Covid-19 and Stimulus News: Live Updates

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Stimulus payments have started to land in Americans’ bank accounts, just days after President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue bill into law.

The Internal Revenue Service announced on Friday that people would start receiving direct deposits over the weekend as the Biden administration rushes to get money to people who have been struggling throughout the pandemic. More batches will be sent out in the next few weeks, with some payments arriving by mail as checks or debit cards.

Johanna Suarez, a 21-year-old sophomore at Houston Community College, said she received her $1,400 payment on Saturday morning. She plans to use some of the money to buy books for school and pay for a dental procedure to remove her wisdom teeth.

Ms. Suarez said she needed the payment because her insurance does not cover dental costs. As an adult dependent, she qualified for the stimulus payment for the first time. (The previous two rounds of stimulus payments required dependents to be younger than 17 to be eligible, leaving out many college students.)

“The stimulus check was a little bit of a saving grace,” Ms. Suarez said.

Mr. Biden signed the pandemic relief bill, which prompted the payments, on Thursday afternoon. The payments provide up to $1,400 per individual, including dependents. The amounts are reduced for individuals making more than $75,000 and for married couples who earn more than $150,000. People earning more than $80,000 or couples making more than $160,000 are not eligible for payments.

David Gordon, 40, said he saw a post on Twitter about the stimulus payments and checked his bank account at about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday to find a $1,400 deposit in the account that he shares with his wife.

Mr. Gordon, an assistant attorney general for the state of Texas, used some of his payment to donate $400 to a charity organization that supports cyclists. He also spent about $250 on plants at a garden nursery after a recent winter storm destroyed the ones in his yard.

Although he said he was not an ardent supporter of Mr. Biden and his centrist positions, he said the payments were a “good thing for the country.”

Lilliana Cardiel, a 48-year-old supply chain manager at the University Medical Center of El Paso, said she received her payment at about 1 a.m. early Saturday. She was surprised to get her payment so early, after the last two rounds of stimulus checks took more than a week to arrive.

She put the $4,200 — which she received for her daughter, grandmother and herself — toward her savings account for emergencies. “I’ve been saving all of my stimulus checks,” Ms. Cardiel said. “It’s money I can count on.”

Recipients can check the status of their payments on the I.R.S. website starting Monday.

United States › United StatesOn March 13 14-day change
New cases 49,728 –19%
New deaths 1,846 –31%

World › WorldOn March 13 14-day change
New cases 444,389 +11%
New deaths 8,813 –9%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Where states are reporting vaccines given

Aruká Juma died last month in a hospital in Pôrto Velho, the capital of the Brazilian state of Rondônia.
Credit…Odair Leal/Amazônia Real

Aruká Juma saw his Amazon tribe dwindle to just a handful of individuals during his lifetime.

Numbering an estimated 15,000 in the 18th century, his people were ravaged by disease and successive massacres by rubber tappers, loggers and miners. An estimated 100 remained in 1943; a massacre in 1964 left only six, including him.

In 1999, with the death of his brother-in-law, Mr. Juma, who like many Indigenous Brazilians used his tribe’s name as his surname, became the last remaining Juma male. The tribe’s extinction was assured.

Mr. Juma died on Feb. 17 in a hospital in Pôrto Velho, the capital of the Brazilian state of Rondônia. He was believed to have been between 86 and 90 years old. The cause was Covid-19, his grandson Puré Juma Uru Eu Wau Wau said.

As the last fluent speaker of the tribe’s language, Mr. Juma’s death means that many of the tribe’s traditions and rituals will be forever lost.

In 1998, under murky circumstances, federal officials removed Mr. Juma and his family from their land and brought them to Rondônia in hopes that they would marry into the related Uru Eu Wau Wau tribe as a way to partially preserve their culture.

But Mr. Juma suspected the move was intended to deprive his relatives of their land and sued to be returned, a process that dragged on for 14 years.

In the meantime, all three of Mr. Juma’s daughters married Uru Eu Wau Wau men. Mr. Juma also had a daughter with a member of that tribe, Boropo Uru Eu Wau Wau, from whom he separated in 2007. Mr. Juma’s first wife, Mborehá, died in 1996.

The Juma returned to their land in 2012. Mr. Juma was pleased, but some of his daughters’ husbands balked at living there. The grandchildren, who speak only Portuguese, had to return to Rondônia to attend school. Mr. Juma, who spoke no Portuguese, expressed frustration about being unable to communicate with his grandchildren and teach them the Juma traditions.

“These days, I feel alone and think a lot about back when there were many of us,” he told the photographer Gabriel Uchida, who spent time living among and photographing the Juma in 2016 for an article on the culture and lifestyle website “We were many before the rubber tappers and the prospectors came to kill all the Juma people. Back then, the Juma were happy. Now there is only me.”

Salt Lake City International Airport last week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning against nonessential flights as air travel rises.
Credit…Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

U.S. airports had 1.357 million people pass through on Friday, the highest number on any day since March 2020, just after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

The new figures from the Transportation Security Administration will be welcome news for the aviation industry, which has particularly been decimated during the pandemic but was granted some relief in the stimulus bill that President Biden signed on Thursday.

Still, nonessential flights go against the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warned last week that even fully vaccinated people should avoid travel unless necessary.

“We know that after mass travel, after vacations, after holidays, we tend to see a surge in cases,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday on MSNBC. “And so, we really want to make sure — again with just 10 percent of people vaccinated — that we are limiting travel.”

Plane travel remains relatively low in the United States — Friday’s figures are nearly 38 percent less than what they were on the same day in 2019, according to T.S.A. data — but the latest increase in airline passengers has come as states continue to expand vaccine eligibility criteria and during the peak of spring break season.

Photos of spring break partyers without masks in Florida spread on social media this week, prompting concern from some local officials. “Unfortunately, we’re getting too many people looking to get loose,” Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach said. “Letting loose is precisely what we don’t want.”

The T.S.A. said it had prepared for a possible increase in spring break travel between late February and April, including through recruitment and vaccination efforts for its own officers. The agency’s employees had previously alleged that the more than 6,000 cases among their ranks were fueled by lax safety measures.

Vaccine trials are underway at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Pharmaceutical companies conduct relatively few trials in poorer countries.
Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

The revelation last month that a coronavirus variant in South Africa was dampening the effect of one of the world’s most potent vaccines was a sobering one.

That finding — from a South African trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot — exposed how quickly the virus had managed to dodge human antibodies, ending what some researchers have described as the world’s honeymoon period with Covid-19 vaccines and setting back hopes for containing the pandemic.

As countries adjust to that jarring turn of fortune, the story of how scientists uncovered the dangers of the variant in South Africa has put a spotlight on the global vaccine trials that were indispensable in warning the world.

“Historically, people might have thought a problem in a country like South Africa would stay in South Africa,” said Mark Feinberg, the chief executive of IAVI, a nonprofit scientific research group. “But we’ve seen how quickly variants are cropping up all around the world. Even wealthy countries have to pay a lot of attention to the evolving landscape all around the world.”

Once afterthoughts in the vaccine race, those global trials have saved the world from sleepwalking into year two of the coronavirus, oblivious to the way the pathogen could blunt the body’s immune response, scientists said. They also hold lessons about how vaccine makers can fight new variants this year and redress longstanding health inequities.

The deck is often stacked against medicine trials in poorer countries: Drug and vaccine makers gravitate to their biggest commercial markets, often avoiding the expense and the uncertainty of testing products in the global south. Less than 3 percent of clinical trials are held in Africa.

Yet the emergence of new variants in South Africa and Brazil has shown that vaccine makers cannot afford to wait years, as they often used to, before testing whether shots made for rich countries work in poorer ones, too.

“If you don’t identify and react to what’s happening in some supposedly far-flung continent, it significantly impacts global health,” said Clare Cutland, a vaccine scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who coordinated the Oxford trial. “These results highlighted to the world that we’re not dealing with a single pathogen that sits there and does nothing — it’s constantly mutating.”

Despite offering minimal protection against mild or moderate cases caused by the variant in South Africa, the Oxford vaccine is likely to keep those patients from becoming severely ill, averting a surge of hospitalizations and deaths. Lab studies have generated a mix of hopeful and more worrisome results about how much the variant interferes with Pfizer and Moderna’s shots.

Nevertheless, vaccine makers are racing to test updated booster shots. And countries are trying to isolate cases of the variant, which the South African trials showed may also be able to reinfect people.

So long as the Oxford vaccine and others prevent severe disease, even in cases of the variant, the world can live with the virus, scientists said. But the trial in South Africa nevertheless underscored the need to stamp out the virus before it mutates further. Without it, scientists said, the world could have been blind to what was coming.

Audrey Mann, a high school senior in New Orleans, at softball practice last Thursday. “I need to exercise and get out,” she said. “It’s the only way I’m social over this past year.”
Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

A year after the coronavirus crisis first closed athletic fields and darkened school gyms, students, parents, coaches and officials have struggled to navigate the challenges of youth sports, weighing concerns about transmitting the virus against the social, emotional and sometimes financial benefits of competition.

For months, a tangle of rules and restrictions that vary by state and sport has forced players and coaches to adapt. Vaccine rollouts and warmer spring temperatures have prompted some states to lift mask mandates and loosen safety guidelines, but health experts continue to urge caution for young athletes amid the spread of possibly more contagious variants of the virus.

Officials have linked virus outbreaks to ice rinks in Vermont, Florida and Connecticut, while a January report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that two high school wrestling tournaments in Florida led to nearly 80 people becoming infected with the virus, including one adult who died. In Minnesota, at least 68 cases since late January have been linked to participants in school-sponsored and club athletics, including hockey, wrestling and basketball, according to the state’s Health Department.

In at least some cases, the spread did not occur during competition, but at team-related gatherings. Recent data from the N.F.L. and the C.D.C. found that shared transportation and meals were the most common causes of the virus spreading among sports teams.

Many experts agree that youth sports are important for both physical and mental health. That has meant school athletics have continued in some places even when students are learning virtually.

“Sports for me is a huge mental thing,” said Audrey Mann, 17, a high school senior in New Orleans who is a captain of three varsity teams. “I need to exercise and get out. It’s the only way I’m social over this past year.”

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Byblos, Lebanon, in 2019.
Credit…Bilal Hussein/Associated Press

The world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma gave a surprise concert on Saturday at a vaccination site in Massachusetts.

Mr. Ma, 65, who lives in the Berkshires part time, was spending 15 minutes in observation after receiving his second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Mass. He “wanted to give something back,” Richard Hall of the Berkshire Covid-19 Vaccine Collaborative told The Berkshire Eagle.

Clips shared on Facebook by the community college show the masked musician seated with his cello against a wall, away from other people under observation after being vaccinated. The songs included “Ave Maria” and Bach’s Prelude in G Major.

His post-vaccination performance came one year to the day after he first posted on Twitter about his project #SongsOfComfort, sharing a recording of himself playing Dvorak in an effort to reassure an anxious public as lockdowns began in the United States and elsewhere. Other musicians, both professional and amateur, soon joined in. In December, Ma and the British pianist Kathryn Stott released “Songs of Comfort and Hope,” an album that was inspired by the project.

Last year, Mr. Ma also gave a series of pop-up performances with the classical pianist Emanuel Ax for small groups of bus drivers, firefighters, health care providers and other essential workers in the Berkshires region.

“People need each other for support beyond the immediate staples of life,” Mr. Ma told The New York Times in November. “They need music.”

A drag queen performed in a face shield at a restaurant in Miami Beach last week. Much of life seems normal in Florida, and not just because of the return of the winter tourism season.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

MIAMI — Other than New York, no big city in the United States has been struggling with more coronavirus cases in recent weeks than Miami. But you would hardly know that if you lived here.

Spring breakers flock to the beaches. Cars cram the highways, and thousands of motorcyclists have packed into Daytona Beach for an annual rally. Weekend restaurant reservations have almost become necessary again. Banners on Miami Beach read “Vacation responsibly,” the subtext being, Of course you’re going to vacation.

Much of life seems normal, and not just because of the return of Florida’s winter tourism season, which was cut short last year a few weeks into the pandemic. The state reopened months before much of the rest of the nation, and for better or worse, it offers a glimpse of what many states are likely to face as they move into the next phase of the pandemic.

Now, much of the state has a boomtown feel, a sense of making up for months of lost time, though its tourism-dependent economy remains hobbled. A $2.7 billion budget deficit will need an injection of federal stimulus money. Orange County, where Orlando is, saw the lowest tourist development tax collections for any January since 2002.

“You can live like a human being,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. “You aren’t locked down. People aren’t miserable.” President Biden’s new hope of getting Americans together to celebrate with their families on the Fourth of July? “We’ve been doing that for over a year in Florida,” the governor boasted.

A Covid-19 vaccine being administered in Little Rock, Ark., this month.
Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

About 20 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot as the pace of inoculations in the United States sharply climbs. Here is a look at the vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and where some other vaccine candidates stand.

Three: from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer’s was the first, in December, with Moderna’s following shortly after; each is given in two shots spaced three to four weeks apart. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, authorized last month, is given in one dose.

Not yet. When it was authorized on Feb. 27, Biden administration officials cautioned that supplies would be limited for the first month, with 3.9 million shots initially and 16 million more by the end of March.

Johnson & Johnson pledged last year to deliver 37 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June, but it is still working on getting production up to that scale. A recent deal with Merck is meant to increase manufacturing and packaging capacity.

President Biden said last week that the federal government would order another 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s shot.

Novavax could apply for emergency use authorization for its two-shot vaccine in late April. It offers robust protection, though it was not as effective against a variant circulating rapidly in South Africa as it was against other versions. Novavax could deliver 110 million doses by the end of June if the F.D.A. clears the vaccine for use.

AstraZeneca, whose vaccine is authorized in more than 70 countries, has not yet reported results from its U.S. clinical trial, nor has it applied for authorization in the U.S.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has run into some problems. European countries have suspended use of it over concerns about blood clots, although no evidence has been found of any causal link. Some people in Germany are also declining to receive it because of its lower overall efficacy in clinical trials, compared with other vaccines.

Mr. Biden said he would direct all states to expand eligibility to include every adult — roughly 260 million people — by May 1. No vaccine is authorized yet for children.

Warlene Gary, right, pulling her sleeve up while explaining to her nurse that she would like to have the COVID-19 vaccination given to her in her right arm, at the Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Silver Spring, Md., last month.
Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Thousands of clergy members from a cross-section of faiths — imams, rabbis, priests, swamis — are trying to coax hesitant Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

By weaving scripture with science, they are employing the singular trust vested in them by their congregations to dispel myths and disinformation about the vaccines. Many are even offering their sanctuaries as vaccination sites, to make the experience more accessible and reassuring.

Their mission is becoming increasingly vital. With the White House promising enough doses for every American adult by May, public health officials are shifting their attention to the substantial number of people who are still skeptical about the vaccines. Winning them over is imperative if the country is to achieve widespread immunity from the virus and a semblance of normalcy.

Some of the most potent reasons people cite in resisting vaccines are rooted in religious beliefs. But clergy members who believe in the importance of vaccines are uniquely positioned to counter those claims.

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