Covid-19 Vaccine and Variant News: Live Updates – The New York Times

Coronavirus Updates

Aug. 22, 2021, 5:24 p.m. ET

Aug. 22, 2021, 5:24 p.m. ET

Beachgoers on the coast in Gulf Shores, Ala., last week.
Credit…Jay Reeves/Associated Press

The Gulf Coast, a tourist haven that draws throngs of revelers to beaches across several Southern states, has been sorely afflicted as the Delta variant tears through the region, which has relatively low rates of vaccination and often lax safety measures.

But even compared to other parts of the South that are struggling against the latest wave of the virus, the Gulf Coast stands out like an angry red scar on maps that depict coronavirus hot spots and hospitalizations.

The average per person hospitalization rate for Panama City, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; and Gulfport, Miss.; is considerably higher than that of their states as a whole, even though they are three of the four states with the highest rates in the country, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The per person average case rates in the surrounding counties are all more than twice the national average. The vaccination rate in all three counties is well below 40 percent, according to federal data.

“It is almost like what’s going on in the West, where you have lots of fuel, a source of ignition and then you end up with a large fire,” said Dr. Bernard H. Eichold II, the health officer of the Mobile County Health Department. More than 90 percent of the county’s 461 hospitalized Covid patients on Thursday were unvaccinated, he said.

The people inundating the hospitals along the Gulf Coast are not the high-risk, often older ones who were most vulnerable in the earlier waves of the pandemic. The Delta variant is spreading among younger people, many who thought they had nothing to fear and did not get vaccinated.

“We’ve had 44 year olds, 45, 35, that have died,” said Tiffany Murdock, a hospital administrator for Singing River Health System, which operates three hospitals in coastal Mississippi. “I’ve been a nurse for 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The region’s thriving tourism industry, widespread opposition to masks and low vaccination rates collided with the contagious Delta variant earlier this summer and case numbers have surged since then.

“After Fourth of July is when everything kind of went to hell in a handbasket,” said Ms. Murdock, noting that casinos in coastal Mississippi are open with no mask mandates and the beaches are packed.

While a growing number of Democratic-led states and cities nationwide have moved to require masks and vaccinations, Republican governors in hard-hit states like Florida, Mississippi and Alabama have resisted such mandates, despite the surge in cases.

As of Friday, 142 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 across Singing River Health’s network, including 39 in I.C.U., and 94 percent were unvaccinated, officials said. The surge has prompted a shortage of I.C.U. beds and left staff overwhelmed.

“If you walked into our emergency department right now you would be like, ‘What is happening.’ Every single hallway has beds in it with patients, every chair,” said Ms. Murdock, describing the system’s hospital in Gulfport, where staff have converted a surgical recovery room into an overflow I.C.U.

Last week, a husband and wife in their 40s, neither of whom were vaccinated, died within days of each other, she recalled. An unvaccinated 48-year-old nurse died on Monday. “We had five people die, like room after room after room after room,” just last Friday, she said.

In neighboring Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey reinstated Alabama’s state of emergency last Friday, which had expired in early July, in an effort to expand hospital capacity. But Alabama ran out of I.C.U. beds earlier this week.

The surge worries Sara Miles Agee, a mother of young children in Mobile, where she said few people bother to wear masks and just 33 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.

“It’s just really frustrating,” she said. “We’re in dire straits down here. We have no I.C.U. beds. I don’t know what’s going to make people do the right thing.”

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, last month in Washington.
Credit…Tom Brenner/Reuters

Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Biden’s surgeon general, renewed the administration’s attack on coronavirus misinformation of Sunday, two days after The New York Times reported that Facebook had shelved a study showing that its most-viewed link during the first three months of the year was to an article that suggested a link between a Covid-19 vaccine and a Florida doctor’s death.

“The speed, scale and sophistication with which it is spreading and impacting our health is really unprecedented,” Dr. Murthy said of coronavirus misinformation during an appearance on CNN on Sunday. “And it’s happening largely, in part, aided and abetted by social media platforms.”

The Biden administration has aggressively and publicly pressured social media companies such as Facebook to share more data about false and misleading information on the site, and to tamp down its spread. Mr. Biden at one point accused Facebook of “killing people” by allowing false information to circulate widely, before later softening his position.

For his part, Dr. Murthy has issued a formal advisory in which he declared misinformation “an urgent threat” to public health.

Facebook — which has pushed back by publicly accusing the White House of scapegoating the company — this week released its first quarterly report about the most viewed posts in the United States for the quarter that includes April, May and June.

But only after The Times reported Friday that the company had prepared a similar report for the first three months of the year did the company produce that initial report.

The report showed that the most viewed link on the platform was a news story with a headline suggesting that a coronavirus vaccine was at fault for the death of a Florida doctor. Misinformation peddlers used the article to question the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines on Facebook. It also revealed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, which routinely spreads misinformation, was among the 20 most popular pages on the social network.

Dr. Murthy’s remarks on the issue of misinformation and its spread came after he was asked about reports of people taking an anti-parasite drug in order to treat Covid-19. “It is costing us in terms of people’s health,” he said.

Asked specifically about Facebook having disclosed the popularity of the news article that was seen to reduce confidence in the coronavirus vaccines, Dr. Murthy said it reinforced the fact that “there is a lot of misinformation circulating on these sites.”

“I will readily say that the sites have recognized that this is a challenge, and they’ve stepped up to do some things to reduce the spread of misinformation. And I credit them for that,” he said. “But it’s not nearly enough.”

“There are people who are superspreaders of misinformation,” he added. “And there are algorithms, still, which continue to serve up more and more misinformation to people who encounter it the first time. These are things that companies can and must change. And I think they have a moral responsibility to do so quickly and transparently.”

Executives at Facebook, including Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, have said the platform has been aggressively removing Covid-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in July.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas announced on Saturday that he had tested negative for the coronavirus, four days after testing positive. He said he will continue to quarantine at the recommendation of doctors.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr. Abbott, 63, credited vaccines with protecting him from serious illness.

“I’m told my infection was brief and mild because of the vaccination I received,” he said, “So I encourage others who have not received the vaccination to consider getting one.”

He added that Cecilia Abbott, his wife, continues to test negative.

Mr. Abbott, who did not experience symptoms from his infection and who began receiving monoclonal antibody treatment after his positive result, has been a vocal opponent of mask and vaccine mandates. In the days before he announced his test result, the governor attended multiple maskless indoor public events, including a crowded indoor political gathering hosted by a Republican club in Collin County, a hotly contested area of the fast-growing suburbs north of Dallas.

In Saturday’s video, Mr. Abbott said he would continue working from the governor’s mansion, and planned to focus on opening facilities across the state where coronavirus patients can receive monoclonal antibody treatments. Texas health officials are hoping such centers can prevent patients from becoming seriously ill and alleviate pressure on overwhelmed hospitals across the state as infections reach levels not seen since January.

Phil Valentine, a conservative radio personality, once wrote that his chances of dying from Covid-19, should he become infected, were probably “way less than one percent.”
Credit…Shelley Mays/The Tennessean

Phil Valentine, a prominent conservative radio host in Tennessee who refused to get vaccinated, then urged his followers to get a shot after being hospitalized with Covid-19, has died, his station said on Saturday.

Mr. Valentine scoffed at the need for vaccines, writing on his blog that his chances of dying from the virus, should he become infected, were “way less than one percent.”

He announced his Covid-19 diagnosis on July 11 and pledged to return to his show within a day or two.

“Unfortunately for the haters out there, it looks like I’m going to make it,” he wrote. “Interesting experience. I’ll have to fill you in when I come back on the air. I’m hoping that will be tomorrow, but I may take a day off just as a precaution.”

Less than two weeks later, his radio station, 99.7 WTN, announced that the Nashville host was hospitalized “in very serious condition, suffering from Covid pneumonia.” The statement said Mr. Valentine had had a change of heart and urged others to get a vaccine.

“Phil would like for his listeners to know that while he has never been an ‘anti-vaxer’ he regrets not being more vehemently ‘pro-vaccine,’ and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air, which we all hope will be soon,” the station said.

Some people responded to the announcement with words of support for Mr. Valentine, while others said he deserved to get sick.

On Saturday, the station announced on Twitter that Mr. Valentine had died, urging followers to “keep the Valentine family in your thoughts and prayers.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking at a voting rights demonstration this month in Washington.
Credit…Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his wife, Jacqueline, have been hospitalized after testing positive for Covid-19, Mr. Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition said on Saturday in a statement.

Both were being treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, The Associated Press reported.

“Doctors are currently monitoring the condition of both,” the statement read. No further details were available about their condition. Mr. Jackson is 79, and Jacqueline Jackson is 77.

Mr. Jackson got vaccinated in January. He has been campaigning to convince more Black Americans to get inoculated.

“Vaccination is imperative to save lives, particularly for African Americans, disproportionately the greatest victims of the virus,” he said at the time.

He revealed in 2017 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Jackson has been a civil rights advocate for more than 50 years and sought the Democratic presidential nominations in 1984 and 1988. He was a close associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Health workers at an N.H.S. test and trace Covid testing unit at the Civic Centre west of London, in May.
Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The British government is starting an antibody surveillance program for adults who test positive for the coronavirus in order to develop a better understanding of its vaccine campaign and the immune response to different virus variants.

The program, which the U.K. Health Security Agency said would begin on Tuesday, will allow for up to 8,000 participants each day who book a P.C.R. test through the National Health Service’s “test and trace” program. However, the antibody tests, which will be free, will be sent only to those who test positive for the virus.

The information gathered will help gauge reinfection rates for those who had previously caught the virus, as well as measure breakthrough cases, and also study those who did not mount an immune response.

The British health secretary, Sajid Javid, said in a statement on Sunday that those who take part in the new public program would help“strengthen our understanding of Covid-19 as we cautiously return to a more normal life.”

Previously, antibody tests were mostly available for only clinical or research purposes.

The Health Security Agency said that it hoped that the data collected from the initiative would improve its understanding of the protection provided by antibodies after either infection or vaccination. It said the data could also provide insight about those who do not develop an immune response.

Upon testing positive for the coronavirus, those who have opted into the new program — limited to those 18 and over — will be sent two finger-prick antibody tests. The first must be done as soon as possible after the P.C.R. result, before the body has time to generate antibodies in response to the current infection, and the second 28 days later.


A microscopic video shows the coronavirus causing cell fusion and death in bat brain cells. This video received honorable mention in the 2021 Nikon Small World in Motion Competition. Video by Sophie-Marie Aicher & Dr. Delphine Planas.

The intruder stalks its prey with stealth and precision, preparing to puncture its quarry’s armor. Once inside, the aggressor forces its host to produce more intruders, and then causes it to explode, spewing out a multitude of invaders who can continue their rampage on a wider scale.

The drama, depicted in a microscopic video of SARS-CoV-2 infecting bat brain cells, provides a window into how the pathogen turns cells into virus-making factories before causing the host cell to die.

The video was produced by Sophie-Marie Aicher and Delphine Planas, virologists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who won honorable mention in a microscopic video competition sponsored by Nikon, the photography company.

Filmed over 48 hours with an image recorded every 10 minutes, the footage shows the coronavirus as red spots circulating among a mass of gray blobs — the bat’s brain cells. After they are infected, the bat’s cells begin to fuse with neighboring cells. At some point, the entire mass bursts, resulting in the death of the cells.

Ms. Aicher, who specializes in zoonotic diseases — those that can be transmitted from animals to humans — said this infectious juggernaut was the same in bats and humans, with one important distinction: Bats ultimately do not get sick.

In humans, the coronavirus is able to evade detection and cause more damage in part by preventing infected cells from alerting the immune system to the presence of the invaders. But its special power is the ability to force host cells to fuse with neighboring ones, a process known as syncytia that allows the coronavirus to remain undetected as it replicates.

“Every time the virus has to exit the cell, it’s at risk of detection so if it can go straight from one cell to another, it can work much faster,” Ms. Aicher said.

She said she hoped the video would help demystify the virus, and make it easier for people to understand and appreciate this deceitful nemesis that has upended billions of lives.

“It’s important to help people get past the scientific jargon to understand that this a very sophisticated and clever virus that is well adapted to make humans sick,” she said.

Travelers are once again faced with uncertainty about cancelling or keeping travel plans as the Delta variant becomes of increasing concern.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

As the fourth wave of the coronavirus swells across the United States, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, people who had booked late summer travel are now facing a familiar quandary: Should they once again cancel their plans?

For many — among them, those who are vaccinated, headed to high-risk areas and concerned about breakthrough infections — the answer is yes. New data shows that although vaccines provide strong protection against severe illness and hospitalization, even vaccinated people are at risk of contracting the virus and spreading it, and getting sick themselves.

But while the slowdown is puncturing hopes of a rebound after the travel industry’s worst year in recent history, the dip in bookings is — for now — relatively small, according to travel advisers and hospitality companies. The hope is that the current situation will be more of a speed bump than a stoplight.

A COVID-19 saliva sample is collected as testing is conducted last summer in a tent on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. 
Credit…Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune, via TNS, via Alamy Live News

This week is the start of a new academic year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Most classes will be in classrooms after a year disrupted by the pandemic, with students and professors breathing the same air. And most people will be vaccinated.

The campus last week “was just really just really thriving with excitement,” said Robert J. Jones, the university’s chancellor.

During the 2020-21 academic year, the university implemented an ambitious experiment in virus surveillance. It included testing, two to three times a week, of tens of thousands of students, faculty members and staff members.

“We still know of no hospitalizations or deaths caused by spread on our campus,” said Martin D. Burke, a chemistry professor who led the university’s testing strategy.

A paper by Dr. Burke and other scientists argues that the university’s efforts benefited people beyond campus in the bordering towns of Champaign and Urbana. They reported the finding in a paper that has not yet been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The analysis calculated the number of deaths expected for counties that are home to universities in the Big Ten athletic conference between July 6 and Dec. 23 last year, largely based on federal data but making adjustments for the social and economic makeup of the communities. For the University of Illinois, the number of deaths in Champaign County was significantly lower than expected, the researchers said, by 14.6 percent.

Credit…Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune, via TNS, via Alamy Live News

The Big Ten universities all imposed similar requirements for social distancing and masks, so the researchers argue that the comprehensive testing program at Illinois “uniquely resulted in a protective effect for the communities in Champaign County.”

Alex Perkins, a professor of biological sciences at Notre Dame, praised the paper overall but said the mortality analysis was not “particularly convincing or conclusive.”

A detailed analysis, Dr. Perkins said, would need to take into account the history of how the pandemic had played out in each community as well as nearby areas. “I think it would take quite a lot of additional analysis to see how well that conclusion holds up,” he said.

University officials acknowledge that during the year, there were missteps and that lessons were learned.

Carl T. Bergstrom, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Washington who had praised Illinois’s plan last year, said of the final tally, “It’s good, but it’s not great.”

He added, “It underscores how difficult control is in that kind of environment.”

University officials are now grappling with the uncertainty arising from the Delta variant and how much testing and other measures will be needed.

“We’re still taking some of the same precautions, just to be on the safe side,” Dr. Jones said. “If the data and if the science says something different, we will turn on a dime. Absolutely.”