Covid-19 Live Updates: Vaccines, Variants and Trump Administration

Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff, coordinated the Obama administration’s Ebola response.  
Credit…Jabin Botsford/The New York Times

Officials in the incoming Biden administration braced the country for continued hardship in the days after the inauguration, with the president-elect assuming control of a struggling economy and surging coronavirus outbreak in less than three days.

Ron Klain, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s incoming White House chief of staff, had a dire forecast for the course of the coronavirus outbreak in the new administration’s first weeks, predicting that half a million Americans will have died from the coronavirus by the end of February. The current toll is nearing 400,000.

“The virus is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr. Klain said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “People who are contracting the virus today will start to get sick next month, will add to the death toll in late February, even March, so it’s going to take a while to turn this around.”

Average daily U.S. deaths from the virus have risen to well past 3,000, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sounded the alarm about a fast-spreading, far more contagious variant of the coronavirus that officials project will become the dominant source of infection in the country by March, potentially fueling another wrenching surge of cases and deaths.

Mr. Klain, in comments directed at states’ disappointment that a reserve of additional vaccines that the Trump administration had promised to release did not exist, said that his team was “inheriting a huge mess” in terms of vaccine production and distribution.

“But we have a plan to fix it,” Mr. Klain said, alluding to a federal vaccination campaign that Mr. Biden announced on Friday. “We think there are things we can do to speed up the delivery of that vaccine.”

Administration officials last week urged states to loosen eligibility criteria and to begin vaccinating all Americans 65 and older. Some states, including New York, moved quickly to comply, prompting a surge of interest — and confusion — as thousands of newly eligible people sought appointments to get vaccinated.

But there was no stockpile of additional vaccine doses awaiting distribution to those states, it turned out — only the amounts already promised, much of it to be given as second doses to people who already had received their first doses.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday that he, too, had been trying to sort through the confusion about how many doses were held by the federal government and where they were going.

“I think there was just a misunderstanding,” Dr. Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “When doses were released, an equal amount was kept back to make sure if there was any glitches in the supply flow that the people who got their first doses would clearly get their second doses,” he said.

Once it was clear that production of the vaccines would be reliable, he added, “the decision was made, instead of just giving enough for the first dose and holding back for the second dose, that as soon as they got the doses available, they would give it because now they would have confidence that the next amount they would get.”

Brian Deese, the incoming head of the National Economic Council, also stressed the urgency of passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that the incoming Biden administration had unveiled last week to assist in the recovery effort, pointing to data suggesting increasing unemployment and that more Americans are going hungry.

“The truth is, we’re at a very precarious moment,” Mr. Deese said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve got an acute economic crisis and human crisis, and we need decisive action.”

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, left, opening the state’s first shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 14.
Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press

After a promise from the Trump administration that it would release a stockpile of reserved coronavirus vaccine doses, several states were expecting a huge boost in doses. Some followed federal guidance to expand eligibility to wider swaths of people.

But that promise turned out to be too good to be true — most of the stockpile had already been shipped out. And now those states are scrambling, finding themselves just as mired in the morass of the country’s beleaguered vaccine distribution as they were before.

Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, expecting the additional doses, opened vaccine registration to people in the state 65 and older, as well as educators and child care providers. Now, she said in a news release, the state’s plan to start vaccinating all of its older residents will be delayed by two weeks.

The confusion began Tuesday, with a statement by Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the health and human services department, who chided states for not efficiently using their vaccines and urged them to open up eligibility to people 65 and older, as well as to tens of millions of adults with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of dying from coronavirus infection.

“We are releasing the entire supply we have for order by the states, rather than holding second doses in physical reserves,” he said, adding that vaccine doses would no longer be stockpiled.

Several states then assumed that they would get an influx of new doses that could be used to vaccinate new people. Some, including New York, quickly followed the federal government’s advice and widened vaccine access, prompting a surge of interest — and confusion — as thousands of newly eligible people sought appointments to get vaccinated.

On Thursday, Oregon officials discovered that “there were no additional doses available” in the federal distribution system beyond what had been available before the Trump administration’s Tuesday announcement, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, Patrick M. Allen, wrote in a letter to Mr. Azar, which was posted by NBC News.

Mr. Allen and Ms. Brown spoke with an official from Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine program, who “informed us there is no reserve of doses,” he wrote.

“This is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk,” Mr. Allen wrote. “Those plans were made on the basis of reliance on your statement about ‘releasing the entire supply’ you have in reserve.”

Governor Brown said on Twitter: “This is a deception on a national scale.”

On Friday, the public learned that the Trump administration had already been distributing all available doses since the end of December, after The Washington Post reported the news.

“Who’s going to be prosecuted for this?” Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota asked at a news conference on Friday. Mr. Walz said he was “not sleeping” over concerns that Minnesotans would be unable to get their second doses.

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado said his state would get 79,000 doses this week instead of the 210,000 he had been expecting.

“We should’ve known not to believe a word” from the Trump administration, Mr. Polis said.

Senior Trump administration officials told The New York Times on Friday that the reserved doses were already being distributed to states and that they were never intended to be used toward vaccinating additional people.

Shipments of eight to 12 million doses per week will be sent out over the next several weeks, a senior administration official said on Friday. Those shipments will be divided among those getting their first and second shots.

Daniel Larremore, an assistant professor at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said that for governors creating distribution plans, “having the sands constantly shifting beneath your feet makes it really hard to make those plans and get people lined up to get the vaccine.”

Federal, state and local officials have traded blame for the faulty rollout. Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it had been “chaotic,” tweeting on Friday that the Trump administration’s current plan “seems to be pointing fingers at states.”

The “only route to success is a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach,” he said. “If we’re divided, the virus will continue to conquer us.”

Riot police clashed with protesters during a demonstration in the Museumplein, a public square in Amsterdam, on Sunday.
Credit…Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

AMSTERDAM — Riot police used water cannons, batons, attack dogs and officers on horseback on Sunday to disperse hundreds of people throwing fireworks and stones in protest against the Dutch government and its coronavirus measures.

The protest followed the resignation of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his cabinet on Friday over the Dutch tax authority’s treatment of poor families amid a child-care benefits scandal.

The protesters gathered on a central square lined with famous museums, including the Van Gogh Museum, and the American Consulate, waving placards saying “Dictatorship,” “Freedom” and “We are the Netherlands.”

Video footage showed very few wearing masks, which are not mandatory in the open air, and no one keeping a social distance of five feet, one of the key health measures advised by the Dutch authorities.

Like the most of Europe, the Netherlands is in a lockdown, at least until Feb. 9. Infections remain high but the rate has slightly dropped, with 34 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Those protesting against the social restrictions are a relatively small but vocal coterie of groups and individuals opposed to Mr. Rutte and his policies, and also angry at established media organizations. Much like the Trump loyalists who stormed the United States Capitol, they believe the system needs to be uprooted.

“These people live in their own truth, with their own news and own reality,” said Hans Nijenhuis, the editor-in-chief of the Algemeen Dagblad, the largest newspaper in the Netherlands. “As we have seen in the States, we can’t just ignore their discontent.”

An application to hold Sunday’s protest filed by Michel Reijinga, who was mustering supporters on Facebook, was rejected by officials. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, all such gatherings have been prohibited in the country.

Hundreds — perhaps thousands, according to the organizers — nonetheless gathered at the central Museumplein square, prompting Amsterdam’s mayor, the police force and the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service to send in riot police officers.

There have been several protests in the Netherlands against lockdowns and coronavirus measures, as well as protests in support of the Black Lives Matters movement.

“We want to party and go to clubs, we are so tired of all these measures,” a younger woman could be heard as saying on the livestream of a new Dutch broadcaster, called Ongehoord Nederland.

“Traditional media is saying these people are silly and mad, but a demonstration such as this one is a sign of broader dissatisfaction,” said Arnold Karskens, the managing director of the channel. (Mr. Karskens has also opposed the abolishment of Black Pete, a controversial Dutch traditional figure in blackface, who Mr. Karskens says is mythological.)

“The truth is people are tired of all these measures,” he added. “They feel there is no end in sight.”

Volunteers at a checkpoint outside a residential area in Jilin, China, in May.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China’s latest coronavirus outbreak has been traced to a salesman who appeared at a series of workshops in Jilin, a northeastern province in China, and has been linked to 102 infections that have emerged in recent days, officials in the province said in a briefing on Sunday.

The man, identified only by his last name, Lin, had participated in a series of workshops organized by two health care companies over five days this month. He is among 34 people who have now contracted Covid-19 in the province during this newest outbreak, at least 10 of whom have been linked to sales events held in storefronts in the cities of Gongzhuling and Tonghua.

In all, 79 people who attended the workshops have tested positive for the coronavirus, as have another 23 people who were in close contact with them. Mr. Lin may have been exposed to the coronavirus by a couple who traveled with him on a train, according to a transcript of the briefing posted on the provincial government’s website.

The outbreak in Jilin was the latest in a small but significant surge in cases in China in recent weeks. China, where the pandemic began more than a year ago, had largely brought cases under control but is taking extraordinary measures again to staunch the latest outbreaks. Officials have locked down more than 28 million in people in several cities, including districts of the capital, Beijing.

And yet cases are still climbing, reaching an average of 149 a day in the last week.

Health care workshops like those in Jilin have become a profitable business aimed at China’s growing population of elderly, though the businesses at times have been plagued by fraud and exaggerated claims for products. Mr. Lin worked for two companies, Yuansheng Quality Life Shop and Aishang Hanbang Health Club, according to the officials.

Liu Shunchang, an official in the province’s market supervision department, said at the briefing on Sunday that the authorities had begun an investigation into the two companies’ workshops. “Severe penalties will be imposed if there were violations of laws and regulations,” he said.

Claire Fu contributed reporting.

A patient arriving at a hospital  in Manaus, Brazil, on Thursday. 
Credit…Michael Dantas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The more contagious coronavirus variant discovered in Britain has now been detected in more than 50 countries, including Argentina on Saturday, and is believed to be driving surges in at least two.

But how widely that version of the virus has actually spread — and whether it could already be a factor in other countries’ surges — may not be clear for some time, because the necessary genomic testing remains rare. And at least three other troubling variants are spreading less widely, according to available data: one identified in South Africa and two in Brazil.

Britain, one of Europe’s worst-hit countries during the pandemic, leads the world in identifying the exact genetic sequence of virus samples, known as genomic surveillance. That capacity enabled it to put the world on notice with an announcement on Dec. 14 that it had detected the variant scientists call B.1.1.7, along with the disturbing news that it was most likely the cause of skyrocketing infections in London and the surrounding area.

That version of the virus, which has been widely referred to as “the U.K. variant,” though its origin is unknown, has so far left the most evident trail. It is believed to have helped push Ireland’s positivity rate past Britain’s to become the third highest in the world — over just a few weeks.

Antoine Flahault, the director of the Institute of Global Health in Geneva, said the variants were causing concern all over Europe. He said that several countries were now trying to put in effect more frequent and systematic sequencing to get a clearer picture of their impacts.

None of the variants is known to be more deadly or to cause more severe disease, but increased transmissibility adds to caseloads that further strain hospitals and result, inevitably, in more deaths. Their emergence adds to the urgency of mass vaccination campaigns, which have had troubled starts in Europe and the United States; are only beginning in many other countries, like India; and are at minimum months away in many others.

Dr. Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said that outside of Britain and Ireland, scientists remained cautious about linking recent surges in Europe to B.1.1.7. “For most of Europe, the expected prevalence of the variant is still under 5 percent — likely too small to be making a big difference in case numbers,” she said.

“We do not need new variants to see increase in cases,” Ms. Hodcroft added. “We’ve seen many, many surges in cases around the world that we can confirm did not seem to be associated with variants.”

The timing of the variant’s spread is a crucial question for countries like Portugal, which has found fewer than 80 cases of B.1.1.7 but has a fragile health care system that could be easily overwhelmed. In the last seven days, its infection rate has been among the world’s highest, with an average of more than 8,800 new infections, or 86 per 100,000 people. On Saturday, the country reported nearly 11,000 cases and 166 deaths, its worst day of the pandemic. The authorities imposed a monthlong lockdown on Friday.

Many countries expect that B.1.1.7’s impact still lies ahead.

That is a disturbing possibility in the United States, which has long had the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak and is in the midst of a post-holiday surge. On Friday, federal health experts warned in dire terms that B.1.1.7 would most likely be the dominant source of infection in the country by March.

Nearly 20 European countries have found B.1.1.7 so far. In Denmark on Saturday, the authorities said more than 250 cases had been detected in samples taken since November. The country’s health minister has predicted that the variant will predominate by mid-February. The country’s coronavirus monitor also reported that it had identified a case of the variant found in South Africa, Reuters reported.

Many countries in Europe are redoubling their efforts at mitigation. A nationwide 6 p.m. curfew went into effect in France on Saturday, and the authorities have warned that they could reimpose strict lockdown measures. Scotland tightened already strict restrictions, including banning drinking outside and barring customers from stepping inside establishments to buy takeaway food or coffee. Britain and Germany have closed schools.

In a stark contrast, the authorities in Spain have refused to impose a new nationwide lockdown, arguing that the recent discovery of dozens of cases of the variant was not to blame for a record surge in infections.

On Saturday, Britain reported eight cases of one of the variants found in Brazil, hours after the British authorities imposed a travel ban from Latin American countries and Portugal, which is linked to Brazil by its colonial history and by current travel and trade ties. Italy also suspended flights from Brazil, its health minister, Roberto Speranza, announced on Facebook.

A leading epidemiologist said that a second variant discovered in Brazil was most likely already present in Britain.

“We are one of the most connected countries in the world, so I would find it unusual if we hadn’t imported some cases into the U.K.,” Professor John Edmunds, a member of a group of scientists advising the government on the pandemic, said about the second variant, which was found in the Brazilian city of Manaus.

The music producer Phil Spector at a court hearing in 2004. Since 2009, he had been serving a prison sentence for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a nightclub hostess he took home after a night of drinking in 2003.
Credit…Pool photo by Nick Ut

Covid-19 has taken the life of Phil Spector, one of the most influential and successful record producers in rock ’n’ roll, who spent the last chapter of his life in prison for murder.

Mr. Spector, 81, died on Saturday of complications from Covid-19, according to his daughter, Nicole Audrey Spector.

Ms. Spector said she visited her father the day before his death at San Joaquin General Hospital, near Modesto, Calif. He was not conscious and “appeared to be suffering,” she said.

She said she had also been with him when he died: “He was not alone. He died with love and dignity.”

Prisons nationwide have seen some of the largest clusters of coronavirus infections, and some of those outbreaks have spilled into surrounding communities. In all, 25 California prisons have seen caseloads surpassing 1,000 each over the pandemic.

The largest outbreak has been at overcrowded Avenal, in Central California, which has logged more than 3,500 infections. Whether to inoculate inmates, and when, has become controversial amid limited supplies of vaccine.

A pioneering producer, Mr. Spector was a one-man hit factory, placing 24 records in the Top 40 between 1960 and 1965 alone. Many were classics, by bands like the Crystals, the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers.

But he entered a decades-long decline after the ambitious “wall of sound” record he made with Tina Turner in 1966, “River Deep, Mountain High,” flopped on U.S. charts. His behavior became erratic, often involving his extensive handgun collection and heavy drinking.

Since 2009, Mr. Spector had been serving a prison sentence for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a nightclub hostess he took home after a night of drinking in 2003. The Los Angeles police found her slumped in a chair in the foyer of his mansion in Alhambra, dead from a single bullet wound to the head. He was sentenced to 19 years to life.

He first served at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran, near Fresno, and then moved to the California Health Care Facility, a medical and mental prison institution in Stockton.

His daughter said he had become very ill before he was admitted to San Joaquin General Hospital on Dec. 31. She said he was intubated in early January.

In late December, Ms. Spector spoke to her father by phone. He “was experiencing severe wheezing, could not get through a sentence without coughing, could not swallow or eat,” she said. “He was begging for medical help.”

It was their last conversation.

On Sunday, she issued a statement requesting privacy for the family and thanking the medical team who last treated her father.

She blamed his death on “cruelty and neglect” at the California Health Care Facility. She called Mr. Spector her “best friend and the maker of so much perfect music” and maintained that he was innocent of the murder for which he had been convicted.

People arriving at a Disneyland parking lot to receive Covid-19 vaccines on Jan. 13.
Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The coronavirus has brought the travel industry to its knees. The U.S. Travel Association, a trade group that promotes travel to and within the country, estimates that nearly 40 percent of all travel jobs have been eliminated since the virus took hold in March.

With hotels at record-low occupancy, some airports running on skeleton crews and fairgrounds emptied of guests, many domestic travel companies and operators have become part of an ad hoc relief effort, donating their resources and newly vacant spaces to help get the pandemic under control.

Disneyland has been closed since mid-March, but last week the theme park in Anaheim, Calif., began serving as a vaccination super site.

On Wednesday, a section of its Toy Story parking lot was full. Emergency medical workers and local residents over the age of 75 lined up for the first of five Orange County, Calif., “Super POD” (Point of Dispensing) sites, and Andrew Do, chairman of Orange County’s board of supervisors, says they will soon be able to inoculate 7,000 people a day there.

The site is being run by the county, but in addition to providing space, Walt Disney Co. is providing some staffing assistance.

Many other corners of the travel industry are looking for a way to pitch in to help end the pandemic.

More than a dozen U.S. airports now double as Covid-19 testing sites, including Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway, Los Angeles International, Tampa, Newark and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Sharon Decker is president of North Carolina’s Tryon Resort, which is set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and includes a 300,000-square-foot indoor arena. She wasn’t surprised when Polk County, N.C., officials reached out to see if she would be willing to donate that arena as a vaccination site, although she knew it would present logistical challenges. The site opened in mid-December.

Those robust public-private partnerships will be key to getting the United States out of the pandemic, said Steven Pedigo, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert in urban economic development.

When it comes to a large-scale mobilization effort like nationwide vaccination, there is probably no sector better qualified than the travel industry, he said.

“This is what they do — they move people, and they move large amounts of goods and services,” Mr. Pedigo said. “They’re in the business of crowd control. So it makes sense to do this at a Disney World or an Alamodome. They have the expertise for it.”

Tennis players and their support teams disembarking on Thursday from one of 17 flights that the organizers of the Australian Open chartered to bring participants to Melbourne.
Credit…Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Organizers of the Australian Open tennis tournament are facing a rebellion after nearly four dozen players learned that they would have to observe a strict 14-day quarantine because passengers on their charter flights to Australia for the event had tested positive for the coronavirus.

All of the players in the Open, the first major tennis tournament of the year, had been told that for their first two weeks in Australia they would be allowed to spend five hours daily at the tennis center to practice, train and eat; for the remainder of each day they would have to remain in their hotel rooms.

Travelers to the tournament were expected to have negative results from virus tests within 72 hours of takeoff. They were tested again after landing in Melbourne, and four people on two flights were found to have the virus as of Sunday afternoon. As a result, 47 players on those two flights have been told they are forbidden to leave their hotel rooms at all for those two weeks, while their competitors may still train. Several of the players facing tighter restrictions said that they could not prepare properly for the Open, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 8.

“It’s about the idea of staying in a room for two weeks and being able to compete,” Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine told a fellow player, Paula Badosa of Spain, in a livestream on Instagram on Saturday night. Kostyuk said she could not remember the last time she had not picked up a racket for two weeks.

Tennis Australia, the organization that runs the Open, chartered 17 flights from seven countries to bring players and support personnel to the tournament, limiting capacity to 25 percent on each plane. The 47 players facing a full quarantine were aboard two of the flights — one from Los Angeles, the other from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — along with some journalists, coaches and others.

Tennis officials appealed for less stringent restrictions on players who repeatedly test negative in their first days in Australia, but government officials declined to soften the rules. Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, said Sunday that players were warned that coming to Australia involved the risk of being considered in close contact with someone who had tested positive, resulting in a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Chris Panayiotou, the owner of Gee Whiz diner.
Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Chris Panayiotou, a burly man with a kind smile, was always known for his playful side. When he wasn’t tending to the family business, the 30-year-old Gee Whiz Diner in Lower Manhattan, he loved to get together with his father to tinker with cars and computers, or build Legos with his sons.

But all that changed when Mr. Panayiotou’s father died of Covid-19 last spring.

Peter Panayiotou had kept Gee Whiz thriving through the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Sandy and years of gentrification and soaring rents. The pandemic proved too much, though, and the diner closed in March; a few weeks later, the elder Mr. Panayiotou died of Covid-19.

Chris Panayiotou was deep in mourning. Gee Whiz remained locked up and untouched for three months. Mr. Panayiotou wondered whether he should just give up and sell it.

When protests over the police killing of George Floyd began in late spring, setting off sporadic violence and looting in Manhattan, Mr. Panayiotou got a call from a handyman who worked in the diner’s building, suggesting he should shore up the property.

To his surprise, Mr. Panayiotou arrived to find that the restaurant was perfectly fine. Indeed, the diner’s doors had been covered with messages and memories by customers, its entry filled with dandelions, orchids and roses.

Mr. Panayiotou entered the diner for the first time since his father’s death. A few minutes later, David Morales, a concierge from a building next door, rushed in. “They put your dad’s name on the sidewalk,” Mr. Morales told him.

Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

In the previous few days, a man had been seen welding at night, Mr. Morales told Mr. Panayiotou, engraving the name Peter Panayiotou on the sidewalk. The mystery welder told a passer-by, “Peter was a good friend.”

“This is a sign,” he thought. “We’re going to reopen no matter what. No matter what. This is what Dad would want.”

Gee Whiz reopened in August. The brand-new outdoor space — exploding with the elder Mr. Panayiotou’s favorite color, forest green — was built by the family and employees to evoke a typical diner interior.

The welder’s identity remains unknown.

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