Covid Updates: European Union Regulators Authorize the Moderna Vaccine for Teenagers


A 14-year-old receiving Moderna’s Covid vaccine in February during a clinical trial in Houston.
Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

The European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s main drug regulator, on Friday authorized the use of Moderna’s Covid vaccine for children age 12 and older, clearing the way for final approval by the bloc.

The agency approved the vaccine for those older than age 18 in January. The vaccine is also licensed for those 18 and older in the United States, Canada and Britain.

The protocol for children will be the same as for adults — two shots four weeks apart — the regulator said. Sore arms, headache and fatigue were the side effects most commonly reported among teenagers receiving the vaccine, it said, similarly to adults.

The agency’s recommendation will go to the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm, for a final approval. Deciding if and when to begin using the vaccine on children is up to the E.U.’s 27 national governments.

Until now, the only vaccine approved for those 12- to 17-years-old in Europe and North America has been the one from Pfizer-BioNTech. The bloc’s drug regulator recommended it for children in late May, and the European Commission swiftly approved it. More than a dozen E.U. countries have since begun vaccinating children.

The E.U. vaccination campaign has accelerated considerably in recent weeks, and even overtook the immunization level in the United States, with over 67 percent of the population now inoculated with at least one dose, and 53 percent fully immunized according to data gathered by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Fifty-six percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose, and 49 percent are fully vaccinated.

The bloc has obtained enough doses to reach its goal of fully vaccinating 70 percent of the adult population by the end of July, the commission said earlier this month. But despite the overall high level of immunization, important divergences remain between the bloc’s member nations.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control warned on Friday in a joint statement with the World Health Organization that the Delta variant is now dominant in the majority of the bloc’s nations, and urged the “fast rollout of vaccinations,” highlighting that full inoculation significantly reduces the risk of severe disease and death.

“When called to do so, people should get vaccinated,” Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the W.H.O.’s director for Europe, said in a statement.

Two patrons showed their vaccination cards to an employee before entering a venue in Manhattan in May. Local governments and private businesses are looking at mandates to increase vaccination rates.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio urged on Friday that New York City’s private businesses require their workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and signaled that he would introduce similar measures for hundreds of thousands of municipal employees.

The mayor’s comments came just days after he announced that all employees in the public hospital system would have to either receive a virus vaccine or submit to weekly testing.

The highly contagious Delta variant has fueled outbreaks among the unvaccinated across the United States and in recent days many local governments and private organizations have been grappling with whether to put vaccination mandates in place. Several organizations — including various hospital systems, schools, the city of San Francisco and professional football — have taken steps to require vaccinations.

The mayor’s new position reflected growing concern that New York, like much of the United States, is on the verge of another wave of the pandemic. In just a few weeks, case counts in the city have tripled, to more than 650 a day on average, while inoculation rates have leveled off.

“If people want freedom, if people want jobs, if people want to live again, we have got to get more people vaccinated,” Mr. de Blasio said on Friday during a weekly radio appearance on WNYC. “And obviously it’s time for whatever mandates we can achieve.”

Although nearly five million New York City residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, the speed at which new shots are being administered has slowed. Nationally, 57 percent of Americans have gotten at least one vaccine dose; 49 percent are fully vaccinated.

New York City officials have tried everything from mobile vaccination sites to in-home vaccination visits to offering incentives like cash and movie tickets, but they have yet to see a significant rise in inoculations.

Even vaccinations among employees of many city agencies — including the Police Department, the Fire Department and the public schools — have remained below the citywide rate of full vaccination among adults, 65 percent.

“We have reached the limits of purely voluntary,” Mr. de Blasio said on Friday. “It’s time for more mandates.”

On Thursday, the National Football League on Thursday sent a memo to all 32 teams saying that players who refuse to receive a Covid-19 vaccine may risk their teams’ forfeiting games if they test positive and cause an outbreak.

Nationally, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain far below their winter peaks, but the rapid spread of the Delta variant has led to a steep rise in hospitalizations in some spots around the country where people have been slower to get vaccinated.

The number of new cases in the country has nearly tripled in the last two weeks, with an average of more than 45,000 infections now being diagnosed each day.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently warned that “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated” and that the United States had reached a “pivotal point.”

Vaccines remain effective against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including from the Delta variant, and experts say breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are so far still relatively uncommon.

Still, hospitalizations are now trending upward in 45 states, and some health care centers in portions of the Midwest, West and South are struggling. Florida has recently seen the most hospitalizations for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The Biden administration has pursued multiple strategies to get more people vaccinated and, as that pool has shrunk, focused on more personalized efforts to reach those who have not gotten shots.

On Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, again rejected the idea of a nationwide mandate to take the vaccine, saying it is not the role of the federal government to impose that choice on people.

“There will be institutions, there will be private sector companies and others who make decisions about how to keep their community safe. That’s certainly appropriate,” Ms. Psaki said.

Reed Abelson and Dan Levin contributed reporting.

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine readied for a mass vaccination site in Newark, N.J., in June.   
Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

As research continues into how long coronavirus vaccines remain effective, Biden administration health officials increasingly think that vulnerable populations will need booster shots.

Senior officials now say they expect that people who are 65 and older or who have compromised immune systems will most likely need a third shot from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, two vaccines based on the same technology that have been used to inoculate the vast majority of Americans thus far.

That is a sharp shift from just a few weeks ago, when the administration said it thought there was not enough evidence to back boosters yet.

The growing consensus within the administration that at least some Americans will need a booster is tied in part to research suggesting that the Pfizer vaccine is less effective against the coronavirus after about six months. More than half of those fully vaccinated in the United States so far have received Pfizer’s vaccine.

Pfizer’s continuing global study of its clinical trial participants shows that four to six months after the second dose, the vaccine’s effectiveness against symptomatic infection drops from a high of 95 percent to 84 percent, according to the company.

Data from the Israeli government, which has fully vaccinated more than half of its population with Pfizer doses since January, also points to a downward trend in effectiveness against infection over time, though not against severe disease. Administration officials are viewing that data cautiously because of wide margins for error.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who heads the infectious disease division of the National Institutes of Health, said the apparent steep falloff in the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness against infection in the Israeli data had epidemiologists “raising their eyebrows a bit.”

The administration has already purchased more than enough vaccine to deliver third doses of both Pfizer and Moderna, and has been quietly preparing to expand the distribution effort, should it become necessary.

Dr. Paul A. Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s outside advisory committee of vaccine experts, said a rise in mild or moderate cases of Covid-19 among vaccinated people did not necessarily mean a booster was required.

“The goal of this vaccine is not to prevent mild or low, moderate infectious disease,” he said. “The goal is to prevent hospitalization to death. Right now this vaccine has held up to that.”

Prematurely dangling the prospect of a third dose could also work as a deterrent against vaccination, making people less likely to get their initial shots, other health experts said.

“We don’t want people to believe that when you’re talking about boosters, that means that the vaccines are not effective,” Dr. Fauci said a congressional hearing Tuesday. “They are highly effective.”

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

A vaccination site in Nashville in May. The Tennessee Department of Health will be taking part in several back-to-school vaccine partnership events with schools.
Credit…Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

Tennessee health officials are resuming several programs to promote vaccinations for public school students, just two weeks after such efforts were halted because Republican elected officials had complained that parents should make the decisions.

The criticism of the programs had reached a fever pitch just before the firing of the state’s top immunization official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, earlier this month.

Dr. Fiscus, medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs, attributed her ouster to the pushback among Republican lawmakers in the state. She is one of scores of public health officials across the United States who have quit or been forced from their jobs in a political climate that has grown increasingly polarized over the coronavirus and the vaccines.

On Friday, Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state health commissioner, said at a news conference that the state had temporarily suspended its outreach efforts in light of the criticism from conservatives, but officials were now trying to target messages to parents. She said the department would be taking part in several back-to-school vaccine events in partnership with schools.

“There was a perception we were marketing to children and that was totally against our view of the importance of parental authority,” she said. “We strongly believe that parents are the best decision markers.”

The state health department has also removed its logo from school-based fliers and has now revised fliers and reminder postcards to ensure they are directed at parents. The department also took down social media posts that depicted a child without a parent.

In a text message on Friday, Dr. Fiscus said the state’s decision to halt the programs, even temporarily, had a cost. “It’s unfortunate that Tennessee Department of Health chose to pause outreach to vulnerable populations during back to school and that we lost two weeks of critical time to vaccinate children, but I’m happy to hear they’re resuming now,” she said.

New cases in Tennessee have more than tripled over the past 14 days, to nearly 900 new infections a day, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations have risen about 68 percent to an average of 462 each day last week. Dr. Piercey said that in some counties 20 percent of coronavirus tests were coming back positive.

Republicans had charged that the state’s previous public-service advertisements urging teenagers to be vaccinated had gone too far in its efforts to raise awareness of the shot among young people.

“When you have advertisements like this, with a young girl with a patch on her arm, all smiling,” Scott Cepicky, a Republican state representative, said as he held up a printout of a social media post during a recent hearing. “We all know how impressionable our young people are, and wanting to fit in life.”

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Alabama Governor: ‘It’s Time to Start Blaming the Unvaccinated Folks’

Kay Ivey, the Republican governor, said unvaccinated residents were driving the rise in coronavirus cases and deaths in Alabama. Only 33.9 percent of Alabama’s residents are fully vaccinated, according to federal data.

The new cases in Covid are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost a hundred percent of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks, and the deaths are certainly occurring with unvaccinated folks. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain. Reporter: “What is it going to take to get people to get shots in arms?” I don’t know. You tell me. Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down. Reporter: ”But as the leader of the state, don’t you think it’s your responsibility to try and help get this situation under control?” I’ve done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself.

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Kay Ivey, the Republican governor, said unvaccinated residents were driving the rise in coronavirus cases and deaths in Alabama. Only 33.9 percent of Alabama’s residents are fully vaccinated, according to federal data.CreditCredit…Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser, via Associated Press

Breaking with many of her fellow elected Republicans, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama this week placed the blame for rising coronavirus cases in her state on “the unvaccinated folks” and said that she had run out of ideas for how to change minds.

“Folks are supposed to have common sense, but it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks,” Governor Ivey said during a news conference on Thursday. “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

Alabama has the nation’s lowest vaccination rate, with only about 33.9 percent of residents fully vaccinated, according to federal data.

The average number of new daily cases in the state has tripled in the last two weeks, to more than 1,100 a day, the highest rate since mid-February, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations have also increased, and almost 100 percent of those are unvaccinated people, Ms. Ivey said.

“These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain,” she said.

In her four years in office, Ms. Ivey has proved to be a reliably conservative Southern Republican. She was a staunch supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, defends gun rights and opposes taking down monuments to Confederate leaders.

But at a time when many other Republican lawmakers remain reluctant to publicly confront vaccine skepticism, even as the Delta variant rips through conservative communities, her explicit condemnation of the unvaccinated demonstrated, yet again, that she has a pronounced independent streak when it comes to the handling of the pandemic.

In March, Ms. Ivey bucked pressure from fellow Alabama Republicans when she extended the state’s mask mandate until early April, even as Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi had lifted such requirements in the name of personal freedom. But like many Republican governors, she signed a bill banning vaccine passports in May, and earlier this week, she said she does not think Alabama schools need a mask mandate to reopen safely.

Still, Ms. Ivey did not mince words on Thursday as she beseeched residents to get the vaccines, which she described as “the greatest weapon we have to fight Covid.”

“Get a shot in your arm,” she said. “I’ve done it. It’s safe. The data proves it. It doesn’t cost anything. It saves lives.”

Asked by a reporter if she should be held responsible for failing to bring the virus under control, Ms. Ivey voiced frustration. “I’ve done all I know how to do,” she said. “I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself.”

The unvaccinated are not a monolithic group. Some are deeply opposed to the shots or remain reluctant, often because of misinformation about the vaccines. Others are still procrastinating. Though vaccine hesitancy is an issue on both the right and the left, the political disparity is stark. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported at the end of June that 86 percent of Democrats had at least one shot, compared with 52 percent of Republicans.

On Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, declined to take a similar tone toward the unvaccinated when asked about Ms. Ivey’s comments.

“I don’t think our role is to place blame,” she said. “But what we can do is provide accurate information to people who are not yet vaccinated about the risks they are incurring not only among themselves but also the people around them.”

N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell in Cleveland in April. Mr. Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams on Thursday, detailing drastic penalties for unvaccinated personnel.
Credit…Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Throughout the off-season, the N.F.L. had stopped short of requiring that its players and other team personnel receive a Covid-19 vaccination, instead strongly encouraging inoculation.

But with training camps starting in earnest next week and the regular season less than two months away, that approach has shifted.

Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday sent a memo to all 32 teams outlining Covid-19 guidelines for the 2021 season that detail drastic penalties for teams with unvaccinated personnel, including the forfeiture of games. Any forfeits could result in players’ not being paid — if their infections are known to have caused an outbreak.

While the memo does not mandate vaccination, it represents the N.F.L.’s strongest stance yet amid the coronavirus pandemic, showing how seriously it wishes to avoid the hurdles of 2020. The new directives highlight the ongoing question of whether employers should require workers to be vaccinated and cast a hard line between vaccinated team personnel and their peers who are hesitant or loath to be inoculated.

Rick Dennison, an assistant coach for the Minnesota Vikings, on Friday was dismissed after refusing to be vaccinated, ESPN reported. Cole Popovich, an assistant coach for the New England Patriots, also departed his team because of virus guidelines, according to ESPN.

In a conference call with reporters, Allen Sills, the N.F.L.’s chief medical officer, said 80 percent of all players had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Friday. Other sports leagues have reported a high number of vaccinations. The W.N.B.A said in June that 99 percent of its players were vaccinated, while the N.B.A. reported 90 percent. More than two-thirds of Major League Baseball’s teams have reported an 85 percent vaccination rate.

A man receiving a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine last week at a medical center near Tel Aviv.
Credit…Amir Levy/Getty Images

As Israel struggles with a new surge of coronavirus cases, its health ministry reported Thursday that although effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine remains high against severe illness, its protection against infection by the coronavirus has diminished significantly compared with this winter and early spring.

Analyzing the government’s national health statistics, researchers concluded that Pfizer’s shots, while offering vaccinated people 90 percent less risk of severe disease, gave them only 39 percent less risk against infection in late June and early July, compared with 95 percent from January to early April.

Israeli scientists cautioned that the new study is much smaller than the one in May and measured cases in a narrower window of time. As a result, a much larger range of uncertainties flanks their estimates, which could also be skewed by a variety of other factors.

Nevertheless, the new estimates are raising concern in Israel and elsewhere, including the United States. Possible reasons for the apparent loss of effectiveness against infection include the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant or a waning of protection from the shots over time.

Dr. Ran Balicer, the chairman of Israel’s Covid-19 National Expert Advisory Panel, said that the challenges of making accurate estimates of vaccine effectiveness are “immense.” He said that more careful analysis of the raw data was needed to understand what is going on.

Israel launched an aggressive campaign with the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 20, and 58 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the world. Cases have increased 165 percent over the last two weeks, but hospitalizations, a measure of severe disease, continue to trend downward, according to Our World in Data, a project at the University of Oxford.

The vaccinations, paired with tight restrictions that the government imposed on travel and meetings, helped bring the country’s daily caseload down from a peak of over 8,600 cases a day in January to just a few dozen.

Israel began relaxing its restrictions in the spring. In late June, with the Delta variant spreading, cases surged again. Now, over 1,000 people are testing positive each day, including among fully vaccinated people. Epidemiologists had expected such breakthrough infections, as they do with all vaccines.

Adding to the uncertainty of the new findings is that the surge has not spread evenly across the country. Some travelers infected with the highly contagious Delta variant have brought it back to neighborhoods where vaccination rates are relatively high, while new outbreaks have yet to swamp Orthodox Jewish and Arab Israeli communities, where vaccination rates are lower. That imbalance could appear to make the vaccine seem less effective.

Also, the people who got vaccinated at the start of the campaign were over 60; those who got them later were younger. Infections among those who got vaccinated early may have more to do with their age, or some other factor that researchers have yet to take into consideration.

However, if the vaccine’s protection against infection is indeed waning after six months, the implications could be enormous, including on deliberations about whether to give people a third shot.

Dr. Balicer said that he and colleagues at Clalit Health Services, where he is the chief innovation officer, were working on their own study on the effectiveness of the vaccine, using Clalit’s health care records to take into account such confounding factors.

“I think there is definitely some waning, but not as much as hypothesized based on the crude data,” said Dr. Balicer, noting that other factors may be in play. “We are now trying to figure it out in a clean way.”

An office building in Midtown Manhattan. Some companies are rethinking when they will require employees to return to in-person work.
Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

When companies began announcing tentative return-to-office plans this spring, there was a sense of optimism behind the messages.

In recent days, that tone has suddenly shifted. The Delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus, is sweeping through the country. Less than half of Americans are fully vaccinated, exacerbating the situation.

It all adds up to a difficult calculation for America’s business leaders, who hoped the country would already be fully on a path to normalcy, with employees getting back to offices. Instead, individual companies are now being forced to make tough decisions that they had hoped could be avoided, such as whether to reverse reopening plans or institute vaccine mandates for employees. All the while, they continue to grapple with the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

“It’s emotionally draining on all of us, and it drives the top management teams crazy,” said Bob Sutton, a psychology professor at Stanford University who studies leadership and organizations. He said some executives he had advised were “pulling their hair out” over what to do.

Several hospital systems that previously held off making vaccines mandatory for health care workers are now willing to do so. Google employees in California who have returned to the office on a voluntary basis are again wearing masks indoors.

Goldman Sachs is considering whether to reinstitute testing for fully vaccinated employees in the company’s New York City offices, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because nothing had been decided. And on Monday, Apple told its work force that it would push back its return-to-office date from September to October.

For employers wary of the legal ramifications and political backlash of mandating a vaccine, the tide has begun to turn, if ever so sightly.

“At the beginning, there were a lot of employers that were concerned about jumping in too soon and being the one out front — it is a divisive issue,” said David Barron, a labor and employment lawyer at the law firm Cozen O’Connor. “The calculus starts to shift a little bit when you see another spike.”

A patient leaving a coronavirus testing site in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday.
Credit…Agnes Lopez for The New York Times

MIAMI — A month ago, the number of Covid-19 patients admitted at two University of Florida hospitals in Jacksonville was down to 14. Now more than 140 people are hospitalized with the virus, a tenfold increase over five weeks — and the highest number of Covid patients this system has seen since the start of the pandemic.

Higher than last summer, when the coronavirus slammed Florida. Higher than over the winter, when the virus surged to devastating levels across the nation.

A national uptick in coronavirus cases has led, in sudden and concerning fashion, to a steep rise in hospitalizations in some spots around the country where people have been slower to get vaccinated, a predicament experts hoped might be avoided because the people contracting the infection tend to be younger and healthier.

Nationally, hospitalizations remain relatively low, nowhere near earlier peaks of the pandemic. But in some regions with lagging vaccination rates and rising virus cases — such as Northeast Florida, Southwest Missouri, Southern Nevada — the highly contagious Delta variant has flooded intensive care units and Covid wards that, not long ago, had seen their patient counts shrink.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Dr. Leon L. Haley Jr., the chief executive of UF Health Jacksonville. “Each day we continue to go up. There’s no sense of when things are going to curtail themselves. People are stretched thin.”

The situation is worrying across Northeast Florida. The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville is on track to match or exceed its earlier record. Wolfson Children’s Hospital has its second-highest number of admissions, 45, after reaching 57 in January. About 90 miles south, in Daytona Beach, an AdventHealth hospital has more Covid patients than ever before.

About a fifth of all national cases over the past two weeks have originated in Florida, which has emerged as a microcosm of the nation’s mounting Covid worries. The state has the fourth-highest hospitalization rate, behind Nevada, Missouri and Arkansas.

Congressional Memo

Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Texas legislators pushing for action on voting rights last week. Six members of the delegation later tested positive for the coronavirus.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Breakthrough coronavirus cases have emerged in multiple offices in Congress, including the speaker’s. The line for in-house testing snakes through a long corridor and into a visitors’ center atrium. The Capitol’s doctor has warned of the possible return of a mask mandate.

The Delta variant has reached Capitol Hill, but a common enemy has only made recriminations and anger worse between the two political parties.

Republicans, caught between a political base that is often resistant to vaccination and an imperative to save the lives of their voters, point their fingers at Democrats and blame them, without evidence, for covering up the virus’s origins.

Democrats fault Republicans who have done little to push back against vaccine skeptics in their ranks, and even now are soft-pedaling their calls for people to take the shot.

For much of the vaccinated nation, the coronavirus resurgence is somewhere else. In states like Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts, where at least 84 percent of the adults have at one shot or two, surges in Alabama, Florida, Missouri and Arkansas are far, far away.

But the Capitol is one of the few places in America where red and blue mingle almost daily — and resentment is high.

“Congress is like a nationwide convention every single day,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who has begun wearing a mask again, though he is fully vaccinated and 76.5 percent of adults in his state of Maryland have received at least one shot. “There are people who have come from every corner, hamlet and precinct of the country. It’s a petri dish for the development of political ideas, but also plagues.”

Republicans point out that the most recent high-profile carriers of the current plague were Democrats, Texas legislators who fled Austin to stop passage of a measure restricting voting. Six of them — all of whom said they were vaccinated — then tested positive, and are suspected of infecting a senior aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The aide, who was also vaccinated, is mildly symptomatic.

Students getting vaccinated last month in Wheeling, a suburb of Chicago.
Credit…Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Chicago Public Schools will require everyone to wear masks in school buildings when the new academic year starts, regardless of their vaccination status, according to guidelines the school system released on Thursday.

With the decision, Chicago joins New York City and several other large jurisdictions, including the state of California, in imposing stricter health guidelines for students and teachers than the federal government has recommended.

In a letter to public school parents and children, Jose Torres, the interim chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, wrote that the rule on face covering would apply to students, staff members and visitors.

“Continuing to require masks will help make sure those in our school communities who are not yet eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, which encompasses the majority of our students, remain as safe as possible,” Mr. Torres wrote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance earlier this month that called for a full return to classrooms in the fall and recommended that masks be optional for fully vaccinated students and staff.

But the guidance left a lot of details up to state and local governments, advising districts to use local coronavirus data to guide decisions about when to tighten or relax prevention measures like masking and physical distancing. It also recommended that unvaccinated students and staff members keep wearing masks.

Chicago’s announcement came a day after the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education said that masks should be worn indoors in public elementary schools, regardless of vaccination status. The state’s return-to-school guidelines also encourage mask-wearing indoors in middle and high schools for those who are unvaccinated. But Virginia stopped short of issuing a universal mask mandate, leaving that decision up to schools.

Chicago’s decision on masks was based in part on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which took a more conservative approach than the C.D.C. by recommending that everyone over age 2 wear masks this fall, even if they have been vaccinated. But both the A.A.P. and the C.D.C. support a return to in-person learning.

With the new academic year just weeks away, mask rules are being closely watched — sometimes provoking controversy. On Thursday, two advocacy groups for parents in California filed a lawsuit against the state’s governor and top health officials over the state’s requirement that children must wear masks at school even if they are vaccinated.

A gravedigger rested after the burial of a Covid victim in Bogor, West Java province, Indonesia, earlier this month. Indonesia is struggling to cope with a devastating wave of cases driven by the Delta variant.
Credit…Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

The spread of the super-contagious Delta variant has prompted new restrictions around the world and spurred stark new warnings from public health officials.

Here are some of the questions people have raised about the variant.

Delta, formerly known as B.1.617.2, is believed to be the most transmissible variant yet, roughly twice as contagious as the original virus. Other evidence suggests that the variant may be able to partially evade the antibodies made by the body after a coronavirus infection or vaccination.

But much is still unknown or unproven, including whether this variant may cause more severe illness.

Delta has been reported in 124 countries, and is now the most common variant in many of them.

It first appeared in the United States in March and spread quickly. In early April, Delta represented just 0.1 percent of cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency now estimates that the number has hit 83.2 percent.

It’s not clear yet. “We’re hurting for good data,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. In Britain, where the variant is widespread, reports have emerged that Delta may cause different symptoms than other variants do.

Although there is not yet good data on how all of the vaccines hold up against Delta, two doses of several widely used shots, including those made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant, research suggests.

Even with Delta, breakthrough infections, or infections in people who have been fully vaccinated, remain relatively rare, scientists believe, and tend to be mild or asymptomatic.

After a long and steady decline, cases are on the rise again in the United States, likely fueled by Delta.

But the numbers remain far below last winter’s peak, and experts do not expect them to rise that high again. “I think we are not going to see another big, national surge in the United States because we have enough vaccination to prevent that,” Dr. Michael Osterholm said last month.

Get vaccinated. If you’re already vaccinated, encourage your family, friends and neighbors to get vaccinated.

Face masks, which remain a particularly important tool for those who are ineligible for or do not have access to vaccines, can provide additional protection.

A woman showed her health pass to an Eiffel Tower employee before her visit in Paris on Wednesday.
Credit…Bertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PARIS — As Europe and the United States scramble to find an appropriate balance between curbing the Delta variant of the coronavirus and curbing personal freedom, President Emmanuel Macron has led the way down a narrow path combining limited compulsion to get vaccinated with widespread coercion.

His approach of ordering health workers to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, and telling the rest of the French population they will be denied access to most indoor public venues if unvaccinated or without a negative test by Aug. 1, has prompted other countries including Italy to follow suit, even as it has stirred pockets of deep resistance.

“You are creating a society of generalized control for months, maybe years,” Éric Coquerel, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, said during a tumultuous 48-hour parliamentary debate on Mr. Macron’s measures that ended early Friday with a relatively narrow victory for the president.

Barreling through 1,200 proposed amendments, defying accusations of authoritarianism and chaos from the hard right and left, the lower house voted by 117 to 86 to back President Macron’s attempt to strong-arm the French to get vaccinated by making their lives miserable if they do not.

Europe’s problem is similar to that of the United States: vaccination levels that at around or just under 60 percent are inadequate for herd immunity; surging Delta variant cases; and growing divisions over how far getting an injection can be mandated.

But where the United States has generally not gone beyond hospitals and major health systems requiring employees to get Covid-19 vaccines, major European economies including France and Italy are moving closer to making vaccines mandatory for everyone.

Mr. Macron’s measures, announced July 12 as the only means to avoid yet another French lockdown, have spurred both protests and an extraordinary surge in vaccinations, with 3.7 million booked in the first week after the president spoke, and a record of nearly 900,000 vaccinations in a single day on July 19. In this sense, his bold move has been a success.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Vaccines being administered in the Bronx on Tuesday. Mayor Bill de Blasio is urging private businesses to require their employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

As research continues into how long coronavirus vaccines remain effective, Biden administration health officials increasingly think that vulnerable populations will need booster shots.

Senior officials now say they expect that people who are 65 and older or who have compromised immune systems will most likely need a third shot from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, two vaccines based on the same technology that have been used to inoculate a vast majority of Americans thus far.

That is a sharp shift from just a few weeks ago, when the administration said it thought there was not yet enough evidence to back boosters.

The growing consensus within the administration that at least some Americans will need a booster is tied in part to research suggesting that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is less effective against infection with the coronavirus after about six months, though it remains strong in protecting against severe disease. More than half of those fully vaccinated in the United States so far have received the Pfizer vaccine.

And as schools are preparing to reopen and more employees are planning to return to offices in the fall, political leaders across the United States are weighing whether to require vaccinations to guard against a resurgence of the virus, especially the highly transmissible Delta variant.

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City urged private businesses to require their workers to be vaccinated, days after he announced that all employees in the city’s public health system would have to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. The requirements would take effect after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to at least one Covid vaccine, which are all now being administered under an emergency order.

Vaccine mandates have remained relatively rare among municipal governments, which have faced strong opposition from unions. But some educational institutions are requiring students, teachers and staff members to be vaccinated or take other steps to prevent the spread of the virus. This week, Chicago’s public school system said it would require everyone in school buildings to wear masks this fall, regardless of vaccination status.

America’s most popular sports league, the N.F.L., had stopped short of mandating vaccinations, until now. Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo on Thursday to all 32 teams outlining Covid-19 guidelines for the 2021 season, including severe penalties for teams with unvaccinated personnel, including possibly having to forfeit games.

In other news from the past week:

  • The Tokyo Olympic Games is underway, as the city and athletes try to dodge a worsening outbreak in Japan. The opening ceremony was held in a near-empty stadium. Tokyo Olympic organizers announced 17 new positive tests on Saturday among people connected to the Games bringing the total to at least 127, including 14 athletes. On Saturday, a Czech women’s beach volleyball team did not play because of a coronavirus infection, giving the win to Japan.

  • England’s months of lockdown rules ended on Monday, but the coronavirus-weary nation is being battered by a new crisis: a “pingdemic.” With virus case numbers surging again, hundreds of thousands of people have been notified — or pinged — by a government-sponsored phone app asking them to self-isolate for 10 days because they were in contact with someone who had tested positive. Supermarkets, trucking firms and food producers have warned of staff shortages.

  • In addition to the rise of the Delta variant, there is also a Beta variant, which was first detected in South Africa and has now been reported in 123 countries. It remains far less prevalent than Delta and is not common in the United States. Beta contains several mutations that help the virus bind more tightly to human cells. It also contains the E484K mutation, sometimes known as “Eek,” which appears to help the virus partially evade antibodies.

  • Canada announced that it would reopen its borders to travelers from the United States beginning on Aug. 9. Citizens and permanent U.S. residents will be allowed to enter as long as they have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days before travel. But the United States is retaining its bar against nonessential travel from Canada, instituted in concert with Canada in March 2020.

  • New federal data showed that life expectancy in the United States suffered its steepest drop since the World War II, with Black and Hispanic residents seeing the biggest declines. From 2019 to 2020, Hispanic people saw their average life expectancy decline by three years, while Black residents had a decrease of 2.9 years. The smallest decline among ethnic groups was recorded in white people, whose life expectancy fell by 1.2 years.

The stage for “Merry Wives” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in Manhattan in July.
Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The merriment is back, with caution.

The Public Theater announced on Saturday that it was resuming performances of its free Shakespeare in the Park production of “Merry Wives,” ending a three-night halt caused by a production member’s positive test for the coronavirus.

The theater had canceled the Wednesday and Thursday performances at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, in accordance with its existing protocols. It announced on Twitter on Friday that it would call off that day’s performance as well “to support the artistic and logistical efforts required to restart performances.” The production had started nearly two weeks late, after its leading man was injured onstage.

The Public Theater’s announcement of the resumption of the play said it would not return to an in-person standby line after all, but would retain a texting standby registry. In the past, hundreds of standby hopefuls have waited for hours in a line that snakes north of the venue, the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park is a much-loved summer tradition, and its culture is part of the lifeblood of New York. The return of arts and entertainment is also crucial to the city’s economy, employing some 93,500 people before the pandemic and paying them $7.4 billion in wages, according to the state comptroller’s office.

The show, a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” has been running in previews since July 6. Written by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Saheem Ali, it is set in South Harlem and represents African immigrant communities not often seen onstage. Bioh and Ali have said they hope the production makes Shakespeare accessible to all audiences, especially people of color who may have been told Shakespeare was not for them.

The spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus has driven surges in many countries, and infections have led to the postponement of a number of stage productions and delays in television and film projects in Europe over the past month. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” musical recently moved its opening night in London’s West End back about a month after a cast member tested positive, while productions like “Hairspray” at the London Coliseum and “Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe have also experienced delays after positive tests.





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