The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday issued long-awaited advice to Americans fully vaccinated against Covid-19, freeing them to take some liberties that the unvaccinated should not, including gathering indoors in small groups without precautions while still adhering to masking and distancing in public spaces.
The agency offered good news to grandparents who have refrained from seeing children and grandchildren for the past year, saying that vaccinated people may visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household so long as no one among the unvaccinated is at risk for severe disease if infected with the coronavirus.
In practice, that means fully vaccinated grandparents may visit unvaccinated healthy adult children and healthy grandchildren of the same household without masks or physical distancing. But the visit should be local — the agency still does not recommend travel for any American, vaccinated or not.
The agency’s recommendations arrived as state officials move to reopen businesses and schools amid a drop in virus cases and deaths. Federal health officials repeatedly have warned against loosening restrictions too quickly, including lifting mask mandates, fearing that the moves may set the stage for a fourth surge of infections and deaths. According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of new cases was more than 58,700, as of Sunday, a level that remains near the peaks reported last summer.
“With more and more people getting vaccinated, each day we are starting to turn a corner, and as more Americans are vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said at a White House news conference on Monday.
But, she added, “While we work to quickly vaccinate people more and more each day, we have to see this through.”
The new advice is couched in caveats and leaves room for amendments as new data become available. The guidance is a “first step,” Dr. Walensky said. “It is not our final destination.”
The agency did not rule out the possibility that fully vaccinated individuals might develop asymptomatic infections and spread the virus inadvertently to others, and urged those who are vaccinated to continue practicing certain precautions.
Agency officials encouraged people to be inoculated with the first vaccine available to them, to help bring the pandemic to a close and a resumption of normal life. The agency emphasized that vaccines are highly effective at preventing “serious Covid-19 illness, hospitalization and death,” and said its guidance “represents a first step toward returning to everyday activities in our communities.”
As of Monday, about 60 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 31.3 million people who have been fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C. Providers are administering about 2.17 million doses per day on average.
The C.D.C.’s advice is aimed at Americans who are fully vaccinated, meaning those for whom at least two weeks have passed since they received the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, and those for whom at least two weeks have passed since receiving a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
What is safe for newly vaccinated Americans and their unvaccinated neighbors and family members has been uncertain in large part because scientists do not yet understand whether and how often immunized people may still transmit the virus. If so, then masking and other precautions are still be needed in certain settings to contain the virus, researchers have said.
There is also uncertainty about how well vaccines protect against emerging variants of the virus, and how long the vaccine protection lasts.
The C.D.C. said that “a growing body of evidence” suggests that people who are fully vaccinated are less likely to have asymptomatic infections and “potentially less likely to transmit the virus that causes Covid-19 to other people.” Still, the agency did not rule out the possibility that they may inadvertently transmit the virus.
Given the current state of research, the C.D.C. advised:
Fully vaccinated Americans may gather indoors in private homes in small groups without masks or distancing. Vaccinated people may gather in a private residence without masks or distancing with unvaccinated people, so long as they are from a single household and are at low risk for developing severe disease should they contract the coronavirus.
Vaccinated Americans need not quarantine or get tested if they have a known exposure to the virus, as long as they do not develop symptoms of infection. If they do develop symptoms, they must isolate themselves, get tested and speak with their doctors.
In public, vaccinated people must continue to wear masks, maintain social distance and take other precautions, such as avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often and following any other protocols that are in place.
Vaccinated people should avoid gatherings with multiple households, as well as large and medium-sized gatherings. (The agency did not specify what size constitutes a medium or large gathering.)
The C.D.C. did not revise its travel recommendations, continuing to advise that all Americans stay home unless necessary. Dr. Walensky noted that virus cases have surged every time there has been an increase in travel.
“We are really trying to restrain travel,” she said. “And we’re hopeful that our next set of guidance will have more science around what vaccinated people can do, perhaps travel being among them.”
Noah Weiland contributed reporting.
As of Monday, all K-12 educators nationwide are officially eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19, though the situation is more straightforward in some states than others.
President Biden had urged states last week to make vaccinating teachers a priority, with a goal of “every educator, school staff member, child-care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March.” Mr. Biden said all teachers should be able to get vaccinated starting March 8.
Most places didn’t wait that long to start. At least 38 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were already vaccinating school workers to some extent by the end of last week. Some had opened up eligibility to educators weeks earlier, while others — Texas, for instance — did so immediately following the president’s announcement. Still others, including Massachusetts, were planning to open up vaccine eligibility to all teachers later this week.
A handful of states chose not to deviate from their rollout schedules, in most cases preferring an age-based approach to who gets the vaccine first. State-run sites in those places have not yet opened up to all educators. But state-run sites are not the only option: Teachers in those states are now eligible for vaccine appointments at pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
Some drugstore chains that are part of that program, CVS among them, began vaccinating teachers right after the president’s announcement, without waiting for the March 8 start date.
Still, the different federal and state approaches have led to some confusion.
“It has been frustrating,” said Keith Gambill, the president of the teachers association in Indiana, where state officials have not yet set a date when vaccines would be available to all teachers. Some pharmacies in the state have begun vaccinating teachers, and a grocery chain, Meijer, has announced plans to set up pop-up clinics around the state, but Mr. Gambill said the barriers facing teachers, from scheduling to geography, remain steep.
“The simplest version would have been to say all sites in Indiana will now be accepting educators as well,” he said.
The frustration has been shared by officials and teachers alike. Dr. Randall Williams, the director of the state health department in Missouri, where teachers will become eligible at state sites on March 15, expressed some irritation last week with the Biden administration’s announcement. In talks with the federal government, he said, he had hoped “that the prioritization of states would be kind of respected, because you can imagine, it creates a little bit of confusion.”
That confusion has already been evident at some sites. Some educators showed up last week at a federal site in Jacksonville, Fla., only to be told they were not eligible under state guidelines, which restrict eligibility to teachers over age 50 (an official later clarified that vaccines were in fact available to all teachers at that site).
And over the past few days in Rhode Island, where teachers are not yet universally eligible under state rules, Walgreen pharmacies opened up slots to teachers, then closed them, then opened them again.
San Francisco schools will start bringing elementary and high needs students back into classrooms on April 12, with a goal of restoring in-person teaching for all elementary school students by the end of the month, the district’s superintendent said on Monday.
The district, whose 52,000 students have been studying almost entirely remotely for a year, is among the last large urban districts in the nation to announce plans to restore in-person instruction. It is, however, still ahead of Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district, which remains in negotiations with its teachers’ union on a reopening date.
New York City, where some elementary and middle school students are already back in classrooms, announced plans on Monday to bring back some high school students on March 22. Districts from Chicago and Boston to Miami and Houston have similarly already begun welcoming students back.
San Francisco, at the behest of its teachers’ union, has resisted reopening even when the Bay Area had a relatively low rate of coronavirus transmission.
Many parents complained that virtual teaching was taking an academic and psychological toll on their children. And in an expression of frustration, San Francisco’s city attorney sued the district, charging that the local positivity levels did not justify the classroom closures.
State legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom also sought to spur districts to reopen by accelerating vaccinations for teachers and offering schools financial incentives to resume in-person teaching by May 1.
San Francisco schools initially will offer face-to-face classes four and a half days a week to a few thousand students in prekindergarten through second grade, along with students at all grade levels who have learning challenges, the superintendent, Vincent Matthews, said. In-person instruction will be offered the following week to students in grades 3 to 5.
San Francisco’s regular school year ends on June 2, although the state has also earmarked $4.6 billion for summer school programs.
Mr. Vincent said the district is still discussing how and whether to bring back students in middle and high school, beyond those in special needs classes. He said demand for in-person options has varied from school to school throughout the district, and face-to-face classes would be offered in a hybrid format in schools where demand is high.
Health authorities in Colorado have detected the worrisome coronavirus variant B.1.351 that is circulating in South Africa in one of the state’s prisons. It is the first known instance of that variant in a U.S. correctional facility, a setting where officials fear it could spell big trouble.
The discovery that two staff members and one inmate at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex in Chaffee County have the variant has prompted worries about new outbreaks and possible re-infection in the state prison system.
More than half of the state’s roughly 13,000 inmates have already had the coronavirus, according to state data. Though 29 inmates have died of Covid-19, the vast majority of the cases have been mild and presumably left the survivors with some immunity afterward.
But research suggests that people who have had mild coronavirus infections may still be vulnerable to the B.1.351 variant, which has so far been rare in the United States: Only about 80 cases have been confirmed to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Studies have found that prison inmates are far more likely than members of the general public to become infected, and to die, from the virus.
“These places, they’re almost designed for the transmission of respiratory viruses,” said Dr. Matthew Wynia, an infectious disease specialist and the director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado. “They’re cramped, they’re enclosed, they don’t have a lot of windows that you can open easily. They’re just a setup for big outbreaks — and we’ve seen multiple big outbreaks, not only in Colorado, but all over the country.”
On top of that, only a small percentage of prison inmates across the country have been vaccinated so far. And the B.1.351 variant poses a threat even to those who have been inoculated: There are signs that current vaccines may be less effective against that variant than against other forms of the virus.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the department has been checking positive virus test samples at random for the presence of variants, and that the B.1.351 variant was spotted at the prison through those random checks. The department said it would now check all cases of positive test results at the prison to determine whether they, too, were caused by the variant.
The Buena Vista prison complex houses about 900 inmates, nearly 60 percent of whom have been infected since the start of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. One inmate there has died.
When — and whether — to vaccinate prison inmates has been a fraught topic in many states since vaccines became available in December. Most states have not given prisoners priority. In Colorado, only 664 inmates in the state prison system have been vaccinated, the health department said.
Many people who experience long-term symptoms from the coronavirus did not feel sick when they were initially infected, according to a new study that adds compelling information to the increasingly important issue of the lasting health impact of Covid-19.
The study, one of the first to focus exclusively on people who never needed to be hospitalized when they were infected, analyzed electronic medical records of 1,407 people in California who tested positive for the coronavirus.
More than 60 days after their infection, 27 percent, or 382 people, were struggling with post-Covid symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, cough or abdominal pain.
Nearly a third of the patients with such long-term problems had not had any symptoms from their initial infection through the 10 days after they tested positive, the researchers found.
Understanding long-term Covid symptoms is an increasingly pressing priority for doctors and researchers as more people report debilitating or painful aftereffects that hamper their ability to work or function the way they did before.
The new study is published on the preprint site MedRxiv and has not finished undergoing peer review. Its strengths include that it is larger than many studies on long-term symptoms published so far and that the researchers used electronic records from the University of California system, allowing them to obtain health and demographic information of patients from throughout the state.
Among their findings: Long-term problems affect every age group, including children. “Of the 34 children in the study, 11 were long-haulers,” said one of the authors, Melissa Pinto, an associate professor of nursing at the University of California, Irvine.
The study found more than 30 symptoms, including anxiety, low back pain, fatigue, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems and rapid heart rate.
Most previous studies of long-term symptoms have tended to involve people who were sick enough from their initial infection to be hospitalized. One of the largest found that more than three-quarters of about 1,700 hospitalized patients in Wuhan, China, had at least one symptom six months later.
But increasingly, people who were never hospitalized are seeking care at post-Covid clinics, and scientists are recognizing the need to understand their circumstances.
New York City will welcome high school students back into classrooms starting on March 22, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday — a major milestone in the city’s sometimes halting efforts to resume in-person instruction for some of its one million students.
At a time when instruction in some cities in the Northeast and many on the West Coast remains completely remote for high school and even some elementary school students, New York’s decision to bring back high school students — a vast majority of them low-income, Black and Latino — will be viewed as an important precedent. The city’s public school system is by far the largest in the country.
Reopening high schools will be the first major task faced by the new schools chancellor, Meisha Porter, who will take over from the outgoing chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, on March 15.
About half of the city’s 488 high schools will offer full-time instruction for most or all of their in-person students, while the other half will offer hybrid instruction. The city will also restart high school sports for all students — including those who have decided to learn remotely. The sports season will run through the summer this year, rather than ending with the school year, and students will be required to wear masks at all times.
Even with the return of as many as 55,000 high school students who signed up for in-person classes last fall and have not been in classrooms since November — out of a total population of 282,000 high school students — only about a third of all city students will be receiving any in-person instruction. The remaining 700,000 or so students in the entire city system have chosen to receive instruction remotely, in large part because of lingering concerns about the health risks of the coronavirus.
In other large school districts, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and Seattle, many thousands of high school students have not received any in-person instruction for the past year, and may not regain access to their classrooms for months.
Though some large districts in the South, including Houston, Miami and Broward County in Florida, are open for all grades, other districts have focused on bringing elementary school students back first. That’s because remote learning is particularly challenging for younger children — and because research has found that in-person learning can be safer with younger children than older ones.
Yet high schoolers in New York and across the country have struggled immensely with the social isolation of remote learning. Teenagers have been stuck in their bedrooms for months, unable to see their friends or connect face-to-face with their teachers. Some districts are seeing higher than average student suicide rates.
“Think about what our kids have gone through,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “For the first time in generations, their lives entirely disrupted.”
The next phase of school reopenings comes with significant caveats. At least for now, only high school students who signed up for in-person classes last fall will be able to return to classrooms, joining elementary school students, who came back in December, and middle school students, who returned late last month. That means only about a third of the city’s million students are eligible for in-person learning for the remainder of this school year, which ends on June 25.
Mr. de Blasio said the city was weighing allowing more students to switch to in-person learning but that officials would continue to monitor the spread of the virus and that they were “not there yet.” But he vowed that schools would be “back fully” in the fall.
New York City’s seven-day average positive test rate was 6.23 percent as of Saturday, the latest day for which city health data was available, Mr. de Blasio said.
Michael Gold contributed reporting.
Russian efforts to spread disinformation about the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are being monitored by the Biden administration, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Monday.
“We will fight with every tool we have,” she said. “We are aware of it, we are monitoring it and we are taking steps to address.”
Three publications run by Russian intelligence services have been identified as seeking to undermine the vaccines, a spokeswoman for the State Department said, according to Reuters, confirming an earlier report by The Wall Street Journal.
Though the publications have a small reach, they have emphasized the risk of the vaccines’ side effects and cast doubts about their efficacy, The Journal reported. (A Kremlin spokesman refuted those claims to The Journal.)
Ms. Psaki on Monday reiterated that the vaccines are safe and effective, having gone through a rigorous approval process in the United States.
Late-stage trial results of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, published in the British medical journal The Lancet last month, found the vaccine to be safe and effective, but Russia began vaccinating its population in August before such trials had even begun, drawing criticism from Western medical experts.
Russian news outlets connected to election disinformation campaigns in the United States have sought to convince people in Latin American nations that the Sputnik vaccine works better than ones developed in the United States.
Ms. Psaki said the White House was “familiar with” Russian disinformation efforts and that it would “look for ways to combat misinformation.”
President Biden has abruptly canceled a visit to the biotech firm Emergent BioSolutions a day after The New York Times published a lengthy investigation into how the Maryland company, which is making coronavirus vaccines under contract with the federal government, used a web of Washington connections to gain outsized influence over the nation’s emergency medical reserve.
The White House announced on Monday that instead of visiting Emergent’s Baltimore facility on Wednesday, as Mr. Biden had planned, the president will convene a meeting at the White House with executives of the pharmaceutical giants Merck and Johnson & Johnson, who were also to attend the session in Baltimore. Merck and Emergent are each partnering separately with Johnson & Johnson to manufacture that company’s coronavirus vaccine.
“We just felt it was a more appropriate place to have the meeting,” Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters in explaining the decision.
Emergent has more than $600 million in contracts with the federal government to manufacture coronavirus vaccines and to expand its fill-and-finish capacity for making vaccines and therapeutics. A senior administration official said Monday that only executives from Merck and Johnson & Johnson would attend Wednesday’s White House session.
An Emergent spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about the cancellation on Monday. The spokeswoman, Nina DeLorenzo, previously defended the company’s business with the government in written responses to questions, saying, “When almost no one else would invest in preparing to protect the American public from grave threats, Emergent did, and the country is better prepared today because of it.”
The Times investigation focused on the emergency reserve, the Strategic National Stockpile, which became infamous during the coronavirus pandemic for its lack of critical supplies such as N95 masks.
Throughout most of the last decade, the government has spent nearly half of the stockpile’s half-billion-dollar annual budget on Emergent’s anthrax vaccines, The Times found.
Meanwhile, products for pandemic preparedness, including N95s, repeatedly lost out in the competition for funding. When the virus emerged last year, the stockpile quickly ran short of masks and other personal protective equipment, leaving some health care workers to resort to wearing trash bags for protection — an enduring image of the government’s failed response. Yet during 2020, the government paid Emergent $626 million for products that included vaccines to protect against a terrorist attack using anthrax.
The company is now manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines for AstraZeneca as well as for Johnson & Johnson.
Emergent is a lobbying powerhouse in Washington. The company, whose board is stocked with former federal officials, has deployed a lobbying budget more typical of some big pharmaceutical companies, The Times found, and has sometimes resorted to tactics considered underhanded even in Washington. Competing efforts to develop a better and cheaper anthrax vaccine, for example, collapsed after Emergent outmaneuvered its rivals, documents and interviews show.
Ms. DeLorenzo characterized the company’s lobbying as “education-focused” and “appropriate and necessary.”
Last week, the Biden administration announced it had brokered a deal in which Merck, a company with deep experience in making vaccines, would also partner with Johnson & Johnson to ramp up manufacturing of the company’s coronavirus vaccine.
On Friday, Ms. Psaki announced that the president would travel to Emergent’s Baltimore manufacturing facility, for an event with the chief executive officers of all three companies: Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Emergent. The change in schedule was announced Monday.
President Biden will deliver the first prime time address of his presidency on Thursday, marking one year since the adoption of sweeping measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which subsequently killed nearly 525,000 Americans and battered the economy.
The president will deliver a direct-to-camera address to “discuss the many sacrifices the American people have made over the last year and the grave loss communities and families across the country have suffered,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday.
Mr. Biden’s address comes a year to the day since the World Health Organization declared the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic and a year to the night since former President Donald J. Trump delivered an address on the virus from the Oval Office, after initially dismissing it as a minor problem that would go away on its own.
A national emergency declaration, which gave the White House flexibility to direct federal resources to efforts to fight the pandemic, was issued on March 13, 2020.
Mr. Biden’s speech will be forward-looking, Ms. Psaki said, and the president plans to highlight “the role that Americans will play” in getting the country “back to normal.”
Her comments came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a slight easing of restrictions on people who have received vaccinations.
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Biden visited the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which has the capacity to administer hundreds of vaccinations a day, to discuss efforts to vaccinate veterans. On a brief tour, the president spoke with assembled Veterans Affairs officials, who explained how they prepared and administered vaccines.
“We’re really warping the speed now,” Mr. Biden told the group. “We’re doing pretty good across the country. We’re going to hit 100 million soon.”
The address is also timed to capitalize on a major political victory for the young presidency. Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, which passed the Senate over the weekend, is likely to be adopted by the House on Tuesday. At the veterans center, Mr. Biden told the crowd that he’d sign the bill into law “as soon as I can get it.”
While Mr. Biden’s team has been cautious not to take a victory lap while so many Americans are suffering, he needs to take credit for its fast passage to gain the leverage needed for looming fights over other items on his agenda.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday found that 68 percent of Americans approved of the way Mr. Biden is handling the crisis.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his wife, Asma, have tested positive for the coronavirus after experiencing mild symptoms, Mr. al-Assad’s office said on Monday. The pair are in good health and will continue work while quarantining at home for at least two weeks, his office added.
Their isolation period comes ahead of the 10-year anniversary of Syria’s civil war, as Mr. al-Assad faces an economy that is worse than at any time since the fighting began in 2011. Syrians were already living in ravaged cities with an ill-equipped health care system. As of Monday, the country of about 17 million has officially reported 15,981 infections and 1,063 deaths according to a New York times database. But cases are likely to be undercounted, experts have said, given that government data tends to hide the country’s struggles.
The fallout from the conflict, along with sweeping Western sanctions and lockdowns, has also left Syrians struggling to feed themselves. Food prices more than doubled in the last year and the World Food Program warned last month that more than 60 percent of the population, or about 12.4 million people were at risk of going hungry. Many Syrians have been left to resort to desperate measures to find fuel and sustenance for themselves and their families.
In a private meeting with pro-government journalists, Mr. al-Assad was asked about Syria’s economic meltdown, The New York Times reported in February.
“I know,” he said, according to two people with knowledge of the discussion. “I know.”
But he offered no concrete steps to fix the problems beyond floating this idea: Television channels should cancel cooking shows so as not to taunt Syrians with images of unattainable food.
Families in the Los Angeles Unified School District are coming to terms with a bittersweet truth: With the spring term scheduled to end on June 11, only a sliver of their pandemic school year is likely to take place face to face.
The slow pace of reopening in the district, which serves some 600,000 students, is partly a consequence of Southern California’s brutal post-holiday surge in infections. But protracted labor negotiations, now in their eighth month, have not helped. Of the nation’s 10 largest school systems, Los Angeles is the only one that has yet to resume in-person instruction for significant numbers of students.
Like the unions in California’s other big urban districts, United Teachers Los Angeles has demanded that school buildings not be fully reopened until all returning employees have been fully immunized and the daily rate of new coronavirus cases in the surrounding county has fallen significantly. Both are now happening: Teachers are being vaccinated, and the virus has been steadily ebbing across the region.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that many schools, particularly for younger grades, can be reopened at least partially with proper safety measures.
District officials in Los Angeles say that a deal with the teachers’ union to resume in-person learning seems close, and might be reached this week. But the superintendent, Austin Beutner, has estimated that even so, it would take at least until mid-April to welcome back elementary and special needs students, and several weeks more to phase in older students.
The union’s president, Cecily Myart-Cruz, has argued that reopening too soon would be “a recipe for propagating structural racism,” because the virus has hit hardest in poorer Black and Latino neighborhoods. Teachers, she said recently, should “call out the privilege behind the largely white, wealthy parents driving the push for a rushed return.”
On Sunday, the one-year anniversary of New York City’s first reported coronavirus-related death, the city will hold a virtual memorial event honoring New Yorkers who have died of the virus.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 30,000 people are known to have died in New York City in connection with the virus.
“We’re going to mark Sunday with a sense of respect and love for the families who have lost loved ones in this crisis,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Monday. “We’re going to remember the people we’ve lost.”
The memorial, which will be streamed online on the city’s website and on social media platforms at 7:45 p.m., will feature the names and photographs of some of the victims.
The city’s first confirmed virus-related death was announced last March 14. The victim was an 82-year-old woman with emphysema who had been hospitalized in Brooklyn. One of the first people in the state to test positive for the virus, she had been hospitalized on March 3, as the number of cases of the virus began to climb.
Though unclear at the time, the woman’s death marked a turning point of sorts for the city. The day after officials confirmed it, Mr. de Blasio announced plans to close the city’s public schools, bars and restaurants.
Days after Mr. de Blasio’s announcement, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced sweeping shutdown orders for businesses across the state. At the time, the city had about 5,600 confirmed cases of the virus, though with testing limited, public health officials thought the true number of infections was likely higher. Researchers later said that the virus was likely spreading in the city earlier than residents initially realized, leading to a further undercount.
In the weeks that followed, the pandemic became widespread, upending daily life as the city became an epicenter of the nation’s outbreak. Hospitals filled up and quickly became overwhelmed. As the number of fatalities rose, hospital morgues, funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories were overflowing with bodies and quickly became backed up.
Even as the virus’s march has slowed somewhat, the city’s total death toll alone remains higher than all but four U.S. states. Over the last seven days, the city has reported 102 daily virus-related deaths, according to a New York Times database.
Across New York State, nearly 48,000 people have died of causes related to the virus, the second-highest total death toll of any state in the nation.
Even as restrictions ease and vaccination gathers pace, allowing more offices to reopen, lawyers predict a pandemic hangover of litigation and legal questions over whether workers can be forced back into their workplaces.
In California last week, a woman sued her former employer, a credit union, for firing her last year after she raised concerns about her particular susceptibility to the coronavirus. It’s the kind of case, lawyers say, that could test the limits of health and safety employment laws after countless workers across the country were dismissed from their jobs for refusing to return to work before vaccines were available.
The plaintiff, Cheri McKinzie, who was in charge of marketing at Golden State Farm Credit in Chico, Calif., has only one lung after a bout with cancer. When Golden State requested last June that employees prepare to return to the office, she said, she submitted documents showing her medical vulnerability, including X-rays of her chest and a photo of the cancerous lung that was removed.
Executives scheduled a meeting to discuss accommodations that might make her return to the office safer, but then announced at that meeting that she had been terminated, according to Ms. McKinzie’s complaint. The court filing quotes managers saying that the bank was going in a “different direction.”
Robert Faris, the president of the bank, did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
“These issues are going on every day all over the country,” said David Blanchard, a lawyer in Ann Arbor, Mich., who specialized in employment law and is not involved in Ms. McKinzie’s case. “It forces us as a society to think about how we balance public safety and public health versus the economy — and that’s been story of the last 12 months.”
Mr. Blanchard says he has a client who was fired from her job as a leasing agent for an apartment building after telling her employer she needed to take care of her 10-year-old child whose school had gone online. He is also representing workers at a ball-bearing factory who were fired for insubordination after they tried to argue that the factory was not an essential business and was not following safety protocols.
Rebecca Dixon, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy organization in Washington that defends workers’ rights, says that while there has been a flurry of initiatives in recent months to protect workers, the pandemic has underlined that employers are often free to fire employees who are unwilling to return to work.
“Employees are waking up to the fact that they have very few rights when it comes to health and safety,” Ms. Dixon said.
John-Paul Deol, the lawyer representing Ms. McKinzie in California, said friends often call him to ask whether they are obliged to return to work if their employers require it.
“There’s not a whole lot you can do if you don’t have a disability and simply don’t want to come back to the workplace because you’re worried,” Mr. Deol said.
GLOBAL ROUND UP
Millions of students returned to schools in England on Monday for the first time since January, as the country takes its first major step out of lockdown restrictions.
Ending a two-month bout of learning from home for most pupils, younger students aged 5 to 11 headed back to their classrooms on Monday, with a phased re-entry for older pupils over the coming week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday described the move as bringing the country “closer to a sense of normality,” adding that it marked “a truly national effort to beat this virus.”
Young children, who studies have suggested are less likely to contract the virus than teenagers and adults, will resume schooling with no additional safety measures.
But the government has advised students aged 11 to 18 to wear face coverings in school and those older students are also being asked to take rapid-result Covid-19 tests every week to identify asymptomatic cases.
The return of England’s schoolchildren to their classrooms coincides with Britain reporting its lowest number of deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test since October. On Sunday, 82 deaths from Covid-19 were recorded — the first time in five months that deaths had been down to double figures, though counts are often lower over the weekend.
Mr. Johnson’s step-by-step plan for reopening saw some of England’s other lockdown rules also being relaxed slightly on Monday, with nursing home residents permitted to have one regular visitor and two people allowed to meet outdoors for a picnic or other social activity.
After the emergence of a coronavirus variant contributed to Britain’s overall death toll rising to more than 124,000, Mr. Johnson appears to be trying to avoid the mistakes of last year and has underlined that he wants this lockdown to be the country’s last.
In other news from around the world:
Norway saw a 19 percent drop in marriages in 2020 compared with the previous year, which had already seen the lowest figure since 1927, The Associated Press reported. The Norwegian statistics agency said on Monday that the pandemic and measures to counter it had led to the fall. In 2020, 16,200 weddings were performed, 3,000 fewer than in 2019. It’s “the largest decline from one year to another since 1919,” Ane Margrete Toemmeraas of the agency, Statistics Norway, said.
Afghanistan has received nearly half a million coronavirus vaccine doses via the global Covax initiative, The Associated Press reported. The country received 468,000 AstraZeneca vaccines on Monday, the first shipment through Covax, according to UNICEF. More vaccines will arrive in the coming weeks and months. India had previously donated 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Afghanistan, which has seen 2,449 deaths and 55,847 cases from the virus.
New Zealand said on Monday that it had bought enough of the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate its entire population against the coronavirus, a change in strategy that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said would simplify the rollout. The country has bought 10 million Pfizer doses, enough for all of the population of five million to receive the required two doses each. Although New Zealand has purchase agreements with the makers of four different vaccines, only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in the country so far. New Zealand has contained the virus to a much greater degree than many other countries — locally transmitted cases are almost nonexistent — and vaccination of the general public is not expected to begin until the middle of the year.
Vietnam began its coronavirus immunization program on Monday, inoculating health care workers with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the first batch of which was delivered late last month. The country of more than 96 million people has been praised for its pandemic response, recording 2,500 cases and only 35 deaths, according to a New York Times database. Its latest outbreak, which began in January and is responsible for about a third of all cases, appears to have been tamped down.
South Korea is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for people 65 and above, the Yonhap news agency reported on Monday, following France, Germany and other countries in reversing an earlier decision to hold back the shots in older people. The move came after more trial data became available.
The tiny Southeast Asian nation of East Timor will put its capital city, Dili, into lockdown for the first time, its government said on Monday, according to Reuters, amid fears that it could be facing its first local outbreak. A “sanitary fence and mandatory confinement” will be imposed in Dili for seven days from midnight Monday, with residents asked to stay home, the country’s council of ministers said in a statement. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony with a population of 1.2 million, has detected just 122 cases of the virus so far.
The police in Scotland arrested 28 soccer fans who broke lockdown rules on Sunday to celebrate the league title win by their team, Rangers. Thousands of fans, many of whom were not wearing face coverings, packed out a square in the center of Glasgow and gathered outside the team’s stadium in the city, setting off fireworks and flares to celebrate the league championship triumph, the team’s first in 10 years. The police said that they had issued fines to a small number of people and made arrests for assaulting officers and for other offenses. The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, denounced the rule breakers, writing on Twitter, “Everyone has made so many sacrifices in the past year & seeing a minority risk our progress is infuriating & disgraceful.”
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis, lamenting that he felt like he was in “prison” under lockdown in the Vatican, said on Monday that he had wrestled over whether to visit Iraq in the midst of a pandemic but ultimately decided to put in God’s hands the fate of Iraqis who gathered, often without wearing masks and in crowded churches, to see him.
“This is one of the things that most made me think ‘maybe, maybe,’” Francis, who is vaccinated, said during a news conference on the papal plane returning from Baghdad. “I thought about it a lot, I prayed a lot over this.”
The pope, who was not wearing a mask, said that he had been aware of the risks but that after prayer, “it came from within and I said the one who allows me to decide this way will look after the people.”
The pope’s comments, in response to a question about whether he worried that his trip could result in the infection, and even death, of those who packed churches and streets to see him, did not address the public health consequences of his decision.
Coronavirus cases in Iraq are climbing, with nearly 3,400 new infections and 24 deaths reported in the past 24 hours. Critics have said that Francis’ high-profile trip, which involved many stops drawing thousands of people together, sent a dangerous and irresponsible message to a world still in the grips of a lethal pandemic fueled by fast-spreading virus variants.
But supporters have argued that the pope’s trip to Iraq was worth the risk to show his support for one of the most scarred, and suffering, corners of his church. Other popes have dreamed of visiting Iraq, which has an ancient but battered and shrunken Christian community, but Francis was the first to go, furthering his grand project of forging closer ties with the Muslim world and reasserting himself on the global stage after a year of lockdown.
But even as he succeeded in drawing attention to and showing support for the church in Iraq, there remained a lingering concern over the eventual cost.
Israel began a two-week campaign on Monday to give Covid-19 vaccines to tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers who have permits to work in Israel.
At least 110,000 Palestinians are expected to receive doses of the Moderna vaccine, including about 80,000 who are employed in Israel and about 30,000 who work in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“We are one geographical region, one epidemiological area, and the coronavirus affects both sides,” said Col. Eyal Zeevi, director of operations for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a Defense Ministry unit responsible for liaison with the Palestinians. “It is our shared interest that the workers be vaccinated,” Colonel Zeevi told Israel’s Kan public radio on Monday. “And ultimately, when the economy is stable, this directly affects security.”
The Israeli government approved the plan to vaccinate Palestinian workers late last month. Colonel Zeevi said the plan was worked out in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority more than a month ago and “very quickly, everyone was on board.” Workers should be able to receive the vaccine from mobile units at one of eight checkpoints or in settlement industrial zones.
In a pilot project for the campaign, Magen David Adom, the Israeli ambulance service, said it vaccinated 700 Palestinian workers in one day at a checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel.
Israel had faced intense criticism for providing only token amounts of vaccine for Palestinians living under its control, amid sharp disagreements over its obligations and responsibilities, especially after the country secured a steady supply of vaccines. The country has outpaced the rest of the world in vaccinating its own citizens, including Jewish settlers in the West Bank, as well as Palestinian residents of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
Still, both Israel and the Palestinian territories are currently registering more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases a day.
No decision has been made yet about whether unvaccinated workers would be allowed to enter Israel.
Vice President Kamala Harris announced a $250 million program to help inform people in vulnerable communities about coronavirus health precautions and vaccines, the latest example of the Biden administration’s efforts to get pandemic-related health care to the people most in need.
Funded through a grant program at the Department of Health and Human Services, the goal, Ms. Harris said on Monday, is “to provide underserved communities with the information they need to stay safe and get vaccinated.”
Communities of color, which have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic, have also seen disparities in getting vaccines, according to a New York Times analysis of state-reported race and ethnicity information. The vaccination rate for Black Americans amounts to half the rate of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people is even bigger.
And those numbers are likely much higher.
While the Biden administration has made health equity a foundation of its pandemic-response efforts, the government has been limited by the amount of data it has access to. On Monday, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chairwoman of President Biden’s coronavirus equity task force, said that the administration has race and ethnicity data from only 53 percent of people who have received a first dose of the vaccine.
In some cases, obstacles like language barriers and subpar access to digital technology, medical care and transportation contribute to the disparate vaccination rates. A lack of access to information about the vaccine through trusted providers, which can be exacerbated by misinformation on social media, can also lead to uncertainty and an unwillingness to get a shot.
Ms. Harris, speaking during a virtual conference hosted by the National League of Cities, said the $250 million grant will cover 30 programs in urban areas and 43 in rural communities for two years.
“Please do work with us to put equity at the center of our collective response, to identify those individuals and communities that have been overlooked,” Ms. Harris said.