The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, beginning the rollout of millions of doses of a third effective vaccine that could reach Americans by early next week.
The announcement arrived at a critical moment, as the steep decline in coronavirus cases seems to have plateaued and millions of Americans are on waiting lists for shots.
Johnson & Johnson has pledged to provide the United States with 100 million doses by the end of June. When combined with the 600 million doses from the two-shot vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna scheduled to arrive by the end of July, there will be more than enough shots to cover any American adult who wants one.
But federal and state health officials are concerned that even with strong data to support it, some people may perceive Johnson & Johnson’s shot as an inferior option.
The new vaccine’s 72 percent efficacy rate in the U.S. clinical trial site — a number scientists have celebrated — falls short of the roughly 95 percent rate found in studies testing the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Across all trial sites, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also showed 85 percent efficacy against severe forms of Covid-19 and 100 percent efficacy against hospitalization and death from the virus.
“Don’t get caught up, necessarily, on the number game, because it’s a really good vaccine, and what we need is as many good vaccines as possible,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview on Saturday. “Rather than parsing the difference between 94 and 72, accept the fact that now you have three highly effective vaccines. Period.”
If Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine would have been the first to be authorized in the United States instead of the third, “everybody would be doing handstands and back flips and high-fives,” said Dr. James T. McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting F.D.A. commissioner, said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Saturday that “each of these vaccines will be effective” and would prevent hospitalizations and death. “This is an effective vaccine that meets the federal standards,” she said. “They haven’t been tested head to head against one another, so it’s very difficult to do a numerical comparison.”
On Sunday, a committee of vaccine experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet to discuss whether certain population groups should be prioritized for the vaccine, guidance that state health officials have been eagerly awaiting in anticipation of the F.D.A.’s authorization.
One administration official familiar with the distribution of the vaccine said that shipments would begin on Monday and deliveries could arrive as soon as Tuesday.
Johnson & Johnson has said it will ship nearly four million doses as soon as the F.D.A. authorizes distribution and another 16 million or so doses by the end of March. That is far fewer than the 37 million doses called for in its $1 billion federal contract, but the contract says that deliveries that are 30 days late will still be considered timely.
The federal government is paying the firm $10 a dose for a total of 100 million doses to be ready by the end of June, substantially less per dose than it agreed to pay Moderna and Pfizer, which developed its vaccine with a German partner, BioNTech.
Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine might allow states to rapidly increase the number of people who have been fully inoculated. Unlike the other two vaccines, it can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures for at least three months.
Dr. Danny Avula, the vaccine coordinator for Virginia, said the Johnson & Johnson shipments would increase the state’s allotment of vaccine next week by nearly one-fifth.
“I’m super-pumped about this,” he said. “A 100 percent efficacy against deaths and hospitalizations? That’s all I need to hear.”
He said the state was planning mass vaccination events specifically for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, partly to quell any suspicion that it is a lesser product targeted to specific groups.
“It will be super clear that this is Johnson & Johnson — here’s what you need to know about it,” he said. “If you want to do this, you’re coming in with eyes wide open. If not, you will keep your place on the list.”
Small mask producers, who have recently begun making N95s and other medical grade masks and are largely shut out by hospital networks, had hoped to sell their high-filtration products online, where Americans do much of their shopping. But tech giants — such as Google, Facebook and Amazon — have not made that easy, even as scientists have urged people to upgrade their face coverings to those that can block the tiny pathogens that cause infection.
Google and Facebook ban the sale of medical-grade masks, and Amazon limits their availability to shoppers — policies born during the early months of the pandemic, when hospitals were scrambling to obtain protective gear.
But some public health experts and mask manufacturers say these rules are outdated, especially given the spread of more infectious coronavirus variants and the abundance of domestically made masks that are gathering dust in warehouses across the country. The restrictions, they say, may hinder the country’s ability to limit new infections in the months before vaccinations become more widely available.
“Even though cases are coming down right now, we need people to be wearing high-filtration masks to prevent any sort of super spreading resurgences, particularly with these new variants,” said Dr. Abraar Karan, a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School who has been pushing for a national program to subsidize and distribute high-filtration masks to the public.
The e-commerce platforms say they are taking their cues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which continues to recommend that N95s be prioritized for medical personnel amid a national shortage.
But mask-making behemoths, like 3M and Honeywell, have drastically increased their production to meet the needs of medical workers, and China, which abruptly cut off exports during the early months of the pandemic, is once again flooding the United States with lower-priced N95s.
“I’d be happy to sell my masks to health care workers, but right now hospitals aren’t exactly banging down my door,” said Brian Wolin, the chief executive of Protective Health Gear, a year-old company in Paterson, N.J., that has a half million unsold N95 masks at its factory.
Dan Castle, whose company, CastleGrade, makes a reusable, high-filtration face mask that has been popular among dentists, teachers and those who work in proximity to others, said some of the products that were sold on Facebook and Instagram seemed to violate basic notions of coronavirus infection control.
“It’s disheartening because we are playing by the rules and we can’t catch a break,” he said. “But it’s especially upsetting because, in this case, lives are at stake.”
Americans who go into the military understand the loss of personal liberty. Many of their daily activities are prescribed, as are their hairstyles, attire and personal conduct.
So when it comes to taking a coronavirus vaccine, many troops — especially younger enlisted personnel as opposed to their officers — see a rare opportunity to exercise free will.
“The Army tells me what, how and when to do almost everything,” said Sgt. Tracey Carroll, who is based at Fort Sill, an Army post in Oklahoma. “They finally asked me to do something and I actually have a choice, so I said no.”
Sergeant Carroll, 24, represents a broad swath of members of the military — a largely young, healthy set of Americans from every corner of the nation — who are declining to get the shot, which for now is optional among personnel. They cite an array of political and health-related concerns.
But this reluctance among younger troops is a warning to civilian health officials about the potential hole in the broad-scale immunity that medical professionals say is needed for Americans to reclaim their collective lives.
“At the end of the day, our military is our society,” said Dr. Michael S. Weiner, the former chief medical officer for the Defense Department, who now serves in the same role for Maximus, a government contractor and technology company. “They have the same social media, the same families, the same issues that society at large has.”
Roughly one-third of troops on active duty or in the National Guard have declined to take the vaccine, military officials recently told Congress. In some places, such as Fort Bragg, N.C., the nation’s largest military installation, acceptance rates are below 50 percent.
Tom Moore, the 100-year-old British national hero who raised millions of pounds for the National Health Service during the pandemic, was sent off with military honors at his funeral on Saturday.
Soldiers in Bedford, England, carried Mr. Moore’s coffin and performed a firing gun salute for the decorated World War II veteran, who came to be known and loved as “Captain Tom.” The ceremony was also marked by the flyover of a World War II-era Royal Air Force plane.
Mr. Moore became a national sensation last year when he took up his walker for charity and started doing laps around his brick garden patio in Marston Moretaine, a village an hour north of London.
His daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, publicized his walks and helped turn them into an online fund-raising campaign with the original goal of raising £1,000 for the National Health Service, which was stretched to the breaking point by the pandemic.
Mr. Moore ultimately did 100 laps, raising £32.8 million, or $45 million, and skyrocketing to beloved celebrity status. He died in February after being treated for pneumonia, and then testing positive for Covid-19.
“We had been so close as a family before this, but we were thrust even closer together as the world became enthralled by your spirit of hope, positivity and resilience,” Ms. Ingram-Moore said on Saturday, during a service limited to family members but broadcast online. “They too saw your belief in kindness and the fundamental goodness of the human spirit.”
With his spry charm, mischievous smile and dapper attire, Mr. Moore became a star of international media. He recorded a chart-topping song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” with the singer Michael Ball. And he caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth II, who made a rare public appearance during the pandemic to knight him at Windsor Castle.
When he died, tributes poured in from pop stars and everyday citizens alike.
“Someone will have to make extra cake and sandwiches, and it won’t be me.”
Today we celebrate the life of our hero. We will be following Captain Tom’s wishes by enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge cake. Please join us as we raise a cup to him. pic.twitter.com/c9F1xBFL9a
— Captain Tom Moore (@captaintommoore) February 27, 2021
Mr. Moore said in an interview with The New York Times in May that he viewed fund-raising as a way to support health workers, just as he recalled the nation supporting him and his fellow soldiers during the war.
“At that time, the people my age, we were fighting on the front line and the general public was standing behind us,” he said. “In this instance, the doctors and nurses and all the medical people, they’re the front line. It’s up to my generation to back them up, just as we were backed up.”
He spent the last few months of his life writing a book that included directions for his funeral, the BBC reported. In a section released by the family, Mr. Moore requested that the service include the song “My Way,” by Frank Sinatra. It did.
“I always did things my way,” he wrote, “and especially like the line about having too few regrets to mention.”
Colleges and universities across the country are pledging to reopen more fully in the fall, with some administrators worried that students won’t return to campus if normality, or some semblance of it, isn’t restored by September.
Schools from large state institutions to small private ones have announced they are laying plans to bring students back to dormitories, deploy professors to teach most (if not all) classes in person and restart extracurricular activities, in stark contrast to the past academic year of largely virtual courses and limited social contact. The announcements of these changes coincide with the sending of acceptance letters to the class of 2025.
Some schools have taken a financial hit because of deferred admissions or lost room-and-board fees.
Bradley University, in Peoria, Ill., which has 5,600 undergraduate and graduate students, said earlier this month that it would return to “traditional residential education” in the fall, with in-person classes and activities on campus.
Kansas State University announced on Wednesday that it too is planning a “more normal” fall semester, with largely in-person classes, events and activities. Ohio State announced on Thursday that it plans to offer “robust” in-person activities and classes, allowing students to live in residence halls and fans to attend football games.
Katherine Fleming, New York University’s provost, told colleagues in an email on Tuesday of plans to have “all faculty teaching their classes in-person, in the classroom, in the fall 2021.” She conceded, however, that this would depend in part on whether enough professors were vaccinated by then.
Indeed, most school officials said that whether they can deliver on these promises hinges on factors like how much the virus can be suppressed, the availability of the vaccine — which is still in scarce supply, even for those who are eligible — and guidance from government authorities.
Despite their hopefulness about the fall, schools have struggled with keeping the virus in check. Positivity rates rose among college students, as among the general population, over the holidays, when people traveled. Administrators have put out many stern warnings that small parties and gatherings have been a source of infection. Many have noted, however, that the classroom itself has not proven to be a vector of infection, as long as students and teachers follow safety guidelines like wearing masks and social distancing.
More than 120,000 coronavirus cases have been linked to American colleges and universities since Jan. 1, and more than 530,000 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times survey. The Times has identified more than 100 deaths, but the vast majority involved employees, not students.
The House passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan early Saturday in a nearly party-line vote, advancing a sweeping pandemic aid package that would provide billions of dollars for unemployed Americans, struggling families and businesses, schools and the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.
The vote was 219 to 212, with Democrats pushing the measure over unanimous Republican opposition. The legislation, which has broad bipartisan support among voters, now heads to the Senate. Democrats have a one-vote margin of control in the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s power to break ties.
With unemployment benefits set to begin lapsing on March 14 for the workers who have been thrown off the job longest in the crisis, Democrats have only two weeks to finish the package in the Senate and resend it to the House and Mr. Biden’s desk.
The Democrats are pushing the legislation through Congress using a fast-track budget process, known as reconciliation, that would allow it to pass on a simple majority vote in the Senate. However, the process means that arcane Senate rules will be applied, adding to the challenges Democrats face.
As passed by the House, the plan, Mr. Biden’s first significant legislative initiative, offer the following benefits:
Provide $1,400 direct payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 a year and to couples earning up to $150,000
Expand a weekly federal unemployment benefit that is set to lapse in mid-March, increasing the payments to $400 a week from $300 and extending them through the end of August
Increase the child tax credit
Provide more than $50 billion for vaccine distribution, testing and tracing
Allocate nearly $200 billion to primary and secondary schools and $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments
Republicans argue that the measure is too costly and too broad in scope, and the bill could change during Senate consideration. While it includes a marquee progressive proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, that measure has been ruled out of order by a top Senate official, who cited the special rules on reconciliation. Senate Democrats were exploring alternatives that would allow them to maintain a version of the wage increase without imperiling the broader stimulus package.
In the week ahead, the Democrats will also face challenges in steering other aspects of the bill through procedural obstacles and around political pitfalls, including debates over how much to spend on closing state and local budget shortfalls and how to distribute the expanded tax benefits aimed at helping impoverished families.
The challenge for Mr. Biden will be holding both his party’s progressive and centrist factions together in the face of unified Republican opposition.
“We have no time to waste,” Mr. Biden said on Saturday at the White House. “If we act now decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus.”
The N.B.A. said on Friday that it was investigating a report by Jeremy Lin, one of the best-known Asian-American players in basketball, that he had been called “coronavirus” on the court.
Mr. Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, disclosed the slur in a Facebook post on Thursday in which he denounced the racism and discrimination faced by Asian-Americans.
His statement came during a recent surge of attacks against Asian-Americans, including stabbings and physical attacks on seniors, that have stoked fear and anxiety in the community. Researchers and activists have linked a yearlong rise in racist incidents to former President Donald J. Trump repeatedly describing the coronavirus as the “China virus.”
“I want better for my elders who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make a life for themselves here,” wrote Mr. Lin, who plays for the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate in the G League, the N.B.A.’s developmental league. “Being a nine year N.B.A. veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court.”
A league spokesman confirmed that an investigation had been opened, but declined to comment further. The investigation was first reported by The Athletic.
Mr. Lin, who was a breakout star of the 2011-12 N.B.A. season and has spoken openly about the discrimination and questioning he has faced in professional basketball, said in an Instagram post on Friday that he would not be “naming or shaming anyone.”
“It doesn’t make my community safer or solve any of our long-term problems with racism,” he said, before going on to address anti-Black racism and calling for experiences of discrimination to not be pitted against each other.
“The world will have you believe that there isn’t enough justice or opportunities to go around,” he wrote. “But this just isn’t true.”
An outbreak in New Zealand that is linked to cases at its airport from earlier in February has prompted the second snap lockdown in weeks for Auckland, the country’s largest city.
On Saturday night, as people crowded in bars and restaurants, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland, a city of around 1.7 million people, would begin a seven-day lockdown, with most businesses forced to close, starting Sunday morning. The lockdown marks exactly one year since the country’s first confirmed case of the virus.
Earlier in February, after a worker at Auckland airport and her relatives contracted the variant of the virus first discovered in Britain, the New Zealand government instituted a three-day local lockdown starting on Feb. 14 and tested more than 100,000 people with possible links to the family.
A total of 12 people in the community have since tested positive, including students at a high school and their family members, setting off concerns of wider transmission.
The main impetus for the latest lockdown, Ms. Ardern told reporters, is that health officials have not been able to pinpoint how a recent case in that cluster has contracted the virus. “If we cannot immediately link a case person-to-person — what we call an epidemiological link — that is a significant issue and one we need to act on,” she said.
The lockdown will affect sporting events such as a Twenty20 cricket game between Australia and New Zealand, which has been relocated to Wellington, and the America’s Cup Event yacht race scheduled to begin on March 6 in Auckland’s harbor.
New Zealand has been among the most successful developed nations in controlling the spread of the virus. The country of five million people has reported a total of 2,372 confirmed cases and 26 deaths from the virus — about 49 cases per 100,000 people. By contrast, Australia has reported 116 cases per 100,000 people, and the United States has had 8,602 confirmed cases per 100,000 people since the start of the pandemic.
The country began vaccinating border workers last week, with 1,000 doses administered so far, according to a New York Times database. Travel from New Zealand to Australia, which had been exempt from quarantine requirements since the end of last year, has been suspended because of the new cases.
Ms. Ardern disputed the suggestion that Auckland should have remained in the lockdown imposed on Feb. 14. “That was not what the evidence required, and therefore it was also not the advice we were given,” she said.
The Palestinian Authority on Saturday announced a new set of lockdown restrictions in the West Bank as coronavirus infections surge and Palestinians await, after continuing delays, the rollout of a significant vaccination program.
Israel, meanwhile, has secured ample supplies of vaccine for itself and outpaced the rest of the world in administering them, an imbalance that has added new frictions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The West Bank restrictions, set to last for 12 days, include the closure of universities, nighttime curbs on travel and nonessential commerce, and a ban on gatherings for weddings, parties and funerals.
The Palestinian minister of health, Mai al-Kaila, said on Saturday that 910 new cases and five deaths had been recorded in the West Bank in the previous 24 hours. Another Palestinian, she added, had died in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after contracting Covid-19, as did three Palestinians from East Jerusalem in recent days.
According to her agency, there have been about 206,440 confirmed cases among Palestinians over the past year, including about 24,500 in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, assumed responsibility for health services in its areas of control when the interim peace agreements known as the Oslo Accords were signed in the mid-1990s. More than 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, and two million in Gaza.
Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority said Saturday that global competition was mostly to blame for delays in a significant vaccination rollout, but that a batch of vaccines were expected to arrive next week, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
Israel has vaccinated more than half its population of 9.2 million with a first dose, and more than a third with a second dose. So far, it has provided the Palestinian Authority with only 2,000 vaccine doses, promising 3,000 more.
Human rights advocates have argued that Israel should be vaccinating the Palestinian population in parallel with its own citizens. They cite the Fourth Geneva Convention, under which occupying powers are obligated to safeguard the public health of people living under occupation.
So far, the Palestinians have received 10,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, 2,000 of which were transferred from the West Bank to Gaza. Last weekend, another shipment of 20,000 Russian doses donated by the United Arab Emirates entered Gaza across the Egyptian border.
Palestinian officials expect to receive hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses through the global-sharing initiative Covax next month.
In a season of lockdowns, Georgia Steel was jet setting.
A digital influencer and reality television star, Ms. Steel left England in late December for Dubai, where she promoted lingerie on Instagram from a luxury hotel. By January, she was at a resort in the Maldives, where spa treatments include body wraps with sweet basil and coconut powder.
“We be drippin’,” Ms. Steel, 22, told her 1.6 million Instagram followers in a post that showed her wading through tropical waters in a bikini. Nevermind that Covid-19 caseloads in Britain and the Maldives were escalating, or that England had just announced its third lockdown.
The Maldives, an island nation off the coast of India, is not only tolerating tourists like Ms. Steel, but urging them to visit. More than 300,000 have arrived since the country reopened its borders last summer, including several dozen influencers, social media stars with large followings who are often paid to hawk products. Many have been courted by the government and traveled on paid junkets to exclusive resorts.
The government says its open-door strategy is ideal for a tourism-dependent country whose decentralized geography — about 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean — helps with social distancing. Since the borders reopened, well under 1 percent of arriving visitors have tested positive for the coronavirus, official data show.
The Maldives’s strategy underscores how far-flung vacation spots and the influencers they court have become flash points for controversy.
As people around the world shelter in place, some influencers have posted about fleeing to small towns or foreign countries and encouraging their followers to do the same, potentially endangering locals and others on their travels.
“So we’re just not in a pandemic huh?” Beverly Cowell, an administrator in England, commented on Ms. Steel’s Instagram post, giving voice to many who see such travelers as skirting the rules.
Influencers from England, in particular, have faced criticism in recent weeks for defying lockdown rules that ban all but essential travel. Some insisted that traveling was essential to their work, while others apologized under public pressure.
“I was like, ‘Oh, well, it’s legal so it’s fine,’” the influencer KT Franklin said in an apology video about her trip to the Maldives. “But it’s not fine. It’s really irresponsible and reckless and tone deaf.”
What We Learned
The United States recorded its 500,000th coronavirus-related death.
Scientists reported a concerning new virus variant in New York that could weaken the effects of vaccines.
And health officials and experts warned governors against loosening restrictions in their states, saying the sharp decline in new coronavirus cases “may be stalling.” They worry that Americans, with the finish line to the pandemic seemingly in sight, might once again underestimate the virus, triggering a fourth wave.
But there was a big piece of good news this week: The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was endorsed on Friday by a panel of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration, clearing the way for the emergency authorization of a third Covid-19 vaccine in the United States.
Here’s what else we learned this week:
Covax, a global program designed to improve vaccine access for poorer countries, launched on Wednesday when hundreds of thousands of doses arrived in Ghana. But the initiative is hitting some road blocks. Trying to secure more vaccines for themselves, rich countries are undermining Covax and prolonging the pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.
A large nationwide U.S. study has found two major ways children can become seriously ill from the coronavirus. A key finding in the study was that Black or Hispanic kids were more likely to suffer from an inflammatory syndrome that has erupted in some children weeks after they have had a typically mild initial infection. Experts say the disparity most likely reflects socioeconomic and other factors that have disproportionately exposed some communities to the virus.
Canada approved use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday. The addition of a third vaccine, in addition to the offerings from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, may help Canada alleviate a growing dissatisfaction about the sluggish pace of vaccination in the country.
Carl Zimmer is a science columnist for The Times who has been covering the coronavirus pandemic. The Sunday Review adapted this essay from his forthcoming book “Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive.”
Last spring, coyotes strolled down the streets of San Francisco in broad daylight. Pods of rarely seen pink dolphins cavorted in the waters around Hong Kong. In Tel Aviv, jackals wandered a city park, a herd of mountain goats took over a town in Wales, and porcupines ambled through Rome’s ancient ruins. As the canals in Venice turned strangely clear, cormorants started diving for fish, and Canada geese escorted their goslings down the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard, passing empty shops displaying Montblanc pens and Fendi handbags.
Nature was expanding as billions of people were retreating from the Covid-19 pandemic. The change was so swift, so striking that scientists needed a new name for it: the anthropause.
But the anthropause did more than reconfigure the animal kingdom. It also altered the planet’s chemistry. As factories grew quiet and traffic dropped, ozone levels fell by 7 percent across the Northern Hemisphere. As air pollution across India dropped by a third, mountain snowpacks in the Indus Basin grew brighter. With less haze in the atmosphere, the sky let more sunlight through. The planet’s temperature temporarily jumped between a fifth and half of a degree.
At the same time, the pandemic etched a scar across humanity that will endure for decades. More than 2.4 million people have died so far from Covid-19, and millions more have suffered severe illness. In the United States, life expectancy fell by a full year in the first six months of 2020; for Black Americans, the drop was 2.7 years. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the global economy will lose over $22 trillion between 2020 and 2025. UNICEF is warning that the pandemic could produce a “lost generation.”
At the center of these vast shocks is an oily bubble of genes just about 100 nanometers in diameter. Coronaviruses are so small that 10 trillion of them weigh less than a raindrop.
Since the discovery of SARS-CoV-2 last January, the scientific world has scrutinized it to figure out how something so small could wreak so much havoc. They have mapped the spike proteins the coronavirus uses to latch onto cells. They have uncovered the tricks it plays on our immune system. They have reconstructed how an infected cell creates millions of coronaviruses.
That frenzy of research has revealed a lot about SARS-CoV-2, but huge questions remain. Looming over them is the biggest question of all: Is the coronavirus alive?
Tap through to read the full article by Carl Zimmer.
North Carolina has agreed to release 3,500 prison inmates early to reduce the risk that they will catch or spread the coronavirus in prison. The inmates will be released over the next six months to finish out their sentences in home confinement.
The release is the largest by any state since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice research organization.
The virus has devastated prisons, jails and detention centers across the country. More than 500,000 inmates have been infected, and nearly 2,500 have died, according to a New York Times database.
Even so. most states have only reluctantly allowed vulnerable inmates to serve out sentences at home.
On Friday, Michigan authorities said that the more contagious and possibly more lethal B.1.1.7 virus variant had swiftly spread to more than 292 inmates in three prisons. Kansas and Maryland have also found inmates infected by the variant.
The North Carolina agreement came in settlement of a lawsuit that accused the state of operating overcrowded, unsanitary prisons that fed the spread of the coronavirus. Judge Vinston Rozier, Jr., of the Wake County Superior Court found in June that the conditions in North Carolina state prisons were probably unconstitutional.
Judge Rozier wrote in the settlement agreement filed on Thursday that the release of inmates was “necessary, based on the pernicious and present dangers associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Among those who will have priority for early release are inmates who have been convicted of nonviolent offenses; who are medically vulnerable; who are 65 or older; or who are due to be released within the next year.
“There was a chronic overpopulation problem in North Carolina’s prisons even before the pandemic,” said Kristi Graunke, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The pandemic forced us all to confront just how dangerous overcrowding and mass incarceration can be for people. And we saw people getting sick.”
The releases would reduce North Carolina’s current inmate population of 28,680 by about 12 percent.
New Jersey and California are the only other states that have agreed to similarly large early releases so far, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
The lawsuit in North Carolina, filed in April 2020 by the NAACP, the ACLU and other civil rights groups, sought the release of thousands of inmates to make space for social distancing of the rest. Initially, state prison officials and Gov. Roy Cooper resisted releasing significant numbers of prisoners, but after more than 9,500 infections and 47 deaths of inmates over 10 months, the governor’s office changed tack and agreed to the vast majority of the requested early releases.
Dory MacMillan, a spokeswoman for Governor Cooper, said in a statement that throughout the pandemic, the governor had directed prison officials to protect the health and safety of inmates and prison staff.
Beverly Brooks, whose son, Jonathan Brooks, is incarcerated in a North Carolina prison and caught the virus in January, said the agreement was both “long overdue” and insufficient.
Her son and others, Ms. Brooks said, were “being exposed to inhumane conditions — and it was costing their lives.”
Rachel Sherman, Izzy Colón and
The money came in wire transfers, each one a boon for a beleaguered N.C.A.A.
In March, the coronavirus pandemic had eviscerated the Division I men’s basketball tournament, which had been poised to bring in more than $800 million. But by the end of June, N.C.A.A. executives knew that a crucial lifeline, one burrowed in the black-and-white language of five insurance policies, would soon come through: $270 million in cash — among the largest pandemic-related payouts in all of sports.
“It was one of the simpler claims processes,” Brad Robinson, the N.C.A.A. official who coordinates insurance matters, said in an interview in early February, soon after the association acknowledged that insurance proceeds tied to event cancellations accounted for more than half of its revenues during its 2020 fiscal year.
The specialized insurance policies, which cover cancellations because of communicable disease outbreaks, have historically been scarcely noticed but have proved crucial for parts of the sports world to weather the pandemic. Ordinarily, products purchased to guard against the financial fallout of terrorism, severe weather and other unexpected setbacks, have helped salvage the balance sheets of events as small as local road races to competitions as wealthy and mighty as the sprawling N.C.A.A. tournament.
Now, insurers are bracing to see whether the Tokyo Olympics, already postponed from 2020, will happen, and industry experts said a cancellation would fuel several billions of dollars in losses across a number of organizations.
But pandemic policies are now largely unavailable or extraordinarily expensive when they can be found because few, if any, new policies are being written to accommodate potential future claims related to the virus.
John Q. Doyle, the president and chief executive of Marsh, a global insurance brokerage firm, warned Congress in November that the industry was “seeing exclusions for communicable diseases coverage going forward” with event cancellation policies after “considerable losses on these policies related to Covid-19.” Brokers said that future policies could include deductibles, which have been rare in the past.
This means events that did not already have coverage for 2021 may be at risk of financial collapse if they cannot be held.
“If you have a $20 million event, you may only be able to get $1 or $2 million” of it covered for infectious disease, said John Beam, executive vice president for the sports and entertainment practice at the risk management firm Willis Towers Watson and a broker whose clients have included the N.C.A.A., Major League Baseball and the College Football Playoff. “That doesn’t really address what we want.”
The C.D.C. is urging communities to reopen schools as quickly as possible, but parents and teachers have raised questions about the quality of ventilation available in public school classrooms to protect against the coronavirus.
We worked with a leading engineering firm and experts specializing in buildings systems to better understand the simple steps schools can take to reduce exposure in the classroom.
These simulations offer examples based on specific inputs, but they show how ventilation and filtration can work alongside other precautions like masking and social distancing.