A Worker Accused of Spoiling More Than 500 Vaccine Doses Is Arrested

The Moderna vaccine can be distributed more widely because it can be stored at normal freezer temperatures.
Credit…Cooper Neill for The New York Times

A pharmacist at a Wisconsin hospital has been arrested and accused of intentionally removing more than 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine from refrigeration last week, knowing that the vaccines would be rendered useless and that the people receiving them would think they were protected against the virus when they were not, the police department in Grafton, Wisconsin, said Thursday.

The hospital administered some of the doses before realizing that they had been spoiled, the hospital system said.

The pharmacist, a man whom the police did not name, was arrested on recommended charges of first degree recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, all felonies. He is being held in the Ozaukee County jail.

It was not clear what his motive may have been. The Grafton police department is investigating the incident along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Food and Drug Administration, the department said.

The hospital system, Advocate Aurora Health, has given evolving accounts of what happened since it first discovered on Dec. 26 that the vaccines had been removed overnight from refrigeration.

First, it said the doses had been taken out accidentally. Then on Wednesday, it said that the pharmacist had admitted to intentionally removing the vials. On Thursday, in a video call with reporters, Jeff Bahr, the president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, said that the pharmacist had admitted to removing the vials from refrigeration on two consecutive nights — Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — and that the hospital had administered 57 of the doses before realizing how long they had been at room temperature.

Dr. Bahr said there was no evidence that the pharmacist had tampered with the vaccine in any way other than removing it from refrigeration, and that the pharmacist was no longer employed by the hospital system.

Dr. Bahr said that the hospital had consulted with Moderna, the pharmaceutical company that made the vaccines, and had been reassured that the spoiled vaccines would not harm the individuals who received them. But because the mRNA molecules in the vaccine quickly fall apart at room temperature, the doses “were rendered less effective or ineffective,” Dr. Bahr said.

He said that the 57 people who received the vaccine had been notified. He did not say what the hospital planned to do about further doses for those people, who are probably employees of the health system, though Dr. Bahr did not say so specifically.

The hospital did not believe the incident resulted from any laxness or gaps in its protocols around managing the vaccine doses, Dr. Bahr said.

“It’s become clear that this was a situation involving a bad actor, as opposed to a bad process,” he said.

Wisconsin experienced a devastating surge of coronavirus cases in the fall, and at times was the hardest-hit state in the nation relative to its population. Transmission has since slowed a bit, but the state is still reporting about 39 new cases a day for every 100,000 people. At least 5,195 Wisconsin residents have died.

As of Tuesday, the state had received 156,875 doses of vaccines and had administered 47,157 doses, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

A hospital worker peers inside a tent connected to a refrigerated trailer set up as a morgue outside Lenox Health Greenwich Village in Manhattan in March. Recorded cases of the virus are climbing unabated around the country.
Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

The United States recorded its 20 millionth case since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, surpassing a grim milestone just as the prospects for getting the virus under control quickly in the new year appeared to dim.

Half of those 20 million cases have been recorded just since Nov. 8, a reflection of how widespread and devastating the recent surge has been. And earlier this week, Colorado identified the first known case in the United States of a new variant of the virus that is believed to be much more contagious, and which threatens to overwhelm an already burdened health care system.

The United States now accounts for nearly a quarter of the more than 83 million coronavirus cases reported in the world, and nearly a fifth of the death toll. The country has recorded more than 340,000 coronavirus deaths. Reporting of deaths has been uneven in recent days because of the holidays, but the week from Dec. 15 to Dec. 22 was the worst week for coronavirus deaths in the United States over the course of the pandemic, with 18,971 new deaths recorded.

California has become the new epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, with the huge numbers of new cases reported there in recent days offsetting declines elsewhere, including in the Great Lakes, Great Plains and Mountain West states, where the surge began. Hospitals are stretched to the breaking point in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

The federal government is beginning to distribute two vaccines that clinical trials have shown to be highly effective in preventing Covid-19. But while the vaccines’ development in record time represents a scientific triumph, the rollout so far is proving to be yet another government failure.

It has proceeded at a snail’s pace, with progress falling far behind what the administration had promised. As recently as earlier this month, federal officials said their goal was for 20 million people to receive their first dose by the end of this year. But, while more than 14 million vaccine doses have been distributed, a mere 2.7 million have actually been administered, according to a C.D.C. dashboard. At the current rate, it would take years to vaccinate enough Americans to substantially curb the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the deaths mount, minute by minute, hour by hour.

“In 2020, we let ~340,000 Americans die, sometimes in the thousands per day,” Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor in epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “And we watched. There were no protests, no daily banner headlines befitting a national tragedy on this scale. It’s as if we watched 9/11 in a loop for 300+ days.”

Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, campaigning ahead of the runoff election for his seat in McDonough, Georgia on December 29.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, is set to quarantine, five days before a pivotal runoff election that will determine not just whether he keeps his seat but also whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

Mr. Perdue’s campaign announced on Thursday that a member of the senator’s campaign staff had tested positive for the coronavirus and that the senator was going into quarantine. The incumbent, a Republican being challenged by Jon Ossoff in a closely watched race, was notified of the positive test Thursday morning, according to a statement from his campaign.

Mr. Perdue, 71, and his wife both tested negative for the virus on Thursday, but will quarantine all the same, according to Mr. Perdue’s campaign.

Mr. Perdue attended a campaign event on Wednesday in Hiawassee, Ga., where he met with supporters. In photos, he and others can be seen wearing masks and standing close together.

Thursday’s news comes on the last day of early voting in Georgia’s two Senate runoffs, which will take place on Jan. 5. If the challengers win both races, control of the Senate will flip to the Democrats.

The state’s other senator, Kelly Loeffler, also a Republican, is defending her seat against the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock. Ms. Loeffler received conflicting coronavirus test results in November, first testing negative, then positive, then negative again.

In Florida, Congresswoman-elect Maria Elvira Salazar said Thursday morning that she had been diagnosed with Covid-19, and would be unable to attend her swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 3. Ms. Salazar, a Republican who unseated Donna E. Shalala in November, was admitted to a hospital on Dec. 23 with a heart arrhythmia and later tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement she released on Twitter.

Monoclonal antibody cocktails have been used experimentally to treat Covid-19 patients, including prominent figures like President Trump.
Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

Forty-two people in Boone County, in southwestern West Virginia, who were scheduled to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday were mistakenly injected with an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment instead, the West Virginia National Guard said on Thursday.

None of the 42 recipients has developed any adverse effects so far, the Guard said in a statement. The Guard, which is leading the state’s vaccine distribution effort, called the error “a breakdown in the process.”

The experimental treatment, a cocktail of antibodies made by Regeneron, is the same one President Trump received when he was hospitalized with Covid-19 in November. It is meant to be administered in an intravenous infusion, not in a direct injection like the vaccine.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, said that the mix-up apparently happened during the delivery of a shipment of the Regeneron cocktail to a distribution hub, where the vials were placed among supplies of the Moderna vaccine. Workers at the hub then apparently included the treatment vials in a shipment of vaccine to Boone County.

General Hoyer attributed the situation to “a couple of human errors,” and said the Guard acted swiftly as soon as it realized what had happened. “We found an issue, we’re fixing it and we’re moving forward,” he said in a radio interview on Thursday.

No other shipments of the vaccine have been affected, the Guard said in a statement.

Vials for the treatment and the vaccine look somewhat similar, but are clearly labeled, as are the boxes that hold them. Both are kept in refrigeration before they are used.

The blunder came at a time when record numbers of hospitalizations across the country signaled a greater need than ever for the antibody treatments, which are scarce and expensive, though some supplies are sitting unused in refrigerators across the country.

Officials in West Virginia reported 1,109 new coronavirus cases and 20 new deaths on Thursday. There have been at least 85,334 cases and 1,338 deaths in the state since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times database.

People waiting in line at a walk up coronavirus testing site in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday. Officials announced that they have discovered the new variant that originated in the U.K.
Credit…Octavio Jones for The New York Times

A highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in Britain has been discovered in Florida, health officials said on Thursday.

The Florida Department of Health announced that a man in his 20s located in Martin County was the state’s first identified case of the variant. The man has no history of travel, officials said in a statement on Twitter.

“The Department is working with the C.D.C. on this investigation,” the statement reads. “We encourage all to continue practicing Covid-19 mitigation. At this time, experts anticipate little to no impact on the effectiveness of the Covid vaccine.”

Other cases of the variant have been identified this week in Colorado and California, and patients in those cases also did not report traveling outside of the United States. The variant, known as B.1.1.7, has not been known to lead to more severe cases of Covid-19, but it has been found to be more transmissible than previous forms, experts have said.

This means the new variant could bring more cases as well as casualties and hospitalizations, affecting an already frail health care system that has yet to see the full ramifications of holiday gatherings and travel amid the pandemic.

Mitigation efforts that have become staples of the pandemic — physical distancing, mask wearing and improved ventilation — will all need to remain a priority as the modes of transmission under the new variant have not changed.

This past week Florida saw an average of 10,246 coronavirus cases per day, according to a New York Times database. During a news briefing on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said over 175,000 residents in the state have received a vaccine.

The memorial site for George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., last month. Prosecutors in the trial against the officers accused in Mr. Floyd’s death are requesting a trial delay due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

The prosecution in the criminal case against four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd, a Black man who took his last breaths under the knee of a white officer, is asking the judge to delay the trial, citing the risks of the pandemic.

The prosecution argued in a motion made public on Friday that the trial, which is scheduled to begin March 8, should be delayed for three months to allow time for more people to be vaccinated, which would reduce the risk of transmission from the trial and the street demonstrations that are expected to manifest in response to the trial.

In support of its motion, the prosecution included an affidavit from Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a member of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Coronavirus Advisory Board, who said, “an in-person trial in March 2021 that attracts a large number of people who are indoors for prolonged periods of time with public speaking is likely to create a substantial risk of Covid-19 transmission,” and “could become a super-spreader event.”

The prosecution cited not just the risks to the participants inside the courtroom but also to the demonstrators who are likely to gather outside. “It is likely to be the subject of large public demonstrations, which may increase the risk of community spread of Covid-19,” according to the motion.

The death in May of Mr. Floyd, who was held on the ground on a Minneapolis street corner under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white officer, for more than nine minutes, sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice.

Mr. Chauvin, a 19-year-veteran of the force, is charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four were fired after Mr. Floyd’s death.

An attorney for one of the defendants, Tou Thao, the officer who held bystanders at bay while the other officers pinned Mr. Floyd to the ground, had already filed a motion asking for more time to prepare for the trial, citing delays by the prosecution in handing over evidence during discovery.

President Macron praised ordinary French men and women who had risen to the challenge of the pandemic in a televised New Year’s Eve broadcast
Credit…Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Emmanuel Macron of France warned on Thursday of a tough year ahead because of the coronavirus pandemic, even as he struck a note of hope and vowed that authorities would accelerate their vaccination campaign.

“The first months of the year will be difficult, and, at least until the spring, the epidemic will still weigh heavily on the life of our country,” Mr. Macron said in his traditional New Year’s Eve speech.

“Tonight, we are not experiencing a December 31st like any other,” Mr. Macron said. Tens of thousands of police officers were enforcing a night time curfew and ban on public gatherings around the country on Thursday evening.

“The year 2020 is therefore ending the way it unfolded: with efforts and restrictions,” he said as he sent out his thoughts to the over 64,000 people who have died in France because of the virus so far.

Mr. Macron spent much of his speech praising ordinary French men and women who had risen to the challenge of the pandemic. Calling them “our greatest pride,” he cited them by name — like Marie-Corentine, a 24-year-old nurse working near Paris; Jean-Luc, a garbage collector from French Guiana; or Mauricette, the 78-year-old who was the first French person to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

“All of these names, these faces, are those of your sister, of your neighbor, of your friends, of the thousands of anonymous people who, committed and united, held our country through this ordeal,” he said.

Mr. Macron praised the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, calling it “unthinkable just several months ago.” But he also addressed growing criticism that French authorities — who are wary of rushing the country’s many vaccination skeptics — were moving too slowly to inoculate the population.

France’s first wave of vaccinations is targeted at retirement and nursing home residents only. Fewer than 200 people have been vaccinated around the country since Sunday, versus nearly 80,000 in neighboring Germany.

“I will not let anyone toy with the security and the good conditions, supervised by our scientists and our doctors, under which vaccinations must unfold,” he said. “Neither will I let, for the wrong reasons, an unjustified slowness settle in: each French person who wants to must be able to get vaccinated.”

Olivier Véran, the French health minister, had announced earlier on Thursday that health workers over 50 would be able to get vaccinated starting next week, about a month earlier than initially announced.

A major virus outbreak at San Quentin State Prison took hold after a large group of inmates was transferred in from another prison.
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Battered by a wave of coronavirus infections and deaths, local jails and state prison systems around the nation have resorted to a drastic strategy to keep the virus at bay: Shutting down completely and transferring their inmates elsewhere.

From California to Missouri to Pennsylvania, state and local officials say that so many guards have fallen ill with the virus and are unable to work that abruptly closing some correctional facilities is the only way to maintain community security and prisoner safety.

Experts say the fallout is easy to predict: The jails and prisons that stay open will probably become even more crowded, unsanitary and disease-ridden, and the transfers are likely to help the virus proliferate both inside and outside the walls.

“Movement of people is dangerous,” said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine, who has been tracking coronavirus cases in correctional settings. “I think it really is not advisable to consolidate people in spaces that we know are really risky and will lead to greater rates of Covid there.”

There have been more than 480,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and at least 2,100 deaths in prisons, jails and detention centers across the nation, according to a New York Times database.

Early in the pandemic, many states tried to head off virus outbreaks by reducing their jail and prison populations, releasing some offenders early and detaining fewer people awaiting trial, but those efforts often met with resistance from politicians and the public.

More recently, staffing shortages and strains on prison medical facilities have pushed states toward more concentration and crowding, rather than less. For example:

  • North Carolina closed the Randolph Correctional Center in Asheboro, along with three minimum security facilities, in late November and early December, and has not ruled out more closures. “It feels like we’re holding this together with bubble gum and packaging tape,” Todd Ishee, the state commissioner of prisons, said in a recent interview.

  • Wisconsin has closed a cell block at its prison in Waupun and started moving its 220 inmates to other prisons, despite warnings that similar prison transfers elsewhere have sown deadly outbreaks, including at San Quentin State Prison in California. More than a quarter of Waupun’s guards have been infected since the start of the pandemic, according to state data.

  • In Missouri, Howard and Pike Counties shut down their jails. In a terse Facebook post, the Howard County Sheriff’s Office wrote: “The jail is temporarily closed due to shortness of staff due to illness. All detainees are currently being housed in Cooper County.”

    Matt Oller, the Audrain County sheriff, said he had accepted some two dozen inmates from Pike County, and would not have agreed to do so had he not been confident that he could ensure some measure of social distancing and adequate cleaning in his jail. “It’s a place where there’s a lot of people in one place at one time,” he said. “Any infectious diseases are a concern in a jail setting.”

A health care worker vaccinates a man with the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine in Tel Aviv.
Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JERUSALEM — Israel could well become the first country to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, health officials said on Thursday, with nearly 10 percent of the population already having received the first of two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the 12th day of a national vaccination program, which began on Dec. 20.

The rapid pace and scope of the program has far outstripped the rest of the world, according to international vaccination data compiled mostly from local government sources. Israel, with a population of 9 million, is followed by the tiny Gulf nation of Bahrain, which has vaccinated some 3.4 percent of its population of 1.5 million people.

Less than 1 percent of the population of the United States has been vaccinated, and in many European countries only tiny fractions of the population have received the vaccine.

Israel has prioritized health workers and citizens in the 60-plus age group.

Israeli health professionals have attributed the success of the vaccination program to several factors, including the fact that Israel’s population is relatively small and young. In addition, all Israeli citizens, by law, must be registered with one of the country’s four H.M.O.s, a leftover of socialized medicine. Israel’s heavily digitized, community-based health system, together with its centralized government, have proved particularly adept at orchestrating the logistics of national campaigns such as this.

“It’s quite an astonishing story,” said Prof. Ran Balicer, the chief innovation officer for Clalit, the largest of the four health funds, and the chairman of the national expert advisory team counseling the government on its coronavirus response.

As Israel heads toward another election in March, the country’s fourth in two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also taken on the vaccination campaign as a personal mission and has taken credit for securing millions of doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna.

Mr. Netanyahu has made Israel’s potential emergence from the health and economic crisis wrought by the pandemic a keystone of his bitter fight for political survival.

A Sinopharm vaccine production plant in Beijing.
Credit…Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua, via Getty Images

The Chinese government said on Thursday that it had given conditional approval to a homegrown coronavirus vaccine after an early analysis of clinical trial results showed that it was effective, sending a positive signal for the global rollout of Chinese vaccines. The candidate is the first one approved for general use in China.

The manufacturer, a state-controlled company called Sinopharm, said a vaccine candidate made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products arm had an efficacy rate of 79 percent based on an interim analysis of Phase 3 clinical trials. Zeng Yixin, a deputy minister at the National Health Commission, said the vaccine would be provided to the Chinese public free, a reversal of previous official statements.

More than 60,000 people in countries like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain had been vaccinated as part of the trials, Wu Yonglin of Sinopharm said at a media briefing organized by the government. But officials did not disclose crucial details about the vaccine, like any serious side effects that may have occurred in the trials or the demographic characteristics of the sample population — key data points that scientists look for in such releases.

Mr. Wu said that detailed data would be published later in major scientific research journals.

Chen Shifei, deputy director of the State Drug Administration, said at the briefing that Sinopharm had submitted the application for conditional use on Dec. 23, and that it had been approved a week later after a “comprehensive and detailed review.” He added that the conditional listing meant that the vaccine would be subject to a rolling review as Sinopharm continued its Phase 3 clinical trials.

In recent months, the Chinese authorities, citing emergency use, have pressed ahead with mass vaccinations before any of the country’s vaccine candidates have received official approval, in defiance of industry norms. An official from the National Health Commission said on Thursday that in the past two weeks, more than three million doses of China’s various vaccine candidates had been administered to key population groups within the country. Officials have said they plan to vaccinate 50 million people in China by mid-February, when hundreds of millions are expected to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The Sinopharm vaccine’s results show that it is less effective than others approved elsewhere. Still, the results are well above the 50 percent threshold that makes a vaccine effective in the eyes of the medical establishment. As the global race to create vaccines for the disease intensifies, the Chinese companies have said their candidates — which use inactivated coronaviruses — have an advantage in that they are cheaper and easier to transport than those produced by companies like Moderna and Pfizer.

The Queens restaurant where the Whitestone Republican Club held its holiday party despite New York’s coronavirus restrictions has lost its liquor license.
Credit…Whitestone Republican Club/Facebook

A video of people without masks dancing in a conga line at a Republican club’s holiday party in Queens drew swift condemnation after it was posted on social media over a week ago.

Now at least one person who attended the party has been hospitalized with the coronavirus, and the restaurant’s liquor license has been suspended indefinitely.

Matt Binder, a journalist, posted video of the conga line on Twitter on Dec. 21, and an outpouring of criticism from officials and the public soon followed.

The party was thrown by the Whitestone Republican Club at Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant, on Dec. 9, days before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo closed indoor dining, and was attended by several dozen people. Most of them did not appear to be wearing masks in the video, despite weeks of official warnings about the danger of holiday gatherings as coronavirus hospitalizations soared in New York.

One of the attendees, James Trent, the board chairman of the Queens Village Republican Club, was later hospitalized after he recognized Covid-19 symptoms.

Thomas Paladino, the son and campaign strategy director for Vickie Paladino, the president of the Whitestone Republican Club and a City Council candidate, confirmed that Mr. Trent had been hospitalized with the virus.

Mr. Paladino said that Mr. Trent was doing well and was expected to be released from a hospital in Nassau County on Thursday.

As “an older person who shows a positive Covid test, they’re likely going to admit you,” Mr. Paladino said on Thursday.

Mr. Trent told The Queens Daily Eagle, which on Wednesday first reported his hospitalization, that he had tried to behave carefully.

“I wasn’t on the conga line,” Mr. Trent said. “I ate by myself. I don’t know how I got this.”

Mr. Paladino said that he had seen news reports that other partygoers had tested positive but that “as far as I know there really hasn’t been anybody else” sickened by the virus.

“I can tell you that I did not wear a mask the entire evening, I had several conversations with Jim Trent up close, and I am fine,” Mr. Paladino said, noting that he had not been tested for the coronavirus since the party.

A health care worker receiving the Pfizer vaccine in Apple Valley, California on December 17. The efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine after the first dose is about 52 percent, according to the senior vice president of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development.
Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

A flurry of headlines this week flooded social media, documenting a seemingly concerning case of Covid-19 in a San Diego nurse who fell ill about a week after receiving his first injection of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

But experts said the sickness is nothing unexpected: The protective effects of vaccines are known to take at least a couple of weeks to kick in. And getting sick before completing a two-dose vaccine regimen, they said, should not undermine the potency of Pfizer’s product, which blazed through late-stage clinical trials with flying colors.

Reporting that a half-vaccinated person contracted the virus is “really the equivalent of saying someone went outside in the middle of a rainstorm without an umbrella and got wet,” said Dr. Taison Bell, a critical care physician at the University of Virginia. Dr. Bell received his first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 15, and will be getting his second shot soon.

The California nurse, identified as Matthew W., 45, in an ABC10 News report, received his first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 18. Six days later, according to the news reports, he began to feel minor symptoms, including chills, muscle aches and fatigue. He tested positive for the virus the day after Christmas.

Framing the nurse’s illness as news, said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, implied that it was a departure from the expected — and that there should have been protection about a week after the first vaccine dose. That’s not the case at all.

The timeline of the California nurse’s illness falls well within the window of post-vaccination vulnerability, Dr. Ranney said in an interview. It’s also very likely he caught the virus right around the time he got the shot, perhaps even before. People can start experiencing the symptoms of Covid-19 between two and 14 days after encountering the coronavirus, if they ever have symptoms at all.

A similar situation appears to have recently unfolded with Mike Harmon, the Kentucky state auditor, who this week tested positive for the virus the day after receiving his first dose of an unspecified coronavirus vaccine.

The Camp VI detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Most legal visits and military commission proceedings involving detainees at the wartime prison have come to a standstill during the pandemic.
Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

The Navy base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba is poised to receive its first batch of coronavirus vaccines in January, with medical and emergency staff members among the first to be inoculated, as well as workers at the remote outpost’s air strip and guest quarters.

Capt. John A. Fischer, the base commander, notified the 6,000 residents of the priority list in an open letter dated Dec. 30. He did not disclose how many doses would be shipped to the base and made no mention of the 40 prisoners or the 1,500 mostly National Guard troops assigned to the wartime prison there. Nor did he mention the estimated 250 schoolchildren and their teachers who have been attending classes in masks at the base school system.

In the first months of the pandemic, Guantánamo disclosed that two service members had tested positive for the virus and were isolated. It provided no further updates on cases because the Pentagon banned base-by-base disclosures.

Most legal visits and military commission proceedings involving the prisoners have come to a standstill during the pandemic, although troop rotations have continued and some base families have traveled to and from Guantánamo on military leaves and vacations.

To control any possible spread, people arriving on the base, which has a small community hospital, are required to individually quarantine for two weeks before having contact with other residents. The commissary, gym, church compound and Irish pub are all open, the last with a 50-patron limit and a requirement that waiters and waitresses wear masks.

Captain Fischer said in his letter to the community that even new arrivals who have been vaccinated will be required to quarantine for 14 days until further notice. “Thank you for staying positive and resilient, and Happy New Year!” he wrote.

A delegation of International Red Cross representatives made its first visit of the pandemic this month. The delegates were required to quarantine for two weeks and then don prison-issue protective gear that revealed only their eyes and foreheads for their meetings with the prisoners, who were similarly attired and seated six feet or more away behind a plexiglass barrier.




De Blasio Pledges to Vaccinate One Million New Yorkers in January

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York set an ambitious 2021 resolution, pledging on Thursday to accelerate the city’s efforts to get more residents doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The most important New Year’s resolution I could possibly offer you, in the month of January 2021, we will vaccinate a million New Yorkers. A million people. we will reach in January. This city can do it. The amazing health care professionals of this city are ready. We’re going to set up new sites all over the city on top of the many, many sites that are already operational. We’re going to expand from our hospitals and our clinics to community clinics to locations we’ll set up all over the neighborhoods of the city. Our goal is to get to upwards of 250 locations citywide. This is going to be a massive effort. This is going to be part of the largest, single vaccination effort in the history of New York City. It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take tremendous urgency and focus. And we will need help from the federal government. We will need help from the state government. We will need help from the vaccine manufacturers. But we’re making clear to the whole world, we can achieve a million vaccinations in January. We get that help, we’ll make it happen.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York set an ambitious 2021 resolution, pledging on Thursday to accelerate the city’s efforts to get more residents doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.CreditCredit…Yuki Iwamura/Reuters

As the effort to vaccinate the United States against Covid-19 runs well behind schedule, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City set an ambitious goal for the coming year, pledging on Thursday to vastly accelerate the city’s efforts to immunize residents.

“The most important New Year’s resolution I could possibly offer you: In the month of January 2021, we will vaccinate a million New Yorkers,” he said at a news conference.

So far, only 88,000 people have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the city in the last three weeks, Mr. de Blasio said. They are frontline health care workers, emergency medical workers, and nursing home employees and residents who are deemed at high risk of exposure.

Nationwide, just 2.8 million people have received their first dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials had hoped for 20 million by the end of 2020.

To achieve Mr. de Blasio’s goal, the city, which has more than eight million residents, will set up new vaccination hubs at public places like school gymnasiums, officials said. Workers at city-run testing sites will begin to give the vaccine, they said, and the city will partner with churches and community centers to provide immunizations there.

Mr. de Blasio’s resolution follows a devastating year for New York City. During the first major surge in the spring, the city was a center of the pandemic, its hospitals overflowing with virus patients and hundreds of people dying each day.

Though the city appeared to contain the virus’s spread over the summer, it has been contending more recently with a steady rise in case reports. Mr. de Blasio said on Thursday that 8.87 percent of tests performed in the city had come back positive over the past week, up from 5.19 percent four weeks ago.

The mayor has cautioned lately that the data for the city would probably be skewed by holiday-related testing and reporting delays. On Thursday, he said the city’s positivity rate was “probably aberrant based on uneven testing” but was nonetheless “cautionary and troublesome.”

Officials said similar things about a rise in the positive test rate around Thanksgiving, but the figure has continued to climb steadily since then.

Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire said his family had been threatened.
Credit…Charles Krupa/Associated Press

New Hampshire’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, has canceled an outdoor inauguration ceremony planned for Jan. 7 after expressing concern that protests by anti-mask activists opposed to his efforts to slow the coronavirus could turn violent.

“My first responsibility is ensuring the safety of my family and our citizens,” Mr. Sununu wrote on Twitter on Thursday, announcing that the swearing-in ceremonies for top state officials would take place inside the State House complex, where better security precautions could be ensured.

Mr. Sununu will deliver his televised inaugural address to the state later that evening, his office announced.

Mr. Sununu, a party moderate who supported President Trump, was re-elected last month with 65 percent of the vote. But he said he had faced threats of violence after imposing a statewide mandate for wearing face masks in heavily trafficked public spaces by executive order in late November. The mandate will expire Jan. 15 unless he renews it.

In an interview with a local television station on Thursday, Mr. Sununu said that protesters had gathered in front of his house on Monday, and “an armed individual trespassing in my backyard was arrested carrying two dozen rounds of ammunition.” Mr. Sununu, the son of former Gov. John Sununu, lives in the coastal town of Newfields with his wife and three young children.

Because protesters had “increasingly become more aggressive,” he wrote on Twitter, “an outdoor public ceremony simply brings too much risk.”

“We do not make this decision lightly, but it is the right thing to do,” he added.

For weeks, protesters have gathered at Mr. Sununu’s home demanding an end to the state of emergency, brandishing placards calling for the ouster of officials, including Mr. Sununu and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who support restrictions intended to slow contagion.

Newfields passed an ordinance on Dec. 22 banning picketing outside residences and subjecting violators to a $100 fine. The governor, who was not at home at the time of Monday’s gathering, did not request the ordinance, a spokesman said.

One person, Skylar Bennett, 38, of Concord, was arrested, charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct and released without bail on Monday night, according to a news release from the Newfields police department. Nine people were issued summonses.

A video taken by one of the protesters and posted on YouTube earlier this week showed law enforcement officials repeatedly asking several men outside of Mr. Sununu’s house to leave before detaining them and issuing summonses.

The cancellation of the outdoor ceremony comes at a time of heightened tension for state officials in both parties who have sought to balance the need to slow the spread of the virus with economic and political demands.

Federal and state officials broke up a plot in October to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat singled out by Mr. Trump for imposing stringent regulations. Some of those arrested spied on Ms. Whitmer’s vacation home, officials said.

New Hampshire’s current infection rate is about 50 cases per day per 100,000 residents — slightly lower than the national average, but much higher than the rate in neighboring Vermont, which has implemented more stringent rules.

A surge in travel around Christmas may soon be felt in the nation’s coronavirus data, experts say.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

First there was Thanksgiving, when some families who gathered for turkey and stuffing also shared the coronavirus, causing cases to spike in some places and further taxing the nation’s already stretched hospitals.

Then there was Christmas weekend, when Americans crowded airports in numbers not seen since the start of the pandemic. Anyone who caught the virus then would probably still be in the incubation phase or just starting to feel symptoms now, so it’s too soon yet to gauge the full impact of people’s Christmas activities.

Now comes New Year’s Eve, an occasion for celebrating in large crowds, often among strangers, drinking and reveling and uttering a primal yell when the clock strikes twelve.

In other words, it’s a holiday tailor-made for superspreader events. And it arrives just as the first cases of a new, more contagious variant of the virus have been detected in the United States, in ways that suggest it is already circulating widely.

“It’s in a small community south of Denver, so it’s reasonable to think that it could already be in New York City,” said Dr. Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

New Year’s Eve, he said, “risks accelerating the introduction of any variants that are more transmissible into communities, and we have reason to think that those are beginning to emerge.”

The risk of transmission rises with the size of the gathering, of course, but also with the amount of alcohol consumed, Dr. Hanage said.

People who drink “become disinhibited,” he noted, “and when they get disinhibited, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior.”

The safest way to see in the new year is at home, with no one outside your household, Dr. Hanage said, but if people do gather in greater numbers, they can decrease the risk somewhat by doing it outdoors and by wearing masks.

“It doesn’t sound very fun or easy to drink Champagne through,” he said, “but wearing a mask is going to provide another barrier to potential transmission.”

Coronavirus Then & Now

The Incident Command Station in the Snohomish Health District offices in Everett, Wash., in February.
Credit…Chona Kasinger for The New York Times

As 2020 comes to a close, we are revisiting subjects whose lives were affected by the pandemic. When Amy Harmon first spoke with Hollianne Bruce in January, Ms. Bruce was tracking the close contacts of the first known U.S. case of the coronavirus, which has since been detected in nearly 20 million Americans.

Hollianne Bruce was the lone epidemiologist assigned to the control of communicable diseases at the local public health office in Snohomish County, Wash., when a resident tested positive for what was then the novel coronavirus. It was the beginning of the pandemic in the United States.

On Jan. 21, the day after the case was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, Ms. Bruce swung into action. She interviewed the Covid-19 patient, a 35-year-old man whose identity was not publicly disclosed. She contacted several dozen county residents whose paths he had crossed, and she monitored them for symptoms. She coordinated with epidemiologists in other counties so they could do the same.

It was a Herculean effort, supported by the Snohomish office’s already overworked staff of 113, many of them diverted from regular jobs as food inspectors, resource managers or opioid counselors.

And it was nothing compared to what was to come.

For a brief moment, maybe, Ms. Bruce felt a measure of relief. The patient, who had recently returned from a trip to the virus’s first epicenter in Wuhan, China, recovered from the disease. His contacts who showed symptoms were tested; none were positive. It would be mid-March before Covid-19 exploded in the county and the rest of Washington State, just as the World Health Organization was declaring Covid-19 a global pandemic.

“It was a little naïve to think our case was the first and only,” she said in a recent interview. “It wasn’t too long before we figured out that we were incorrect in that assumption.’’

But even if she had little inkling of the impending tsunami, Ms. Bruce, a veteran infectious-disease detective, knew that the first case would not be the last. She worried about how the C.D.C. had restricted testing to people who had recently traveled internationally, and who had certain symptoms. “It was spreading in our community, and there was no way for us to know,” she said.

Snohomish County, part of the Seattle metropolitan area, has since identified nearly 23,000 cases and recorded nearly 3,000 Covid-related deaths, and Ms. Bruce now oversees a staff of 50 contact tracers. Her practiced eyes are needed on the data, to spot as early as possible an outbreak at a school, an employer, a long-term care facility. She no longer interviews cases herself.

“I miss talking to people,’’ she said.

Ms. Bruce, who has worked more than 60 hours a week for nearly a full year now, misses her husband and 12-year-old son, too. Her hope is that the public has gained some sense that public health workers are not just the people who “shut down their favorite restaurants.’’

The sacrifices of her colleagues in public health can be less visible than those of doctors and hospital workers on the front lines, Ms. Bruce said. Sometimes public health officials are actively disparaged, for example by Americans angry at being told to wear masks to reduce virus transmission.

But the pandemic year has given Ms. Bruce all the more pride in her profession.

“What public health has done has been brilliant,’’ she said. “We’ve all worked together as a team, day in and day out, to stop this from being even worse than it is.’’


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Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is expected to leave office in 2021, used her last New Year’s Eve speech to address the coronavirus pandemic and deliver a message of hope.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Markus Schreiber via Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s New Year’s speeches have typically been aspirational exercises in political agenda setting, touching on dozens of broad themes, like immigration and climate change, and sometimes presenting her latest projects for Germany.

But Ms. Merkel’s speech this year, her 16th as chancellor, was noticeably different. For what was almost certainly her last New Year’s Eve speech as the government’s leader, for she is expected to leave office in 2021, she focused on a single topic: the coronavirus.

“The coronavirus pandemic was and is a once-in-a-century political, social and economic challenge,” Ms. Merkel said in the annual prerecorded televised speech that was watched by millions of German households.

The pandemic has killed more than 33,000 people in Germany and sickened hundreds of thousands more. And even if generous government subsidies have averted much of the widespread economic pain that other countries have experienced, long-term economic consequences loom for the nation.

As the speech makes clear, the pandemic has upended Ms. Merkel’s last full year in office, upsetting a period in which she hoped to cement her legacy with leadership on issues like climate change, digital transformation and a robust social state.

Abroad, Ms. Merkel had hoped to focus on tackling issues like refugees and European Union unity as Brexit played out and countries like Hungary and Poland tested the bloc’s liberal values. Instead, she spent much of her time during Germany’s six-month term in the European Council’s rotating presidency traveling to Brussels for meetings to persuade E.U. members to break budget rules and set up a fund to counter the economic effects of the pandemic.

“I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that never in the past 15 years have we all experienced such a difficult year — and never have we greeted the new year with so much hope, despite all of our concerns and some skepticism,” she said.

Vaccine recipients were observed for 15 minutes after their shots in Cardiff, Wales, in early December.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Some family doctors in Britain said on Thursday that they would defy the government’s instructions to postpone patients’ appointments for a second dose of coronavirus vaccine, a signal of unease in the medical community over Britain’s new plan to delay second shots as a way of giving more people the partial protection of a single dose.

British doctors, who have been instructed to begin rescheduling second-dose appointments that had been set for next week, said they were loath to ask older, vulnerable patients to wait an extra two months for their booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They said those patients had been counting on having the full protection of two doses, had already arranged for caregivers to help them get to their doctors’ offices, and could ill afford to rely on a new and untested vaccination strategy.

Beyond that, doctors said, it was logistically impossible to make contact with thousands of older patients in a matter of days, and then fill those slots with first-time recipients.

The British Medical Association, a trade union for doctors, said on Thursday that it would support doctors who decided to keep second-dose appointments that have been booked for January.

“It is grossly and patently unfair to tens of thousands of our most at-risk patients to now try to reschedule their appointments,” Dr. Richard Vautrey, the chairman of the trade union’s family doctor committee, said in a statement. “The government must see that it’s only right that existing bookings for the oldest and most vulnerable members of our society are honored, and it must also as soon as possible publish a scientifically validated justification for its new approach.”

A spokeswoman for Britain’s National Health Service said in a statement that the service was giving family doctors “extra financial and logistical support” in order to “to help ensure thousands more receive the vaccine quickly.”

“The N.H.S. has to follow” the new guidance, the statement said, “so as to increase the number of vulnerable people protected against Covid over the next three months, potentially saving thousands of lives.”

Delaying second vaccine doses could double the number of people who receive a shot soon, and eventually lighten the toll of the virus in Britain, where hospitals are facing a deluge of cases of a new and more contagious coronavirus variant. While any one person may be better off getting the second dose promptly, some scientists said, society as a whole benefits if more people are given the partial protection of a single dose for the time being.

Other scientists, however, believe that Britain overshot the available evidence, potentially leaving older people and health care workers without the full protection of two vaccine doses amid dreadful wintertime surges. Britain made the decision without the public meetings or voluminous briefings that have preceded American regulatory decisions. No trials have explicitly tested the long-term efficacy of a single shot.

And what limited evidence exists about the protection afforded by a single dose clashed with scientists’ fears that antibody responses would wane over time, potentially falling below a protective threshold.

Some family doctors in Britain said that they were uneasy about a lack of evidence showing that patients would be protected for many weeks from Covid-19 after a single shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“I have been instructed to break my promise to my elderly patients,” Dr. Helen Salisbury, a family doctor in Oxford, said on Twitter on Thursday morning, “and use a vaccine outside its evidenced and approved schedule, probably placing them at risk.”

A volunteer from Forgotten Harvest food bank in Warren, Mich., at a mobile food pantry on Dec. 21.
Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

The labor market remains in distress as the pandemic limits consumer activity across the country.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped modestly last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The Christmas holiday likely affected filings because of the shortened workweek, a phenomenon that also occurred during Thanksgiving week. “They bounce up and down a lot during the holidays,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh.

There were 841,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 873,000 the previous week. Another 308,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for part-time workers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for jobless benefits.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number of new state claims was 787,000, a decrease from 806,000 in the previous week.

The $900 billion stimulus package that President Trump signed into law Sunday after the data was collected. It will take months for the legislation’s full impact to be felt, and most economists expect the rate of layoffs to remain high.

Sinopharm said its vaccine is about 79 percent effective, and the Chinese government approved it.
Credit…Ernesto Benavides/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The world hit a few more pandemic milestones this week with the distribution of the coronavirus vaccines developed by Moderna and by Pfizer and BioNTech; the advancement of trials studying other experimental shots; and the approval or authorization of coronavirus vaccines in several countries. The welcome news comes as the number of known infections worldwide rises toward 83 million.

  • Britain announced on Wednesday that it had granted emergency authorization to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine is less expensive than others — $3 to $4 a dose — and can be stored in a normal refrigerator, unlike some of its freezer-bound counterparts, making it easier to transport and administer. The vaccine is meant to be given in two doses four weeks apart, but Britain plans to wait up to 12 weeks to give the second shot, freeing up more doses for first injections. Some early evidence suggests the delay might boost the vaccine’s ability to protect people from Covid-19, though experts have repeatedly cautioned that more data is needed.

  • The state-owned Chinese company Sinopharm announced that one of its experimental vaccines, developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, had an efficacy rate of 79 percent based on an interim analysis of Phase 3 trials, spurring the Chinese government to grant the shot full approval. The vaccine has also been approved in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The company has yet to publish the detailed results of its late-stage clinical trials.

  • Novavax, based in Maryland, announced on Monday the start of a late-stage clinical trial that will enroll about 30,000 people in the United States and Mexico. Two-thirds of the volunteers in the study will receive the company’s vaccine; the other 10,000 will get a shot of a saline solution as a placebo. Like many other vaccines, Novavax’s vaccine requires two doses. The vaccine can be kept stable in a normal refrigerator.

  • The World Health Organization gave the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine an emergency stamp of approval on Thursday, the first one granted to a Covid-19 vaccine. Placing it on the organization’s Emergency Use Listing will allow the vaccine to move more quickly through regulatory approval in countries around the world. The step will also allow the vaccine to be distributed through Unicef and the Pan-American Health Organization.