The average U.S. daily death toll from Covid-19 over the last seven days surpassed 2,000 this weekend, the first time since March 1 that deaths have been so high, according to a New York Times database.
Texas and Florida, two of the hardest-hit states in the country, account for more than 30 percent of those deaths: Florida, where 56 percent of the population is vaccinated, averages about 353 deaths a day, and Texas, where 50 percent of the population is vaccinated, averages about 286 deaths a day. In the United States as a whole, 54 percent of all people are vaccinated.
Hot spots continue to speckle the map of the country, many of them in line with low vaccination rates but others in areas where vaccinations are among the highest. Vermont, for example, has a vaccination rate of 69 percent and reported more coronavirus cases in the past week than in any other seven-day period, thought it still has the fewest cases person in the country.
As of Saturday, Guam, where 64 percent are vaccinated, and Idaho, where 41 percent are vaccinated, reported more deaths in the previous week than in any other seven-day period.
These surges, according to public health leaders, are tied to the highly transmissible Delta variant. “The war has changed,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in July about the variant, comparing its contagiousness to that of chickenpox. And while the vaccines provide strong protection against severe illness from Delta, there are still reports of breakthrough infections, and the variant continues to vex scientists and pandemic strategists.
Other numbers appear to be plateauing, or even inching lower. New hospitalizations and new cases have started to tick slowly downward but remain alarmingly high, intensifying the already fierce debate around booster shots. A key advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday recommended that people over 65 or at high risk of developing Covid who had been inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine get a booster dose.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, appearing on the Sunday talk shows, tried to give some context for the shifting guidance and cautioned against expecting uniformity. “In real time, more and more data are accumulating,” he said on the ABC program “This Week.” “There will be a continual re-examination of that data, and potential modification of recommendations.”
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, defended President Biden’s decision last month to announce the availability of Covid booster shots before regulators had weighed in, and he urged vaccinated Americans to wait until they were eligible for an extra shot before getting one.
Dr. Fauci’s remarks on three Sunday morning news shows followed a vote Friday by an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration, which recommended that those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine get a booster dose if they are over 65 or are at high risk of developing severe Covid-19. The panel’s recommendation, represented a more limited plan than one that Mr. Biden had announced over the summer, in which he said that, beginning Sept. 20, all Americans who had been fully vaccinated would be eligible for booster shots eight months after their last dose.
The panel’s members decided that there was not yet enough evidence to recommend the extra shots for younger, healthier people, given evidence that the vaccine continues to protect against severe disease and deaths in that group.
The F.D.A. is expected to make a decision on boosters in the coming days. It usually follows the recommendation of its advisory committees but is not required to do so.
The debate over boosters has happened during a relentless surge of the extremely transmissible Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 99 percent of cases tracked in the country, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While hospitalizations and new cases have started to trend slowly downward, deaths have topped an average of 2,000 per day for the first time since March 1, according to a New York Times database. Vaccinations have been shown to protect against severe illness brought on by Delta.
Mr. Biden’s announcement concerned regulators at the F.D.A., given that it came before the agency had evaluated the data on whether the shots were needed. Two top vaccine officials soon announced that they would depart the agency this fall, in part over the issue.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dr. Fauci said Mr. Biden “wasn’t getting ahead of the science,” noting that the president always said the plan was dependent on authorization by the F.D.A.
“I think people are not understanding the difference of planning for something and actually what element of that, what proportion of it, you’re actually going to roll out,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
Dr. Fauci also asked Americans to be patient and wait until they are eligible for an additional shot, adding that it would be only weeks before data on whether an extra shot of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines was needed.
“We’re working on that right now to get the data to the F.D.A., so they can examine it and make a determination about the boosters for those people,” he said. “They’re not being left behind by any means.”
As more information comes in about how the original vaccines are working, Dr. Fauci said he expects to see the plan for boosters change. “In real-time, more and more data are accumulating,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There will be a continual re-examination of that data, and potential modification of recommendations.”
Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, echoed those remarks on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” saying that the category of who is eligible for an extra shot would likely be expanded in the “coming weeks.”
Dr. Fauci also confirmed that the timeline for the authorization of vaccines for children under 12 continues to be this fall. About 48 million children in the United States are under 12 and therefore still ineligible for a vaccine.
Pfizer has said that it expects to announce the results of its children’s vaccine trial before the end of September. Dr. Fauci said the results from Moderna’s trial will likely come a few weeks later.
“Sometime in the mid to late fall, we will be seeing enough data from the children from 11 down to 5 to be able to make a decision to vaccinate them,” he said.
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi on Sunday downplayed his state’s high Covid death rate, calling it an inadequate benchmark to measure the pandemic’s toll in the state.
The state is among the top three in the nation for Covid-19 deaths per capita, behind only Florida and Alabama, according to The New York Times database.
Just 42 percent of Mississippi’s residents are vaccinated, well below the national average of 54 percent, according to The New York Times database. The number of deaths increased by 18 percent in the last 14 days, bringing its total to more than 9,200 reported fatalities.
“Unfortunately, fatalities are a lagging indicator when it comes to the virus,” Mr. Reeves said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Timing has as much to do with that statistic as anything else.”
Mr. Reeves attributed the deaths to the presence of the more-contagious Delta variant, suggesting that current conditions in the state are temporary. He also noted that new cases in Mississippi have been falling recently.
Despite continued probing, Mr. Reeves refused to answer whether his state would take any additional measures. Mr. Reeves, who is vaccinated, said that vaccination is “the best thing Americans can do to protect themselves against the virus.”
The governor critiqued the Biden administration’s plans to enforce a vaccine mandate for two-thirds of American workers.
“This is an attack by the president on hard working Americans, and hard working Mississippians, who he wants to choose between getting a jab in their arm — and their ability to feed their families,” Mr. Reeves said.
In addition to challenging the proposed mandate’s constitutionality, Mr. Reeves, who is vaccinated, voiced concerns over the legal precedent it would set.
“This should scare Democrats just as much as it scares Republicans,” he said. “The fact is, if we give unilateral authority by one individual to do anything that he wants to do — whether it’s a jab in the arm or something else — then this country is in deep, deep trouble. That’s not something that I am going to stand by and let him do.”
Chris Rock told his social media followers on Sunday that he is sick with Covid-19 after a breakthrough infection, and the comedian urged people to get vaccinated.
Hey guys I just found out I have COVID, trust me you don’t want this. Get vaccinated.
— Chris Rock (@chrisrock) September 19, 2021
In May, the 56-year-old comic and actor appeared on “The Tonight Show” and told the show’s host Jimmy Fallon that he couldn’t wait to get vaccinated. “I’m two-shots Rock, that’s what they call me,” he said before clarifying that he received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a single dose.
He joked that he would have pushed aside his fellow actors to receive the vaccine. “I used my celebrity, Jimmy,” Mr. Rock said. “I didn’t care. I was like, ‘Hey, step aside, Betty White.’”
Mr. Rock didn’t elaborate on his symptoms, but his infection was a breakthrough case, meaning he got Covid despite being fully vaccinated.
Madrid will remove most of its pandemic restrictions on Monday amid a general easing of lockdown rules in Spain after the country’s coronavirus infection rate fell to its lowest level in more than a year.
Restaurants and bars in Spain’s capital region will be allowed to stay open as late as their licenses allow, while shopping malls, cinemas and theaters will no longer have to apply capacity limits. Only a few restrictions will remain in Madrid, including limits on party sizes at restaurants — 10 per outdoor table, up from eight — and a 75 percent capacity limit at nightclubs.
This past week, Spain’s 14-day infection rate fell below 100 registered cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest since August 2020. The latest figures come after the infection rate reached almost 700 in July, before falling to 400 last month.
Most experts attribute the improvement to the speeding up of Spain’s vaccination campaign, which allowed the government to reach its goal of fully vaccinating 70 percent of the population by the end of August. As of Friday, 35.8 million residents, more than 75 percent of the population, had been fully vaccinated, giving Spain one of the largest vaccinated populations in Europe.
Tourism in Spain, which has maintained only limited travel restrictions over the summer, is also expected to increase after London’s decision this past week to stop forcing vaccinated visitors to test for Covid-19 before returning to Britain. The switch, which comes into force on Oct. 4, also benefits some other European countries that are heavily dependent on British tourists, such as France, Italy and Portugal.
While the Delta variant of the coronavirus has delayed plans by many U.S. companies to bring employees back to offices en masse, New York City workers who have been trickling into Midtown Manhattan are discovering that many of their favorite haunts for a quick cup of coffee and a muffin in the morning or sandwich or salad at lunchtime have disappeared. A number of those that are open are operating at reduced hours or with limited menus.
By the end of 2020, the number of chain stores in Manhattan — everything from drugstores to clothing retailers to restaurants — had fallen by more than 17 percent from 2019, according to the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research and policy organization.
Across Manhattan, the number of available ground-floor stores, normally the domain of busy restaurants and clothing stores, has soared. A quarter of the ground-floor storefronts in Lower Manhattan are available for rent, while about a third are available in Herald Square, according to a report by the real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.
Starbucks has permanently closed 44 outlets in Manhattan since March of last year. Pret a Manger has reopened only half of the 60 locations it had in New York City before the pandemic. Numerous delicatessens, independent restaurants and smaller local chains have gone dark.
But in a city where one person’s downturn is someone else’s opportunity, some restaurant chains are taking advantage of the record-low retail rents to set up shop or expand their presence in New York City.
In the second quarter, food and beverage companies signed 23 new leases in Manhattan, leading apparel retailers, which signed 10 new leases, according to the commercial real estate services firm CBRE.
Shake Shack and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen were among those signing new rental agreements this year. The burger chain Sonic signed a lease for its first New York City outpost. The Philippines-based chicken joint Jollibee, which enjoys a committed following, plans to open a huge flagship restaurant in Times Square.
When Dr. John Nkengasong took the job as the first head of Africa’s new Centers for Disease Control in 2017, part of the continent had just emerged from a devastating Ebola outbreak. Less than three years later, Covid-19 hit.
Dr. Nkengasong is now trying to bring together the governments of a vast, diverse continent to anticipate and fight public health threats and make them less reliant on international institutions like the World Health Organization or the Red Cross. He has helped Africa speak with a unified voice, particularly about what he calls “vaccine famine,” with rich countries buying up millions of doses they do not need while Africa goes wanting.
Perhaps Ebola was a signal that something bigger was looming, he says, and that something turned out to be Covid-19. He also thinks Covid-19 could be a harbinger of something worse to come — a virus as contagious as the Delta variant, but with the high fatality rate of Ebola.
The Africa C.D.C. was started in response to the Ebola outbreak, with funding from the African Union and some other donors. When Dr. Nkengasong arrived, for months there was no office, no staff and even at one point no internet; the Ethiopian government had shut it down to prevent people from cheating on university entrance exams.
But, he says: “We can do public health under the tree. It doesn’t really matter. The thing is the concepts. Are you committed to solving problems of inequity and health security?”
An increasing number of school districts are turning to testing to keep more children in the classroom and avoid disrupting the work lives of their parents. The resource-intensive approach — sometimes known as “test to stay” or modified quarantine — allows students who have been exposed to the virus to stay in school as long as they take frequent Covid tests, which are typically provided by the school, and adhere to other precautions.
Experts agree that children who are infected with the virus should isolate at home, but the question of what to do about their classmates poses a dilemma.
Allowing children who have been exposed to the virus to remain in school does pose a potential transmission risk, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it “does not have enough evidence” to support the approach. Instead, it recommends that close contacts who have not been fully vaccinated quarantine for as long as 14 days. (Vaccinated close contacts can remain in the classroom as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask, according to the agency’s school guidance.)
“At this time, we do not recommend or endorse a test-to-stay program,” the C.D.C. said in a statement to The New York Times. The agency added, “However, we are working with multiple jurisdictions who have chosen to use these approaches to gather more information.”
The C.D.C. guidelines mean that in some cases, especially in classrooms where students are not vaccinated, masked or socially distanced, a single case of Covid can force a dozen or more students out of school. New York City’s school guidelines are even more stringent, stipulating that all unvaccinated students must quarantine for seven to 10 days if one of their classmates contracts the virus.
With the academic year barely underway, some districts in Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and other Covid hot spots have already had to quarantine hundreds or even thousands of students. In mid-August, Mississippi had nearly 30,000 students in quarantine, according to data reported to the state.
A new study, which was published last week in The Lancet, suggests that the test-to-stay approach can be safe.
PARIS — Hélène Barre, 35, lost her sense of smell when she fell ill with Covid-19 in November, a condition known as anosmia. Her slow recovery was plagued by disturbing distortions: Peanuts smelled like shrimp, raw ham like butter, rice like Nutella. The phantom scent of something burning still bothers her for hours at a time.
Those symptoms would be troubling enough for anyone. But Ms. Barre is an oenologist, an expert on wines and winemaking. Her career, her livelihood, her passion — they all depend on one thing: her ability to smell.
“It’s our work tool, our way of detecting problems,” said Ms. Barre, who works at a wine cooperative in Limoux, a town in southwestern France not far from Carcassonne. “We use it to describe the wine, but also to analyze and criticize it.”
“It’s like taking a bricklayer’s trowel away,” she said. “Very frustrating. And nerve-racking.”
For millions worldwide, anosmia has become a telltale sign of Covid-19, often accompanied by the inability to taste anything more than basic characteristics like sweetness or saltiness. Compared with the disease’s more serious symptoms, though, and the risk of drawn-out illness or death, it is often experienced as a minor, if jarring, inconvenience.
But for professionals like Ms. Barre, smell is not a lesser sense — especially in France, with its celebrated cuisine, wines and perfumes. For sommeliers, perfumers, oenologists and others, smell is a skill honed over many years of identifying things like subtle notes of citrus in a perfume, or parsing the bouquet of a mature Bordeaux.
Across Brazil, recycling plants stopped running for months. In Uganda, a junkyard is short on reusable plastics. And in Indonesia’s capital, disposable gloves and face shields are piling up at the mouth of a river.
Surging consumption of plastics and packaging during the pandemic has produced mountains of waste. But because fears of Covid-19 have led to work stoppages at recycling facilities, some reusable material has been junked or burned instead.
At the same time, high volumes of personal protective equipment have been misclassified as hazardous, solid waste experts say. That material often isn’t allowed into the normal trash, so a lot of it is dumped in burn pits or as litter.
Experts say a problem in both cases is that an early fear — that the coronavirus could spread easily through surfaces — has created a hard-to-shake stigma around handling perfectly safe trash. Many scientists and government agencies have since found that the fear of surface transmission was wildly overblown. But old habits die hard, especially in countries where waste-disposal guidelines haven’t been updated and officials are still preoccupied with fighting fresh outbreaks.
“Because there isn’t a route of transmission through recycling, say, we are still finding things being burned rather than recycled because people are scared” of surface transmission, said Anne Woolridge, who leads a working group on health care waste for the International Solid Waste Association. “You try to educate the entire world’s population in less than a year. It’s impossible.”
As for personal protective equipment, Dr. Woolridge said, the sight of gloves and masks littering the world would have been unthinkable before the pandemic. “But because everybody’s saying anything to do with the pandemic is a medical waste, it’s put pressure on the system,” she added.
Recycling rates dropped sharply around the world last year, in part because demand from manufacturers fell. In many countries where the recycling industry is still driven by hand sorting, rather than machines, in-person work was suspended out of virus-related fears.
In Brazil, for example, the generation of recyclable material in cities rose 25 percent in 2020, primarily because of a spike in online shopping, according to Abrelpe, a national association of sanitation companies. But recycling programs in several cities suspended operations for several months anyway, citing fears of surface transmission.
Recycling rates are now inching back to pre-Covid levels in developed economies, said James D. Michelsen, a solid waste expert at the International Finance Corporation.
But in countries where recycling is driven by informal collectors, he added, lockdowns and outbreaks are still creating major disruptions.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker is activating the National Guard to help with the shortage in bus drivers. In North Carolina, legislators are hoping to ease a cafeteria worker shortage by giving districts federal funding to cover signing bonuses for new hires. And some Missouri districts are wiping away some of the requirements to become a substitute teacher to attract more applicants.
Across the country, school districts are desperate to fill jobs.
Some are struggling to retain counselors, teachers and principals, but a more urgent need seems to be for employees who have traditionally operated behind the scenes — cafeteria workers, bus drivers and substitute teachers — according to Chip Slaven, interim director for the National School Boards Association.
The shortages have affected families who are already under stress.
Melissa Minter has driven her three children every morning to middle school and high school in the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio. A severe staffing shortage has forced bus drivers to make multiple trips, turning what should be a 15-minute bus ride into an hour-and-a-half odyssey.
“My children are begging me to start picking them up in the afternoon, too,” Ms. Minter said. “My husband and I have talked about it — but we don’t know if there’s enough in our budget for more gas.”
There are hundreds of unfilled positions in the district, according to Brian Woods, Northside’s superintendent — more than he’s ever seen in his career.
The district is using funds from recent federal stimulus bills to hire more personnel. For a long time schools were unfunded, he said. “But now you have this federal funding. We have plenty of money. But the human capital is not there.”