Coronavirus Information: Dwell Updates – The New York Occasions

Here’s what you need to know:

Credit…Octavio Jones for The New York Times

A crashed phone network in Houston. People waiting overnight in long lines in Florida. Older Tennesseans leaning on their walkers outside in the cold alongside a highway.

As distribution of Covid-19 vaccines begins to open up to wider segments of the United States population, there have been scenes of chaos across the country.

The initial vaccine deliveries were mostly for frontline medical workers and nursing home staff members and residents. But there was less of a clear consensus on how to distribute the second round of doses, and public health and elected officials had warned the process would become messier.

Those warnings appear to have been borne out, leaving the U.S. inoculation campaign behind schedule and raising fears about how quickly the country will be able to tame the epidemic.

In Puerto Rico, a shipment of vaccines did not arrive until the workers who would have administered them had left for the Christmas holiday. In California, where coronavirus cases are surging and hospitals are overstretched, doctors are worried about whether there will be enough staff members to both administer vaccines and tend to Covid-19 patients.

Many vaccination sites have operated smoothly since the first U.S. inoculation on Dec. 14, but as availability of vaccines broadened, logistical complications arose at some sites and yielded unnerving images.

In Tullahoma, Tenn., older people lined a sidewalk on Saturday as they waited to enter the Coffee County Health Department’s Tullahoma clinic, about 70 miles northwest of Chattanooga. Most of the people in line were wearing heavy coats or huddled under blankets.

A video of the scene posted to Facebook showed seniors leaning on walkers and canes and sitting on footstools and lawn chairs as they waited for the building to open. Vickie Rayfield Ham, who posted the video, wrote that she thought the distribution center would be a drive-through.

“Some of the elderly were having to walk down the road with their walkers to get to the end of the line, and people were flying by,” she told WTVC, a local television news station.

In a Facebook post that went up shortly before 10 a.m. local time, a couple of hours after Ms. Ham’s video, the city of Tullahoma said that all available doses had been administered for the day and that information about next week’s vaccination schedule would be released on Monday.

The opening day for Houston’s first free public Covid-19 vaccination clinic unleashed so much demand that the city health department’s phone system crashed, causing officials to scramble to move to on-site registration.

Vaccinations began in Houston soon after the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine started arriving at its hospitals on Dec. 14. On Saturday, the city opened a clinic at the Bayou City Event Center providing the Moderna vaccine to high-risk members of the public, saying it could accommodate 750 appointments a day.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said that the health department had received more than 250,000 calls.

“The system was literally overwhelmed,” he said during a news briefing on Saturday.

The clinic’s phone system was back up by the afternoon and as of 2 p.m. local time about 450 people had received a Covid-19 vaccine, Mr. Turner said.

Vaccine rollout sites in Florida continued to be overwhelmed in some places, with people waiting for hours overnight in hopes of getting the shot. The state had expanded its offering of vaccines to older members of the general public — in some cases, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Florida became one of the first states to open up vaccination to anyone older than 65, after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Dec. 23.

Mina Bobel, 74, and her husband, Dave Bobel, lined up at 2 a.m. outside the Lakes Regional Library in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday in hopes of getting vaccinated. They came prepared with snacks and water, and even took turns sleeping in the back of their S.U.V. There were about 300 people ahead of them in line, Ms. Bobel said, and most of them had come well equipped, too — with coats and blankets to keep warm.

“For us, it was an adventure,” Ms. Bobel said, adding that she was “giddy” when finally, around 10 a.m., she stepped up to get her first dose. “We feel really lucky.”

When she left, Ms. Bobel said, the line was even longer than when she arrived.

Indian health workers taking part in a drill for administering Covid-19 vaccinations in Bangalore on Saturday.Credit…Manjunath Kiran/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

NEW DELHI — India said on Sunday that it had approved two coronavirus vaccines, one made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other developed in India, for emergency use, a major step toward halting the spread of the coronavirus in one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.

Dr. V.G. Somani, the drugs controller general of India, said at a news conference in New Delhi that the decision to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and a local vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech came after “careful examination” of both by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, India’s pharmaceutical regulator.

Indian regulators are still considering approvals for other vaccines. One, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, has already been approved in the United States, Canada and Europe. Another, Russia’s Sputnik V, appears to be less far along.

On Wednesday, Britain became the first country to grant emergency approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Argentina soon followed suit.

Officials in India moved quickly for a number of reasons. The country is No. 2 in confirmed infections behind the United States, and the outbreak is widely believed to be worse than the official figures suggest. The pandemic has devastated the economy, and the unemployment rate is at a 45-year high.

India’s government will face steep challenges as it works to inoculate more than 1.3 billion people across the vast country, and the effort has already faced setbacks. The Serum Institute, an Indian drug maker that struck a deal to produce the Oxford vaccine even before its effectiveness had been proven, has managed to make only about one-tenth of the 400 million doses it had committed to manufacturing before the end of last year.

The Bharat Biotech vaccine, called Covaxin, is still in Phase 3 clinical trials in India and has not published efficacy data. Dr. Somani, the regulator, said the vaccine had so far been administered to 22,500 trial participants, “and the vaccine has been found to be safe.”

Both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Bharat Biotech vaccine require two doses, Dr. Somani said. He did not specify whether the participants in Bharat Biotech’s continuing clinical trials had received both doses.

A testing site at the University of San Diego in California on Friday.Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

The United States reported at least 291,300 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, a single-day record but one that is inflated because of delays in reporting over the holidays.

Nineteen states reported no data on Friday, which was a public holiday for New Year’s Day. The remaining states reported a total of more than 147,000 new cases on Friday. The near doubling of cases on Saturday can mostly be explained by many states reporting cases for both Friday and Saturday, with one state, Michigan, reporting cases for Thursday as well. Other states will wait until Sunday or Monday to report cases from the past few days, which will continue to distort the totals.

Regular data reporting is expected to resume toward the end of next week.

The country’s previous single-day record, according to a New York Times database, was 280,514 new cases on Dec. 11, though that number was also inflated because of 43,000 cases that were added from a backlog in Texas. The highest number of new cases in a single day without any data anomalies was 251,191 on Dec. 18.

Regardless of holiday reporting delays, the United States has had the world’s worst outbreak for most of the pandemic and is experiencing a new surge in infections even as vaccine distribution begins. The deluge is particularly strong in Los Angeles County, the largest in the United States, where the seven-day average of new cases is at a peak of 16,193, about 12 times higher than the seven-day average from Nov. 1, which was 1,347.

And with fears that another wave of cases will crest after holiday travel and gatherings, the country on Saturday reached yet another milestone that was once unthinkable, surpassing 350,000 total deaths. At the same time, more than 123,000 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized, only a slight drop from the record level on Thursday.

Distribution of the vaccine in the United States is taking longer than expected, with holiday staffing shortages and other resource issues putting the campaign far behind schedule in its third week. More than 4.2 million people in the United States have received a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far short of the goal federal officials set to give at least 20 million people their first shots before the end of December.

Jennifer Jett and

Those We’ve Lost

Zelene Blancas, 35, died of complications from Covid-19, after spending more than two months in the hospital battling the virus. Her death has devastated El Paso.Credit…Zelene Blancas

Anyone who had worked with Zelene Blancas in El Paso knew her as a teacher whose goal was to spread compassion above all else.

Ms. Blancas, who was born in Texas and lived in Mexico for much of her childhood, was a bilingual Spanish teacher at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary School, and she was hoping to become a bilingual special education teacher.

She gained popularity online after posting a video in 2018 of her students that gained more than 23 million views. It showed classmates hugging one another before a weekend break, smiles spread across their faces as they said goodbye — a reminder of the human capacity for love and connection.

Ms. Blancas tested positive for the virus on Oct. 20 and was hospitalized a few days later, her brother, Mario Blancas, said. After she had spent nearly two months in the I.C.U. and had exhausted all of her available sick days and paid time off, Mr. Blancas set up a GoFundMe page on Dec. 14 to help pay for his sister’s health care since she would soon be “without an income and will have to pay the full cost of her health insurance out of pocket,” according to the page.

But this week, at just 35 years old, Ms. Blancas died of complications from Covid-19. Her death has devastated the city.

During her teaching career, Ms. Blancas would often stay up late to speak on the phone with her students’ parents. She ran a literacy program for parents in the evenings, and when classes shifted to remote learning during the pandemic, she delivered care packages, complete with handwritten notes, to her students. Even from her hospital bed, Ms. Blancas was asking about her work at school, said her principal, Cristina Sanchez-Chavira.

“Her calling was just to spread kindness,” Ms. Sanchez-Chavira said. “I think education was the vehicle that she found, but that was her. She embodied kindness, and making others feel special. And she did that in and outside of the classroom.”

Ms. Blancas had been shocked to see the 2018 video clip of her students being shared so widely, Ms. Sanchez-Chavira said, adding that for Ms. Blancas, encouraging empathy among her students had always been a priority.

“She was so humble about it,” Ms. Sanchez-Chavira said of the video. “She was just doing everything for the kids, and I think that’s what made her such a phenomenal teacher — because she just did everything from her heart.”

Ms. Blancas spent her 35th birthday in her hospital room, without family by her side, Mr. Blancas said. The nurses all signed a birthday card for her, and her father sent her a picture of a cake and balloons.

The day before her death, Mr. Blancas said, he was able to visit his sister. It was painful, he said, to see his only sister in a hospital bed, breathing through a tube, her face swollen from the treatments. He brought a gift he knew would make her happy: a blanket emblazoned with pictures of her two beloved dogs, Chico and Rocky.

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