September 18, 2021

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Covid-19 Live Updates: Delta Variant News, Cases and Vaccines – The New York Times

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Daily Covid Briefing

Aug. 8, 2021, 1:08 p.m. ET

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on Sunday that he had made a mistake in signing a law banning mask mandates in his state.

“It was an error to sign that law. I admit that,” Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, has seen cases approach last winter’s surge counts. It now has a seven-day rolling average of 2,351 new daily cases.

“Facts change, and leaders have to adjust to the new facts and the reality of what you have to deal with,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Whenever I signed that law, our cases were low, we were hoping that the whole thing was gone, in terms of the virus, but it roared back with the Delta variant.”

Mr. Hutchinson signed the bill banning mask mandates in April, and he had been working to modify it in the wake of rising case counts and outbreaks at schools. But the state legislature has declined to take up the new legislation. On Friday, a judge temporarily blocked the ban, allowing schools and other government entities in Arkansas to require masks.

Mr. Hutchinson cited improved vaccination rates in the state but noted that children under 12 are ineligible for Covid shots. “We are pushing the vaccines out, but those under 12 cannot get vaccinated in the schools,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “So I realized that we needed to have more options for our local school districts to protect those children.”

In Marion, Ark., more than 800 people were in quarantine after dozens of teachers and students tested positive. “For those under 12, we want them to go to school and we need to have that flexibility because they do have some risk,” he said.

About 49 percent of Arkansans have received at least one shot, an improvement Mr. Hutchinson attributed to factors including community town halls and people’s proximity to risk.

“People see the hospitalizations up, they see the cases, they see what happens to their neighbors, they’re worried about it, and they’re going out and getting vaccinated.”

The Austin area has seen a dramatic rise in the number of new infections, the highest surge since before vaccinations became widely available, and its intensive care units are near capacity.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

The authorities in Austin, Texas, warned the public on Saturday that the city’s Covid-19 situation had grown desperate, as a surge in cases driven by the Delta variant swamped hospitals while city officials were prevented from issuing mandates for masks and vaccinations by order of the state’s governor, Greg Abbott.

In an alert sent via text, phone call, email, social media and other channels to people in the area on Saturday, the city authorities said: “The Covid-19 situation in Austin is dire. Healthcare facilities are open but resources are limited due to a surge in cases.”

Bryce Bencivengo, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said that Friday had been one of the worst days for Austin’s hospitals since the pandemic started. More than 100 new Covid patients were admitted that day, he said, and intensive care units were near capacity, with Covid patients occupying more than 180 I.C.U. beds and 102 of those patients on ventilators.

“We are in the single digits of I.C.U. beds available,” Mr. Bencivengo said, adding that patients in emergency rooms were being forced to wait for space in the I.C.U.s to open up.

Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, said in an interview on Saturday that the crisis could have been avoided if Mr. Abbott had not barred local government officials from issuing mandates on masking. He said the city’s authorities wanted to avoid suing Mr. Abbott, but that “ultimately we’re going to need to do what is necessary to fight for the safety of our community.”

“Our hospitals are just beyond strained,” he said.

Alison Alter, a City Council member, was more blunt. “The governor is preventing the city from keeping kids and adults safe,” she said in an interview. “He’s going to have a lot of deaths on his hands here. This is a matter of life and death for our community.”

An executive order Mr. Abbott issued in May prevents counties, cities, public health authorities and local government officials from requiring people to wear masks, and warns that violators could be fined $1,000. Mr. Abbott signed a more far-reaching executive order on July 29 barring both mask and vaccination mandates, and prohibiting public agencies and any private entities that take public funds, including grants and loans, from requiring proof of vaccination.

In a statement on Friday, three Austin-area hospitals said the vast majority of the Covid patients they were admitting were unvaccinated or partly vaccinated.

“We urge the community to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones — and to lessen the burden on our frontline workers who have been fighting this virus for the last year and a half,” said the statement, issued by Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David’s HealthCare.

The hospitalizations in Austin are at the tip of a surge in the area, hitting heights last seen before vaccinations became widely available, according to a New York Times database. Travis County, where Austin is, reported more than 3,400 active coronavirus cases on Friday, including 467 new infections. Its daily average of new cases rose 189 percent over the last two weeks.

Scores of the state’s counties have reported caseloads that have more than doubled over two weeks, and some are seeing even larger surges than Austin. Bexar County, where San Antonio is, has seen its daily average shoot up more than 300 percent, to nearly 1,500 cases.

With 76 percent of the state’s most vulnerable population — those over 65 — fully vaccinated, deaths have risen far more slowly. But some of the counties seeing huge surges lag behind the state’s overall vaccination average of 44 percent. Some counties fall below 30 percent.

Sophie Kasakove contributed reporting.

With mandates varying from state to state, and even district to district, the return to in-person learning can be confusing and unnerving for parents.
Credit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

Students across the United States have begun to head back to school, starting in Atlanta this week. But parents’ hopes for a return to normal instruction in the fall have begun to evaporate as the highly contagious Delta variant drives up cases and hospitalizations.

With policymakers from local school boards to the White House scrambling to balance public health and children’s learning needs, a patchwork of coronavirus rules is emerging nationwide, provoking debates, division and anxieties among families, teachers and education officials.

Some large school districts like Los Angeles are requiring all staff members to get tested for the virus each week. States led by Democrats, including New Jersey, California and Illinois, have imposed statewide mask mandates in schools.

Meanwhile, states with Republican-controlled governments, such as Florida, Arizona and Arkansas, have forbidden districts to impose mask rules, casting mandates as an infringement on personal freedom and parental rights.

New York City will retain its school mask requirement, but the state of New York has not imposed a statewide policy.

President Biden and federal health officials have emphasized that remote learning should not be used again as a strategy to counter the Delta variant surge. Even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance last week and called for universal masking in schools, the agency stressed the need for students to return to class.

“We can and we must open schools this fall, full time,” Mr. Biden said recently. “It’s better for our children’s mental and emotional well-being, and we can’t afford another year out of the classroom.”

But with mask rules varying from state to state, and even within states and counties, the long-awaited return to school has many parents confused and unnerved.

“I think it’s going to be really important to consider what your risk is, what the risk of a child is,” said Dr. Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Part of that calculation, she said, is to weigh the benefits of school, both for learning and social development, against the health risks to children, most of whom are unvaccinated.

Children “benefit from being in school, but we know how to keep children safe,” Dr. Rimoin added. “That’s with having as many people who are eligible for vaccination around them as possible vaccinated, and wearing masks to stop transmission.”

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Southern California, said that certain mask mandates make sense, but interventions “should be tied to the metrics.”

Cases may rise as school gets underway, he said, but severe illness in children from Covid is rare. In the last year and a half, about 64,700 people in California have died from the virus. Dr. Klausner said just 23 deaths were of children between 5 and 17 years old.

“I think the reality will be that there will be an increased number of cases,” Dr. Klausner said. “But, you know, parents should be reassured that the severity of illness in children is very, very low.”

Many epidemiologists and public health experts say the best way to protect schoolchildren is to get more people vaccinated. About 60 percent of American adults have been fully vaccinated, helping bring the total for the whole population — which includes roughly 50 million children under 12, who are not yet eligible — to about 50 percent.

“It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about us and the collective good,” Dr. Rimoin said of vaccination. “Getting our kids back in school is the best thing we can do for our future.”

Cory Juneau, who won a bronze in skateboarding. The Games this summer were often claustrophobic and cut off from society because of the pandemic.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

TOKYO — On Sunday night in Tokyo, a stripped-down closing ceremony in Japan’s sprawling national stadium will bring this summer’s extraordinary Games to an end, concluding an Olympics that, in some sense, felt like an illusion — at times convincing and fully welcome, at others jarringly off-key.

Pushing forth in a pandemic, these Games were meant to be, as the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said last year, “the light at the end of this dark tunnel the whole world is going through.” Yet they were often claustrophobic and cut off from society, with capacious venues across Tokyo repurposed into cloistered safe houses.

They were, in this way, paradoxical, uncanny and hard to wholly comprehend. They were a feat of organizational planning and execution, even amid arguments about whether they should be happening in the first place. They were stubbornly called Tokyo 2020, a retrograde name that reminded everyone of the meandering path traveled to this point. They were a made-for-television spectacle, stage-managed at times to the point of absurdity.

For athletes, these were an Olympics of survival, of resilience, of getting by and sometimes, in the end, being OK with falling short of a target. Yet even among medalists, there were feelings of ambivalence about being here, about enduring the alienating circumstances of one of the oddest Olympics in history.

“I can’t wait to get home,” the American sprinter Allyson Felix said after winning a bronze medal on Friday to become the most decorated female track athlete in Olympic history. “I’m counting the days, there are so few now.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced athletes to travel and perform here without the presence of friends or family, to say nothing of fans. They spent their time largely confined to their rooms, specially arranged buses and sports venues.

Though the lasting effects of the Olympics on Japan will be determined only in the weeks to come, early signs showed that the health protocols — the effort to cut off thousands of visitors from Tokyo residents — seemed to work, at least in the short term. At a news conference on Friday, Bach reported that 571,000 screening tests had been performed at the Olympics, returning a positivity rate of just 0.02 percent.

But the path to that point, the means of establishing what an I.O.C. spokesman called a “parallel world” inside the Games, has had an unmistakably estranging effect.

Students at Northtown Child Development Center in Jackson, Miss., a child care center where school-age children attended online classes throughout the pandemic.
Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

As the pandemic upended life in the United States, more than one million children who had been expected to enroll in public schools did not show up, either in person or online. The missing students were concentrated in the younger grades, with the steepest drop in kindergarten — more than 340,000 students, according to government data.

Now, the first analysis of enrollment at 70,000 public schools across 33 states offers a detailed portrait of these kindergartners. It shows that just as the pandemic lay bare vast disparities in health care and income, it also hardened inequities in education, setting back some of the most vulnerable students before they spent even one day in a classroom.

The analysis by The New York Times in conjunction with Stanford University shows that in those 33 states, 10,000 local public schools lost at least 20 percent of their kindergartners. In 2019 and in 2018, only 4,000 or so schools experienced such steep drops.

The months of closed classrooms took a toll on nearly all students, and families of all levels of income and education scrambled to help their children make up for the gaps. But the most startling declines were in neighborhoods below and just above the poverty line, where the average household income for a family of four was $35,000 or less. The drop was 28 percent larger in schools in those communities than in the rest of the country.

While kindergarten is optional in many states, educators say there is no great substitute for quality, in-person kindergarten. For many students, it’s their introduction to school. They are taught to cooperate and to identify numbers and letters. They learn early phonics and number sense — the concept of bigger and smaller quantities.

Yet in the country’s poorest neighborhoods, tens of thousands of 6-year-olds will begin first grade having missed out on a traditional kindergarten experience.

“We have to be deeply concerned,” said Thomas S. Dee, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who worked with The Times on the analysis.

Julie Fishkin and her daughter, Cleo, at their home in Portland, Ore. Ms. Fishkin misses the camaraderie — and the schlep — of Brooklyn living.
Credit…Ricardo Nagaoka for The New York Times

In the early months of the pandemic, an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers left the city. Many have since returned, but among those who moved permanently, many have found the transition to be emotionally fraught. This is certainly true for longtime New Yorkers, whose identities are intertwined with the city’s energy, diversity and culture.

“Finding the right place to live is often like finding the right spouse,” said Katherine Loflin, a consultant who studies emotional and sociological attachments to place. “Just like you can date or marry a place, you can divorce one.”

Ms. Loflin called pandemic relocation a “forced divorce.”

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that many New Yorkers who moved out of the city are looking for an approximation of what they left behind — albeit with backyards and extra bedrooms.

Samantha Allen, 28, a home editor at Forbes Advisor, moved to Denver from Park Slope last November. She still walks faster than her friends and often wears all black, which is not common in Colorado.

She has actively sought out fellow New York transplants. When moving, she turned to a Facebook Group called I Moved to Denver. “It was a safety net for me, knowing that so many New Yorkers were coming here,” Ms. Allen said. Whenever she met fellow former New Yorkers, they “bonded immediately.”

The Facebook group was created by Laura Young, a New York expat who also runs New Denizen, a blog that covers Denver life “from a New Yorker’s perspective.” To Ms. Young, 40, this means having “strong and discerning opinions” when it comes to food, culture and the arts. She said that “when ex-New Yorkers in Denver talk to each other, the highest compliment would be, ‘This place could easily make it in New York City.’”

A health worker checks oxygen levels of an elderly person before giving her a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Credit…Ernesto Benavides/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Americans over 65, the age group that is most vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus, got an early start on Covid-19 vaccination and have the highest rate in the country — more than 80 percent are fully inoculated.

But with infections increasing once more, and hospitalization rising among older adults, a large-scale new study in the Journals of Gerontology provides a timely warning: Covid can look different in older patients.

“People expect fever, cough, shortness of breath,” said Allison Marziliano, lead author of the study. But when the researchers combed through the electronic health records of nearly 5,000 people, all over the age of 65, who were hospitalized for Covid-19 at a dozen hospitals in March and April of 2020, they found that one-third had arrived with other symptoms, unexpected ones.

The team, searching through records using language software, found that about one-quarter of older patients reported a functional decline. “This was falls, fatigue, weakness, difficulty walking or getting out of bed,” said Dr. Marziliano, a social and health psychologist at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, part of the large Northwell Health system across New York State.

Eleven percent experienced altered mental status — “confusion, agitation, forgetfulness, lethargy,” she said. About half the group with atypical symptoms also suffered from at least one of the classic Covid problems — fever, trouble breathing, coughing.

“Clinicians should know, older adults should know, their caregivers should know: If you see certain atypical symptoms, it could be Covid,” Dr. Marziliano said.

The rate of atypical symptoms rose significantly with age, affecting about 31 percent of those ages 65 to 74, but more than 44 percent of those over 85. These symptoms occurred more commonly in women, in Black patients (but not in Hispanics) and in those who had other chronic diseases, particularly diabetes or dementia.

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