C.D.C. Director Warns U.S. at ‘Another Pivotal Point’ in Pandemic

A restaurant in Rome on Thursday. Indoor dining is one of the activities Italy’s government will restrict for the unvaccinated.
Credit…Remo Casilli/Reuters

The Italian government announced on Thursday that it would require people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test in order to participate in certain social activities, including indoor dining, visiting museums and attending shows.

The move follows a similar announcement made by the French government last week and comes as the debate in Western nations heats up over how far governments should — or can — go in circumscribing the life of the unvaccinated.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that his government planned to insist on proof of vaccination to enter nightclubs and similar venues by the end of September, but the idea was met with a swift political backlash and is not yet certain to go ahead.

The expanded use of Italy’s health pass, which Italian authorities are calling “green certification,” is meant to both encourage more vaccination and blunt the spread of the Delta variant, which is already causing an increase in coronavirus case numbers across the continent.

“The virus’s Delta variant is menacing,” Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi, said during a news conference on Thursday night. “We must act on the front of Covid-19,” he added, to continue to allow Italy’s economy to recover. A spokesman for the prime minister said that businesses would have to enforce the requirements and would be punished if caught violating them.

Without these measures, the Italian government said it could be forced to reintroduce new restrictions in a country that endured the first and among the strictest lockdowns in the West. The Italian government is particularly concerned about the spread of the virus among the two million people over the age of 60 who are still completely unvaccinated.

Just above 50 percent of Italians over the age of 12 — about 28 million people — are fully vaccinated, according to the Italian government.

But the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said that the spread of the Delta variant is on the rise. The organization projected that by the end of August, the Delta variant would account for 90 percent of coronavirus infections in the European Union.

Talks about introducing the vaccine requirement in Italy followed the announcement of a similar measure last week by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who said a proof of vaccination or negative test would be mandatory to access cultural venues, amusement parks, restaurants, shopping malls, hospitals, retirement homes and long-distance transportation.

According to several polls, about 70 percent of Italians favored following France’s lead but the discussion this week around introducing similar requirements created deep fractures within Italy’s coalition government, which includes Italy’s Democratic Party but also Matteo Salvini’s nationalist League party.

Mr. Salvini — who said he hasn’t been vaccinated yet — opposed what he referred to as “excluding 30 million Italians from social life.” During a rally on Sunday he said he “refused to see someone run after my son who is 18 years old with a swab or a syringe” while migrants docked “by carloads in Sicily” without any proof of negative swab or vaccination.

Starting on Aug. 6, Italians will be required to show proof of having received at least one dose of the vaccine, having taken a recent negative swab or having recovered from Covid in the past six months in order to sit at indoor tables in bars and restaurants; access museums, swimming pools, gyms and theme parks; and attend sports competitions and other events, including public exams.

“The appeal to not getting vaccinated is an appeal to die,” Mr. Draghi said on Thursday. “Without vaccinations we must close everything again.”

Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said the state of emergency will be extended to Dec. 31 and that numbers of hospitalizations, and not coronavirus case numbers, will now be the prevailing criteria to evaluate restrictions in Italian regions.

Two thirds of Italy’s population — about 40 million Italians — have already downloaded the pass, Mr. Speranza said, which had previously been required to attend weddings or visit nursing homes.

He said the pass is a condition to “allow economic activities to stay open” and for Italians to continue sitting at restaurants and bars “with the guarantee of being surrounded by people who are not contagious.”

In April, as outbreaks surged in hospitals where health care professionals had chosen not to be vaccinated, Italy became the first country in Europe to make vaccinations mandatory for medical workers. About 15 percent of Italy’s teachers are still unvaccinated, and the government is now debating whether to also extend the mandate to school staff.

“School is an absolute priority,” Mr. Speranza said. “We have to evaluate all the available tools to catch the 15 percent that’s left.”







House Republicans Use Call for Vaccinations to Push Inquiry

House Republican leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., to urge Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine and accused Democrats, without proof, of covering up the virus’s origins.

“If we’re ever going to be able to get through this, and especially to prevent something like this from happening again, we need to at least find out how it really did happen. And while Speaker Pelosi refuses to investigate this, many of us have taken action on our own to start digging in to the facts, to try to get the facts as best we can. We know that the Chinese Communist Party won’t release the background, the data, the facts. Won’t let us talk to those people that worked in that Wuhan lab — was there American tax dollars that went directly or indirectly to the Wuhan lab to perform gain-of-function research. A lot of evidence indicates there was — all of these questions deserve answers.” “The question is: Why are Democrats stonewalling our efforts to uncover the origin of the Covid virus? Why are Democrats not investigating the growing list of evidence that leads us directly to the Chinese Communist Party and their cover-up? And why is this administration refusing to hold China accountable? Our Republican members will continue to work to demand answers and accountability and transparency for the American people.”

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House Republican leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., to urge Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine and accused Democrats, without proof, of covering up the virus’s origins.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

House Republican leaders and doctors gathered Thursday morning for a news conference ostensibly to urge Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus amid rising infections across the United States, but they used the event to attack Democrats who they said, without proof, had dissembled about the origins of the virus.

The appearance by the second and third-ranking House Republicans, Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and Elise Stefanik of New York, alongside a dozen doctors suggested that a resurgence in the spread of the virus, driven by the more contagious Delta variant, had not prompted the party to change its tone. Mr. Scalise and Ms. Stefanik instead blasted Democrats for what they called a cover-up on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Only when pressed by reporters did the leaders address vaccination.

“I would encourage people to get the vaccine,” Mr. Scalise said near the end of the event, when pressed about his position on it. “I have high confidence in it. I got it myself.”

He and other Republicans spent most of their time on Thursday discussing unproven claims that the Chinese had released a virulent, human-made virus on the world and charging that Democrats had ignored it.

The event in front of the Capitol had been billed as a “press conference to discuss the need for individuals to get vaccinated, uncover the origins of the pandemic, and keep schools and businesses open.” Yet Republicans who attended, many of whom represent constituencies that have refused to get the vaccine, could not seem to bring themselves to hammer home the importance of doing so.

Even the doctors who emphasized vaccinations, Representative Andy Harris of Maryland and Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas, soft-pedaled and qualified their statements.

“If you are at risk, you should be getting this vaccine,” Dr. Harris said, adding, “We urge all Americans to talk to their doctors about the risks of Covid, talk to their doctors about the benefits of getting vaccinated, and then come to a decision that’s right for them.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone age 12 or over — not only those at higher risk — get vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as possible.

When pressed, Representative Greg Murphy, Republican of North Carolina, demurred: “This vaccine is a medicine, and just like with any other medicines, there are side effects and this is a personal decision.”

The emphasis on the so-called lab leak theory was something of a surprise given the surge of infections concentrated in rural, strongly Republican regions of the country.

Nationally, the average of new coronavirus infections has surged 171 percent in 14 days, to more than 41,300 a day on Wednesday, and deaths — a lagging number — are up 42 percent from two weeks ago, to nearly 250, according to a New York Times database. Still, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain at a fraction from their previous devastating peaks.

Vaccines remain effective against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including from the Delta variant. Experts say breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are so far still relatively uncommon. The Delta variant is estimated to account for 83 percent of new cases in the United States, the C.D.C. said earlier this week.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported at the end of June that 86 percent of Democrats had at least one shot, compared with 52 percent of Republicans. An analysis by The Times in April found that the least vaccinated counties in the country had one thing in common: They voted for Mr. Trump.

But Dr. Murphy said the notion that conservatives are hesitant to receive the vaccine “is not only disingenuous; it’s a lie.”

As for the lab leak theory, one after another, Republicans framed the issue as virtually settled: Research at a virus laboratory in Wuhan, China, created the novel coronavirus through risky “gain of function” experiments, then leaked it into the world.

“Criminals have been convicted on less circumstantial evidence than currently exists, and every day more evidence has revealed,” Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa said.

Recently, some scientists have urged that the possibility of a lab leak be taken seriously, alongside the possibility that the coronavirus emerged naturally, most likely from an animal. But they are mostly looking at the possibility that a naturally evolved virus was present in the lab and escaped, not that the virus was created deliberately. Even some of the most vocal scientific supporters of a lab leak possibility do not claim that there is definitive evidence of the origin of the virus.

Rather than cover up the matter, President Biden ordered U.S. intelligence agencies in late May to investigate the origins of the coronavirus and to report back in 90 days.







C.D.C. Urges Americans to Get Vaccinated Amid Virus Surge

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the U.S. is at “another pivotal point in this pandemic” as the infectious Delta variant continues to drive the majority of new Covid-19 cases.

“The Delta variant is spreading with incredible efficiency, and now represents more than 83 percent of the virus circulating in the United States. Compared to the virus we had circulating initially in the United States at the start of the pandemic, the Delta variant is more aggressive, and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains. It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen in my 20-year career. We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas.” “Unvaccinated individuals account for virtually all 97 percent of the Covid hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. The data is clear. The case increases are concentrated in communities with low vaccination rates.”

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the U.S. is at “another pivotal point in this pandemic” as the infectious Delta variant continues to drive the majority of new Covid-19 cases.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Thursday that the United States was “not out of the woods yet” on the pandemic and was once again at a “pivotal point” as the highly infectious Delta variant is ripping through unvaccinated communities.

Just weeks after President Biden threw a Fourth of July party on the South Lawn of the White House to declare independence from the virus, the director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, called the now dominant variant “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses” known to scientists.

The renewed sense of urgency inside the administration was aimed at tens of millions of people who have not yet been vaccinated and therefore are most likely to be infected and become sick. Dr. Walensky’s grim message came at a time of growing anxiety and confusion, especially among parents of young children who are still not eligible to take the shot. And it underscored how quickly the pandemic’s latest surge had unsettled Americans who had begun to believe the worst was over, sending politicians and public health officials scrambling to recalibrate their responses.

“This is like the moment in the horror movie when you think the horror is over and the credits are about to roll,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland. “And it all starts back up again.”

The choice by millions to reject the vaccine has had the consequences that public health officials predicted: The number of new cases in the country has shot up almost 250 percent since the beginning of the month, with an average of more than 45,000 infections being diagnosed each day during the past week — up from 12,800 on July 1.

The disease caused by the virus is claiming about 250 lives each day — far fewer than during the peaks last year, but still 42 percent higher than two weeks ago. More than 97 percent of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, Dr. Walensky said last week.

Vaccines remain effective against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including from the Delta variant. Experts say breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are so far still relatively uncommon.

The public health crisis is particularly acute in parts of the country where vaccination rates are the lowest. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, the number of daily new cases is up more than 200 percent in the past two weeks, driving new hospitalizations and deaths almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. Intensive care units are filled or filling in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

The turnabout is forcing both political parties in Washington to grapple — so far in halting and tentative ways — with questions about what tone they should strike, what guidance they should provide and what changes they need to make to confront the latest iteration of the worst public health crisis in a century.

The surge in infections and hospitalizations in some parts of the country, even if limited mostly to people who have chosen not to be vaccinated, has presented Mr. Biden with an evolving challenge that could threaten the economic recovery and his own political standing.

The COVID-19 contact tracing smartphone app of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) is displayed on an iPhone in this illustration photograph taken in Keele, Britain, last year.
Credit…Carl Recine/Reuters

LONDON — Gas stations closed, garbage collection canceled and supermarket shelves stripped bare of food, water and other essential goods.

In a week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised England a return to normality after the end of months of lockdown rules, a coronavirus-weary nation has instead been battered by a new crisis.

This one is being called the “pingdemic.”

With virus case numbers surging again, hundreds of thousands of people have been notified — or pinged — by a government-sponsored phone app asking them to self-isolate for 10 days because they were in contact with someone who had tested positive.

In the week of July 8 to 15, more than 600,000 alerts were issued by the app, putting acute strain on many businesses and public services.

Supermarkets have warned of staff shortages, as have trucking firms, and the British Meat Processors Association said that 5 to 10 percent of the work force of some of its companies had been pinged. If the situation deteriorates further, some will be forced to start shutting down production lines, it said.

So many workers have been affected that some businesses have closed their doors or started a desperate search for new staff, and a political battle has erupted with the opposition Labour Party warning of “a summer of chaos” after contradictory statements from the government about how to respond if pinged.

Those notified by the app are not required by law to isolate but the government’s official position is that it wants them to do so. On Thursday, it was planning to publish a list of critical workers to be exempted from self-isolation in order to keep things running.

That followed a warning from the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, of possible disruption to the capital’s transportation network, food supplies and refuse collection services. A police force in the West Midlands said it had been hit by staff shortages. Stores have appealed to customers not to indulge in panic buying, and there have even been calls for the government to consider using the military to help fill a shortfall of truck drivers.

“There does seem to be utter chaos at the heart of government at the moment: You have ministers not speaking from the same script, and that suggests that there isn’t a script,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, adding that it was obvious that a rise in case numbers — which the government itself predicted — would mean more people being pinged.

This was not what the government was hoping for when it lifted most coronavirus legal restrictions in England on Monday, a moment hailed as “Freedom Day” by the tabloids.

Camp Pontiac in Copake, N.Y.
Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

The outbreak at Camp Pontiac, a sleep-away camp in upstate New York, started in the girls’ dormitories. Nurses, worried that young campers were showing symptoms of Covid-19, began administering tests. Last Saturday, one came back positive.

More followed: As of Thursday morning, 31 of the camp’s 550 campers had tested positive for the virus, said Jack Mabb, the health director of Columbia County, where the camp is located.

All 31 children are under the age of 12 and none of them were seriously ill, Mr. Mabb said.

The New York outbreak is one of a spate of recent camp-related Covid-19 clusters across the United States this summer. In Texas, more than 125 teenagers and adults at a church-run camp tested positive after an indoor event. Kansas’s health department has reported multiple outbreaks tied to camps in and around the state. Illinois reported more than 80 cases, most of them among teens, at a summer camp there.

Those outbreaks, by and large, have come in states with lower vaccination rates than New York State, where 74 percent of adults and 62 percent of all residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Camp Pontiac, located in Copake, N.Y., sits about 110 miles north of New York City on 150 acres at the foot of the Berkshires.

The camp will not close despite the outbreak, Mr. Mabb said.

A healthcare worker administered a coronavirus test last week in Los Angeles.
Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

As the Delta variant surges across the United States, reports of so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people have become increasingly frequent — including, most recently, when at least six Texas Democrats and an aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi tested positive.

The highly contagious variant, combined with the near absence of preventive restrictions, is fueling a rapid rise in cases in all states, and hospitalizations in nearly all of them. It now accounts for about 83 percent of infections diagnosed in the United States.

But as worrying as the trend may seem, breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are still relatively uncommon, experts said, and those that cause serious illness, hospitalization or death even more so. More than 97 percent of people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

“The takeaway message remains, if you’re vaccinated, you are protected,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. “You are not going to end up with severe disease, hospitalization or death.”

Reports of breakthrough infections should not be taken to mean that the vaccines do not work, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top pandemic adviser, said on Thursday.

“By no means does that mean that you’re dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine,” he said. “The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness.”

Still, vaccinated people can come down with infections, overwhelmingly asymptomatic to mild. That may come as a surprise to vaccinated Americans, who often assume that they are completely shielded from the virus. And breakthrough infections raise the possibility, as yet unresolved, that vaccinated people may spread the virus.

Given the upwelling of virus across much of the country, some scientists say it is time for vaccinated people to consider wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces like subways, shopping malls or concert halls — a recommendation that goes beyond current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends masking only for unvaccinated people.

The agency does not plan to change its guidelines unless there is a significant change in the science, said a federal official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

The agency’s guidance already gives local leaders latitude to adjust their policies based on rates of transmission in their communities, he added. Citing the rise of the Delta variant, health officials in several California jurisdictions are already urging a return to indoor masking; Los Angeles County is requiring it.

“Seatbelts reduce risk, but we still need to drive carefully,” said Dr. Scott Dryden-Peterson, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We’re still trying to figure out what is ‘drive carefully’ in the Delta era, and what we should be doing.”

The uncertainty about Delta results in part from how it differs from previous versions of the coronavirus. Although its mode of transmission is the same — it is inhaled, usually in indoor spaces — Delta is thought to be about twice as contagious as the original virus.

Significantly, early evidence also suggests that people infected with the Delta variant may carry roughly a thousandfold more virus than those infected with the original virus. While that does not seem to mean that they get sicker, it does probably mean that they are more contagious and for longer.

Dose also matters: A vaccinated person exposed to a low dose of the coronavirus may never become infected, or not noticeably so. A vaccinated person exposed to extremely high viral loads of the Delta variant is more likely to find his or her immune defenses overwhelmed.

The problem grows worse as community transmission rates rise, because exposures in dose and number will increase. Vaccination rates in the country have stalled, with less than half of Americans fully immunized, giving the virus plenty of room to spread.

Ali Allawi and his daughters Lana and Mila Allawi wore protective face masks as they fed birds on the Georgetown waterfront during a Sunday afternoon outing in Washington, D.C., last week.
Credit…Sarah Silbiger for The New York Times

As the Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated, many fully vaccinated people are also beginning to worry. Is it time to mask up again?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, most experts agree that masks remain a wise precaution in certain settings for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Here are answers to common questions about how you can protect yourself and lower your risk for a breakthrough infection.

To decide whether a mask is needed, first ask yourself these questions.

  • Are the people I’m with also vaccinated?

  • What’s the case rate and vaccination rate in my community?

  • Will I be in a poorly ventilated indoor space, or outside? Will the increased risk of exposure last for a few minutes or for hours?

  • What’s my personal risk (or the risk for those around me) for complications from Covid-19?

Experts agree that if everyone you’re with is vaccinated and symptom-free, you don’t need to wear a mask.

“I don’t wear a mask hanging out with other vaccinated people,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “I don’t even think about it. I’m going to the office with a bunch of people, and they’re all vaccinated. I’m not worried about it.”

The answer depends on your personal risk tolerance and the level of vaccinations and Covid-19 cases in your community. The more time you spend with unvaccinated people in enclosed spaces for long periods of time, the higher your risk of crossing paths with the Delta variant, or any other variants that may crop up.

But even with the Delta variant, full vaccination appears to be about 90 percent effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization from Covid-19. If you are at very high risk for complications from Covid-19, however, you should consider avoiding risky situations and wearing a mask when the vaccination status of those around you is unknown.

Breakthrough infections get a lot of attention because vaccinated people talk about them on social media. When clusters of breakthrough infections happen, they also are reported in science journals or the media.

But it’s important to remember that while breakthrough cases are relatively rare, they can still occur no matter what vaccine you get.

“No vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people,” the C.D.C. states on its website. “There will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized or die from Covid-19.”

A security agent checked visitors’ health passes in front of the entrance of the Louvre museum in Paris on Wednesday.
Credit…Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters

With the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreading rapidly and the pace of vaccinations slowing, France and now Italy have chosen to turn to a new tool: ordering people who seek to enter most public venues — including restaurants, movie theaters and sporting venues — to provide health passes.

To participate in public life, people in those countries must prove they have been vaccinated or had a negative test within the last 48 hours.

France’s system is yet to come fully into force, and Italy just announced its decision Thursday, so it is hard to know how it will work in practice or what impact it will have.

But the mere announcement of the new measure in France led to a rush of people getting their shots.

More than 3.7 million people booked a first-injection appointment in the week after the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, announced the plan in a July 12 address. Nearly 50 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.

The move has also been met with a backlash, as more than 100,000 people marched in the streets last weekend to protest what they say is government overreach.

Still, as the United States confronts its own increase in coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant, local, state and federal authorities are looking for ways to increase the uptake of the vaccine.

A national policy relying on vaccine status to circumscribe behavior would be difficult for the United States to adopt. The country’s approach to the pandemic has always been highly decentralized. From mask mandates to testing requirements, there has never been a universal federal policy that was mandated across the 50 states. Likewise, America has no nationally recognized standard proof of vaccination.

The European Union, on the other hand, recently unveiled a “Digital Green Pass,” which shows a person’s vaccination status. It is recognized by all the nations in the bloc and has already eased travel between nations, allowing vaccine status to play a role in restrictions upon entry.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently reversed what had been a hard-line stance against making people prove their health status for entry to social and cultural venues, there is a nationally recognized app from the National Health Service that can be used to quickly check vaccination status.

But there is fierce political resistance to the idea of adopting mandatory rules around a health pass when it comes to social and cultural life in Britain. Mr. Johnson’s talk of a reversal sparked outrage from many lawmakers and any new program is unlikely to be considered until September, when all adults will have had the chance to be vaccinated.

For months, U.S. states and local governments have been offering a panoply of incentives to get people to take the shot.

By May, Ohio, Colorado and Oregon were among states offering $1 million lottery prizes for people who got the jab. Prizes large and small — including free beer in Erie County, N.Y. and dinner with the governor of New Jersey — may have driven some to be vaccinated, but the average pace of vaccinations has decreased by more than 80 percent since mid-April.

Attempts at mandates by private industry have been met with court challenges.

A federal judge upheld Indiana University’s requirement for vaccination, rejecting arguments from students who contended the mandate was unconstitutional.

The C.D.C.’s attempt to impose mandates on the cruise industry is now being fought in federal court after the state of Florida challenged the rules.

Even efforts by private hospitals to require health workers to get vaccinated have been challenged.

But while a national policy similar to those in France and now Italy may be unlikely, it remains to be seen if states will look to find their own ways to increase vaccination rates — not by the prospect of prizes but with threats of making life harder for those who do not want to be vaccinated.

People walked past a sign telling customers that masks were required for entry on Sunday, on the first day the mask mandate was reintroduced in Los Angeles.
Credit…Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

Last week, exactly a month after Californians exalted in the state’s grand reopening, Los Angeles County officials announced that masks would be required, once again, in indoor public settings.

The move, which came in response to the explosive spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, was an emotional setback for Angelenos, who lived with stringent pandemic restrictions for more than a year.

I spoke with Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, about what’s ahead and why her office decided to return to mandatory indoor masking. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed.

First, Dr. Ferrer, can you explain why it was necessary to put in place the mandate rather than continuing with mask guidance?

We were hopeful that more people would mask indoors with the recommendation. With the Delta variant, the situation has changed. I don’t think we’d see a surge in cases without the Delta variant.

All along, this department has been very clear we’re recommending masking indoors because of what we’ve been seeing in other countries with this variant.

Now that we know more, it’s time to mandate masks indoors.

How much is the indoor masking mandate meant to prevent the virus from spreading among unvaccinated Angelenos versus preventing those who’ve been vaccinated from getting sick?

I think it’s both. You don’t want a lot of community transmission because it leads to more mutations. As we’ve seen with the Delta variant, while vaccines are super powerful, they’re reduced. But the loss of life and the most severe health consequences are experienced by far by unvaccinated people.

Are you concerned at all about undermining trust in the vaccine or trust in public health officials?

This is a new virus. Every time we have a new explosion attributed to the new variant, we’re kind of starting over in the sense that we have to assess how it’s interacting with human beings.

A lot of folks hang onto the optics: Take off your mask, to show we’re really safe again. That was never true. Absolutely, people who are fully vaccinated have much more protection, but we’re going to continue to have variants. That is our reality.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has disparaged vaccines and the use of face masks.
Credit…Adriano Machado/Reuters

YouTube removed videos from President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on Wednesday for spreading misinformation about Covid-19, becoming the latest internet platform to act against a leader whose country has one of the world’s highest death counts, but who has disparaged vaccines and the use of masks and called governors “tyrants” for ordering lockdowns.

YouTube, which played an important role in Mr. Bolsonaro’s rise to power and says it is more widely watched in Brazil than all but one television channel, said in a statement that the president had violated the company’s policies about vaccine misinformation, including the promotion of unproven cures.

“Our policies don’t allow content that claims hydroxychloroquine and/or Ivermectin are effective to treat or prevent Covid-19, claims that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19, and claims that masks don’t work to prevent the spread of the virus,” YouTube said in a statement. “This is in line with the guidance of local and global health authorities, and we update our policies as guidance changes.”

Like former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro has tested the tendency of social media platforms to allow major political figures to make claims that would be likely to get other users censured.

Last year, Facebook removed statements by Mr. Bolsonaro after he promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the virus. Around the same time, Twitter deleted posts from the far-right Brazilian president for pushing false remedies and calling for an end to social distancing.

YouTube said it applies policies consistently across the platform, regardless of the person or political view.

The video-sharing service has faced pressure throughout the pandemic to do more to limit the spread of Covid-related misinformation. In November, it issued a one-week suspension of One America News Network, a right-wing news channel, after removing a video it said violated its Covid misinformation policies.

Criticized at home and abroad for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil has suffered some of the worst effects of the pandemic. While more than 545,000 people have died from the disease, Mr. Bolsonaro has continued to play down its significance, ridiculing people for wearing masks and declaring he did not plan to get a vaccine.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s YouTube channel is a popular outlet for the president to share his views about the pandemic. In a weekly program in which the president takes questions from viewers, the president has blasted lockdown orders and praised unproven cures.

As of Thursday, the channel had 3.44 million subscribers.

A shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines that arrived under the Covax initiative was unloaded at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March. The E.U. has promised to donate vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
Credit…Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

The European Union pledged on Thursday to double the amount of Covid vaccines it will donate to low- and middle-income countries to 200 million by the end of the year, officials said.

“Vaccination is key,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said in a statement. “That’s why it is essential to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines to countries worldwide.”

To date, only 1.1 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one shot of the vaccine, according to data from the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

The donations will be mainly distributed through Covax, the World Health Organization initiative for sharing vaccines with the developing world.

After initially lagging behind other developed parts of the world, Europe’s vaccination campaign gained considerable speed in recent weeks.

Over 67 percent of the population is now inoculated with at least one dose, and 53 percent are fully immunized, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

After struggling with supply issues this winter, the European Commission said earlier this month that member states will all now have enough doses to reach the goal of fully immunizing 70 percent of all adult residents by the end of July.

The administration of vaccines remains dependent on each national government, and there are considerable divergences between vaccination levels in the E.U. member nations, ranging from 65.5 percent of residents who are fully inoculated in Ireland, to 16.5 percent in Bulgaria.

A woman got a haircut at a salon in Glasgow after Scotland eased some coronavirus restrictions in April. Scotland is taking a conservative approach and keeping many restrictions in place despite the lifting of all restrictions in England as of Monday.
Credit…Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

EDINBURGH, Scotland — “Freedom Day” means something different north of the English border, so it was perhaps not surprising that independence-minded Scotland declined to fall in line earlier this week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain lifted virtually all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England.

While the Scottish authorities did follow England in relaxing curbs — the British tabloids proclaimed it “Freedom Day” — nightclubs in Edinburgh and other cities remain closed; face masks are compulsory in pubs and shops; and the government has told people to stay one meter apart from one another and keep working from home.

It is the latest example of a divergence that stretches back to the start of the pandemic. Scotland’s nationalist leader, Nicola Sturgeon, a politician whose rallying cry is freedom from the United Kingdom, has frequently taken a more cautious, deliberate approach to the virus than the more freewheeling Mr. Johnson.

This time, though, it may prove to be a decisive fork in the road. In a relationship in which so much is refracted through the prism of Scottish nationalism, Ms. Sturgeon’s conservative stance could pay off politically, especially if Mr. Johnson’s experiment backfires.

Credit…Getty Images

Yes, the summer cold and cough season really is worse than usual.

“I’ve had bad colds, but I’ve never experienced a virus like this,” said Holly Riddel, 55, an entrepreneur in Redondo Beach, Calif., who has been suffering from congestion, clogged ears and a raspy throat for about two weeks. “I want this gone. I haven’t been able to work out. I’m just not feeling like myself.”

Months of pandemic restrictions aimed at Covid-19 had the unintended but welcome effect of stopping flu, cold and other viruses from spreading. But now that masks are off and social gatherings, hugs and handshakes are back, the run-of-the-mill viruses that cause drippy noses, stuffy heads, coughs and sneezes have also returned with a vengeance.

“It was a bad chest cold — chest congestion, a rattling cough,” said Laura Wehrman, 52, a wardrobe supervisor for film and television, who caught a weeklong bug after flying to New York from Austin in late June to visit friends. Although she’s fully vaccinated against Covid-19, she took multiple tests to be sure she wasn’t infected. Eventually a doctor confirmed it was a rhinovirus, a common cold virus. She said several of her other friends also have been sick with colds and coughs as well.

Infectious disease experts say there are a number of factors fueling this hot, sneezy summer. While pandemic lockdowns protected many people from Covid-19, our immune systems missed the daily workout of being exposed to a multitude of microbes back when we commuted on subways, spent time at the office, gathered with friends and sent children to day care and school.

Although your immune system is likely as strong as it always was, if it hasn’t been alerted to a microbial intruder in a while, it may take a bit longer to get revved up when challenged by a pathogen again, experts say. And while some viral exposures in our past have conferred lasting immunity, other illnesses may have given us only transient immunity that waned as we were isolating at home.

Among the biggest increases:

2019 2020
Telephone calls 5 min. 8 min.
Lawn and garden care 12 min. 16 min.
Relaxing and leisure 3.9 hr. 4.6 hr.
Sports, exercise and recreation 19 min. 22 min.
Housework 32 min. 36 min.
Food preparation and cleanup 37 min. 40 min.
Animal and pet care 7 min. 8 min.
Sleeping 8.8 hr. 9 hr.

Among the biggest decreases:

2019 2020
Household management 11 min. 11 min.
Caring for children in household (as primary focus) 20 min. 19 min.
Working 3.2 hr. 3 hr.
Grooming 41 min. 36 min.
Travel related to consumer purchases 14 min. 12 min.
Socializing and communicating 36 min. 30 min.
Shopping 21 min. 17 min.
Travel related to work 16 min. 11 min.

The pandemic upended every aspect of daily life last year — work, leisure, even sleep. New government data paints the most detailed picture yet of just how fundamental those disruptions were.

Americans spent nearly 10 waking hours a day at home in 2020, compared with less than eight hours a day in 2019. They commuted less (11 minutes a day in 2020 on average, down from 16 minutes a day in 2019), shopped less (17 minutes in 2020, down from 21) and worked out more (22 minutes, up from 19).

And, perhaps unsurprisingly in a year of canceled vacations and government-mandated lockdowns, they spent a lot more time alone — nearly an hour a day more than in 2019. Seniors, in particular, spent more than eight hours a day alone in 2020.

Those numbers are from the American Time Use Survey, which every year asks thousands of people to track, minute by minute, how they spend their day. Normally, the changes are small from one year to the next. Not this time.

Some of the most telling changes are the ones that reflect the unique nature of the pandemic. People spent more time talking on the phone last year, and less time socializing outside their homes. They spent more time taking care of their lawns, and less time taking care of their personal appearance. And, of course, they spent far more time working from home: About 42 percent of employed adults were working at home on a given day in 2020, nearly double the share in 2019.

For some people, the disruptions were far more fundamental. Mass layoffs meant that millions fewer people had jobs in 2020, pushing down the average time spent working by 17 minutes on average. (Among those who kept their jobs, there was little change in the amount of time they worked.)

Parents with school-aged children spent an average of 1.6 hours more a day providing “secondary child care” — time spent taking care of children while also doing other things, such as working. (“Primary” child care, the time spent taking care of children while not engaging in other activities, was little changed.) Women shouldered more of that burden than men: Women with school-age children spent more than seven hours a day with children in their care, compared to less than five hours for men.

The pandemic even affected the data itself: The government put the survey on hold from mid-March until mid-May, so the numbers don’t reflect the most intense period of lockdowns and business closings last year. (The report released Thursday compares the period from mid-May to the end of the year in 2020 to the same period in 2019.)

A gravedigger rested after the burial of a Covid victim in Bogor, West Java province, Indonesia, earlier this month. Indonesia is struggling to cope with a devastating wave of cases driven by the Delta variant.
Credit…Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

The spread of the super-contagious Delta variant has prompted new restrictions around the world and spurred stark new warnings from public health officials.

Here are some of the questions people have raised about the variant.

Delta, formerly known as B.1.617.2, is believed to be the most transmissible variant yet, roughly twice as contagious as the original virus. Other evidence suggests that the variant may be able to partially evade the antibodies made by the body after a coronavirus infection or vaccination.

But much is still unknown or unproven, including whether this variant may cause more severe illness.

Delta has been reported in 124 countries, and is now the most common variant in many of them.

It was first identified in the United States in March. It spread quickly. In early April, Delta represented just 0.1 percent of cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency now estimates that the number has hit 83.2 percent.

It’s not clear yet. “We’re hurting for good data,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. In Britain, where the variant is widespread, reports have emerged that Delta may cause different symptoms than other variants do.

Although there is not yet good data on how all of the vaccines hold up against Delta, two doses of several widely used shots, including those made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant, research suggests.

Even with Delta, breakthrough infections, or infections in people who have been fully vaccinated, remain relatively rare, scientists believe, and tend to be mild or asymptomatic.

After a long and steady decline, cases are on the rise again in the United States, likely fueled by Delta.

But the numbers remain far below last winter’s peak, and experts do not expect them to rise that high again. “I think we are not going to see another big, national surge in the United States because we have enough vaccination to prevent that,” Dr. Michael Osterholm said last month.

Get vaccinated. If you’re already vaccinated, encourage your family, friends and neighbors to get vaccinated.

Face masks, which remain a particularly important tool for those who are ineligible for or do not have access to vaccines, can provide additional protection.







Australian Prime Minister Apologizes for Delayed Vaccine Rollout

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia took responsibility for the country’s vaccine program, and apologized for the population’s low vaccination rate. One month ago, only 5 percent of those over age 16 were fully vaccinated.

Now, as I said yesterday, I take responsibility for the vaccination program. I also take responsibility for the challenges we’ve had. Obviously some things within our control, some things that are not. And I’m keen to ensure, as we have been over these many months, that we’ve been turning this around. I’m certainly sorry that we haven’t been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year. Of course, I am. But what’s more important is that we’re totally focused on ensuring that we’ve been turning this around. That’s the sort of country we live in. People make their own decisions about their own health and their own bodies. That’s why we don’t have mandatory vaccination in relation to the general population here, because people make their own decisions. And we encourage people to make those decisions. We make as much information available to them as is possible. We all understand that with any vaccine, there are risk factors, and they’re enumerated and they’re made available to people and people make decisions about that.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia took responsibility for the country’s vaccine program, and apologized for the population’s low vaccination rate. One month ago, only 5 percent of those over age 16 were fully vaccinated.CreditCredit…Lukas Coch/EPA, via Shutterstock

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia apologized on Thursday for delays in the country’s vaccine program, amid mounting pressure to take responsibility with half the population in lockdown because of outbreaks driven by the Delta variant.

“I’m certainly sorry we haven’t been able to achieve the marks we had hoped for at the beginning of the year, of course I am,” Mr. Morrison said at a news conference. “But what’s more important is we’re totally focused on ensuring we’ve been turning this around.”

At the beginning of the year, Mr. Morrison had said that he aimed to vaccinate everyone who wanted the shots by the end of October. The target has since been pushed back to the end of the year.

One month ago, only 5 percent of Australians over age 16 were fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among rich countries. Mr. Morrison said the program had picked up pace and that rate was now 15 percent, with 36 percent having received at least one dose, according to government statistics.

Mr. Morrison’s comments as New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported 124 new community cases — its highest daily total so far — in its fourth week of lockdown. The state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, warned that she was “expecting case numbers to go up even higher” because many people had been infectious while in the community.

The state of Victoria, also in lockdown, recorded 26 daily cases, its highest this year.

On Wednesday, Mr. Morrison had refused to apologize for the vaccine rollout during a radio interview on the commercial station KIIS. The host, Jason Hawkins, asked him to apologize repeatedly, at one point saying: “Scott, I’d even take a ‘My bad, Jase.’”

The prime minister replied: “We’re fixing the problem and getting on with it.”

The United States and other governments have pressed China to share more information, especially from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, above.
Credit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

Chinese officials said on Thursday that they were shocked and offended by a World Health Organization proposal to further investigate whether the coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan, exposing a widening rift over the inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

Senior Chinese health and science officials pushed back vigorously against the idea of opening the Wuhan Institute of Virology to renewed investigation after the W.H.O. director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, laid out plans to examine laboratories in the central city of Wuhan, where the first cases of Covid-19 appeared in late 2019.

Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the Chinese National Health Commission, said at a news conference in Beijing that he was “extremely shocked” at the W.H.O. plan to renew attention on the possibility that the virus had leaked from a Wuhan lab.


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Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the Chinese National Health Commission, dismissed the theory that the coronavirus was man-made in a lab after the World Health Organization proposed to further investigate the labs in Wuhan.CreditCredit…Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

“I could feel that this plan revealed a lack of respect for common sense and an arrogant attitude toward science,” Mr. Zeng said. “We can’t possibly accept such a plan for investigating the origins.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Thursday that “we are deeply disappointed” with China’s response, calling it “irresponsible and frankly dangerous.”

“Alongside other member states around the world we continue to call for China to provide the needed access to data and samples, and this is critical so we can understand to prevent the next pandemic,” she continued. “This is about saving lives in the future, and it’s not a time to be stonewalling.”

A joint investigation by the W.H.O. and China found that said it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab, according to a report released in March. Many scientists say that the virus most likely jumped from animals to people through natural spillover in a market or a similar setting.

But some scientists have said that the initial inquiry was premature in dismissing the lab leak idea. The United States and other governments have pressed China to share more information, especially from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

At the news conference on Thursday, several Chinese officials asserted that the W.H.O. inquiry got it right the first time, and that there was no evidence to justify renewed checks of the labs. The W.H.O. investigators should instead focus their search on signs of natural transmission, they said, and the possibility that the virus may have first spread outside China.

In recent days, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry and Global Times, a news outlet overseen by the Chinese Communist Party, have gone even further in pushing back against the demands on Beijing. They have reiterated claims — widely dismissed by scientists — that the coronavirus may have escaped from a U.S. military laboratory. A petition organized by Global Times calling for an inquiry into the American facility claims to have collected nearly six million signatures.

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

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