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Gregory Matthews
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Coronavirus Briefing

April 15, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

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The New York Times
 
 

Our reporters answer your questions about Covid

After a winter surge, infections, hospitalizations and death rates dropped steeply and, for a time, remained reassuringly flat.

But in the past week, President Biden extended the U.S. Covid public health emergency by 90 days. The C.D.C. decided against immediately lifting mask mandates on airplanes and public transit. In New York, two highly contagious versions of Omicron subvariant BA.2 are circulating rapidly. Around the U.S., cases are now rising.

Trying to make sense of it all? We can help.

Last week we asked you to send your questions about the future of the coronavirus. Thank you to almost 250 readers who asked about boosters, variant testing, research into treatments, vaccines for young children and more. We took your questions to our Times reporters on the Covid beat. Here are some of their answers. We’ll feature more in upcoming newsletters.

It was suggested we might want to hold off on second boosters because effectiveness will wane by fall. I’m 73, relatively healthy, and want to stay that way. Should I get it now or wait? — Jan Henderson, Northville, Mich.

Apoorva Mandavilli, science and global health reporter: Timing the vaccines for maximum protection is indeed key. The ability of the vaccines to prevent infections drops off sharply but protection against severe illness lasts longer for all ages. It takes about a week for the booster to kick the immune system into gear. So, for people younger than 60 and in relatively good health, it may be OK to time a vaccine dose for the next surge or a trip to see vulnerable relatives. But for older adults and others at high risk, experts recommend a second booster shot now. With numbers rising nationwide, they say, you’ll want to be protected against infection, not just severe illness, and a second booster shot will extend the longevity of the shield by at least a few weeks.

I’m a registered nurse/massage therapist and rapid test clients before sessions. I’m a bit confused on if/when I should start testing someone if they had the first Omicron variant. Also, if you’re exposed but don’t contract a variant, can you still have enough virus to pass to another person, if you both are boosted? — Michele, Conn.

Emily Anthes, health and science reporter: If you’re not infected with Covid, don’t worry about spreading it. Just keep in mind if you’re exposed, it will likely take several days before you know if you’ve caught it. Great question on when to test clients but I’m afraid my answers won’t be completely satisfying. There’s still much we don’t know about the BA.2 version of Omicron that’s now spreading quickly. So far, evidence suggests an earlier version of Omicron will protect you from BA.2 in the short term, especially if you’re vaccinated and boosted, but we don’t know for how long. Reinfections have been documented. Personally, I’d rely on other factors regarding testing. Are you high-risk or immunocompromised? Do you live with someone who is? Have your clients had recent exposures? If so, I’d absolutely have them keep testing, even if they recently had Covid. And if test supply isn’t an issue, I’d probably ask them to continue testing regardless, at least now when the virus is still circulating at pretty high levels.

Will there ever be a vaccine to encompass protection for known variants as well as future variants? Is there any hope of eradicating Covid or putting it behind us, like polio?— Shelley Padnos, Mich.

Apoorva: We will most likely not be free of this virus for the foreseeable future. But there are certainly ways to reach a point where it doesn’t control our lives to the same extent. It’s extremely hard to eradicate viruses. The only time we’ve succeeded is with smallpox, which produced dramatic, hard-to-miss symptoms. Polio has not been eradicated worldwide. The same is true of measles. The coronavirus is likely to become like flu, mutating yearly and requiring vaccine tweaks. A way to exit that dynamic is with a pan-coronavirus vaccine to protect against all future variants. Such vaccines are being developed but are still in early stages. The bigger issue is that as long as we have large, unvaccinated swaths of the population, in the U.S. or elsewhere, we leave the door open to new variants.

If you assume there will be many new Covid variants, should research focus shift to treatment rather than vaccines? — Mike R., Toms River, N.J.

Knvul Sheikh, health and wellness reporter: We will most likely require a combination of preventative measures and treatments. Vaccines remain highly effective in reducing chances of severe disease, though they don’t completely prevent transmission and infection by variants. Several studies also suggest getting vaccinated and boosted reduces risk of long Covid and might improve long Covid symptoms among those not vaccinated when first infected. Overall, prevention is simply more cost effective than treatment.

But a number of medications now authorized to treat Covid can help keep mild to moderate cases from turning serious. There can be extra challenges, though, compared to vaccines. With antiviral pills, for instance, you must test positive early in your infection, meet eligibility criteria, have access to a prescribing doctor and be able to find the drugs. Only a few of those barriers — eligibility, drug supply — will ease with time, according to Dr. Albert Ko, a physician and epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. He adds that wider antiviral use could also lead to the virus mutating and developing antiviral resistance, especially if treatment alternatives are limited.

Will a strategy for future variant vaccines provide faster access to vaccines for children under 5? We’re still isolating for the sake of our 3-year-old twins. — Katy Spartz, Dallas, Tex.

Apoorva: After months of bumpy starts and stops, a vaccine for the youngest children may finally be on the horizon. In mid-March, Moderna announced results from a vaccine trial in children 6 months to 6 years old. Results were tepid: The vaccine was only about 40 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness. But the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both show diminished effectiveness against infection with the Omicron variant even in adults. Moderna said it would request an emergency authorization for its vaccine from the F.D.A. and that’s now imminent. In February, Pfizer-BioNTech said two vaccine doses didn’t adequately protect the youngest children from infection with the Omicron variant. The companies are waiting to see how well three doses of the vaccine worked in young children before seeking F.D.A. authorization. Results are expected in a few weeks.

What else we’re following

 
 

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Not Over, ADRA Says

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) stepped up its emergency response in early 2020 to serve nearly 20 million people around the world in 96 countries impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

https://adventistreview.org/news/the-covid-19-pandemic-is-not-over-yet-adra-says/

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Coronavirus Briefing

April 18, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Amelia Nierenberg

Writer, Briefings

  • A federal judge struck down the national mask mandate on airplanes and other public transportation.
  • California delayed its vaccine requirement for K-12 schoolchildren to July 2023 at the earliest, a year later than planned.
  • The White House recommended that Americans over 60 get a second coronavirus vaccine booster shot. (Anyone 50 or older is eligible.)
 
 

Masks back up in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s newly reinstated mask mandate went into effect on Monday for all indoor public places.

In so doing, Pennsylvania’s largest city became the first major American metropolis to tell residents to cover their noses and mouths again this spring, though businesses there can choose to require proof of vaccination instead.

The masking rule is a response to sharply rising numbers of new coronavirus cases. It kicked in automatically, based on Philadelphia’s own guidelines, because the average number of new cases reported in the city had risen above 100 a day, and more significantly, had increased by more than 50 percent in 10 days.

“The thing is, I could be wrong — people two weeks from now could be laughing at me,” Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, told The New York Times. “But if I manage to save lives because I’m right, that’s worth the risk.”

The move has implications for other locales: The Omicron subvariant BA.2 has reversed the decline in new-case counts throughout the Northeast. After months of off-and-on mask guidance, Philadelphia will be a case study: Can a city get people to start wearing masks again?

Philadelphia has been broadly compliant with public health directives for the past two years, and many people know the direct cost of the disease: Thousands there have died from Covid-19. But many people in Philadelphia, like others around the country, have long since lost their appetite for vigilance. Even some of the most cautious have grown weary.

Shane Dodd, a restaurant owner, said that he did not look forward to dealing with the occasional stubbornly anti-mask customer, worried about losing business to the suburbs and feared it would deter some Covid-conscious customers.

“There’s really no sense of stability with regards to business,” he said, adding, “It’s a never-ending story.”

 
 

India stalls a new global death tally

The World Health Organization has estimated that 15 million people around the world had died as a result of the pandemic by the end of 2021. That’s more than double the existing official toll of six million, a sum of the deaths reported by individual countries.

The result comes after more than a year of research and analysis by experts around the world. It includes deaths from conditions complicated by Covid and deaths of those who did not have Covid but needed treatment they could not get because of the pandemic. It is the most comprehensive look at the lethality of the pandemic to date.

But for months, India has stalled publication of death tolls, trying to keep the new estimate from becoming public. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has stood by its own count of about 520,000 and argues that the agency’s process was not “collaborative.”

But scientists have long disputed the Indian government’s official number. In May, The Times published an analysis of possible scenarios for the actual amount of deaths after the nation’s devastating second wave last spring.

The worse-case scenario — 4.2 million estimated deaths — is eerily similar to the W.H.O.’s estimate of at least four million, Times journalists report. That would give India the highest tally in the world.

“The Modi government’s pandemic response has been very mixed,” said Stephanie Nolen, a global health reporter for The Times who reported on the W.H.O.’s numbers. They’ve had successes on vaccinations, “but their management of the Delta wave led to a massive surge of of arguably preventable deaths. That’s presumably the thing that they don’t want to be held accountable for, that they’re trying to obfuscate.”

India’s undercount has pulled global numbers down significantly. More than a third of the additional nine million deaths tabulated by the W.H.O. are estimated to have occurred there.

India is not alone in undercounting pandemic deaths: The new numbers also reflect undercounting in other populous countries, like Indonesia and Egypt. A large number of countries, including nearly all of those in sub-Saharan Africa, do not register most deaths. For those, the statisticians have had to rely entirely on modeling.

“It’s not just India,” Stephanie said. “People everywhere will have a greater ability to hold their governments accountable if they have an accurate count of who died.”

And the global count matters. It’s morally and psychologically important to acknowledge and respect the dead — as well as just to hold countries and governments accountable. “People deserve an accurate accounting of their life and their existence,” Stephanie said.

But there are also practical implications: The global data is also essential for understanding how the pandemic has played out. It will be useful to explore how much vaccines actually saved lives, and it will be necessary for scientists and experts to prepare for future crises.

“You learn a great deal from the dead for the living,” Stephanie said, adding, “Knowing how many people died and where they died and when they died tells us what’s gone wrong with the pandemic response.”

 
 

World news

  • China’s strict lockdowns are hurting its vast economy: Truck drivers have been trapped on highways, production lines have stalled and some importers have had to source goods from outside the country.
  • Some people in Shanghai may have to sleep at work even after the city’s lockdown ends. The city reported its first deaths from the outbreak on Monday, The Associated Press reports.
  • One person who spent time in a Shanghai isolation center described limited access to showers, lights on all night and sleeping in rows of cots next to strangers, according to The A.P.
  • The travel industry is experiencing a “great comeback.” Travelers are experiencing chaos.
 
 

What else we’re following

  • The Supreme Court ruled that the Pentagon may take disciplinary action against an airman who said he had a religious objection to the coronavirus vaccine.
 
 

What you’re wondering

What is the point of getting a second booster when Israeli studies say it’s only good for four weeks? And that it may not be protective against new variants? — Barbara Page, Northern New Jersey

Thank you for the question, Barbara! Here’s an answer, from Apoorva Mandavilli, a science and global health reporter with The Times.

The evidence for a second booster is complicated. How useful it is and for how long depends on your age and other risk factors. Israeli studies show the immunity boost from a fourth shot does wane fast in terms of preventing infection, particularly with the variant BA.2. But in older adults, a second booster shot may enhance protection against severe illness for longer. A study published this month in The New England Journal of Medicine found additional protection against severe illness in adults 60 and up seemed to last at least six weeks after a fourth dose. The benefit was strongest in adults 80 and older. All of the vaccines have proved remarkably resilient so far, even against the Omicron variant, which may sidestep immune defenses. If a new variant emerges and can evade immunity, all of us — regardless of how many doses we’ve had — may need a fresh batch of vaccines tailored to it.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Coronavirus Briefing

April 20, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Amelia Nierenberg

Writer, Briefings

 
 

When should you wear a mask?

On Monday, Philadelphia reinstated its mask mandate as cases there rose. (New York City may soon follow.) Hours later, a federal judge struck down the federal mask mandate for planes and public transit.

Since then, it’s been an absolute scramble.

Public health experts are dismayed by the ruling, which the C.D.C. said today it had asked the Justice Department to appeal.

Some large U.S. transit systems are keeping mask mandates in place, a decision supported by a new poll. But many airlines quickly complied with the new rules, and Uber ended its U.S. mask requirements. When asked whether Americans should wear masks on planes, President Biden said it was “up to them.”

Here’s some guidance, taking into consideration your environment, your individual risk factors and those of the people around you — and the fact that masks protect the wearer, even when others around them are mask-free.

Airplanes: A mask is a good idea.

Most planes pump the cabin air through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which work pretty well. But in December 2021, researchers found that passengers sitting in the same row and more than one seat away from someone who had Covid-19 still had a high risk of being infected through direct respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask reduced the risk of infection by 54 percent.

Your seat may not be in the most dangerous spot, either. Boarding and deplaning areas and airports generally may be worse for circulation of the virus. And as experts reminded me: You don’t want to ruin your trip by becoming infected and having to quarantine, even if your risk of severe illness remains low.

Public transportation: Probably a good idea.

Unlike a plane, few buses or trains have fancy ventilation systems.

“I know everyone talks about planes, but I would say buses are probably the riskiest, then trains, and then planes, in order of highest to lowest,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne transmission of viruses at Virginia Tech.

Schools: It’s a tough call.

It’s a difficult and deeply personal call for parents, especially when schools or school systems do not have hard and fast mask mandates.

Children very rarely suffer severe symptoms, whether or not they’re vaccinated. (Vaccination helps: Unvaccinated children from 5 to 11 years old were hospitalized with Covid at twice the rate of vaccinated children during the winter Omicron surge) Many students have gone to school without masks during the pandemic, and very few children have gotten seriously sick.

The jury is also still out on whether masks impede social development, and several studies do suggest that masks make communication difficult.

Shopping: Depends on the store.

If the business is mask optional, consider the space, the crowds and the airflow.

Take a big box store with high ceilings. “Those tend to have good ventilation, and because of the high ceilings, there’s a lot of dilution,” Dr. Marr told me.

“If it’s a smaller space and crowded space — Trader Joe’s, for example, or some New York market with tiny aisles and people are really packed in there — the risk is higher,” she continued. “You might want to wear a mask.”

And in general: Consider case numbers.

You’re not the only person affected by your mask choices.

Take a second to wonder about the risk you pose to others, especially as cases rise. What role does my mask play in protecting others? What is my responsibility to the people around me, especially if I’m healthy?

 
 

How dangerous is Covid, really?

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all tried to quantify the actual threats we face from the coronavirus, fumbling around with iffy statistical analyses.

Scientists have struggled to make and communicate comparisons as well. The coronavirus remains new enough, and its long-term effects unpredictable enough, that measuring the threat posed by an infection is a thorny problem.

But with the information we have now, my colleague Benjamin Mueller tackled questions of quantifying your individual risk.

Here are some takeaways from a few recent estimates:

  • War: The average vaccinated and boosted person 65 or older had a risk of dying after a Covid infection slightly higher than that of someone serving for a year in the military in Afghanistan in 2011.
  • Drugs: An average unvaccinated person 65 or older is roughly as likely to die from an Omicron infection as someone is from using heroin for a year and a half.
  • Driving: An average 40-year-old vaccinated more than six months ago faces roughly the same chance of being hospitalized after an infection as someone does of dying in a car crash in the course of 170 cross-country road trips.

Any comparison to an average is inherently limited, however, because different groups of people have different vulnerabilities. Children and the immunocompromised, for example, face very different risks:

  • Children under 5: The risk of dying after a Covid infection was about the same as the risk of a mother dying in childbirth in the U.S. (Importantly, that’s a national average; there are large racial discrepancies in maternal mortality statistics.)
  • Organ transplant patients: An unvaccinated 61-year-old with an organ transplant is three times as likely to die after a Covid infection as someone is within five years of a diagnosis of stage one breast cancer. That transplant recipient is twice as likely to die from Covid as someone scaling Mount Everest.
 
 

What you’re wondering

How are we testing to track variants effectively? It seems we are only aware of Covid positivity, not what variant of Covid is present. — M. Sorenson, Virginia Beach, Va.

Here’s an answer from Emily Anthes, a Times science reporter.

It’s true the overwhelming majority of people tested for the virus will never learn which variant they have — those results aren’t generally returned directly to patients. But it doesn’t mean virus samples aren’t being sequenced. A lot of that happens behind the scenes, and a subset of the samples collected for testing at health care facilities and labs is sent for sequencing. Scientists are also using wastewater to track variants — people infected with the virus shed it in their stools, and sequencing samples of wastewater can help us keep tabs on which variants are circulating and how prevalent they are. But it’s true there are still lots of infections we’re not capturing, especially among people only taking at-home tests. Some scientists worry the shift to at-home tests could create bigger blind spots in genomic surveillance.

 
 

What else we’re following

  • Boris Johnson apologized for violating his own coronavirus restrictions but downplayed the act of lying to Parliament, which is considered grounds for resignation under the ministerial code.
 
 

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Coronavirus Briefing

April 22, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Amelia Nierenberg

Writer, Briefings

 
 

Masks on, masks off, and then …?

This has been quite the week for face coverings in the U.S.

On Monday, Philadelphia became the first major American city this spring to reinstate its mask requirement, which was set in motion when cases reached a certain level. Yesterday, the city’s health department announced that the mandate would be lifted, as cases appeared to plateau.

What’s next is anyone’s guess, especially when it comes to public transportation. (Here’s a regularly updated guide to the shifting regulations.)

The legal battle also looks, well, like a real chin-scratcher.

In a news analysis, my colleagues Charlie Savage and Sharon LaFraniere examine why the U.S. Justice Department has not asked for a stay in the mask mandate case, even though it is moving forward with a high-profile appeal that was requested by the C.D.C.

“The administration may instead be buying time and thinking about trying to erase the ruling — a move that would allow it to protect the powers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to respond to a future crisis — but without reviving a mask mandate,” Charlie and Sharon argue.

But masks are not the only things that can protect us against the ongoing threats of the pandemic.

Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, the chief health officer of Indiana University, writes in a Times opinion piece that one of the most important interventions is acquiring better ventilation with superior filtration capabilities. He also emphasizes that robust sick leave and work accommodations for people at high-risk, especially immunocompromised people, would minimize viral spread and hospitalizations.

Germicidal ultraviolet light is even more effective than filtration, three researchers argue in the Opinion section. Instead of putting the onus on individuals, they write, “there are ways that building owners can make indoor environments safer by disinfecting indoor air.”

It’s a classic pandemic conundrum: Is it my responsibility, or is it society’s responsibility? What do I owe the people around me — especially if they are vulnerable? Food for thought, for a spring weekend.

 
 

An antiviral pill breakdown

Last week, we asked readers about their experiences with antiviral pills. Almost 200 people wrote in to share their stories. I learned so much from your experiences and am grateful for the trust you placed in us to share them.

But first, I want to refer you to a whip-smart Times resource on antivirals, written by Knvul Sheikh, a reporter on the Well desk.

“Basically anyone who is eligible would really benefit from antivirals,” Knvul told me. “They could have fewer symptoms. They could recover faster. They are less likely to have to go a hospital. And some researchers suspect that antivirals may even reduce the chances of getting long Covid down the line, though there aren’t any studies to support that hypothesis yet.”

Eligibility is more expansive than you might think, Knvul said.

“We usually just talk about people 65 years old or older and those with heart disease, cancer, diabetes or obesity,” she said. But people with asthma, ADHD, depression, an H.I.V. infection or kidney disease are also eligible, as are current or former smokers.

“If you start to feel sick, don’t hesitate to take a Covid test and get the antiviral prescription you need sooner rather than later,” she said. “There’s only a short time frame when you can get the pills. If you wait more than five days after symptoms appear, you may no longer be eligible.”

Now, on to your stories.

Getting antiviral meds

For many readers, it was easy-peasy.

“Cost: $0,” wrote Beverly Pelzner Kalban, 69, who lives in Brooklyn. “I did not experience any major discomfort other than trying to extricate the rather large pills from the foil packaging.”

But some readers, especially those living in rural areas, struggled to find the drugs. They weren’t alone, a Times columnist Zeynep Tufekci writes in our Opinion section: “The medications remain hard to get for many, despite supplies.”

Catherine Butler, 66, lives in Washington, D.C., but tested positive while in Florida. “It took me all day,” Catherine writes. Her primary care doctor and one pharmacy could not prescribe it on a virtual visit; another pharmacy needed a PCR test, the results of which would take two days. Another doctor who did not take her insurance offered ivermectin instead.

After a few more calls, Catherine finally found the treatment. “The news had made it seem that this medication would be easy to get,” Catherine wrote. “It wasn’t!”

A tip: Try telehealth visits, act quickly and know you may be in for a drive.

Taking antiviral meds

Many readers pointed out that they don’t know how they would have fared without antiviral treatments.

Dr. Nancy Simpkins, in Essex County, N.J., said she had been skeptical and hesitant to prescribe antivirals — until she tested positive. She did not take Paxlovid and struggled with severe Covid symptoms.

“Then several members of my family developed Covid and they were not as stubborn as I was; I gave them Paxlovid, and their course was markedly less than mine.” Dr. Simpkins now prescribes it to many patients and said it “intercepted the virus from causing severe symptoms” in all of them.

Many readers said they believed they had a much easier course of the virus while taking antiviral medications than they otherwise would have.

The Rev. Dr. Andy Anderson, a 66-year-old Episcopal priest in Northern Virginia, tested positive three Mondays ago.

“My good Roman Catholic doctor knew I needed to be well by the start of Holy Week on Palm Sunday,” he said, April 10. By the Thursday before, Anderson said, he turned the corner. On Saturday, he tested negative and his symptoms were “completely gone.” On Sunday, he even attended Palm Sunday services.

For some, the drugs felt like a lifesaver.

Matt D., 34, is immunocompromised. “I am convinced that if I didn’t take Paxlovid, I would have ended up in the hospital,” Matt wrote. “And with three young children at home, I don’t know how everything would have shaken out.”

And complaints

You may be in for some diarrhea, maybe for a few days. Remember to hydrate.

“The side effect for me has been a repeat of the very unpleasant prep for the colonoscopy. Only four more days to go. Oh joy,” wrote Bill Hoare, 71, who lives in Somers, N.Y.

And be prepared for some funky tastes:

“My mouth tasted like a metal dump truck,” wrote Paul Boehm, 73, who lives in Concord, Mass. “I had dreams of sucking on galvanized nails.”

“Made my mouth taste like a mixture of rubber and roadkill,” wrote Caren, 40, who lives in Gillette, N.J. “Chewing gum made it worse.”

“It tasted like a slice of rotten grapefruit,” wrote Abie Sidell, 29, who lives in Queens, adding, “everything tasted like nickels from your grandfather’s sock drawer.”

The bottom line: Antivirals are not always pretty, but they will significantly reduce your chances of hospitalization and death.

 
 

What else we’re following

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

 
 
Knvul Sheikh contributed to today’s newsletter.
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Coronavirus Briefing

April 25, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
 
 
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Residents waiting to enter a supermarket on Sunday in the Chaoyang district in Beijing. Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Beijing’s waiting game

A new coronavirus outbreak in China’s capital has raised concerns that Beijing may become, after Shanghai, the next Chinese megacity to put life on hold to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

Seventy people have tested positive in Beijing since Friday. In the capital’s fashionable Chaoyang district, home to most of those cases, the government initially ordered all 3.5 million residents to take three P.C.R. tests over the next five days. Bloomberg later reported that mass testing would take place in 11 of the city’s 16 districts.

In other Chinese cities, mass testing in response to a scattering of coronavirus cases has sometimes been a prelude to stringent restrictions — most notably the nightmarish lockdowns that have crippled Shanghai, the country’s largest city, and sent shock waves through the global economy.

In the Chaoyang district in Beijing, grocery stores are staying open late as residents wait in long lines to stockpile food.

Some residents started testing early, hoping to flee on public transit before a citywide lockdown, creating testing center logjams. One Beijing resident, Li Haiqing, woke Sunday to find he couldn’t leave his apartment complex in his neighborhood east of Chaoyang. It is now locked down.

“It took me by surprise,” Li said. “I wonder why it happened so suddenly.” But he had stocked up on supplies on Saturday and was sanguine: “Because there are confirmed cases after all, I think safety is the first priority.”

 
 
mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
A worker with the South Sudan Ministry of Health called for people to get their Covid vaccines in Juba last year.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Vaccinations stall for the poor

Health experts are warning that the global Covid vaccine drive is sputtering out.

My colleagues Rebecca Robbins and Stephanie Nolen report that there is a growing sense of resignation that high vaccination coverage may never be achieved in most lower-income countries, as badly needed funding from the U.S. dries up and both governments and donors turn to other priorities.

The World Health Organization had hoped to fully vaccinate 70 percent of the population in every country against Covid-19 by June 2022. But fewer than 17 percent of Africans are now fully vaccinated against Covid.

Only a few of the world’s 82 poorest countries have hit the 70 percent mark; many have Covid vaccination rates below 20 percent. In some Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries, only a third of the population is vaccinated.

Rebecca told me that it’s no longer just about a shortage of vaccines. Almost half of doses delivered to the African continent have gone unused. In India, the Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, stopped producing shots after some 200 million doses piled up.

There is often a “lack of funding for personnel, storage and other resources needed to deliver vaccines and drum up demand,” she said, adding: “There’s also a sense the moment has been missed — higher vaccination coverage could have been achieved last year, when people were more fearful. But vaccines weren’t available to lower-income countries then.”

Reported Covid deaths have been lower in Africa than in other parts of the world, perhaps making people believe that being vaccinated for Covid isn’t necessary.

“We know a huge number of people in sub-Saharan Africa have now been infected,” Stephanie said. “So they’re making the calculation not to prioritize the vaccination — they don’t need to walk five kilometers to a health center, take the day away from work or their fields. They’re seeing in the news that a majority of people had cases and reported deaths are very low, and so their decision-making makes sense in that context.”

The looming question, of course, is whether low rates of vaccination will lead to new, deadlier variants that will circle the world again. “I take very seriously the epidemiologists in Africa and elsewhere who caution that Covid is not over, and we don’t know what the next variant will be,” Stephanie said.

The African Union says it still wants to vaccinate 70 percent of its population by the end of 2022. Public health officials say that the goal may still be achievable, and that it would be unwise and unethical to abandon it. Even if current momentum has been lost, Rebecca said that “the situation is not yet irreversible, but the clock is ticking and other priorities are taking precedence.”

What else we’re following.

  • For tech companies outside Silicon Valley, the pandemic was a welcome chance to grow their talent pools.
  • The Tony Award nominations were delayed by nearly a week because of Covid-related show cancellations, which made it difficult for awards nominators to see all of the eligible performances.
  • Los Angeles’s homeless deaths soared during the pandemic, but New York City’s did not. Our California Today newsletter looks at why.
  • After a top coronavirus expert had a hard time helping his parents when they became ill, he tweeted a road map to help others, The New Yorker reports.
  • Opinion: The pandemic should not be framed as a hero’s journey, but a mosaic of collective valor, writes Frederick Kaufman, a journalist and narratologist.
 
 

What you’re doing

After doing “all the right things” (staying home, social distancing when out, wearing masks and getting vaccinated and boosted), we celebrated our upcoming family trip to Disneyland, the day California announced lifting its mask mandate. That was an ill-advised celebration! We both were infected and very sick within two days of returning home. This surge is real and largely unreported because of all the home testing. Our version of this Covid variant was like the flu times 10. We stayed out of the hospital and the morgue, but the experience was painful and a reminder of what we as a nation still face. Stay vigilant! — Jim Kenney, Lexington, Mo.

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Beijing enforces lockdowns, expands COVID-19 mass testing

BEIJING (AP) — Workers put up fencing and police restricted who could leave a locked-down area in Beijing on Tuesday as authorities in the Chinese capital stepped up efforts to prevent a major COVID-19 outbreak like the one that has all but shut down the city of Shanghai.

https://apnews.com/article/covid-business-health-china-beijing-546e033cadf71cea75f606ad65ee0e82?

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With Omicron, nearly 60% in U.S. have been infected during pandemic

Nearly 60% of people in the United States, including 3 in 4 children, have now been infected with Omicron or another coronavirus variant, data released Tuesday show.

https://www.statnews.com/2022/04/26/with-omicron-nearly-60-percent-in-us-infected-covid/

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Coronavirus Briefing

April 27, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

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The New York Times
 
 
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Covid testing in the Chaoyang district of Beijing on Wednesday.Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Beijing’s testing surge

Beijing is racing to test nearly all of its 22 million residents three times over five days in a high-stakes bid to avoid a similar fate as Shanghai, where millions of residents have been forced into an almost unbearable monthlong lockdown.

Today millions of Beijing residents took their second round of tests, and officials from the Chinese capital announced that they had uncovered an additional 46 cases. The city identified three more neighborhoods today as high-risk and four more as medium-risk, designations that both prompt lockdowns.

Overall, it has been a stressful week in the capital, said my colleague Keith Bradsher, The Times’s new Beijing bureau chief, who lives a half-hour walk from the main outbreak — a square-mile area now under police-enforced lockdown.

“Many here in Beijing were terrified on Sunday when city officials said that the virus had slipped into the city and gone through multiple rounds of transmission for at least a week,” Keith said, and Beijing residents feared a harsh lockdown like Shanghai’s. “Beijing residents flocked to supermarkets to stockpile food, emptying shelves. But the authorities and businesses have swiftly ramped up food shipments.”

Despite the initial alarm, Keith told me that the first round of testing of almost all of the city’s 22 million residents found only 138 cases, so “a watchful calm is beginning to return.”

In Shanghai, officials today appeared to be making gradual progress in bringing coronavirus outbreaks under control. The city announced its lowest total for new cases in weeks: 12,309.

Zhao Dandan, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, said at a news conference that the authorities would allow limited activities in areas with no more virus transmission outside of quarantine but would maintain the lockdown of the rest of the city.

But growing anger and anxiety over the Shanghai lockdown is posing a rare challenge for China’s powerful propaganda apparatus, which has pushed a triumphalist narrative of the Covid response. Residents have compiled footage from their daily lives, showing rotting food or shouting matches with local officials, and they have banded together to repost deleted content.

“Many in Shanghai,” Keith said, “never imagined that they would be sealed in their homes for weeks with limited access to food.”

But so far, the response in the city’s capital has been different.

“Shanghai did a single round of citywide testing only after it had more than 1,000 cases in mid-March,” Keith said. However, “Beijing has mobilized 139,000 workers to do three rounds of citywide testing this week in a much faster response to an outbreak. But no one really knows whether that will be enough to control the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”

 
 
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Covid testing at a site in Oakland, Calif.Jim Wilson/The New York Times

More than half of Americans infected

While relatively few people in China have been exposed to the virus, leaving the country vulnerable to a rapid surge of infections, Americans have faced the pathogen at almost every turn.

According to new research from the C.D.C., 60 percent of Americans — including 75 percent of children — had been infected with the coronavirus by February.

Omicron seems be responsible for much of the toll. In December last year, as the highly contagious variant began spreading, only half as many people had antibodies indicating prior infection.

The astonishing milestone was certainly not reached by design and came at an immense human and economic cost. But the data may signal good news. A high level of population-wide immunity and resistance may offer at least a partial bulwark against future waves.

The trend may also explain why the surge that is now roaring through China and many European countries has been muted in the U.S. A high percentage of previous infections may also mean that there are now fewer cases of life-threatening illness or death relative to infections.

 
 
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Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. was transitioning to a new phase of the virus.Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA, via Shutterstock

Fauci says ‘pandemic phase’ is over

When asked about the new infection numbers, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a television interview yesterday that he “wasn’t terribly surprised.”

Fauci said that infection and hospitalization rates had plummeted and that intermittent boosters would help keep infection rates low.

“We’re not going to eradicate this virus,” he told “PBS NewsHour.” “But, right now, we are not in the pandemic phase in this country.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Fauci cautioned that the global pandemic was continuing.

“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that,” Fauci said. “Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic.”

Fauci also said he would not attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on Saturday “because of my individual assessment of my personal risk.” His withdrawal comes amid a great deal of hand-wringing that the event could become a superspreader event similar to the Gridiron Club dinner a few weeks ago, after which a number of Washington’s elite tested positive.

 
 

What else we’re following

 
 

What you’re doing

Since my husband, brother and I are over 72, we have requested — for every holiday — that everyone tests before getting together. It’s worked well — until Easter, when we let down our guard and didn’t test. Five days later more than half the group, including young children, tested positive for Covid. Fortunately, three elders are still OK, but we’re holding our breaths. BA.2 is striking with a vengeance, according to many families just like ours. The numbers just aren’t accurate! Take care of yourselves. We’re on our own now.

— Julie Nilsson, Fort Collins, Co.

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Racial split on COVID-19 endures as restrictions ease in US

Black and Hispanic Americans remain far more cautious in their approach to COVID-19 than white Americans, recent polls show, reflecting diverging preferences on how to deal with the pandemic as federal, state and local restrictions fall by the wayside.

https://apnews.com/article/covid-health-pandemics-public-race-and-ethnicity-6d512d62a6aadf9f1777bc4a4e0f29a9?

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Coronavirus Briefing

April 29, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
 
 

Searching for the next virus

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, but some researchers are already worrying about mousepox.

Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University, has spent the last few years training computers to predict which dangerous viruses could jump from animals to humans, following in the footsteps of the coronavirus (which came from bats), H.I.V. (chimpanzees) and hundreds of other pathogens.

His team used machine learning to develop a short list of potentially dangerous viruses that could eventually make a leap. Mousepox — a virus that infects mice and is similar to smallpox but had not been considered a significant danger to humans — repeatedly came up “super high,” he told my colleague Carl Zimmer.

Digging through the scientific literature, the researchers came across documentation of a mysterious outbreak in 1987 in rural China. Schoolchildren came down with an infection that caused sore throats and inflammation in their hands and feet. When samples from that outbreak were analyzed decades later, scientists found mousepox DNA.

Mousepox is just one of many possible viruses that could cause a new pandemic that computers might be able to suss out beforehand. I asked Carl to explain the complex process experts use to look for potentially dangerous viruses. He said the work started in the field: “It’s not easy. You have to go and catch bats or rodents or tranquilize a lion with darts to take a sample. Not only that, but chances are that in one animal, you wouldn’t find a virus. So you have to catch a bunch.

“Let’s say you’re looking in raccoons. You have to swab them, get feces samples, identify the genetic material. You identify 10 new viruses. Now what? Should we worry about them? Do they pose a threat? What machine learning can do is say, ‘This virus looks a lot like other viruses we’re familiar with.’ You can go through thousands of known viruses. You can make predictions. Then you can test them on a virus you’ve never seen before.”

Could machine learning, in its still-early phase, have foretold Covid’s advent? No, Carl said, because the virus wasn’t known before 2019. But now that we’re sure it originated in bats, machine learning might help us identify types of bats that pose a threat. “Finding those bats should be really high-priority,” he said.

Mammals alone may carry up to 100,000 separate viruses, not even counting those in birds or reptiles. “We’re swimming in an ocean of virus diversity and we barely know about it,” said Carl, author of the book “A Planet of Viruses.” “That’s one reason scientists need to harvest powerful tools like machine learning.”

One thing seems certain: Opportunities for animal-to-human transmission will keep rising because of climate change. As animals seek cooler climes, species will bump against each other. Viruses will leap between them. “A virus that was very distant will become very close,” Carl said.

 
 
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A woman exercises while being kept in isolation at the Greenland Yingtong Building in Shanghai on Wednesday.The New York Times

Shanghai is too angry to be silent

Frustration at the recent, urgent Shanghai pandemic lockdowns grew so strong that displays of anger and grief burst into public view.

During the outbreak, authorities turned the city’s high-rise office buildings into mass isolation centers, replacing desks and employees with beds tightly crammed together. Authorities seized citizen’s homes to set up quarantine centers in buildings. Inside the centers, there was lots of noise, little privacy and few showers. Garbage piled up. Overhead lights were never turned off. Food was scarce.

The Chinese government usually scrubs the internet of dissent. But The Times found videos and photos of the quarantines and some of the protests and put together a visual analysis of what has been happening in the city. Take a look.

What else we’re following

 
 

What you’re doing

Since 2017, I’ve worked for a local anime convention. Recently, we finally put on our first event with confidence that we would prevent Covid. We followed all the rules: All attendees had to be vaccinated, as well as masking and social distancing. So far, we’ve come out of it with no cases. It was the most normal things had felt in a long time, even with the safety precautions. That, however, hasn’t stopped the event from driving a wedge between me and my partner, who is extremely worried about the virus and feels we were irresponsible. I’m at my wit’s end and just wish things could be normal again.

— Kristi, Honolulu

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Florida lost 70,000 people to Covid. It’s still not prepared for the next wave.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As Covid infections begin creeping up again across the country, current and former health officials in Florida are warning that the state remains woefully underprepared to handle the next wave of the pandemic.

https://www.newsbreak.com/news/2588940249658/florida-lost-70-000-people-to-covid-it-s-still-not-prepared-for-the-next-wave?

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Coronavirus Briefing

May 2, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
 
 
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A mural in Katlehong, South Africa, east of Johannesburg, last week.Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

South Africa’s new surge

South Africa is seeing signs of a fifth wave of the coronavirus as cases once again surge across the country. The recent spike is linked to two new subvariants that are part of the Omicron family: BA.4 and BA.5.

In the past week, cases have tripled, positivity rates have risen, and hospitalizations have increased. The surge, which is mainly concentrated in the Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, comes only a few months after South Africa’s initial Omicron wave last winter.

BA.4 and BA.5 are both offshoots of the original Omicron variant, which emerged sometime around November. In January, Omicron gave rise to a lineage of the virus with even more mutations, which included BA.4 and BA. 5. Here’s what we know so far:

  • Emerging data show that in unvaccinated people, BA.4 and BA.5 evade the natural defenses produced from an Omicron infection.
  • The two new subvariants spread more quickly than BA.2, which itself was more contagious than the original Omicron variant.
  • Scientists are still studying whether this new wave creates more severe illness.
  • In the U.S., public health officials have identified BA.4 and BA.5 circulating at low levels. But another Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is currently dominant, and one more subvariant, BA.2.12.1, is gaining ground.

“Scientists have been trying to figure out what those mutations do for the variants, and it looks like it helps them evade immunity from earlier forms of Omicron,” said my colleague Carl Zimmer. “A year ago, we were amazed at how fast Delta was spreading at the time. And in a year, we’ve gone through several upgrades of this virus, and now it spreads way faster. It’s on par with measles.”

We also seem to be in a different pattern of evolution, Carl added. In 2021, we saw new variants that were markedly different from other forms of the virus. But now we’re experiencing evolutionary upgrades to viruses that remain in the Omicron family tree.

“This is familiar terrain for scientists because this is similar to what the flu does, and other viruses do,” Carl said. “Instead of something leaping out of the blue, you have an existing virus that is clearly working very well, and then, thanks to evolution, works even better.”

It’s difficult to predict what the surge in South Africa means for other countries. Local spikes can depend on a lot of factors, including local levels of immunity, virus restrictions and weather conditions.

Researchers estimate that about 90 percent of the population in South Africa has some immunity, in part from inoculation but largely because of previous infection. Yet immunity from infection typically begins to wane at around three months. It’s natural to see re-infection at that stage, particularly given people’s changing behaviors, like less mask-wearing and increased traveling, one expert said.

Even so, as the epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina noted: “If ‘endemic’ SARS-CoV-2 is six-month infection waves, we are in for a wild ride.”

 
 
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A worker registering for a Covid test on Thursday in Beijing.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Beijing under pressure

China’s capital has reopened a mass coronavirus isolation center with 1,000 beds, the latest in a raft of measures to try to stave off a citywide lockdown.

While the city has recorded only 400 cases since April 22, officials are under immense pressure to quickly suppress outbreaks and avoid the fate of Shanghai, where residents are still being told to stay home.

In recent days, Beijing officials have placed a temporary ban on dining in restaurants, closed schools indefinitely and ordered residents to show proof of a negative test within the past week to enter public spaces and use public transportation. Nearly all of Beijing’s 22 million residents have undergone three rounds of testing, and so far, the scale of the outbreak appears to be limited.

Since the beginning of March, Shanghai has reported more than 550,000 cases, leading officials to institute harsh quarantine measures that have resulted in shortages of food and supplies, and in protests. However, cases in Shanghai are declining. Today, the authorities reported about 6,600 new infections, down from 7,800 on Sunday.

Noticeably absent from the conversation on lockdowns during the last month was China’s leader, Xi Jinping. In April, Xi gave no public speeches focused on outbreaks in China, and he didn’t directly address the 25 million residents of Shanghai during their lockdown.

He wants to deliberately keep a certain distance from Shanghai, said Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper who now lives in the U.S. “No doubt, he’s doing a lot about fighting the pandemic behind the scenes, but of course he does not want to be directly drawn into the mess in Shanghai.”

 
 

The summer we’ve been waiting for

Last summer felt full of promise. Many of us entered the season freshly jabbed, and, after languishing for months in lockdown, we were ready to take back our social lives. During those first weeks of warmer weather, many of us took our first steps toward re-engaging with friends, events, colleagues and a brighter future — until the Delta variant crashed the party.

Will this summer be different? Not only are we smarter about how to protect ourselves, we’re more realistic about what might be in store, and can therefore plan accordingly. Some have argued that this is actually the summer we’ve been waiting for.

But we want to hear from you: What does summer 2022 mean to you? And how are you approaching it? You can share your thoughts with us here. We may use your response in an upcoming newsletter.

 
 

What else we’re following

 
 

What you’re doing

I am a school teacher and one of the few to wear a mask. Recently, I was hit hard with Covid-19. I went home early and then to the hospital by ambulance. The doctor said he hadn’t seen a Covid case in months. I am home recovering now. I am happy I had my mask on around my unmasked students. It didn’t keep me from getting Covid, but hopefully it kept me from spreading it.

— Heidi Valery, Deptford, N.J.

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Coronavirus Briefing

May 4, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
 
 
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For every Omicron there is a Gamma.Nanographics/EPA, via Shutterstock

Lessons from a lesser variant

Do you remember Mu?

It was a variant of concern with several troubling mutations that spread swiftly in Colombia in early 2021, fueling a surge of new cases. Today, Mu has all but vanished but it can still offer lessons for researchers that could help them understand the future of the pandemic.

“If we want to try and understand what makes variants like Omicron and Delta so successful, there’s only so much we can learn from studying them in isolation,” said my colleague Emily Anthes. “You have to also study the variants that they beat to understand what they were doing that Mu and Iota were not.”

New research has shown that Mu did not replicate faster than early variants like Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma, but that it was more resistant to antibodies than any known variant besides Omicron. Even so, Delta easily overtook Mu, along with several other immune-evasive variants including Beta, Gamma and Lambda, because it was so transmissible.

“Some variants are really good at spreading, and others are maybe fine at spreading, but much better at evading antibodies and our immune system defenses,” Emily said. “And at least for the first year or two years of the pandemic, transmissibility really won out.”

That may already be changing. As vaccinations and multiple waves of infection have changed the immune landscape, a highly immune-evasive variant should now have more of an edge, scientists said, which is probably part of the reason Omicron has been so successful.

Looking back at previous variants is also providing insight into what worked — and didn’t — in containing them.

Take Gamma: It was first identified in Brazil in late 2020 and then later detected in the U.S., despite a lengthy U.S. travel ban on most people coming from Brazil. Tracking the variant offers evidence that America’s travel bans were not particularly effective.

Lesser variants are also revealing our blind spots. By analyzing the genomic sequences of Mu samples collected from all over the world, researchers have reconstructed the variant’s spread and found that it circulated for months before it was detected.

“It’s a reminder that comprehensive, real-time surveillance is going to give us the best warning system for which variants pose a threat,” Emily said. Even countries that have had laudable tracking systems, like Britain, are starting to ease off and discontinue some aspect of their programs, she said. “There’s a real concern that we’re not doing enough.”

 
 
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Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

The view from Beijing

Residents in Beijing are on edge after the authorities announced new measures to contain the capital’s small but growing outbreak.

Keith Bradsher, The Times’s Beijing bureau chief, recently sent in photos of his district as unease over further restrictions grows. Authorities have been locking down entire apartment complexes as soon as cases are detected.

The have also tested around 22 million people three times in five days. To accomplish that they have set up free test sites every several blocks, like this one.

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Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

“Workers locked down a low-rise apartment complex across an avenue from my home one morning after three cases were found,” Keith wrote. “They blocked the entrance with a steel barrier.”

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Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

At the first signs of a potential outbreak, at the end of April, residents quickly emptied supermarket shelves. But with the government’s help, grocery stores have fully restocked, and stockpiling by residents has slowed.

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Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

Shanghai’s monthlong lockdown has left many residents hungry in their homes. Beijing residents worry that they may be next. Some are buying extra refrigerators. Two are on the back of this motorcycle delivery cart.

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Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

Many neighborhoods are barring outsiders. They set up tables at the entrances to their alleys to accept deliveries. Residents take turns standing guard, denying entry to anyone who does not live there.

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Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

Residents like Yang Hui, 37, a sales manager in Beijing, are preparing for the possibility of an indefinite lockdown. Last week, she ordered several boxes of instant noodles and cat litter after a positive case was detected near her home. The reopening of schools, which were closed ahead of a national holiday, has also been postponed for at least one week.

“It’s hard to plan anything in advance,” said Yang, who is now scrambling to arrange child care for her two children. “I’m so tired of Covid and the so-called zero-Covid strategy.”

 
 

What else we’re following

 
 

What you’re doing

Recently I had my yearly checkup, and all the nurse assistant did was ask me how I was and the tears started streaming down my face. I was confused because I had no idea where this reaction was coming from. But he knew. He asked several questions: How is your sleep? What do you do in a day? (I am 67, retired and widowed, with busy family near me.) Still emotional, and with tears streaming, he gently told me how hard the virus has been on elders because of isolation.

He said whether I knew it or not, I was likely depressed, and his concern for my welfare was all it took to open the floodgates. He prescribed a low-dose antidepressant and for me to get my children to make time to visit or at least call and chat. He also wanted me to get out of the house more (mask on) and do some of my pre-Covid activities. I honestly had not realized that I had isolated myself so much and blocked out so much of my feelings. I am glad to say that after a month and a half I am feeling better and doing a little more in and out of my home. So I say to my fellow seniors, having a stiff upper lip and rolling with the punches is good, but we need to realize we are social animals and need each other too.

— Margaret Siemers, a small town in Pennsylvania

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WHO: Nearly 15 million died as a result of Covid-19 in first two years of pandemic

Nearly 15 million people died as a result of Covid-19 in the first two years of the pandemic, the World Health Organization estimated in a report released Thursday. That figure is 2.7 times higher than the 5.4 million deaths that governments around the world reported to the global health agency for that period.

https://www.statnews.com/2022/05/05/who-nearly-15-million-died-as-a-result-of-covid-19-in-first-two-years-of-pandemic/

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FDA puts strict limits on Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine

(CNN)The US Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it is limiting the emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Covid-19 vaccine to people 18 and older for whom other vaccines aren't appropriate or accessible and those who opt for J&J because they wouldn't otherwise get vaccinated.

https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/05/health/fda-johnson-johnson-vaccine-eua/index.html

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Coronavirus Briefing

May 6, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times
 
 
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A patient with long Covid being examined in a hospital in Israel.Amir Cohen/Reuters

Can Covid lead to erectile dysfunction?

Hundreds of papers by scientists in Europe and North America, as well as in Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Thailand, point to yes. But the estimates of the magnitude of the problem vary wildly, my colleague Roni Caryn Rabin reports.

Researchers at the University of Miami’s Desai Sethi Urology Institute found that the risk of erectile dysfunction increased by 20 percent after a bout with Covid. Other investigators have reported even higher increases.

Research from imaging scans and biopsies indicates that the coronavirus can infect tissue within the male genital tract, where it may linger. But scientists say it may be too soon to be certain about a link, because so many factors — psychological as well as physiological — play a role in producing and maintaining an erection. The pandemic has led to social isolation and a surge in anxiety and depression, all of which may play a role.

“Men’s erections are more complicated than people think,” said Dr. Justin Dubin, who co-wrote a paper about the adverse impact of Covid on men’s health. Blood flow and good hormone levels are important, he said, “but you also need to be in a good state of mind, and you also need to be aroused. If any of these things go wrong, you may have an issue getting an erection.”

In that sense, experts say the pandemic is the perfect confluence of converging factors that can cause erectile dysfunction.

Some researchers speculate that erectile dysfunction may be linked to the well-documented loss of the ability to taste and smell experienced by Covid patients, because these senses play an important role in sexual arousal.

At the very least, men need healthy blood vessels and good blood flow in order to develop and sustain erections, and the coronavirus may damage the circulatory system. Injury to blood vessels may also contribute to more serious complications of Covid, like heart attacks, strokes and abnormal clotting.

“Our entire vascular system is connected — it’s not an isolated penis problem,” said Dr. T. Mike Hsieh, director of the men’s health center at the University of California, San Diego. Erectile dysfunction can resolve on its own, but Dr. Hsieh encouraged men with symptoms to see their physicians, and sooner rather than later.

“If you’re having these problems, do not wait,” he said. “For the most part, we can get the guys’ sex lives back.”

 
 
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Hospitalizations are trending in the wrong direction.Dave Sanders for The New York Times

A coming strain on hospitals?

Hospitalizations are rising again in the U.S., and experts are worried about the potential to strain the health care system.

As of Wednesday, an average of nearly 18,000 people with the coronavirus were in American hospitals, an increase of almost 20 percent from two weeks ago. That includes patients who were admitted for other reasons who tested positive on arrival.

mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic01.nyt.com%
The New York Times

The influx has been even steeper in hot spots, like the one that began in upstate New York and spilled into nearby states. There were 2,119 patients hospitalized in the state with Covid on Tuesday, 47 percent more than two weeks ago.

The figure is still well below the winter Omicron peak of January, when about 13,000 people were hospitalized statewide, but it has been increasing, propelled by rapidly spreading BA.2 subvariants. At the same time, hospitals are struggling with staffing shortages and a recent increase in infections among their staffs.

“Covid is here, Covid is an issue,” said Michael Stapleton, the chief executive at F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua, N.Y. “But the main challenge up here is the staffing.”

 
 

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What you’re doing

I baked chocolate chip cookies with my son this evening. It’s so interesting how memories can be very sensory driven. My first bite was such an overwhelming sense of “yum, this tastes like quarantine.” Yeah, we baked a lot of cookies when we were in our Covid bubble, which we’ve now come out of for the most part since everyone in the house except me had Omicron in January.

— Jenny Wilkinson, Dallas

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Coronavirus Briefing

May 9, 2022

 

An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

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The New York Times
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By Amelia Nierenberg

Writer, Briefings

 
 

Expecting a fall surge

The Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that 100 million Americans will be infected with the coronavirus this fall and winter, according to an administration official. That’s lower than the number of Americans who were infected during the Omicron wave in December and January, but still amounts to roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population.

Should that scenario play out, my colleague Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports, the administration’s goal is to prevent a spike in hospitalizations and deaths. One way that might be accomplished would be to revive mask mandates, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The projection is based on a range of outside models and assumes that a rapidly evolving virus in the Omicron family — not a new variant — will spread through a population with waning immunity against infection. Many vaccinated and previously infected people would contract the virus.

The official predicted that the wave would begin this summer in the South as people move indoors to escape the heat. In the fall, it would begin to spread across the rest of the country as the weather turned cold.

With prospects for a fresh round of emergency coronavirus aid appearing shaky on Capitol Hill, administration officials met this week with key senators — including two leading Republicans — to press their case. The Biden administration has requested $22.5 billion in emergency pandemic aid, but Republicans have insisted on a much lower number.

The White House is now making contingency plans for how it will provide more Covid vaccines if Congress does not allocate more money for tests, therapeutics and vaccines.

Details: Stat News, citing budget documents sent to Congress, reported that the U.S. might run out of Covid-19 vaccines by September if the U.S. encouraged all adults to get a second vaccine booster shot.

 
 

Taiwan moves past Covid zero

As China doubles down on its efforts to stamp out the coronavirus, Taiwan’s government is shifting its strategy.

“We are now moving from zero Covid to the path of coexisting with the virus,” Chen Shih-chung, Taiwan’s health minister, said at a news briefing, adding that he expected Covid to become more “flulike” in nature.

Despite soaring case counts, Taiwan is now allowing people with mild and asymptomatic infections to isolate at home instead of in hospitals. The government slashed the number of days in quarantine required of incoming travelers and people deemed close contacts.

The authorities are also putting more emphasis on vaccinations instead of quarantines and contact tracing, while warning that daily infections may surpass 100,000 this week. Officials have emphasized that more than 99.7 percent of the new infections so far have been mild or asymptomatic.

With those numbers in mind, Taiwanese health officials say they are shifting their focus from looking at total infections to “reducing disasters” by redirecting resources to the most vulnerable populations. Older adults who are not fully vaccinated are at high risk: They make up more than half of the 78 deaths reported in the recent outbreak.

In part, the policy shift is an economic consideration: A strict Covid strategy once made Taiwan a rare safe haven for international concerts and conferences. But as the rest of the world relaxes pandemic restrictions, Taiwan risks losing out on tourism and investment by continuing to stay closed.

It’s also political. Unlike China, Taiwan’s leaders say, Taiwan can balance the needs of public health with the rights of the individual and the healthy functioning of society.

 
 

What else we’re following

 
 

What you’re doing

I live in a rural part of town, was widowed in my mid-50s 16 years ago and like to think that I do “alone” pretty well. But now that things are easing up, and I have been receiving and accepting invitations, and even attending meetings, masked, I realize just how isolated I actually had become. It wasn’t until I started volunteering at the local elementary school last week that I truly understood the toll a lack of social interactions had taken. I’m starting to feel more like my pre-pandemic self. — Melissa Stephenson, Peterborough, N.H.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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