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Covid News and Vaccine Mandates: Live Updates

ImageGov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has directed state officials to broaden access to Covid-19 booster shots.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has directed state officials to broaden access to Covid-19 booster shots.Credit…Kelsi Brinkmeyer/The Texarkana Gazette, via Associated Press

Arkansas on Monday joined Colorado, California and New Mexico in broadening access to Covid-19 boosters, getting ahead of federal regulators who are close to making a decision on expanded eligibility.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at a news conference on Monday that he had directed the Arkansas health department to issue new guidelines on boosters to allow all adults to get one, provided that they met the timing rules.

State leaders have found themselves in a conundrum since August, when regulators halted President Biden’s plan to make boosters available to all adults. The leaders have had to decide: Do they wait for a federal directive, or do they make their own vaccination rules?

The decisions they make are more timely than ever, as the United States braces for a possible winter surge. As of Monday night, reported new cases in the United States had averaged nearly 85,000 a day for the past week, a 14 percent increase from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. Reported new deaths are down 14 percent, to 1,129 a day; hospitalizations have decreased 7 percent and are averaging more than 46,000 a day.

And in Europe, whose Covid trends are often a harbinger of those in the United States, a fourth case wave has been driven by the unvaccinated.

Four states, including Arkansas, aren’t waiting for a federal decision on boosters, and on Monday New York City became one of the first major cities to tell all adults to get a booster if they wanted one.

In Arkansas, a spokeswoman for the state’s health department said it had updated its recommendations and would be advising health care providers that they could administer the boosters to an expanded pool of adults.

“What we’re finding is that we want more people to get their booster shot and that this is somewhat confusing and limiting as to the eligibility,” Mr. Hutchinson said, adding, “We’re changing that.”

However, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said that Mr. Hutchinson had no plans to issue an executive order to expand booster eligibility.

According to the health department guidelines, Arkansas adults are now eligible for the vaccine booster if it has been at least six months since their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or at least two since they received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

A growing body of early global research has shown that the vaccines remain highly protective against hospitalization and death, but that their effectiveness against infection wanes over time. Public health experts say this does not mean the vaccines are not working.

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech requested that the Food and Drug Administration expand eligibility of their booster to all adults, a request that the agency is expected to grant before the winter holiday season.

Before a formal recommendation from the federal authorities, several other states have expanded booster eligibility.

The governors of Colorado and New Mexico signed executive orders last week expanding eligibility to all adults, and in California the state’s public health director issued a letter last week saying anyone 18 or over was eligible. The authorities in New York and West Virginia on Monday encouraged all adults to get the booster but stopped short of a formal policy change.

Jamie Dimon in Paris in June. He visited Hong Kong this week after receiving a quarantine exemption. Credit…Pool photo by Michel Euler

Hong Kong has granted Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, an exemption from one of the toughest pandemic quarantines in the world.

Mr. Dimon this week became the first head of a Wall Street bank to visit the city since the beginning of the pandemic. He was in town on Monday and Tuesday to meet with employees and regulators.

Even as other places loosen travel restrictions, Hong Kong has stuck with its lengthy quarantine mandates for most visitors, leaving little room for exceptions. The last public figure to be granted an exemption in Hong Kong was Nicole Kidman, whose visit to film a television series about rich expatriates prompted outcries, including debate in Hong Kong’s Legislature.

Mr. Dimon’s exemption was “justified to facilitate a short visit” of about 30 hours, a government spokesman said in an emailed statement, adding that Mr. Dimon’s trip was “considered to be in the interest of Hong Kong’s economic development.”

JPMorgan declined to comment.

Hong Kong has remained largely closed to the rest of the world and requires overseas visitors from “high-risk” countries, including the United States, to quarantine in a hotel for 21 days. Other visitors from overseas must quarantine in a hotel for at least 14 days. People coming from mainland China are the only visitors who can skip quarantine.

Earlier this year, officials carved out exemptions for top bankers and other executives whose work they said was in Hong Kong’s economic interest. Those exemptions were mostly abandoned last month when Hong Kong’s top leader said the government needed to align itself with mainland China’s goal of complete elimination of the virus.

Hong Kong has prioritized opening its border with mainland China over opening its borders to overseas travel. It has reported just two local transmitted cases in more than five months.

During his visit, Mr. Dimon said that Hong Kong’s quarantine rules were making it difficult to retain employees in the city, according to Bloomberg News.

His brief comments echoed those from the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Market, a top lobbying group for financial firms, which publicly urged Hong Kong to loosen rules and warned that the restrictions were threatening the city’s status as an international business hub.

Employees at CommonBond SoHo office in Manhattan last week.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

At one point, fall was billed across corporate America as the Great Office Reopening. But the Delta variant of the coronavirus intervened, and mandatory return-to-office plans turned optional.

Still, many people chose to report back to their desks. The share of employed people who worked remotely at some point during the month because of Covid-19 dropped in October to 11 percent, the lowest point since the pandemic began, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A closer look at the New York work force, from a November survey of 188 major employers, showed that 8 percent of Manhattan office workers are back in the office full time, 54 percent are fully remote and everyone else — nearly 40 percent — is hybrid.

Few are finding it a smooth transition period. Some companies used their tentative return-to-office dates as a way to avoid questions about how to balance the needs of their remote and in-person employees, according to Edward Sullivan, an executive coach.

That has resulted in a mushy middle ground: video calls where remote workers have trouble hearing, a sense that people at home are missing out on perks (teammates), while those in the office are, too (pajamas).

At stake isn’t just who is getting talked over in meetings. It’s also about whether flexibility is sustainable, even with all the benefits it confers.

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