the exposure risk of different workers. “Everyone should be protected, not some more protected than others,” Ann Rosenthal, a senior adviser to the agency, said on a video call with reporters.
The document issued on Friday also uses less equivocal language than the agency did under President Donald J. Trump. For example, it says the most effective prevention programs “ensure that absence policies are nonpunitive.” During the Trump administration, the agency advised employers to “ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance.”
Meatpacking and meat processing have been a particular source of concern, accounting for an outsized portion of Covid-19 infections nationally.
In late December, a state judge in California issued a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit involving workers at a local poultry plant, requiring a variety of safety protocols such as providing masks and requiring workers to wear them, as well as face shields, where social distancing isn’t possible.
The court announced Friday that it would issue a preliminary injunction to the same effect, giving workers an ongoing ability to force compliance if the company backs off the protocols. It cited evidence submitted by the plaintiffs that “regulatory agencies are overwhelmed by the issues raised by the Covid-19 pandemic and are unable to inspect with the same regularity as was the practice prior to the pandemic.”