The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday urged that K-12 schools be reopened and offered a comprehensive science-based plan for doing so speedily, an effort to resolve an urgent debate roiling in communities across the nation.
The new guidelines highlight the growing body of evidence that schools can openly safely if they put in effect layered mitigation measures. The agency said that even when students lived in communities with high transmission rates, elementary students could receive at least some in-person instruction safely — a finding echoed by an independent survey of 175 pediatric disease experts conducted by The Times.
Middle and high school students, the agency said, could attend school safely at most lower levels of community transmission — or even at higher levels, if schools put into effect weekly testing of staff and students to identify asymptomatic infections.
Among the pediatric experts surveyed by The Times, the point of most agreement was requiring masks for everyone: students, teachers, administrators and other staff. All respondents said universal masking was important, and many said it was a simple solution that made the need for other preconditions to opening less essential.
“C.D.C.’s operational strategy is grounded in science and the best available evidence,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the C.D.C., said on Friday in a call with reporters.
The guidelines arrive in the middle of a debate that is already highly fraught. Some parents whose schools remain closed are becoming increasingly frustrated, and public school enrollment has declined in many districts across the country.
Education and civil rights leaders are despairing about the harms being done to children who have not been in classrooms for nearly a year. And many of the pediatric health experts also expressed deep concern about other risks to students of staying home, including depression, hunger, anxiety, isolation and learning loss.
“Children’s learning and emotional and, in some cases, physical health is being severely impacted by being out of school,” said Dr. Lisa Abuogi, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the University of Colorado, expressing her personal view. “I spend part of my clinical time in the E.R., and the amount of mental distress we are seeing in children related to schools is off the charts.”
The Biden administration has made a high priority of returning children to classrooms, and the new recommendations try to carve a middle ground between school officials as well as some parents who are eager to see a resumption of in-person learning and powerful teachers’ unions resisting a return to school settings that they regard as unsafe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether the guidelines will persuade powerful teachers’ unions — allies of Mr. Biden — to support teachers returning to classrooms remains to be seen. In advice that may be disappointing to some unions, the document states that, while teachers should be vaccinated as quickly as possible, teachers do not need to be vaccinated before schools can reopen.
“I completely understand teachers’ and other school employees’ fear about returning to school, but there are now many well-conducted scientific studies showing that it is safe for schools to reopen with appropriate precautions, even without vaccination,” said Dr. Rebecca Same, an assistant professor in pediatric infectious disease at Washington University in St. Louis. “They are much more likely to get infected from the outside community and from family members than from school contacts.”
The C.D.C. document embraces the often-repeated mantra that schools should be the last settings to close in a community and the first to reopen. But that has been followed nowhere in the country, and these guidelines have no power to force communities where transmission remains high to take steps, such as closing nonessential businesses, to decrease it.
As a result, some teachers’ unions will continue to argue that the overall environment remains unsafe to return to in-person classrooms.
A majority of districts in the country are offering at least some in-person learning, and about half of the nation’s students are learning in classrooms. But there are stark disparities in who has access to in-person instruction, with urban districts, which serve mostly poor, nonwhite children, more likely to be closed than nonurban ones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that it was not asking airlines to require Covid-19 tests for passengers on domestic flights, a policy that had been floated by President Biden’s transportation secretary but criticized as too onerous by airline executives, union officials and elected officials.
“At this time, C.D.C. is not recommending required point of departure testing for domestic travel,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it would “continue to review public health options for containing and mitigating spread of Covid-19 in the travel space.”
Proof of a negative test result is already required for passengers boarding international flights bound for the United States, under a policy the C.D.C. imposed last month as concern grew about more contagious coronavirus variants circulating in Britain, South Africa and elsewhere.
Last weekend, Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said that federal officials were having “an active conversation with the C.D.C. right now” about whether to require airline passengers to have a negative coronavirus test before boarding domestic flights as well.
“What I can tell you is, it’s going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out,” Mr. Buttigieg told “Axios on HBO” on Sunday.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said the next day that providing more coronavirus testing at places like airports could help to curb the spread of the virus by people who are contagious but do not know it because they lack obvious symptoms.
“There’s more gathering that happens in airports, and so, to the extent that we have available tests to be able to do testing, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease risk,” Dr. Walensky said.
Critics have argued that such a rule would be difficult to put into effect and could inflict more financial damage on an airline industry already reeling from the sharp drop in travel during the pandemic.
Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told the House committee on transportation and infrastructure last week that the move could lead to airline bankruptcies.
In its statement on Friday, the C.D.C. reiterated its advice that people travel only for essential reasons. It also recommended that travelers take viral tests before and after travel, as well as self-quarantining for seven days even if test results are negative.
Earlier on Friday, a group of airline executives met virtually with President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey D. Zients.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, was later asked at a news briefing whether any conclusion had been reached at the meeting about whether to test all passengers ahead of flights.
Ms. Psaki said that would be done “through a policy process internally. But as I conveyed yesterday, reports that there is an intention to put in place new requirements, such as testing, are not accurate.”
The Food and Drug Administration has informed the drugmaker Moderna that it can put up to 40 percent more coronavirus vaccine into each of its vials, a simple and potentially rapid way to bolster strained supplies, according to people familiar with the company’s operations.
While federal officials want Moderna to submit more data showing the switch would not compromise vaccine quality, the continuing discussions are a hopeful sign that the nation’s vaccine stock could increase faster than expected, simply by allowing the company to load up to 14 doses in each vial instead of 10.
Moderna currently supplies about half of the nation’s vaccine stock. A 14-dose vial load could increase the nation’s vaccine supply by as much as 20 percent at a time when governors are clamoring for more vaccine and more contagious variants of the coronavirus are believed to be spreading quickly.
Two people familiar with Moderna’s manufacturing, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said retooling the company’s production lines to accommodate the change could conceivably be done in fewer than 10 weeks, or before the end of April. That is because while the amount of liquid in each vial would change, the vials themselves would remain the same size, so the production process would not drastically change.
“It would be a great step forward,” said Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who served as the scientific leader of the Trump administration’s vaccine development program. “I think it will have an impact in the short term.”
In a recent email response to questions about the company’s discussions with regulators, Stéphane Bancel, the chief executive officer of Moderna, wrote, “No comment.” Ray Jordan, the company’s spokesman, said talks with federal officials were continuing.
Californians under 65 who have disabilities or severe underlying health conditions will be eligible for inoculation against the coronavirus starting on March 15, state officials said Friday, responding to outrage over a recent change intended to expedite the state’s slow rollout of vaccines.
California had been delivering vaccines in tiers, prioritizing people with high-risk medical conditions over healthy adults and certain essential workers above others, but changed course in late January after the complexity of its system appeared to be slowing distribution. Under the new system, the many categories were replaced with age-based tiers.
But as people with chronic illness and disabilities were displaced in line by people 65 and older, the move sparked widespread anger and confusion. Bay Area activists accused the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom of mistreatment and criticized the governor on Twitter with the hashtag #HighRiskCA. California now joins a handful of states offering eligibility to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities or people with underlying health conditions.
The adjustment will extend Covid-19 vaccinations to people over 16 who are debilitated or immunocompromised by cancer or an organ transplant. It will also include those who are pregnant or suffering from chronic pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, heart conditions, severe obesity, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease that is Stage 4 or higher, and those whose life or ongoing care is otherwise likely to be threatened by Covid-19.
“I want the disability community to know, we’ve heard you, and we’re going to do more and better to provide access, even with the scarcity” of vaccines, Governor Newsom said Friday, visiting a mass vaccination center in San Francisco’s Moscone Center.
After tests confirmed the widespread presence of the more contagious coronavirus variant first found in Britain, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador suspended in-person voting for a provincial election scheduled for Saturday.
In addition to shifting to mail-in voting, strict lockdown measures were reimposed.
“This is serious and concerning,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer, said during a hastily called news conference on Friday night.
A rise in cases in and near the provincial capital of St. John’s had previously caused the province to cancel in-person voting in 18 of its 40 electoral districts.
Nonessential services and businesses in the province will be shut down for at least two weeks in a bid to control the variant which is believed to be more infectious and which is formally known as B.1.1.7.
Voters must now apply for mail-in ballots by Monday which must be returned by March 1.
Newfoundland, which has a population of about 522,000, had 260 coronavirus cases as of Friday.
Hours before Newfoundland locked down, Ontario, the country’s most populous province, announced that it would ease restrictions in many regions and cities on Tuesday against the warning of its pandemic science advisory council that doing so could lead to cases rising “dramatically.”
“We’re doing a little bit of a balance and letting small businesses open up very, very cautiously,” Doug Ford, Ontario’s premier, said at a news conference, while also urging residents to stay at home and avoid travel. The new measures did not extend to Toronto, Canada’s largest city.
France’s top health authority said Friday that one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, rather than two, would be sufficient for most people who have recovered from Covid-19.
The Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines — all of which are approved for use in the European Union — are meant to be injected in two doses spaced a few weeks apart.
But most people who have been infected with the coronavirus have already developed a strong immune response. In those cases, the French National Authority for Health said in a news release, a single shot could suffice, essentially serving as a booster.
It said the shot should be administered at least three months — and ideally closer to six months — after a Covid-19 infection.
While Britain and a number of other countries are delaying second doses to prioritize getting first doses to more people, the French announcement appeared to be the first to recommend only a single dose for those who have had the virus.
The independent body’s recommendation came with exceptions for people with compromised immune systems. It added that people who contract Covid-19 shortly after getting a single dose of the vaccine should wait three to six months before getting a second dose.
By contrast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who become infected in the days after their first dose can get their second dose after they recover, but that they can also choose to delay receiving the second dose.
According to a study posted online this month, which was not peer reviewed, researchers at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York found that Covid survivors had far higher antibody levels after both the first and second doses of the vaccine and might need only one shot. But some scientists have urged caution, warning that more data was needed to prove that those antibodies could effectively stop the virus from replicating.
Chinese scientists refused to share raw data that might bring the world closer to understanding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, independent investigators for the World Health Organization said on Friday.
The investigators, who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the Chinese city of Wuhan where the first major outbreak took place, said disagreements over patient records and other issues were so tense that they sometimes erupted into shouts among the typically mild-mannered scientists on both sides.
China’s continued resistance to revealing information about the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the scientists say, makes it difficult for them to uncover important clues that could help stop future outbreaks of such dangerous diseases.
“If you are data focused, and if you are a professional,” said Thea Kølsen Fischer, a Danish epidemiologist on the team, then obtaining data is “like for a clinical doctor looking at the patient and seeing them by your own eyes.”
For 27 days in January and February, the team of 14 experts for the World Health Organization led the mission to trace the origins of the pandemic. Several said their Chinese counterparts were frustrated by the team’s persistent questioning and demands for data.
Chinese officials urged the W.H.O. team to embrace the government’s narrative about the source of the virus, including the unproven notion that it might have spread to China from abroad, according to several members of the team. The W.H.O. scientists responded that they would refrain from making judgments without data.
“It was my take on the entire mission that it was highly geopolitical,” Dr. Fischer said. “Everybody knows how much pressure there is on China to be open to an investigation and also how much blame there might be associated with this.”
In the end, the W.H.O. experts sought compromise, praising the Chinese government’s transparency, but pushing for more research about the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019.
NAIROBI — The number of people dying from the coronavirus has swelled in more than half of the countries in Africa in the past month, the World Health Organization has warned, linking the rise to overwhelmed hospitals and health workers.
“The increasing deaths from Covid-19 we are seeing are tragic, but are also disturbing warning signs that health workers and health systems in Africa are dangerously overstretched,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Africa. “This grim milestone must refocus everyone on stamping out the virus.”
The global health body said on Thursday said that deaths had increased in 32 of the continent’s 55 countries in the last month, pushing the overall African death toll near 100,000. Mortalities rose overall by 40 percent, the W.H.O. said, with more than 22,300 deaths recorded in the last 28 days compared with 16,000 deaths in the 28 days preceding that.
The rise in deaths comes as the continent faces a second deadlier wave of the virus, the emergence of new variants that vaccines may not fight effectively — particularly in hard-hit South Africa — and growing concerns around inequalities in distributing vaccines.
To forestall more deaths, the W.H.O. directed governments to ramp up investments in health care systems and to enforce measures including mask wearing, washing hands and social distancing.
Dr. Moeti also encouraged Africans to “go out and get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available in your country.”
Her statement came just a week after she urged Tanzania’s government to start sharing data on its Covid-19 situation and begin preparations for a vaccination campaign. The East African nation has not submitted information about coronavirus cases to the W.H.O. since last April. The country’s president, John Magufuli, insists that Tanzania is coronavirus free and argues that “vaccines don’t work.”
In other global developments:
Germany will close its border to the Czech Republic and the Austrian state of Tyrol starting Sunday as it tries to protect against new variants of the virus. As part of that effort, Germany this week extended its national lockdown for another month.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new travel restrictions on Friday. Beginning Feb. 22, all travelers by both land and air must show proof of a negative virus test taken within 72 hours before arrival in the country and they will be given another test when they arrive at the border. Air travelers will also be required to book a three-night stay in a government-authorized hotel at their own expense to quarantine while they await test results. All travelers must complete a full 14-day quarantine or risk heavy fines and possible jail time.
“These are some of the strongest restrictions in the world. But with new variants emerging, we’re stepping them up even further,” Mr. Trudeau said during a news conference Friday.
New Zealand will receive the first batch of its 1.5-million-dose order of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week and expects to begin vaccinating its border workers on Feb. 20, ahead of schedule, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday. The country, which has all but eliminated local transmission of the virus, has additional purchase agreements with Janssen Pharmaceutica, Novavax and AstraZeneca, and expects to start vaccinating its wider population in the second quarter of this year, Ms. Ardern said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his top aides were facing new allegations on Friday that they covered up the scope of the coronavirus death toll in the state’s nursing homes, after admissions that they withheld data in an effort to forestall potential investigations into state misconduct.
The latest revelations came in the wake of private remarks by the governor’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, and a cascading series of reports and court orders that have nearly doubled the state’s official toll of nursing home deaths in the last two weeks.
The disclosures have left Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, scrambling to contain the political fallout.
In a conversation reported on by the New York Post, Ms. DeRosa told a group of top lawmakers on Wednesday during a call to address the nursing home situation that “basically, we froze,” after being asked last summer for information by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice.
At the time, the governor’s office was simultaneously facing requests from the State Legislature for similar information.
“We were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, and what we start saying, was going to be used against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” Ms. DeRosa told lawmakers, according to a partial transcript obtained by The New York Times.
The news of Ms. DeRosa’s remarks sparked a flurry of angry denunciations from both Democrats and Republicans. Early on Friday, Ms. DeRosa sought to clarify the context for her remarks, saying she was trying to explain that “we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first.”
“We informed the houses of this at the time,” she said, referring to the upper and lower chambers of the Legislature.
Three Baltimore men have been accused by federal prosecutors of putting up a fake website to sell Covid-19 vaccines for $30 a dose, prosecutors say.
The men, Olakitan Oluwalade, 22, and Odunayo Baba Oluwalade, 25, who are cousins, and Kelly Lamont Williams, 22, each face a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland said on Thursday.
Prosecutors said the men created a website that resembled that of Moderna, the biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass., that in December won federal approval to distribute its Covid-19 vaccine.
The genuine website is modernatx.com, and the website created by the men, which the authorities have since seized, was modernatx.shop. Prosecutors said the source code of the fake domain showed that its creator had used a tool to copy the real Moderna website.
“The logo, markings, colors and texts on the fake domain were visually similar” to the company’s actual home page, officials said in a statement. But prosecutors said the fake website had an addition: “YOU MAY BE ABLE TO BUY A COVID-19 VACCINE AHEAD OF TIME,” with a link to “Contact us.”
The men were caught after an undercover agent contacted the number on the fake website on Jan. 11 and set up a transaction for 200 doses of the vaccine for $6,000, according to the statement. Officials said the three men never actually had any doses.
Although vaccines for the coronavirus were developed and approved in record time, distribution efforts in the United States and elsewhere have been plagued with problems.
The rollout, which has largely prioritized older people and health care workers, has faced difficulties, delays and confusion as people try to figure out whether their state is now allowing them to get shots, how to sign up and where to go.
But American health officials say that while current vaccine supply levels still limit how many doses they can administer, states are becoming more efficient at immunizing people as shipments arrive.
On Jan. 1, just a quarter of Covid-19 vaccine doses delivered across the United States had been used. As of Thursday, that figure had risen to 68 percent. A handful of states have administered more than 80 percent of the doses they have received, and even states with slower vaccine uptake are making strides.
“We are in a much better place now,” said Claire Hannan, the executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.
The Biden administration says it has secured enough vaccine to inoculate every American adult. On Thursday, officials said that they had arranged to get 200 million more doses of vaccine by the end of summer, which amounts to a 50 percent increase. That should be enough vaccine to cover 300 million people — enough for all adults in the country, with tens of millions of doses to spare. And Friday was the start of a new federal effort to deliver doses directly to grocery store pharmacies and drugstores.
But President Biden warned that logistical hurdles would most likely mean that many Americans will still not have been vaccinated by the end of the summer.
He also expressed open frustration with the former administration. “It was a big mess,” he said on Thursday. “It’s going to take time to fix, to be blunt with you.”
The average number of shots administered daily has been increasing steadily since late December. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported more than two million new vaccinations, bringing the latest seven-day average to about 1.66 million a day. About 35.8 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and about 12.1 million of them have also received the second dose, according to the C.D.C.
But many places are still plagued by shortages, as demand far outpaces supply and health care providers struggle to predict how many doses they might receive.
Some countries are faring far worse. While wealthier countries have been able to make deals with drug manufacturers to secure enough vaccine to ensure their citizens can be vaccinated, poorer countries have been not, leaving many unprotected — an imbalance that is expected to have global ripple effects.
The leaders of the World Health Organization and the United Nations agency for children, Unicef, warned in a joint statement this week that the vast chasm of inequality in the global vaccine rollout will “cost lives and livelihoods, give the virus further opportunity to mutate and evade vaccines and will undermine a global economic recovery.”
Of the 128 million vaccine doses administered globally, more than three quarters were in just 10 countries, while nearly 130 other countries are yet to administer a single dose, the statement said.
Advocates for homeless people in New York City sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Friday over a series of Covid-19 rules that the suit says unfairly target people who shelter in the city’s subways.
The rules prohibit people from staying in a subway station for more than an hour or after a train is taken out of service, and ban carts more than 30 inches long or wide. They were enacted on an emergency basis last April and made permanent in September.
Last spring, the pandemic and shutdowns emptied the subways of regular commuters, and dozens of transit workers died of the coronavirus. Images of trains half-filled with sleeping homeless people accompanied by the sprawl of their belongings became a symbol of a city in crisis and helped prompt Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to shut down the system every night for cleaning.
The rules’ stated purposes were to “safeguard public health and safety,” help first responders get to work and “maintain social distancing.” But the rules exempt so many activities from the one-hour limit — including public speaking, campaigning, leafleting, artistic performances and collecting money for religious or political causes — as to make it “clearly apparent” that their real purpose is to exclude homeless people from the subways, the suit says.
The lawsuit was filed by the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project on behalf of Picture the Homeless and a homeless man named Barry Simon.
Mr. Simon had been ordered out by the police “dozens of times” while resting in a station and threatened with arrest on several occasions, according to the lawsuit. Mr. Simon, 54, was ejected from stations at least 10 times because the cart he wheels his possessions in was too big, the suit says.
Because those experiencing homelessness in New York City are disproportionately Black and Latino and people living with disabilities, the rules violate state human and civil rights law, the suit says. It also says that the rules were enacted without proper review.
Abbey Collins, a spokeswoman for the M.T.A., said in a statement: “We are reviewing the lawsuit that we first learned of in the press. We will vigorously defend the regulations in court that were put in place to protect the health and safety of customers and employees in the midst of a global pandemic — period.”
Homeless people’s use of the subways as de facto shelters, long a fact of life in New York, has become a hot-button issue. Many homeless people now avoid the city’s barracks-style group shelters for fear of contracting the coronavirus. While the city is adding hundreds of private rooms in hotels to the shelter system, the contested rules and the nightly shutdown have left some people to choose between sleeping outdoors in winter and taking their chances in the group shelters.
Calls have grown in recent days to end the nightly shutdown.
An evangelical megachurch, under pressure from health officials, said on Friday that it had postponed an indoor conference that was expected to draw as many as 3,000 people from across the country to Southern California.
Grace Community Church had planned to host the Shepherds’ Conference from March 3 to 5 in Sun Valley, a neighborhood that officials say is among the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus in Los Angeles County.
A website for the conference, which was geared toward evangelical men, had pointed attendees to hotels and promised a full lineup of speakers in English, Russian and Spanish, as well as continental breakfast and lunch.
But the church reversed course after Los Angeles County officials warned that indoor conferences were prohibited and that the event could worsen the spread of the virus, endangering attendees and the surrounding community.
Los Angeles County had sued the church and its pastor, John MacArthur, last August after officials said he had opened the church and held a large indoor worship service with unmasked attendees, in violation of state and county rules.
“In light of our ongoing litigation and recent threats from the County of Los Angeles and the State of California, we have decided that the most prudent course of action at this time is to postpone the Shepherds’ Conference,” the church said in a statement.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court partly lifted restrictions on religious services in California, blocking a total ban but leaving in place a 25 percent capacity restriction and a prohibition on singing and chanting. The ruling was a partial victory for churches that had argued that restrictions imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, violated the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion.
Los Angeles County officials had said that the Shepherds’ Conference was not a religious service, but a prohibited indoor gathering.
The reigning men’s champion Novak Djokovic was on the ropes on Friday when Melburnians were made to leave Rod Laver Arena. It was 30 minutes before the clock struck midnight, a Cinderella-like moment when their freedom turned to confinement and their lives reverted to what they experienced during a 111-day lockdown last year.
As the Australian Open spilled into Saturday, it ended at 1:20 a.m. with Djokovic, the world No. 1, eking out a 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 third-round victory over Taylor Fritz, an American ranked 31st. The stadium lights remained on overnight, but the electricity left the building as the state of Victoria entered a five-day quarantine at 11:59 p.m. that spared the tournament but not the spectators.
The retreat of the fans did not sit well with Fritz. “I understand the fact that Victoria is going back into lockdown and people have to go,” he said. “If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t have played tonight if we weren’t going to finish the match on time.”
A surreal fifth day of play provided a tableau of the times, with the best-laid plans redirected midstream by a more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was first found in Britain. By Friday, it had infected 13 people linked to a quarantine hotel near the Melbourne airport that was being used to sequester returning travelers.
In the early afternoon, as Serena Williams, a seven-time champion, stepped onto Rod Laver Arena’s court for her third-round match, Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria stepped to a microphone a few miles away to announce a “circuit-breaker” five-day lockdown aimed at preventing a third wave of infection from inundating the state.
Victorians, he announced, would be allowed to leave home only for essential shopping, work, caregiving and exercise. Sports and entertainment venues were shutting down, but professional athletes like tennis players were considered in the category of “essential workers” and would be permitted to continue their matches, albeit behind closed doors.
Ohio health officials said they had overlooked about 4,000 deaths that occurred over the past several months and would begin reporting them to the public this week. The announcement came just as deaths nationwide had started to ebb after peaking in mid-January.
The first 650 or so of Ohio’s older deaths were reported Thursday, accounting for about 17 percent of all coronavirus deaths announced nationwide that day. The backlog in Ohio was expected to inflate the national death average in the coming days.
“You’ll see a jump today, tomorrow, maybe the next day,” Gov. Mike DeWine said at a news conference on Thursday. “We’re not sure exactly how many days it’s going to take, but you’re going to see a distorted number.”
During a routine employee training event, Ohio health officials discovered that thousands of deaths, some of which dated back to October, had not been properly merged between one reporting system and another, according to the state’s Department of Health. “This was a failure of reconciliation not taking place,” Mr. DeWine said, “so we’re getting that straightened out.”
The unreported deaths represent a significant portion of the state total. Through Thursday, about 12,500 deaths had been announced statewide over the course of the pandemic.
Ohio is not the first state to report a major backlog of cases or deaths. Earlier this month, Indiana added more than 1,500 deaths to its total after reviewing death certificates. In June, New York City reported hundreds of deaths from unspecified dates. And in September, Texas reported thousands of backlogged cases, causing a one-day spike.
Hungary has begun administering the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, sidestepping the European Medicines Agency to become the first European Union member state to use the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute, part of Russia’s Ministry of Health.
On Friday, an official at Honved Hospital in Budapest confirmed in a telephone interview that it had begun administering the vaccine.
Cecilia Muller, Hungary’s chief medical officer and head of the government’s coronavirus task force, had called on 560 general practitioners in Budapest on Tuesday to find five people each to receive the Sputnik V vaccine. The initial 2,800 doses available are what remain from a 6,000-dose batch that arrived for testing in December.
The government said it would receive two million doses of Sputnik V from Russia over the next three months. Hungary had said in November that it was in talks with the Russian manufacturer about importing, and even manufacturing, the Sputnik V vaccine.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has cited Serbia, which has a sizable ethnic Hungarian population, as an example of a country whose vaccination strategy includes the Russian Sputnik and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines.
In a report this month in the respected British medical journal The Lancet, late-stage trial results showed that the Sputnik V vaccine was safe and highly effective. The Sinopharm vaccine has been approved for use in China, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, but the company has yet to publish detailed results of its Phase 3 trial.
The Hungarian government’s approach to vaccine procurement and approval has raised alarm in the country’s medical community.
Last month, its Chamber of Physicians released a statement calling on the government and regulators to approve vaccines only after transparently following drug safety rules and testing in accordance with European Medicines Agency standards. They cited a need to strengthen the public’s confidence in vaccines and to ensure that doctors can administer the inoculations “in good conscience.”
Dr. Ferenc Falus, Hungary’s former chief medical officer, said Mr. Orban’s push to acquire vaccines from as many sources as possible raised serious concern.
“The responsibility of the National Center for Public Health in this respect is huge,” Dr. Falus said, “especially concerning how they are evaluating the batches that have arrived in Hungary. We simply do not know the origins of these batches.”
He noted that the emergence of new virus variants complicates matters further. The variant that was first detected in Britain has surfaced in Hungary, Hungarian officials said.
“Hungary is moving against the E.U.,” Dr. Falus said, urging regulators to wait for the vaccines to be approved by the European Medicines Agency and cooperate with the European Union on procuring and distributing tested vaccines.
Indoor dining is restarting in New York City at 25 percent capacity on Friday, more than a month after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned it and just in time for Valentine’s Day weekend. (Outside the five boroughs, indoor dining is available at 50 percent capacity.)
Mr. Cuomo originally said the city’s restaurants could open their dining rooms on Sunday, but later bumped up the date by two days.
Statewide, restaurants are still required to close by 10 p.m.
New York is one of several states that are loosening restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus. On Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio lifted a statewide late-night curfew after the number of hospitalizations continued to decline.
The Ohio curfew, first declared in November, required people to stay home during late evening and overnight hours with exceptions for emergencies, grocery shopping and other essential activities.
Mr. DeWine cautioned that virus variants that are gaining a foothold across the United States could land Ohio “back in a situation of climbing cases” — and in that case the curfew could be reinstated.
Also on Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said that most areas in the state would be able to loosen virus-related restrictions starting next week, when limited indoor dining could resume.
Amazon on Friday sued New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, in an attempt to stop her from bringing charges against the company over safety concerns at two of its warehouses in New York City.
The company also asked the court to force Ms. James to declare that she does not have authority to regulate workplace safety during the Covid-19 pandemic or to investigate allegations of retaliation against employees who protest their working conditions.
In the case, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Amazon said Ms. James’s office had been investigating pandemic safety concerns raised by employees at its large fulfillment center on Staten Island and at a delivery depot in Queens. It said Ms. James “threatened to sue” Amazon if it did not agree to her demands, including subsidizing bus service, reducing worker productivity requirements, disgorging profits and reinstating Christian Smalls, an worker Amazon fired in the spring.
Mr. Smalls has said he was retaliated against for leading a protest at the Staten Island warehouse. Amazon has said he was fired for coming to the work site for the protest even though he was on paid quarantine leave after he had been exposed to a colleague who tested positive for Covid-19.
Mr. Smalls became the most visible case in the clashes between workers and Amazon, which faced a surge of orders from consumers hunkering down. As the pandemic spread across the country, many Amazon workers said the company missed early opportunities to provide better protection against Covid-19.
Amazon has strongly defended its safety measures and has gone on the offensive against its critics. In its 64-page complaint, Amazon said its safety measures “far exceed what is required under the law,” and it argued that federal law, not the state law enforced by the New York attorney general, has primary oversight for workplace safety concerns.
Amazon declined to comment beyond the filing.
Ms. James, in a statement, said the suit was “nothing more than a sad attempt to distract from the facts and shirk accountability for its failures to protect hardworking employees from a deadly virus.”
She said her office was reviewing their legal options. “Let me be clear: We will not be intimidated by anyone, especially corporate bullies that put profits over the health and safety of working people,” she said.
For many Americans, pizza has checked many boxes during these strange times, primarily because it travels well and can easily feed — sometimes fairly inexpensively — an entire family. Over the first nine months of 2020, the combined revenue of Domino’s and Papa John’s was up on the previous year’s figures by the equivalent of about 30 million large cheese pizzas.
Restaurants across the country have struggled to stay afloat, with many unable to cover rent and pay employees because of government-mandated shutdowns, but those that dished up pizza have generally fared better. Sales of pizza grew as much as 4 percent last year, according to Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. Pizza and chicken are the only food categories expected to have grown.
“The pizza category as a whole was a big winner,” said Sara Senatore, an analyst who covers restaurants at Bernstein. Ms. Senatore noted that it may have become a go-to meal for families that found themselves on a tight budget because of falling wages or lost jobs.
For large chains like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and the privately held Little Caesars, the pandemic proved to be a sales boon. The four controlled 43 percent of the $44 billion U.S. market heading into the pandemic, according to Technomic. Some analysts say the big chains, most of which have not reported fourth-quarter earnings yet, almost assuredly gained more market share than independent parlors because their size allowed them to better navigate issues like paying rising prices for cheese and other ingredients, hiring additional help or covering rent after particularly lean weeks.
For the first nine months of last year, combined revenues at Domino’s and Papa John’s increased almost 12 percent, or $434 million. Pizza Hut’s revenues for the same period were down a tad from 2019’s levels. The chain was in the middle of a turnaround plan when Covid-related closings and restrictions came in. Even frozen pizza performed well during the pandemic, with sales climbing nearly 21 percent to more than $6 billion, according to NielsenIQ.
As demand soared during the pandemic, Domino’s rushed to hire 30,000 people; ramped up its production of fresh dough; and faced occasional shortages of ingredients as meat producers shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks in their facilities. Television commercials, which normally take months to plan and shoot, were reshot in a matter of days to feature delivery drivers wearing masks.
Yes, I miss going out to restaurants and concerts, and traveling, but above all I miss going to a friend’s house and hanging out. I miss browsing through someone else’s cluttered bookshelf, or admiring their décor. Of all the layers of life that have been stripped away by this pandemic, the loss of casual intimacy — time with a friend that’s not masked and outdoors and crowded with worry — takes a toll.
Now that vaccines are rolling out, the prospect of a post-pandemic life has started to become worth imagining. When will we readily have house guests again without worrying about contributing to the spread of this disease? What might those visits look like?
Perhaps we will quickly return to our old habits. Or maybe a new normal will take shape, one influenced by the troubling new variants of the virus that threaten to undermine vaccination efforts.
I spoke with historians and health experts to learn when we might be able to safely spend a weekend with friends again, and what that get-together will look like.
“By the time we get into late spring, summer, I fully expect, with a large proportion of adults vaccinated, things will be dramatically better,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“We’re not done by a long shot, and if everything goes well, and I mean everything,” then we may see normalcy resume by the end of 2021, said Dr. Ingrid Katz, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an infectious-disease specialist. She sees the summer as more of a test case for the fall. She anticipates that gatherings will still happen mostly outside, but masks might come down more readily.
After the 1918 influenza pandemic, Americans went shopping, traveled, and attended sporting events, movies and concerts. Christopher Nichols, an associate professor of history at Oregon State University who studies that period, anticipates that Americans could go big after this pandemic, too.
Initially, our gatherings may be about “going small,” he said — a dinner party for four, a weekend trip with your best friend. “I suspect we’ll be taking baby steps” back to a normal social life.