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Covid-19 Live Updates: Vaccines, Cases and More

ImageChildren waiting in the observation area after receiving their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Southfield High School in Southfield, Mich., earlier this month. 
Children waiting in the observation area after receiving their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Southfield High School in Southfield, Mich., earlier this month. Credit…Emily Elconin for The New York Times

Coronavirus cases in children in the United States have risen by 32 percent from about two weeks ago, a spike that comes as the country rushes to inoculate children ahead of the winter holiday season, pediatricians said.

More than 140,000 children tested positive for the coronavirus between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18, up from 107,000 in the week ending Nov. 4, according to a statement on Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

These cases accounted for about a quarter of the country’s caseload for the week, the statement said. Children under 18 make up about 22 percent of the U.S. population.

“Is there cause for concern? Absolutely,” Dr. Sean O’Leary, the vice chair of the academy’s infectious diseases committee, said in an interview on Monday night. “What’s driving the increase in kids is there is an increase in cases overall.”

Children have accounted for a greater percentage of overall cases since the vaccines became widely available to adults, said Dr. O’Leary, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Though children are less likely to develop severe illness from Covid than adults, they are still at risk, and can also spread the virus to adults. Experts have warned that children should be vaccinated to protect against possible long-Covid symptoms, Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome and hospitalization.

At the end of October, about 8,300 American children ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with Covid and at least 172 have died, out of more than 3.2 million hospitalizations and 740,000 deaths overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At a news conference on Friday, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said hospitalizations and deaths among 5- to 11-year-olds were “really startling.”

Dr. O’Leary said it did not help that many schools had softened their safety protocols in the last few months.

“So any protection that might be happening in schools is not there,” he said.

Vaccinations of younger children are likely to help keep schools open. Virus outbreaks forced about 2,300 schools to close between early August and October, affecting more than 1.2 million students, according to data presented at a C.D.C. meeting on Nov. 2.

Dr. O’Leary said that he was especially concerned about case increases in children during the holiday season.

With the pace of inoculations stagnating among U.S. adults, states are rushing to encourage vaccinations for children 5 through 11, who became eligible earlier this month after the C.D.C. authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for that age group. In May, the federal government recommended making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available to children ages 12 to 15. Teenagers 16 and older became eligible in most states a month earlier.

The White House estimated on Nov. 10 that nearly a million young children had gotten vaccinated; 28 million are eligible. They receive one-third of the adult dose, with two injections three weeks apart.

All of the data so far indicates that the vaccines are far safer than a bout of Covid, even for children.

Still, about three in 10 parents say they will definitely not get the vaccine for their 5- to 11-year-old child, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only about three in 10 parents said they would immunize their child “right away.”

A Covid patient’s room at a medical center in Alma, Mich., on Saturday.Credit…Nic Antaya for The New York Times

In today’s edition of the Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt examines the recent increase in Covid-19 cases in the United States as Thanksgiving approaches.

A month ago, Covid-19 cases had begun to rise in a few parts of New England and the Mountain West. But they were still falling in most northern parts of the U.S., as well as in Canada.

That pattern seemed to suggest that a nationwide cold-weather Covid surge was unlikely anytime soon. The prediction models collected by the C.D.C. agreed: They projected continuing declines in U.S. Covid cases during November.

Instead, cases have surged about 30 percent this month.

Chart shows 7-day daily average.Credit…Source: New York Times database

The seemingly obvious explanation for the recent rise in cases is the weather. As temperatures have dropped, more activities have moved indoors, where the virus tends to spread. And the weather surely plays some role in the surge.

But I mentioned Canada above — along with the cold-weather parts of the U.S. where caseloads were not rising a month ago — for a reason. If the weather were really the dominant cause, the recent Covid patterns would look different. They would more closely match temperature patterns.

As unsatisfying as this is, the full explanation for the surge remains unclear.

Media coverage and expert commentary too often fails to acknowledge this point. We offer tidy explanations for the virus’s ups and downs — like weather, school calendars, mask habits, even sporting events — when reality is messier. (Here are some detailed examples.)

The bad news about the virus’s unpredictability is that surges can sneak up on us.

The good news is that the virus can also surprise in pleasant ways. This winter, cases are not guaranteed to keep rising. Keep in mind that they peaked in early January last winter, before plummeting about 75 percent by late February.

In the meantime, how should you think about the rising number of cases?

For most people, the vaccines remain remarkably effective at turning Covid into a manageable illness that’s less dangerous than some everyday activities. For most people under 65, the virus may present less risk than a car trip to visit relatives this week.

The situation is more frightening for older people, especially those in their 80s and 90s. For the oldest age groups, Covid presents a real risk even after vaccination. It appears to be more dangerous than a typical flu and much more dangerous than time spent riding in a vehicle, based on C.D.C. data.

As a result, older Americans need protection during a surge. The most effective way to protect vulnerable people is through vaccination — not only of them but also of others who might infect them.

If you’re anxious about the risks of your Thanksgiving gathering to older people, I’d offer three pieces of advice. One, insist that anybody in your house be fully vaccinated if eligible. Two, encourage people to get tested — either at a testing center or with an at-home rapid test — before coming. Three, once the day arrives, try to put aside your Covid anxiety and enjoy the holiday.

People walking past the closed Christmas market next to Stephen’s Cathedral, normally packed with crowds, in Vienna on Monday.Credit…Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Europe’s already fragile economic recovery is at risk of being undermined by a fourth wave of coronavirus infections now spreading on the continent, as governments impose increasingly stringent health restrictions that could reduce foot traffic in shopping centers, discourage travel and thin crowds in restaurants, bars and ski resorts.

Austria has imposed the strictest measures, mandating vaccinations and imposing a nationwide lockdown that began on Monday. But economic activity will also be dampened by other safety measures — from vaccine passports in France and Switzerland to a requirement to work from home four days a week in Belgium.

The tough lockdowns that swept Europe during the early months of the pandemic last year ended up shrinking economic output by nearly 15 percent. Buoyed by a raft of government support to businesses and the unemployed, most of those countries managed to scramble back and recoup their losses after vaccines were introduced, infection rates tumbled and restrictions eased.

In September, economists optimistically declared that Europe had reached a turning point. In recent weeks, the main threats to the economy seemed to stem from a post-lockdown exuberance that was causing supply-chain bottlenecks, energy-price increases and inflation worries. And widespread vaccinations were expected to defang the pandemic’s bite so that people could continue to freely gather to shop, dine out and travel.

What was not expected was a series of tough government restrictions. A highly contagious strain — aided by some resistance to vaccines and flagging support for other anti-infection measures like masks — has enabled the coronavirus to make a comeback in some regions.

Roughly two-thirds of Europe’s population has been vaccinated, but rates vary widely from country to country. Only a quarter of the population in Bulgaria has received a shot, for example, compared with 81 percent in Portugal, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Travelers walking through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Monday.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Even in normal times, the days around Thanksgiving are a delicate period for the airlines. But this week is the industry’s biggest test since the pandemic began, as millions more Americans — emboldened by vaccinations and reluctant to spend another holiday alone — are expected to take to the skies than during last year’s holidays.

The Transportation Security Administration said it expected to screen about 20 million passengers at airports in the 10 days that began Friday, a figure approaching prepandemic levels. Two million passed through checkpoints on Saturday alone, about twice as many as on the Saturday before last Thanksgiving.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both said they expected to fly only about 12 percent fewer passengers than they did in 2019. And United said it expected the Sunday after Thanksgiving to be its busiest day since the pandemic began 20 months ago.

The pent-up travel demand has elevated the cost of tickets. Hopper, an app that predicts flight prices, said that the average domestic flight during Thanksgiving week was on track to be about $293 round-trip this year, $48 more than last year — although $42 cheaper than in 2019.

While the industry is projecting optimism about easy traveling, the influx of passengers has injected an element of uncertainty into a fragile system still recovering from the pandemic. Some airlines have experienced recent troubles that rippled for days — stymying travel plans for thousands of passengers — as the carriers struggled to get pilots and flight attendants in place for delayed and rescheduled flights, a task complicated by thin staffing.

A masked visitor to the Texas Capitol in August.Credit…Eric Gay/Associated Press

The chief elected official in Dallas County celebrated a victory on Tuesday in his legal dispute over the governor’s ban on mask mandates, after a state appeals court upheld an earlier injunction against the ban.

The ruling by Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas affirmed an August ruling by a district judge that Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates impeded the ability of Judge Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, to protect his constituents from Covid.

Partisan tensions are at a fever pitch over whether students, teachers and school employees should be required to wear masks. Some Republicans have cast mask rules as an infringement on parental rights, while many Democrats hold that they are a matter of public health.

Mr. Abbott has faced a series of legal challenges since he signed an executive order in July barring mandates for both masks and vaccinations.

Officials in Dallas and elsewhere in Texas have defied the governor by requiring people to wear masks in schools and other indoor public settings.

Global roundup

Prime Minister Jean Castex of France, left, tested positive for the virus after returning from an official trip to Belgium.Credit…Olivier Hoslet/EPA, via Shutterstock

France’s prime minister, Jean Castex, said on Tuesday that he had only “mild symptoms” after testing positive for the coronavirus, as the French news media criticized him for apparent past failures to follow the government’s social-distancing recommendations.

“I am well and am continuing to carry out my duties in isolation, strictly following the health protocol,” Mr. Castex said on Twitter.

On that same social network, however, many users shared videos of him appearing to flout distancing recommendations, including one from last week that showed a maskless Mr. Castex shaking hands with elected officials indoors.

The government itself has urged the French in recent weeks not to drop their guard and to continue observing distancing practices as much as possible, even when vaccinated.

Élisabeth Borne, the labor minister, recently warned companies not to become complacent about health guidelines. “Maybe we have lapsed a bit, barrier measures are being less respected,” she told the news channel BFMTV this month.

On Monday, Mr. Castex had just returned from an official trip to Belgium, where he met with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, when he learned that his 11-year-old daughter had tested positive, his office said in a statement. He immediately took a test, which turned out positive.

President Emmanuel Macron of France chose Mr. Castex, 56, as prime minister in July 2020. Mr. Castex had previously been the top official in charge of lifting the strict nationwide lockdown France imposed during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Macron himself was sick with Covid-19 late last year before fully recovering.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The number of daily infections has shot up in France, which is one of several European countries experiencing a new wave of cases.

On Monday evening, Mr. Castex met virtually with elected officials from Guadeloupe, a French overseas department in the Caribbean that has been rocked by violent unrest over the past few days because of protests against France’s vaccination mandates.

In a televised statement after the meeting, Mr. Castex condemned the violence and said the government would try to “convince and assist, individually, humanely,” health workers who are reluctant to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is necessary for protection, most notably against serious forms of the illness,” said Mr. Castex, who is fully vaccinated. “There is no other way.”

In other news from around the world:

  • A court in Spain rejected a plan by the government of the Basque region to make it compulsory to show a vaccination passport to enter restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces. The judges ruled on Monday that the latest Covid numbers did not justify the blanket obligation. The regional government said it found the ruling incomprehensible, but that it would not appeal. At least three other regions of Spain had been preparing similar measures.

The emergency room at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, N.Y., will have to handle patients from the Long Beach Emergency Department during the closure.Credit…Johnny Milano for The New York Times

A Long Island emergency room was forced to close its doors on Monday because of a nursing staff shortage, as a New York state rule took effect that bars unvaccinated medical workers from their jobs.

The free-standing Emergency Department at Long Beach, which is part of Mount Sinai South Nassau, said in a statement that patients would be directed to the hospital’s main campus in Oceanside, N.Y., about five miles north. An ambulance will be stationed at the shuttered facility, the statement said.

The hospital said the closure could last weeks or longer. But closing the Long Beach branch will allow the hospital to maintain adequate staffing at the Oceanside facility, the statement said.

“We regret having to take this step, but the safety of our patients is always our No. 1 priority,” said Dr. Adhi Sharma, the president of the medical center. “This closure should not be interpreted as anything beyond what it is — a temporary measure designed to relieve current staffing challenges in our emergency department. Our nurses, physicians and support staff have been on the front lines of the pandemic for more than 21 months. We will continue to be there for our patients.”

New York’s statewide vaccination mandate for health workers does not allow for religious exemptions, which spurred legal challenges. A federal court upheld the policy late last month.

Mount Sinai South Nassau said it had notified the state Health Department on Friday of the need to close the facility, and had submitted a formal closure plan. In a statement on Monday night, the Health Department said it was reviewing the plan and working with Mount Sinai South Nassau to “explore options.”

For now, Mount Sinai South Nassau is recruiting workers who can show proof of vaccination or valid medical exemptions in the hope of resuming full operations in mid-December.

Mount Sinai’s Oceanside emergency room is a designated trauma facility and sees about 70,000 patients a year, according to the medical center. The Long Beach branch, which opened in 2015, handles about 10,000 patients a year, most of whom are treated and discharged without being transferred to the hospital.

People wearing face masks on a street in Seoul.Credit…Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA, via Shutterstock

South Korean officials said on Tuesday that they had shut down a religious facility in the city of Cheonan after 210 of its 427 residents tested positive for the coronavirus this week, an outbreak that comes as the country’s cases surge to record highs.

At least 191 of the settlement’s residents who contracted the virus were unvaccinated, said Lee Sunhee, the director of the infectious disease control team for Cheonan, in South Chungcheong Province. Officials did not release the name of the religious organization, citing disease control laws meant to protect privacy.

Churches around the world have been at the center of several outbreaks throughout the pandemic. In South Korea, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which many South Koreans consider a cult, was at the center of more than 5,000 cases that drove the country’s first virus wave. Officials have blamed the church for obstructing efforts to fight the pandemic by failing to provide a full list of its members to the government.

South Korea has since largely avoided major outbreaks and begun slowly reopening to some visitors. While cases have surged to record levels in the past two weeks, they have remained relatively low compared to much of the world: 5 daily cases per 100,000 people, compared to 29 in the United States, 36 in Singapore and 159 in Austria.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

“The situation itself is not so bad nationwide,” said Kwon Jun-wook, deputy chief at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and director of the Korea National Institute of Health, last week, adding that it was “not severe enough to warrant halting the reopening.”

But officials have said the number of severe cases has imposed a burden on the country’s health system. Intensive care units have reached 77 percent capacity in and around Seoul over the past week, the director of K.D.C.A, Jeong Eun-kyeong, said on Monday, adding that the agency would continue to work on securing additional beds.

The members of the religious settlement in Cheonan lived and worshiped together. About 70 of them had participated in a large kimchi-making event on Nov. 15 and 16, said Kim Eunchong, an official in the infectious disease control division of the province’s health office.

Mr. Kim said that these cases have made the settlement the site of the largest cluster of coronavirus cases that the province has ever recorded — and some residents have yet to be tested.

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