Covid-19 News: New Virus Variant Races Through Britain and Poses Fresh Threat as Global Vaccination Drive Falters

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A vaccination site at Brent Central Mosque in London in early April.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

A new and potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus has begun to outpace other versions of the virus in Britain, putting pressure on the government to shorten people’s wait for second doses of vaccines and illustrating the risks of a faltering global immunization drive.

The new variant, which has become dominant in India since first being detected there in December, may be responsible in part for a virus wave across Southeast Asia, including Nepal.

But efforts to understand the variant picked up once it began spreading in Britain, one of at least 49 countries where it is present. Scientists there are sequencing half of all coronavirus cases.

The preliminary results out of Britain, drawn from only a few thousand cases of the variant, contained both good and bad news, scientists said.

The variant, known by evolutionary biologists as B.1.617.2, is “highly likely” to be more transmissible than the variant behind Britain’s devastating wintertime surge, government scientists have said.

Helpfully for Britain and other wealthy nations, the variant has emerged at a less dire moment of the pandemic. More than four out of every five people in England above the age of 65 have been given both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, driving down hospitalizations and deaths.

And a new study by Public Health England offered reassuring signs that fully vaccinated people were well protected from the variant.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offered 88 percent protection against the variant first sampled in India, only a slight drop from the 93 percent protection given against the variant from Britain, Public Health England said. The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was 60 percent effective against the variant from India, compared to 66 percent effective against the one first seen in Britain.

Because Britons started receiving AstraZeneca’s vaccine later than Pfizer’s, they have been followed for a shorter period, meaning that the effectiveness figures for that vaccine may underestimate the true numbers, scientists said. Other studies in England have shown little to no difference between the effectiveness of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

For now, a rise in cases of the variant from India has not caused an overall surge in the virus in Britain. And not all scientists are convinced that the variant is as contagious as feared. The true test will be whether it surges in other countries, especially those — unlike Britain — that are grappling with high case counts of other variants, Andrew Rambaut, a professor of molecular evolution at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, wrote on Twitter.

In Britain, part of its rapid growth may have to do with the particular places it was first introduced. Bolton, in northwest England, where the new variant is most advanced, is a highly deprived area with tightly packed housing that could be hastening its spread, scientists said.

“We do not know if the increase in transmissibility is the result of specific mixing patterns, or super-spreading events,” a group of researchers led by Robert Challen of the University of Exeter reported on May 11, in a study that was among those presented to an influential government advisory group.

That government advisory body said several days later that it had “high confidence” that the variant first seen in India was indeed more contagious, warning that a “substantial resurgence of hospitalizations” was possible. It said that the variant was gaining a foothold in diverse parts of Britain where “contact patterns or behaviors” alone could not explain its spread.

United States › United StatesOn May 24 14-day change
New cases 24,024 –37%
New deaths 409 –13%

World › WorldOn May 24 14-day change
New cases 300,949 –34%
New deaths 6,438 –11%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Where states are reporting vaccines given

Whitney Bush, a science teacher at Middle School 839 in Brooklyn, talked with students over Zoom during an online orientation session last September.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

New York City will no longer have a remote schooling option come fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday, a major step toward fully reopening the nation’s largest school system and a crucial marker in the city’s economic recovery after more than a year of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The announcement represents the single most important decision the city was facing on school reopening, and means that all students and staff members will be back in buildings full time. Many parents will also be able to return to work without supervising their children’s online classes, which could prompt the revitalization of entire industries and neighborhoods.

“You can’t have a full recovery without full-strength schools,” Mr. de Blasio said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

New York is one of the first big cities in the country to remove the option of remote learning altogether for the next school year. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that he expected all schools in the state to reopen full-time in the fall.

As virus cases drop across the country, and with no uniform federal guidance on the issue, officials in each state are weighing their options.

Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey announced last week that the state would no longer have remote classes come fall. Leaders in Massachusetts and Illinois, along with San Antonio, have said there will be extremely limited remote options.

Education officials in Florida have indicated they will significantly reduce or even eliminate online classes next school year. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California has said districts will have to offer in-person classes this fall, but can also provide remote instruction. Houston, one of the largest districts in the country, will keep a remote option for fall, as will Philadelphia.

While Mr. de Blasio’s announcement eliminated the largest logistical obstacle to fully reopening the school system, he still has to convince hesitant families and staff that it’s safe for schools to return to normal.

This school year, the majority of the city’s roughly one million students — about 600,000 — stayed home for classes. A disproportionate number of the families who chose online learning were nonwhite, a reflection of the harsh health outcomes suffered by Black and Latino families in particular when the city became a global epicenter of the virus last spring.

The mayor also said that teachers and school staff members, who have been eligible for the vaccine since January, will no longer be granted medical waivers to work from home. Nearly a third of city teachers are working remotely, which has forced some schools to offer only online learning, even from school buildings. Some parents who chose remote learning said they did so to avoid the unpredictability of hybrid learning. Their issues will be mostly resolved by the elimination of remote classes.

Last summer, Mr. de Blasio battled with the city’s powerful teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, over reopening. But now, that union, and the city’s principal union, are on board with the city’s plan.

“There is no substitute for in-person instruction,” Michael Mulgrew, the U.F.T.’s president, said in a statement. “New York City educators want their students physically in front of them.”

Still, many families are still concerned about the virus. Though reopened classrooms have been relatively safe since last fall, with very low positive test rates and few outbreaks in schools, the pandemic has revealed a profound lack of trust between many families of color in particular and the city school system.

The city’s school system is currently planning for masks to be required in school buildings, Ms. Porter said. Schools would also follow the C.D.C.’s social-distancing protocol, which currently recommends elementary school students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms. Both those policies could change by the fall. Children 12 and older recently became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. And Pfizer and BioNTech plan in September to submit requests for authorization of the vaccine in children ages 2 to 11.

“The data has been unbelievably clear,” Mr. de Blasio explained on Monday. “Vaccination has worked ahead of schedule; it’s had even more impact than we thought it would.”

Students participating in a math activity in a first-grade class while their remote classmates were projected on a screen at James Monroe Elementary School in Edison, N.J., in November.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

As the coronavirus pandemic ebbs in the United States and vaccines become available for teenagers, school systems are facing the difficult choice of whether to continue offering a remote learning option in the fall.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City took a stance on Monday, saying that the city will drop remote learning in its public schools, the move may have added to the pressure on other school systems to do the same.

Some families remain fearful of returning their children to classrooms, and others have become accustomed to new child care and work routines built around remote schooling, and are loath to make major changes.

But it is increasingly clear that school closures have exacted an academic and emotional toll on millions of American students, while preventing some parents from working outside the home.

Several states have already indicated that they will restrict remote learning. In New Jersey, Gov. Philip D. Murphy, has said families in his state will no longer have the option of sending their children to school virtually in the fall. Illinois plans to strictly limit online learning to students who are not eligible for a vaccine and are under quarantine orders.

Connecticut has said it will not require districts to offer virtual learning next fall. Massachusetts has said that parents will be able to opt for remote participation only in limited circumstances.

In California, which lagged behind the rest of the nation in returning to in-person schooling this spring, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would compel districts to offer traditional school in the fall, while also offering remote learning for families who want it. Some lawmakers there have proposed an alternative approach that would cap the number of students enrolled in virtual options.

It is a major staffing challenge for districts to simultaneously offer both traditional and online classes. Before the pandemic, teachers’ unions were typically harsh critics of virtual learning, which they called inherently inferior. But with some teachers still hesitant to return to full classrooms, even post-vaccination, many unions have said parents should continue to have the choice to opt out of in-person learning.

Some teachers, parent groups and civil rights organizations have also argued that families of color are the least confident that their children will be safe in school buildings, and thus should not be pushed to return before they are ready.

As the 2020-2021 school year draws to a close, about one-third of American elementary and secondary students attend schools that are not yet offering five days a week of in-person learning. Those school districts are mainly in areas with more liberal state and local governments and powerful teachers’ unions.

Disputes among administrators, teachers and parents’ groups over when and how to reopen schools have led to messy, protracted public battles in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles.

Governors, mayors and school boards around the country almost all now say that traditional in-person teaching schedules will be available in the fall, but there is still limited clarity on what rights parents will have to decline to return their children to classrooms. Many districts and states have yet to announce what their approach will be.

Among urban districts, the superintendent in San Antonio, Pedro Martinez, has said he will greatly restrict access to remote learning next school year, in part because many teenagers from low-income families have taken on work hours that are incompatible with full-time learning, a trend he wants to tamp down. The Philadelphia and Houston schools have said they will continue offering virtual options.

The superintendent of the nation’s fourth-largest district, Miami-Dade, has said he hopes to welcome back “100 percent” of students to in-person learning in the fall, but that students will retain the option to enroll instead in an online academy that predates the pandemic.

Children 12 and older recently became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech plan in September to submit requests for authorization of the vaccine in children ages 2 to 11.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey gives a thumbs up to people in line to get Covid-19 vaccinations at an Alabama National Guard clinic in Camden, Ala., in early April.
Credit…Kim Chandler/Associated Press

Vaccine passports will not be necessary in the state of Alabama.

On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed into law legislation that bans government institutions, along with schools and private businesses, from refusing goods, services or admission to a person because of their immunization status.

The law, which goes into immediate effect, says state and local governments “may not issue vaccine or immunization passports, vaccine or immunization passes or any other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying the immunization status of an individual.”

Under the law, educational institutions can still require students to prove their vaccination status, but only for specific vaccines that were already required as of Jan. 1 and if the institution gives “an exemption for students with a medical condition or religious belief that is contrary to vaccination.”

More than 400 college campuses are requiring students to be inoculated with the vaccine before they enroll this fall semester, with majority of the mandates coming from states that voted for President Biden.

In a statement written on Monday, Ms. Ivey said that although she has received the coronavirus vaccine and is “glad for the peace of mind it brings,” people should not be mandated to get inoculated.

“I am supportive of a voluntary vaccine and by signing this bill into law, I am only further solidifying that conviction,” Ms. Ivey wrote.

In the United States, vaccine passports themselves aren’t mandatory, but a way for people to easily prove they’re vaccinated. Nevertheless, they have become a cultural flash point as the shot becomes more accessible. In Alabama, almost 29 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, about 10 percent less than the U.S. average, as of Monday, according to a New York Times database.

Republican governors in Florida, Texas, Idaho, Montana, and Arizona, have denounced the use of vaccine passports and have issued executive orders similar to Alabama’s new law.

In March, New York State implemented the Excelsior Pass, a digital version of a vaccine passport, which allows residents to show businesses and venues proof of vaccination or that they have received a negative Covid-19 test.

At the federal level, the Biden administration has said the federal government will not issue a digital system that tracks people’s coronavirus vaccination status.

“The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in April. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

Mayson Barillas, 11, recently recovered from Covid-19 multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
Credit…Rosem Morton for The New York Times

Children who get sick from the rare but serious Covid-related inflammatory syndrome may surmount their most significant symptoms within six months, but they may still have muscle weakness and emotional difficulties at that time, a new small study suggests.

Published in the journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health on Monday, the study appears to be the first detailed look at the health status of children six months after they were hospitalized with the condition, called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. The syndrome typically emerges two weeks to six weeks after a coronavirus infection that is often quite mild, and it can result in hospitalizations for children with severe symptoms involving the heart and several other organs.

A major question has been whether children who survive MIS-C will end up with lasting organ damage or other health problems. The new study, of 46 children under 18 who were admitted to a London hospital for MIS-C (it has a different name and abbreviation, PIMS-TS, in Britain), suggests that many of the most serious problems can resolve with time.

“To be honest, I think we all didn’t know what to expect,” said Dr. Justin Penner, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the hospital involved in the study, Great Ormond Street Hospital, known as GOSH. “We didn’t know which body systems would require assistance or become a problem one month, three months, six months down the line.”

The children in the study were hospitalized between April 4 and Sept. 1, 2020, part of the first wave of the inflammatory syndrome. Many were quite sick. They all had systemic inflammation, and most had symptoms involving multiple organ systems, such as the heart, kidneys or circulatory system. Forty-five children had gastrointestinal symptoms, and 24 had neurological symptoms such as confusion, memory problems, hallucinations, headaches or problems with balance or muscle control.

Sixteen of the children were placed on ventilators, 22 needed medication to help their hearts pump more effectively and 40 were treated with immunotherapies like intravenous immunoglobulin. All survived.

Six months after they were discharged from the hospital, only one child still had systemic inflammation, just two children had heart abnormalities and six children had gastrointestinal symptoms. All but one child were able to resume school, either virtually or in person.

Still, 18 of the children were experiencing muscle weakness and fatigue, scoring in the bottom 3 percent for their age and sex on the six-minute walking test, a standard test of endurance and aerobic capacity. And 15 children were experiencing emotional difficulties like anxiety or severe mood changes, according to questionnaires answered by either the parents or the children.

The dead body of a Covid-19 victim at a crematorium in New Delhi on Friday.
Credit…Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

India on Monday became the third country to surpass 300,000 known deaths from the coronavirus, joining Brazil and the United States.

By Monday morning, a recorded 303,720 people in India had died with the virus, a number that experts say is likely to be a vast undercount, and 222,315 new daily cases were reported, according to the Indian Health Ministry.

While India’s official total of 26.8 million infections is second only to that of the United States, which has recorded more than 33 million, experts have cautioned that India’s figures severely undercount new infections and deaths because of a lack of testing and other resources in the vast country of 1.4 billion people.

Amid the steadily growing number of deaths nationally, the country has struggled to scale up its vaccination campaign. But in New Delhi, numbers of new cases have dropped in recent days, six weeks after a devastating surge, and officials are considering relaxing coronavirus restrictions.

Even so, the vaccination campaign in New Delhi has struggled. The public schools and stadiums in the capital, where thousands have been waiting in lines for hours for a shot, were shuttered on Sunday as the city ran out of doses.

That abrupt suspension to the inoculation campaign in the capital came just three weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had expanded India’s vaccination program to people ages 18 to 44.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s top elected official, said in an online news conference on Saturday that he had written a letter to Mr. Modi pleading for the central government to increase its quota for the city of 20 million. Weeks of lockdown in the capital have helped quell the outbreak somewhat, but potentially dangerous new variants of the virus are circulating widely.

The city needs eight million doses per month to vaccinate all adults in three months. Instead, it received 1.6 million doses in May, and is set to receive only 800,000 in June, Mr. Kejriwal said. At that rate, it would take two and a half years to vaccinate all the adults in the capital, he said.

“By then, no one knows how many waves will arrive and how many deaths will occur,” Mr. Kejriwal said.

India has fully vaccinated around 43 million people — which amounts to just 3 percent of its population. While the pace of infection has slowed in India’s two largest cities — Delhi and the financial hub of Mumbai — the disease is still spreading quickly in rural areas with limited hospital capacity.

Visiting a grave at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day in November.
Credit…Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Arlington National Cemetery and more than 150 national veterans’ cemeteries across the United States will drop many of the restrictions they imposed during the coronavirus pandemic and will allow vaccinated visitors to gather in large groups at graves without wearing masks.

Last Memorial Day, with the country in the grips of the first wave of coronavirus cases, Arlington, the national cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. shut down or modified many of its hallowed traditions. No more than 10 family members could attend each funeral; the soldiers of the Army’s Old Guard wore masks; and the folded flag usually presented by hand to the family was instead laid on a table next to the grave. Arlington closed the Tomb of the Unknowns to visitors, though the Army’s watch on the tomb continued uninterrupted.

Ceremonies were suspended at the National Cemetery Administration’s sites across the country in 2020. So while the perfect rows of white headstones were hosting an elevated number of veterans’ funerals because of the pandemic’s toll, the burials often happened with no bugle sounding “Taps,” no rifle salute and because of travel restrictions, no family in attendance.

This Memorial Day will still be pared down in comparison with years past, with no plans for big events at the national cemeteries, cemetery officials said, but they welcomed the loosening of restrictions that would allow more visitors. They said the traditional graveside ceremonies are being gradually restored as conditions allow.

With the number of new cases dropping and the number of vaccinated people climbing in the United States, Arlington National Cemetery reopened its Metro stop on Sunday; its visitor center will reopen on Thursday; and the Tomb of the Unknowns is once again welcoming visitors. Thousands of veterans and relatives typically gather at the cemetery to honor the dead on Memorial Day.

Masks will still be required for everyone indoors, and unvaccinated visitors will have to wear masks both indoors and out.

“We are very happy families and visitors are able to have a full visitor’s experience to honor, remember and explore,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Arlington National Cemetery.

A group of women showed their C.D.C. vaccination cards to a bouncer in order to attend a party in Manhattan in late April. The Biden administration is focusing on persuading young adults to get vaccinated as it aims to have 70 percent of the nation’s adults at least partly vaccinated before July 4. 
Credit…Pinyodoonyachet Jutharat for The New York Times

By promoting free Uber rides to vaccination sites and new features for vaccinated dating app users, the Biden administration is trying aggressively to entice young technophiles to get shots in their arms. On Monday, the White House unveiled its latest strategy to reach young adults, by turning President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci over to several young YouTube influencers.

“So I’ve heard rumors about, you know, of course, a vaccine passport, when you need to confirm whether you have the vaccine or not to travel or to go to concerts, et cetera,” Manny Gutierrez, a YouTube beauty star known as Manny MUA, asked the president in a YouTube video posted by the White House on Monday. “Do you feel like that’s going to be something that’s going to be implemented more?”

“These rumors of vaccine passports, I think it just plays to paranoia,” Mr. Biden said as Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, looked on with his hands clasped.

“Totally,” Manny said.

Mr. Biden and Dr. Fauci, who filmed the interviews from the Blue Room of the White House last week, also answered questions from Nathaniel Peterson (known as “Coyote”) and Mark Vins, who are the pair behind the YouTube nature show “Brave Wilderness,” and Jackie Aina, a YouTube star and makeup artist who pushes the beauty industry to include people with dark skin tones.

There was a reason Mr. Biden fielded questions from makeup artists and the nature enthusiasts, some serious and some not. (His desert-island beauty product choice? Sunscreen.) Their three accounts have a combined 27 million followers, many of whom are in the exact demographic the White House is trying to reach as it focuses on reaching younger adults in their late teens and early 20s, many of whom became eligible for vaccination last month.

That group is crucial to Mr. Biden’s goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of adults before July 4. More than 60 percent of adults have received at least one shot, according to a New York Times database, but healthy young adults — or “young invincibles” — are traditionally hard to reach. Members of Generation Z in particular, recent polling shows, are more reluctant to get vaccinated immediately than people who are older than them.

It was a reluctance that the YouTubers have addressed with their own followers. In a video labeled “I COLLABED WITH PRESIDENT BIDEN! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!” posted to his own account, Manny MUA said that getting vaccinated was a personal choice.

“You can do whatever you guys want,” he says in the video, “but I am pro-vaccine.”

Later, he stepped back and commented on the experience on Twitter: “A man in full makeup and lashes got to interview the president …. progress.”

Stephen Colbert during a Super Bowl Special on Feb. 7, filmed from a smaller studio without a live audience.
Credit…Scott Kowalchyk/CBS

Stephen Colbert’s late-night talk show will return to filming in front of a studio audience on June 14, CBS said on Monday.

About 400 audience members will be allowed in the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in Manhattan, provided they can show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus, such as through the Excelsior Pass issued by New York State or an original physical vaccination card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There will be no capacity restrictions, and masks will be optional.

CBS said that staff and crew members will be tested for the virus before starting work and will be screened daily for symptoms, monitored by a Covid-19 compliance officer. The network said the plan comports with New York State guidelines.

The show’s changes will come just a few months before Broadway shows are expected to return, and about a month after baseball stadiums in New York began designating separate seating sections for people who have been vaccinated and those who have not.

Last week Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo relaxed the state’s capacity restrictions, allowing businesses to serve as many patrons as they like as long as there is enough space for people to adequately socially distance. He also ended the mask mandate for vaccinated people indoors and outdoors, though individual businesses are allowed to have stricter mask policies.

The pandemic put a stop to many late-night talk shows for a time in mid-March 2020, when New York and Los Angeles, where many of them are produced, introduced strict social distancing and quarantine guidelines.

Since then, the shows have had to get creative, interviewing guests by video conference and filming in empty studios or from the hosts’ homes, with family members sometimes serving on the crew.

When Mr. Colbert began doing his show from home, the first episode had him delivering the monologue from his bathtub. At the time, Mr. Colbert and the network changed the name from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to “A Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” to reflect the show’s straitened circumstances. The name will return to normal once the audience returns.


“Over the last 437 days, my staff and crew (and family!) have amazed me with their professionalism and creativity as we made shows for an audience we couldn’t see or hear,” Mr. Colbert said in a statement included in CBS’s announcement on Monday. “I look forward to once again doing shows for an audience I can smell and touch.”

The show resumed studio production in August 2020, using a small set in the Ed Sullivan Theater, a far cry from Mr. Colbert’s normal setting. Of the 205 episodes shot without a live audience so far, 16 have been broadcast live, including an impromptu reaction to the Jan. 6 Capitol assault.

During a recent interview on “Fresh Air,” Mr. Colbert said that working without an audience created challenges that only a crowd could ameliorate.

“I’m much more likely to mess up and have to retake something, lose the rhythm of a joke, or even just misread the prompter without an audience there, because there’s some vital performance adrenaline spark that’s missing that the audience provides,” Mr. Colbert said. “And so my wife and my kids have seen me absolutely shank monologues over and over again. And it’s very humbling for them to realize that I’m not that good at this.”




New Jersey Lifts Indoor Mask Rules for Vaccinated Residents

Gov. Philip D. Murphy said the state would no longer require residents who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to wear masks in most indoor businesses starting Friday.

Today, I’m signing an executive order that will lift the statewide indoor mask mandate this Friday, May 28. However, even with this action, individual businesses and other entities which oversee indoor spaces may continue to require that their employees and customers or guests wear face masks. As recommended by the C.D.C., there are spaces where masking will continue to be required, including health care settings and long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, to name a few. And you must remain masked while you’re on an airplane, a bus or train or other forms of public transportation, and while in a transportation hub, such as an airport or a train station. These requirements, by the way, will be strictly enforced. We also will be requiring that face masks continue to be worn indoors in public-facing state offices. This change will not extend to child care centers and facilities, youth summer camps, public, private or parochial preschool premises, and elementary and secondary schools, including both charter and Renaissance schools. In each of these cases, existing requirements for masking will be maintained. If you are not vaccinated, we encourage you in the strongest possible terms to either follow the — first of all, get vaccinated, but if not, or until — follow the C.D.C. guidance to wear a face mask when you’re in any indoor public setting, as I mentioned, or preferably, immediately go out and get vaccinated. We won’t have law enforcement checking people’s vaccination status, but we are asking people to be responsible and to do the right thing, for your own safety and the safety of your community.

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Gov. Philip D. Murphy said the state would no longer require residents who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to wear masks in most indoor businesses starting Friday.CreditCredit…Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press

What a difference a week makes.

New Jersey’s governor, Philip D. Murphy, announced on Monday that residents fully vaccinated against the coronavirus would no longer be required to wear masks inside stores, casinos and other indoor venues starting Friday.

Mr. Murphy’s decision to relax the rules in time for Memorial Day weekend follows the lead of governors in most other states after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that vaccinated people could choose to go maskless, indoors and outdoors, in most situations.

But it also comes just a week after Mr. Murphy, a Democrat running for re-election, offered a full-throated defense of his decision to retain the state’s yearlong indoor mask mandate until more people were vaccinated. His against-the-grain policy — announced the same day Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo adopted the federal guidance for New York — was applauded by a national food workers’ union as “life saving” but panned by his Republican foes.

“I don’t know how we can expect workers to tell who is vaccinated from who isn’t, and it is unfair to put the burden on business owners and frontline employees to police every patron,” Mr. Murphy said last Monday.

“We just need more time on the clock,” he added, as he lifted rules requiring masks outdoors when it was not possible to remain six feet apart.

Seven days later, he announced the end of rules that have governed the state since it became an early center of a pandemic linked to the deaths of more than 26,000 residents.

On Monday, he also announced that dance floors at bars and restaurants could reopen on May 28. Starting next Friday, large indoor arenas like the Prudential Center may resume seating at 100-percent capacity, Mr. Murphy said, and the six-feet distancing rules at restaurants and gyms will expire.

Just over four million New Jersey adults are fully inoculated against Covid-19 — about 700,000 people shy of Mr. Murphy’s goal of vaccinating 4.7 million adults by the end of next month. New coronavirus cases have fallen in New Jersey by 47 percent over the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database, as has the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19.

People who are not fully vaccinated are still encouraged to wear masks indoors, but the governor said compliance would be voluntary.

He said the C.D.C. “took all of us by surprise” when it abruptly changed the mask requirements on May 13.

“I do not for one minute regret our taking these extra two weeks to ensure that the dramatic decreases we have begun seeing in both cases, and hospitalizations, would continue,” Mr. Murphy said.

“If these past two weeks have pushed one more person to get vaccinated or saved one extra person from hospitalization or death, then we are all better off,” he added.

But he said it was no longer economically feasible to remain an outlier in the region adhering to indoor mask rules. “If you’re the only state in the entire neighborhood, and everybody else is doing something differently,” the governor said, “at a certain point it puts a significant amount of pressure — pressure on our business community.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan spoke to reporters in Midland, Mich., last week.
Credit…Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times, via Associated Press

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan apologized again on Monday for gathering at a restaurant with a dozen other people, in violation of a recently issued statewide rule from her own health department.

An order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that took effect May 15 says that no more than six people are allowed to sit together at a restaurant table, and that groups of diners are required to stay six feet apart.

A photo of the gathering, which was briefly posted on social media, shows Ms. Whitmer seated with 12 other people on Saturday at a restaurant in East Lansing, according to The Detroit News.

The governor, a major target of conservative ire over pandemic restrictions she imposed in Michigan, apologized on Sunday after news of the gathering became public. In a statement, she explained that she had gone to the restaurant with some friends, and that tables were pushed together as more people arrived to join the group.

“Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it,” she said. “In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”

Governor Whitmer defended her actions again during a news conference on Monday, calling the violation “an honest mistake” and saying that the state has tried to avoid penalizing businesses that are “trying to do the right thing.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, governors and health officials have been caught flouting their own public health orders. Ms. Whitmer flew on a private flight to Florida to visit her father at a time when Michigan residents were being urged to avoid travel. Her chief of staff was similarly criticized for flying to Florida for spring break, as was the head of the Michigan health department, who vacationed in Alabama before she was fully vaccinated.

Restaurant meals have tripped up several governors, including Gavin Newsom of California, who apologized after photos surfaced showing him attending a dinner party in November with his wife at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. The event was held at a time when Mr. Newsom and other state Democratic leaders were urging California residents to be extra vigilant because of a surge in infections.

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma drew criticism after he posted a photo of himself with his children inside a crowded restaurant in March 2020, at a time when many people in the state were following social distancing protocols. Last June, he became the first governor in the United States known to have been infected with the coronavirus.

Global Roundup

Administering a coronavirus vaccine at a center in Osaka, Japan, on Monday.
Credit…Kyodo, via Reuters

Japan’s second-largest city, Osaka, is struggling to deal with a surge in new coronavirus cases that has overwhelmed local hospitals, with officials warning that the city will be unable to cope if the growth continues.

The news comes as Osaka and Tokyo opened Japan’s first mass vaccination sites on Monday in an effort to jump-start the lagging national inoculation campaign. Worries abound that rising case numbers could have an impact on the Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in the country this summer.

The governor of Osaka Prefecture, Hirofumi Yoshimura, noted on Sunday in a post on Twitter that the city “will have difficulties responding” if the new cases continue to grow, and he pointed to the spread of more infectious variants, including those first discovered in Britain and in India, as particularly concerning.

With those worries front of mind, and with the Olympics just weeks away, public sentiment has shifted, with 83 percent of Japanese people in a recent survey saying that they did not want Tokyo to hold the Games. Some medical groups have also come out against the idea.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department advised U.S. citizens not to travel to Japan, releasing a Level 4 travel advisory, the department’s highest advisory level. The department cited “a very high level of Covid-19 in the country.”

Japan’s vaccination program has been largely left up to local authorities, but the government has vowed to scale up the efforts, with an aim to offer doses to all people over 65 by the end of July.

Masaya Yamato, director of the Infectious Diseases Center at the Osaka-based Rinku General Medical Center, said that the city’s health system had struggled to respond in the weeks since the area lifted a state of emergency on March 1 and subsequently reduced the number of available intensive care beds. Coupled with the rise in new infections as restrictions eased, that saw hundreds of patients hospitalized daily with serious coronavirus cases, leaving hospitals scrambling.

“It was like musical chairs,” Dr. Yamato said.

Yu Kurahara, a respiratory doctor at Kinki-Chuo Medical Center in Osaka, said he believed that the worst of the latest influx in cases had passed but that the situation was still worrying.

“We still have many serious patients,” he said. “If we cannot treat them at this stage, we will face another medical system collapse in the next wave.”

In other news from around the world:

  • Several crew members of a Royal Caribbean ship have disembarked after they tested positive for the coronavirus, a company spokesperson said on Monday. The crew got off the ship in Spain, according to USA Today. Earlier this week, four crew members aboard the company’s ship Odyssey of the Seas, which is destined for the United States, were immediately quarantined after they tested positive for the virus. An additional crew member’s test results were inconclusive. There were no guests aboard the ship. Before crew members board a ship they are required to receive a negative PCR test and while on board they participate in ongoing testing “to ensure they are still negative,” the company said.

  • In Melbourne, Australia, four cases of the coronavirus have been detected for the first time in several months. The authorities have not determined the source of the outbreak, but say they believe that it may be linked to an infected man who flew to the city in May after being released from hotel quarantine in Adelaide.

  • Italy reported 72 coronavirus deaths on Sunday, the lowest daily toll in the country so far this year. On Monday, the government extended a system of milder restrictions to the whole nation for the first time since November. “It’s a great milestone,” Mariastella Gelmini, Italy’s minister for regional affairs, said on Italian television on Sunday. “We are in the last mile.”

  • In Nepal, many foreign climbers are continuing with attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest, despite reports of a coronavirus outbreak at the peak’s base camp, according to government officials. Mira Acharya, a director at the Department of Tourism, which oversees climbing activities in Nepal’s mountains, told Reuters that the government had not received any notice of an outbreak at the base camp and that expeditions were continuing. But Lukas Furtenbach, who owns an adventure company, said that he evacuated his team from the mountain this month after a sharp rise in cases.

  • Taiwan’s government on Monday criticized the World Health Organization for capitulating to China after it failed to secure an invite to an annual health meeting convened by the international agency. Leaders of France and Germany voiced support on Monday for making the World Health Organization more independent and building up its ability to respond to global health crises at the opening of the weeklong annual policymaking assembly for the global public health body.

Packing away equipment at a coronavirus vaccine clinic in Alden, Mich., this month.
Credit…Sarah Rice for The New York Times

For the first time since June of last year, there are fewer than 30,000 new daily coronavirus cases in the United States, and deaths are as low as they’ve been since last summer. In much of the country, the virus outlook is improving.

Nearly 50 percent of Americans have received at least one vaccine shot, and though the pace has slowed, the share is still growing by about two percentage points per week.

“I think by June, we’re probably going to be at one infection per 100,000 people per day, which is a very low level,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” The U.S. rate is now eight cases per 100,000, down from 22 during the most recent peak, when new cases averaged about 71,000 on April 14.

The share of coronavirus tests coming back positive has also fallen to below 3 percent for the first time since widespread testing began, and the number of hospitalized patients has fallen to the lowest point in 11 months, Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute noted this week.

The United States is reporting about 25,700 coronavirus cases daily, a 39 percent decrease from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. Deaths are down 14 percent over the same period, to an average of 578 per day.

Thirty-nine percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. But the U.S. vaccination story varies widely across regions, with New England surging ahead of the national average and much of the South lagging significantly.

In five of the six New England states, more than 60 percent of residents are at least partly vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a different story in the South, where Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee have the country’s lowest rates of residents who have received at least one shot. The rates in those states are all below 40 percent, with Mississippi, at 33 percent, at the bottom of the list.

The virus remains dangerous in communities with low vaccination rates, and getting vaccines into these communities is crucial in continuing to curb the spread. As the virus continues to mutate, vaccines may need to be updated or boosters may need to be added.

Since the C.D.C. issued guidance that said vaccinated people could forgo masks in most situations indoors and outside, states have followed suit.

But cases remain relatively high in a handful of states, including Wyoming, which has reported a 21 percent increase in new daily cases from two weeks ago.

And some cities, like Colorado Springs and Grand Rapids, Mich., are continuing to report high case counts. In Miami, cases have decreased over the past week, but the share of coronavirus tests coming back positive is relatively high, at about 8 percent.

Testing has fallen around the country, fueling concern that cases could be undercounted in places with high positivity rates, like Miami, if people who don’t have symptoms aren’t getting diagnosed.

Although health experts who spoke with The New York Times said that they were optimistic, they cautioned that the virus won’t be eradicated in the United States but would likely instead become a manageable threat, like influenza.

And the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more time that the virus has to spread, mutate and possibly change enough to evade vaccines.

“My big concern is that there is going to be a variant that’s going to outsmart the vaccine,” said Dr. Thomas A. LaVeist, an expert on health equity and dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. “Then we’ll have a new problem. We’ll have to revaccinate.”

James Gorman contributed reporting.

A village in Toksook Bay, Alaska. The programs that will receive funding aim to combat domestic violence in areas where families are geographically isolated.
Credit…Gregory Bull/Associated Press

The Biden administration has begun to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to support victims of domestic abuse, a group that faced greater hardships and more danger while sheltering at home during the pandemic.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that it will award $200 million to help abuse victims get counseling, emergency and transitional housing and help with safety planning and other resources.

The programs that will receive funding also aim to combat domestic violence in Alaskan villages, where families are geographically isolated, and help children who have witnessed violence receive counseling and other mental health services.

“Gender-based violence and the risk factors that contribute to it, like unemployment and isolation, have risen during the pandemic,” Rosie Hidalgo, a senior adviser at the White House Gender Policy Council, said in a statement.

The awards are funded by the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that Congress passed in March. The plan included funding for organizations dedicated to curtailing domestic violence and housing vouchers for people who could not otherwise flee violence at home.

As a senator, Mr. Biden sponsored the bill that became the Violence Against Women Act, the first federal legislation intended to end domestic violence. As vice president, he created a position to coordinate federal efforts around abuse and sexual assault, and he oversaw that work.

And as president, Mr. Biden asked Ms. Hidalgo to focus on gender violence in her work on the Gender Policy Council, ensuring that the issue would be a key focus of the newly formed council.

The $200 million in funding will be distributed through the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, a division of the Health and Human Services Department.

The funding will provide 296 supplemental grant awards that will be awarded to states, territories, tribes, state domestic violence coalitions, national resource centers and hotlines, and services for abused parents and children.

Grantees will have flexibility in how they use the funding to provide shelter, temporary housing, counseling, rental assistance and other services and supplies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that Americans who are fully vaccinated could travel at low risk to themselves.
Credit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

United Airlines is encouraging people to get vaccinated by offering them the chance to win free flights.

The airline said on Monday that loyalty program members who upload their vaccination records to United’s mobile app or website through June 22 are eligible to win a round-trip flight for two “in any class of service, to anywhere in the world United flies.”

The carrier will give away 30 pairs of tickets in June. On July 1, United will give five people a grand prize of travel for a year for themselves and a companion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April said that Americans who were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus could travel at low risk to themselves.

The sweepstakes comes as the Biden administration pushes for 70 percent of adults in the United States to receive at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by July 4. Some states and businesses have created incentives of their own: Ohio will give five people $1 million each in return for having been vaccinated as part of a weekly lottery program, and Krispy Kreme is offering one free glazed doughnut every day if those take their vaccination card to any location in the United States.

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