Covid-19 Information: Newest Updates – The New York Instances
Here’s what you need to know:
Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times
As the United States welcomed the news Friday that a second vaccine, by Moderna, had been authorized by the federal government for emergency use, the country confronted another stark reminder of how desperately vaccines are needed: a single-day caseload of over 251,000 new coronavirus cases, a once-unthinkable record.
It’s been only a week since the Food and Drug Administration first approved a Covid-19 vaccine, the one created by Pfizer and BioNTech. As trucks have carried vials across the country and Americans began pulling up their sleeves for inoculations, more ominous numbers have piled up:
Monday: 300,000 total dead in the United States.
Wednesday: 3,611 deaths in a single day, shattering the previous record of 3,157 on Dec. 9.
Thursday: Over 1 million new cases in just five days, pushing the country’s total of confirmed cases past 17 million.
Three months ago, new cases were trending downward and death reports were flat, but those gains have been lost. Now there are nearly six times as many cases being reported each day, and three times as many deaths, according to a New York Times database.
The South is on a particularly worrisome trajectory. Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina have all set weekly case records. Tennessee is confirming new cases at the highest per capita rate in the country.
As cases continue to spike, officials are warning that hospitals, which now hold a record of nearly 115,000 Covid-19 patients, could soon be overwhelmed. More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, federal data show. A recent New York Times analysis found that 10 percent of Americans — across a large swath of the Midwest, South and Southwest — live in areas where I.C.U.s are either completely full or have less than 5 percent of beds available.
In California, hospitals are especially stretched. The state reported just 2.1 percent availability of I.C.U. beds on Friday, after the number of available beds fell by 37 percent over the past month. In Los Angeles County, officials say, an average of two people are dying of Covid-19 every hour, and I.CU. capacity could be exceeded within the month.
There has been rapid improvement in much of the Midwest and Mountain West. Iowa is adding fewer than half the cases it was at its November peak. South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming are all seeing sustained declines in cases.
But because deaths are a lagging indicator, North Dakota still has the nation’s highest daily death rate for its size, despite progress in slowing new cases after the governor reversed months of resistance and announced a mask mandate and restrictions on businesses in mid-November.
As Christmas approaches, American families will be tempted again to gather indoors, as many did for the Thanksgiving holiday, despite a torrent of warnings from public health officials and elected leaders. And whatever progress is being made now in some places could, once again, be negated.
“There’s no need for that many to have died,” David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said after the country’s pandemic death toll hit 300,000 on Monday. “We chose, as a country, to take our foot off the gas pedal. We chose to, and that’s the tragedy.’’
Mitch Smith, Julie Shaver, John Eligon, Amy Harmon, Remy Tumin and Jill Cowan contributed.
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Where cases per capita are
Boris Johnson Orders New Lockdown in Sharp Reversal
Days after saying it would be “inhuman” to end Britain’s plans to relax coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a lockdown in parts of England.
“First, we will introduce new restrictions in the most affected areas, specifically those parts of London, the Southeast and the East of England.“ “Second, we’re issuing new advice on travel. Although the new variant is concentrated in tier-4 areas, it is nonetheless present at lower levels around the country. So we’re asking everyone in all tiers to stay local.” “Third, we must, I’m afraid, look again at Christmas. And as prime minister, it’s my duty to take difficult decisions to do what is right to protect the people of this country. Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, the potential risk it poses, it is with a very heavy heart. I must tell you, we cannot continue with Christmas as planned. In England, those living in tier-4 areas should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, though, support bubbles will remain in place for those of particular risk of loneliness or isolation. Across the rest of the country, the Christmas rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only rather than the five days as previously set out. As before, there will be no relaxation on the 31st of January, so people must not break the rules at New Year. They must not break the rules at New Year, it’s very, very important to emphasize that.”
Days after saying it would be “inhuman” to end Britain’s plans to relax coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a lockdown in parts of England.CreditCredit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times
LONDON — Alarmed by what he called a faster-spreading variant of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson abruptly reversed course on Saturday and imposed a wholesale lockdown on London and most of England’s southeast.
The decision, which Mr. Johnson announced after an emergency meeting of his cabinet, came after the government got new evidence of a variant first detected several weeks ago in Kent, southeast of London, which the prime minister asserted was 70 percent more transmissible than previous versions. Cabinet ministers were told that in London, cases had nearly doubled in the last week, with the new variant accounting for 60 percent of those.
The new measures, which take effect at the end of Saturday night, are designed, in effect, to cut off the capital and its surrounding counties from the rest of England. They are the most severe measures the government has taken since it imposed a lockdown on the country in March, and they reflect a fear that the new variant could supercharge the transmission of the virus as winter takes hold.
“When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense,” a somber Mr. Johnson said at a news conference. “We have to act on information as we have it, because this is now spreading very fast.”
Viral mutations are not usual, and this variant — known as VUI 202012/01 — has been detected in a handful of other countries, but medical experts expressed alarm about its apparent infectiousness. British ministers have been told that there is no evidence that the new variant is inherently more dangerous, or that it is more resistant to vaccines than others.
Its infectiousness, however, raises the prospect of accelerating infections, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths. The British government said it had notified the World Health Organization about the prevalence of the new variant.
Though Mr. Johnson said a few days ago that it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas, that will be the broad effect of the new restrictions on social mixing. A plan to allow three households to meet together over the holiday will be scrapped in London and the southeast, with no household mixing permitted at all. In other parts of the country, three households will be allowed to gather, but only on Christmas Day.
The coronavirus has mutated many times since it emerged in China in 2019, according to epidemiologists. On Friday, South Africa reported it had identified a new variant, which it said was driving a new wave of infections there. It is not clear whether it is same variant as the one identified in Britain.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
With less than 48 hours to strike an elusive agreement on a $900 billion stimulus package and prevent a lapse in government funding, lawmakers and aides on Saturday were feverishly working to finalize the details on how to prop up the nation’s shuddering economy and send billions of dollars to shoulder distribution of a vaccine and to support struggling American families and businesses.
Both chambers hastily approved a two-day stopgap bill in order to secure additional time for negotiators to hammer out both a final agreement and legislative text on a relief deal, given that the measure is expected to be merged with a catchall omnibus package needed to keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year.
On Saturday, congressional leaders and staff were continuing to wrangle with the final details of the emerging deal, in hopes of quickly jamming both spending packages through Congress and to the president’s desk by the time funding lapses at midnight on Sunday.
“We need to pass these measures with a big bipartisan vote and get them signed into law without further delay,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, speaking on the Senate floor on Saturday.
“There’s a gravitational pull here in Congress, where, unless we’re careful, any major negotiation can easily slide into an unending catalog of disagreements,” he added. “Let’s guard against that.”
The most prominent hurdle was a last ditch push led by Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, to insert language that would limit the powers of the Federal Reserve going forward, potentially keeping it from lending to businesses and municipalities in future crises. Democrats charged that it was a last-minute demand that would deprive President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his administration of critical economic tools to help continue supporting the country’s economic recovery.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters that the language Mr. Toomey and other Republicans were pushing for “has to be resolved, and then everything will fall into place.”
“It’s not a detail,” she added. “it’s a very significant difference.”
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, called Mr. Toomey’s efforts “a putrid political effort to diminish President Biden’s authority.”
Mr. Toomey, who has fought to curtail the scope of the Federal Reserve’s power, has rejected that characterization.
Negotiators are also haggling over the final details of provisions, including who should be eligible for the $600 direct payments, tax extenders and the length of the enhanced and extended unemployment benefits. Although negotiators are coalescing around a $300 supplemental benefit — half the original benefit established in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law — it is unclear how long they will provide the benefit for, and whether the benefits will be allowed to taper to an end. Democrats are pushing for a hard cliff to end the benefits, in part to give lawmakers a hard deadline to return to the negotiating table.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Senate Republicans are expected to discuss the relief package at 1 p.m. on a conference call.
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the Covid-19 vaccine made by Moderna for emergency use, allowing the shipment of millions more doses across the nation and intensifying the debate over who will be next in line to get inoculated.
The move will make Moderna’s vaccine the second to reach the American public, after the one by Pfizer and BioNTech, which was authorized just one week ago.
It comes as the virus continues to rage across the United States, which set another record for daily cases on Friday with over 251,000 and has surpassed a total of 17 million known cases, according to a New York Times database.
The F.D.A.’s decision sets the stage for a weekend spectacle of trucks rolling out as expert committees begin a new round of discussions weighing whether the next wave of vaccinations should go to essential workers, or to people 65 and older, and people with conditions that increase their risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19.
Jockeying for the next shots in January and February has already begun, even though there is still not enough of the two vaccines for all the health care workers and nursing home staff members and residents given first priority. Uber drivers, restaurant employees, morticians and barbers are among those lobbying states to include them in the next round along with those in the more traditional categories of the nation’s 80 million essential workers, like teachers and bus drivers.
The rapid progress from lab to human trials to public inoculation has been almost revolutionary, spurred by the nation’s urgent need to blunt the pandemic that has broken record after record in U.S. deaths, hospitalizations and economic losses. In the past week alone, there has been an average of more than 218,000 cases per day, an increase of about 18 percent from the average two weeks earlier. And at least 2,800 new deaths were reported on Friday.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, called the advent of two vaccines “an historic moment.”
“This to me is a triumph of multiyear investment in biomedical research that culminated in something that was not only done in record time, in the sense of never before has anybody even imagined you would get vaccines to people in less than a year from the time that the sequence was made known,” Dr. Fauci said.
“This is an example of government working. It worked really well,” he added.
Moderna, a company based in Cambridge, Mass., worked with Dr. Fauci’s agency at the National Institutes of Health to create a vaccine that, along with Pfizer-BioNTech’s, shepherds in a new technology based on genetic material called messenger or mRNA. In clinical trials in tens of thousands of volunteers, the vaccines proved 94 to 95 percent effective. Each requires two shots.
Both products are reaching an anxious public before vaccines made with traditional approaches, and have become even more critical as other companies’ efforts have faltered in recent months.
The emergency authorization kicks off a swift and complex drive to distribute some 5.9 million doses of the Moderna vaccine around the country, with shipping to begin on Sunday and deliveries starting on Monday. The first Moderna vaccinations could then be given hours later.
Because Moderna’s vaccine, unlike Pfizer-BioNTech’s, does not need extreme-cold storage and is delivered in smaller batches, states are hoping to provide it to less populated areas, reaching rural hospitals, local health departments and community health centers that were not at the top of the distribution list.
Three places that did not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau — will receive the Moderna vaccine for that reason, according to a federal health official familiar with the government’s distribution plans.
And in contrast to Pfizer’s rollout last week, the Moderna vaccine deliveries will be managed by the federal government under the funding of Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s program to develop and distribute vaccines as fast as possible.
David Gelles, Katherine J. Wu, Sharon LaFraniere and Reed Epstein contributed reporting.
Credit…Pool photo by Mark Lennihan
Ever since March, Alex Goldstein has run the Twitter account @FacesOfCovid to share the obituaries and stories of people who died from the coronavirus.
But when he watched Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at a Queens hospital, become the first person in the United States to receive a coronavirus vaccine, he knew it was time to set up another Twitter account.
The result is @TwoShotsInTheArm, which shares images of health care workers receiving the vaccine. The name of the account is a hat tip to the number of doses required by the Pfizer-BioNTech and the soon-to-be approved Moderna vaccines.
The account, Mr. Goldstein said in an email, is “a playful way to finally share a shred of good news, and perhaps most importantly, encourage others to follow suit when it’s their turn in line for the vaccine.”
“You can see the relief and joy on the faces of our health care workers and it is impossible not to smile along with them,” said Mr. Goldstein, who is the chief executive of a strategic communications firm in Boston.
With only days into the country’s largest vaccination campaign, the submissions are starting to come in. “I’m getting vaccinated for the baby joining our family any day now!” an emergency room doctor in New York City wrote in. “It may only be a small twinkle now, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it will continue to grow,” wrote a pharmacist in Jackson, Miss.
Mr. Goldstein hopes it adds “some good news into our daily doom scrolling.”
Credit…Pool photo by Charles Platiau
As President Emmanuel Macron of France entered his third day in isolation after being infected with the coronavirus, his doctor said on Saturday that he was in “stable health condition compared to Friday.”
“He is still presenting the same symptoms of the Covid-19 illness (fatigue, coughing, aches) which do not prevent him from performing his duties,” Dr. Jean-Christophe Perrochon said in a statement, adding that regular clinical examinations “have proved to be reassuring.”
On Friday, a day after the positive results of his coronavirus test were announced, Mr. Macron released a self-made video in which he promised “to report daily on the evolution of the disease” — an event and a commitment that marked a departure from France’s tradition of secrecy around the health of its presidents.
Although it is still unclear how Mr. Macron contracted the virus, France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, said on Thursday that he had probably not been infected at the presidential Élysée Palace but “possibly at a European Council four or five days ago in Brussels” during a dinner with other heads of state.
On Friday, Prime Minister Igor Matovic of Slovakia was reported to have tested positive for the virus. Mr. Matovic attended the same European Council meeting last week.
Speaking of the general situation in France, where the number of new daily cases have recently rebounded, Mr. Macron warned on Friday: “We have to be vigilant as the virus is gaining in strength again.”
France exited a lockdown imposed to fight back the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic only days ago. But the country is already grappling with a rebound in infections.
“The evolution of the pandemic is worrisome,” said Jérome Salomon, a top official at France’s health ministry, adding that the upcoming Christmas break could prove a “high-risk period.”
The number of new daily Covid-19 cases, which had fallen below 10,000 in late November thanks to lockdown restrictions, has picked up again and reached an average 13,000 cases per day over the past seven days.
In other news from around Europe:
Northeastern Aragón became the fourth region in Spain to announce a tightening of lockdown restrictions ahead of the Christmas festive season, in order to rein in a recent uptick in Covid-19 cases. On Saturday, the regional leader, Javier Lambán, ordered residents to remain within their provinces over the Christmas holidays, making a U-turn on a previous decision that the travel ban would be lifted on Dec. 21.
The government of Sweden, which has embraced relatively few coronavirus restrictions and is grappling with a serious rise in infections, issued several new recommendations on Friday, including the use of face masks. “We need to do more now because the medical system is strained,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. The new recommendations include a four-person-per-table limit in restaurants, cafes and bars, and a ban on the sale of alcohol after 8 p.m. Stores, shopping centers and gyms are asked to further limit the number of people in their premises. All nonessential state, municipal and county workplaces will close until Jan. 24.
Raphael Minder and Christina Anderson contributed reporting.
Credit…Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Syrians living in bomb-scarred cities have long had to deal with a kneecapped health system that can barely handle the basic needs of the country’s exhausted population. Now, like the rest of the world, Syrians are facing the coronavirus. And detected cases are skyrocketing.
The U.N. Security Council, which met on Wednesday to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria, reported that cases had more than quadrupled in October and November compared with the previous two months.
Syria has no organized independent data collection, and government data and propaganda tend to obscure the country’s difficulties. For instance, the Syrian Ministry of Health reported a total of 8,580 infections as of Dec. 9, while the Security Council, relying on reports from inside the country, counted at least 30,000 at the start of the month. Many say the true numbers are likely far greater.
“There is no doubt the Covid-19 infection and mortality rates for Syria are vastly undercounted and underreported,” said Dr. Michele Heisler, medical director at the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights and a professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan.
The undercounts, coupled with the disastrous state of Syria’s hospitals after a decade of civil war and a severe lack of medical professionals, leave millions of people at risk of grave consequences if they become infected. Emergency doctors make up just 0.3 percent of the country’s public hospital workers, according to the World Health Organization.
“For years, the Syrian government and its Russian allies have attacked health workers and facilities as a strategy of war, resulting in a battered health system ill equipped to respond to the pandemic,” Dr. Heisler said.
Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, Physicians for Human Rights has documented 595 attacks on health facilities in Syria. The group attributed about 90 percent of them to the Syrian government or its Russian allies, and has also recorded the killing of 923 medical professionals.
Some parts of Syria do not have access to clean water, sanitation or power. Widespread privation means that masks and soap come last on shopping lists. Conditions in camps for Syrians displaced by the war are often even worse, with open sewage and overcrowding fostering the spread of disease.
“Social distance is a fantasy in a camp, but if we’re going to prevent a massive outbreak, we need to make it a reality,” Kieren Barnes, the Mercy Corps country director for Syria, said in March.
In order to receive care, many coronavirus patients have had to pay bribes for hospital admission and oxygen supplies, according to a Physicians for Human Rights report released on Wednesday.
Dr. Heisler pointed to the stoppage of cross-border aid, inequitable access to health care and severe disparities in the government’s distribution of humanitarian supplies to explain why the health system’s “ability to respond to the pandemic as well as to other diseases is tremendously compromised.” There is also little testing capacity and a shortage of personal protective equipment.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever know the true scale of it,” a humanitarian worker focused on southern Syria told the group’s researchers. “The toll has got to be in the tens of thousands, if not higher. Every bed is full.”
Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times
Executives at the Brazilian steakhouse chain Fogo de Chão thought they had seen the worst of it.
Earlier in the year, when seemingly each hour brought news of another city or state shutting down because of the pandemic, executives switched from email to the messaging system WhatsApp to communicate in real time with the general managers of their 43 locations scattered across the United States.
“The first time we heard a state issue a stay-at-home order we were like, ‘What does that mean? What are they talking about?’” Barry McGowan, the company’s chief executive, said. “Then it was like dominoes falling. Boom. Boom. Boom.”
Communicating with vendors was a hit or miss. Trucks full of food pulled up to restaurants that had been closed.
The restaurant chain created a takeout menu in three days. It reached out to landlords to negotiate breaks on its leases. And as mandates to stay closed were lifted, it spent about $1 million renting tents and other equipment to set up outdoor dining in places where indoor dining was still restricted.
For a while, it worked. Diners flocked to the restaurants and spent lavishly. Before the pandemic, Fogo de Chão sold about 500 premium steaks, like Wagyu and Tomahawk rib-eyes, per week. That shot up to 1,300 per week by July.
But with virus cases rising again across the country, new restrictions have been placed on indoor and outdoor dining — no indoor dining in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City; indoor dining curfews in New Jersey and Massachusetts; no restaurant dining at all in much of California.
For larger dine-in chains like Fogo de Chão, the ever-changing patchwork of rules poses a particular logistical challenge: How do you come up with a companywide approach when different locations are dealing with their own specific regulations?
“What you have is a massive deviation from standard in terms of how a chain is operating restaurant locations in different states, which then requires a whole set of processes and management to make sure that you comply with the regulations,” said Sean Ryan, a partner at Kearney, a consulting firm. “It’s costly and time consuming.”
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
The military judge overseeing the Sept. 11 case at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba delayed litigation deadlines again on Friday, postponing the start of the trial of the accused mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four accused co-conspirators until after the 20th anniversary of the attacks next year.
The death penalty case, in its eighth year of pretrial proceedings, was already complicated by its remote location, procedural issues, legal challenges and the control of classified evidence by different elements of the U.S. government.
“The coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic has continued to worsen,” the judge, Col. Douglas K. Watkins of the Army, wrote in a two-page order that extended deadlines for another 30 days, for a total of 300 days of delay since the start of the pandemic.
Based on the timetable toward trial set by a previous judge, the selection of the military officers for the jury will now start on Nov. 7, 2021, at the earliest.
The pandemic has paralyzed much of the work of the court, whose participants commute from the mainland to the military commissions courtroom in Cuba for each session. The last hearing in the case was held in February.
The pandemic has also forced cancellation of all hearings in the case, which recessed in the midst of the judge taking extensive testimony on the question of whether key interrogations of the prisoners at Guantánamo in 2007 are inadmissible at trial because they are tainted by C.I.A. torture.
With her semester at Mercer University in Georgia complete, Skylar Mack, 18, flew down to the Cayman Islands in late November to watch her boyfriend compete in the islands’ jet ski racing national championship.
When she arrived, however, there was a problem.
She got there on a Friday; the championship was on Sunday. And per the country’s laws, she was required to remain in her hotel room for 14 days before going anywhere on the islands.
To elude the restrictions, Ms. Mack, after receiving a negative coronavirus test, slipped an electronic monitoring bracelet from her wrist and escaped to a beach on Grand Cayman’s South Sound, where she saw her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, win first place.
But the authorities found out, and Ms. Mack and Mr. Ramgeet were sentenced this week to four months in prison for the quarantine breach.
“This was as flagrant a breach as could be imagined,” Justice Roger Chapple said in court during the sentencing, according to the Cayman Compass. “It was borne of selfishness and arrogance.”
The islands, a British territory of nearly 65,000 residents, have reported 310 infections and two deaths.
Ms. Mack’s relatives in suburban Atlanta are now scrambling to pull together letters from friends and family attesting to her character in an effort to get the sentence overturned on appeal, said Jeanne Mack, Ms. Mack’s grandmother.
Jeanne Mack has even written to President Trump for help. She received a response from the Office of Presidential Correspondence, dated Thursday, stating that her correspondence had been forwarded “to the appropriate federal agency for further action.”
The family and Skylar, a junior pre-med student, make no illusions about what happened, Jeanne Mack said: What she did was wrong.
“I’ll do everything to get you home, and when I get you here, I’m going to kick your butt,” Ms. Mack, 68, said of her sentiment toward her granddaughter. “We’re not saying, ‘poor, innocent Skylar.’ We’re simply saying the punishment does not meet the crime.”
Skylar Mack pleaded guilty to breaking the quarantine rules and was initially sentenced to 40 hours of community service and a fine. But the punishment was increased after the prosecutor appealed.
She and her boyfriend were the first to be sentenced under a new law that allows for up to two years in prison and a $12,000 fine for quarantine violations, according to The Associated Press.
Jeanne Mack said that her granddaughter was scheduled to appear before a panel of judges on Tuesday that will decide whether her appeal can proceed. If it can, then the family hopes that she will be released on bond pending the appeal.
Credit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press
More than a million doses of untested Covid-19 vaccines have so far been administered in China to people most at risk of contracting the coronavirus, officials said on Saturday, weeks before a travel rush begins ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.
Even as governments in Europe, North America and elsewhere approve vaccines, China is still awaiting the results of clinical trials for its unproven homegrown candidates. In the meantime, the government has worked outside traditional testing protocol to inoculate government workers, teachers and hospital workers with three homegrown varieties.
Two of those vaccine candidates are made by Sinopharm; a third is made by Sinovac.
While experts have warned that the untested vaccines could pose safety hazards, Chinese officials said Saturday that so far, there had been no adverse reactions. More than 60,000 people who received the vaccines have traveled to high-risk areas overseas and have not come down with a serious infection, Zheng Zhongwei, a top official at China’s National Health Commission, told reporters in Beijing on Saturday.
“Research shows that there are no serious safety hazards,” Mr. Zheng said, speaking about the overseas trials.
Still, Chinese officials have said they are awaiting results from overseas trials for several leading vaccine candidates before starting distribution on a larger scale.
The government is under pressure to do just that. While the virus is largely under control in China, hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel domestically in the coming weeks for the Lunar New Year, which will be celebrated in February. The fear is that the mass travel could turn isolated Covid-19 clusters into much larger ones, as it did last winter.
In rolling out the untested coronavirus vaccines, the government said it is prioritizing health care professionals, pilots and others at an elevated risk for contracting the virus. People who work in the food import industry are also being given priority.
The government has pushed the idea, without evidence, that the virus has spread on a large scale in China from meat, seafood and other products imported from overseas.
Credit…Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Employers can require workers to get a Covid-19 vaccine and bar them from the workplace if they refuse, the federal government said in guidelines issued this week.
Public health experts see employers as playing an important role in vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity and get a handle on a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans. Widespread coronavirus vaccinations would keep people from dying, restart the economy and usher a return to some form of normalcy, experts say.
Employers had been waiting for guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination, because requiring employees be tested for the coronavirus touches on thorny medical and privacy issues covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
The guidance, issued on Wednesday, confirmed what employment lawyers had expected.
Businesses and employers are uniquely positioned to require large numbers of Americans who otherwise would not receive a vaccination to do so because their employment depends on it.
The disabilities act limits employers’ ability to require medical examinations like blood tests, breath analyses and blood-pressure screening. These are procedures or tests, often given in a medical setting, that seek information about an employee’s physical or mental conditions.
“If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting Covid-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status,” it stated, “and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.”