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

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Postal workers must navigate a patchwork of policies to determine whether they can get a shot.
Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times

Beleaguered in the pandemic and thrust into the spotlight by the 2020 election, the United States Postal Service now finds itself competing for its share of the vaccine.

The Postal Service has endured tumultuous months amid a significant increase in online shopping, understaffing, government funding issues and an explosion of mail-in ballots during a contentious election. Thousands of postal workers have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 150 have died. Still, fewer than half of the states across the country — at least 22 — have begun administering shots to Postal Service workers, at least in some counties, even as they rapidly expand access to more groups of people, according to a New York Times survey.

Postal workers are among several categories of essential workers that a committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that states prioritize early. In a letter penned to the Biden administration in January, Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, noted that “numerous states have not followed this recommendation and have chosen to place postal workers further down in the order of those with early access to the vaccine.”

Postal workers might not have to wait too much longer to be vaccinated. On Thursday, President Biden promised to bring cohesion to the national rollout, directing states to make every adult eligible by May 1, and announcing a series of initiatives to ramp up the pace of vaccinations.

Postal workers must navigate a patchwork of policies to determine whether they can get a shot. In Virginia, they can get the vaccine along with private mail carriers. And Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas announced that postal workers in his state could get the vaccine as of Monday. However, they are not yet eligible in Maine, Texas and Washington.

In a live video last month, Mr. Dimondstein lamented the lack of a collective government response on behalf of the Postal Service.

“It’s chaos,” he said. “You’ve got to find your own way.”

In the past month alone, the rate of U.S. vaccinations has ramped up over 50 percent, to an average of about 2.5 million shots a day as of Saturday, up from an average of about 1.6 million shots a day on Feb. 13, according to a New York Times database. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday that about 68.9 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 36.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated.

United States › United StatesOn March 13 14-day change
New cases 49,728 –19%
New deaths 1,846 –31%

World › WorldOn March 13 14-day change
New cases 444,389 +11%
New deaths 8,813 –9%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Larry Schwartz at a meeting in Albany, N.Y., in 2014, when Mr. Schwartz was a top aide to Mr. Cuomo. He is now the governor’s vaccine czar. 
Credit…Mike Groll/Associated Press

For most of his tenure, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has relied on a set of close advisers who act as both political enforcers and point people on government operations. He did the same at the height of the pandemic, calling on some of his most trusted emissaries to help coordinate the state’s coronavirus response.

With Mr. Cuomo facing concurrent scandals over accusations of sexual abuse and calls for his resignation, though, that pattern is raising alarms.

Larry Schwartz, a former top aide to the governor who now leads the state’s vaccination efforts, has also apparently been acting as a political operative, asking state Democratic leaders to support the governor while continuing to discuss the urgent business of immunization. At least two Democratic county executives said they had received such calls.

One of the county executives, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that after Mr. Schwartz had discussed the governor’s political situation, he then pivoted directly to a conversation about vaccine distribution.

The mixing of politics and the state’s vaccination program threatened to further complicate Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to forge ahead with the day-to-day business of government despite the deep uncertainty about his future.

And it threw a spotlight on a concern that local officials have voiced quietly in recent months: that the Cuomo administration saw its control over the vaccine supply as a means to reward or punish local officials.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Schwartz said that he had never mixed vaccination policy with political considerations.

“All decisions regarding vaccines are done based on public health considerations, not politics,” Mr. Schwartz’s statement said. “At no time has politics ever entered into the discussion or decision making regarding vaccines. I have never discussed vaccines in a political context, and anyone who thinks that is seriously mistaken.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mourners gathered at Canarsie Cemetery in Brooklyn last May for the funeral of Claudette Hyppolite, 73, who died with the coronavirus.
Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Today, on the anniversary of the city’s first coronavirus-related death, New York City will hold a virtual memorial event honoring the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have died of the virus.

The virtual ceremony, which will include names and photographs of the deceased, will be streamed online on the city’s website and on social media platforms at 7:45 p.m. Families are being encouraged to submit photographs of their loved ones.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 30,000 people are known to have died in New York City in relation to the virus.

“We constantly talk about moving forward and our recovery, but we’ve got to take time to remember the people we’ve lost,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news conference Monday.

The city’s first confirmed death was an 82-year-old woman with emphysema who died in Brooklyn.

The next day, the city shut down schools, restaurants and bars. There were about 5,600 reported cases of the virus in the city at the time, but researchers have said that the virus was likely spreading in New York City earlier than residents realized.

The city soon became the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States. Morgues, funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries were overwhelmed with bodies.

When asked if the city will create a permanent memorial to commemorate victims of virus, Mr. de Blasio said on Monday that the city will develop a plan for “a place that people can gather and remember their loved ones.”

President Biden addressing the nation about the American Rescue Plan Act from the White House on Thursday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Stimulus payments have started to land in Americans’ bank accounts, just days after President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue bill into law.

The Internal Revenue Service announced on Friday that people would start receiving direct deposits over the weekend as the Biden administration rushes to get money to people who have been struggling throughout the pandemic. More batches will be sent out in the next few weeks, with some payments arriving by mail as checks or debit cards.

Johanna Suarez, a 21-year-old sophomore at Houston Community College, said she received her $1,400 payment on Saturday morning. She plans to use some of the money to buy books for school and pay for a dental procedure to remove her wisdom teeth.

Ms. Suarez said she needed the payment because her insurance does not cover dental costs. As an adult dependent, she qualified for the stimulus payment for the first time. (The previous two rounds of stimulus payments required dependents to be younger than 17 to be eligible, leaving out many college students.)

“The stimulus check was a little bit of a saving grace,” Ms. Suarez said.

Mr. Biden signed the pandemic relief bill, which prompted the payments, on Thursday afternoon. The payments provide up to $1,400 per individual, including dependents. The amounts are reduced for individuals making more than $75,000 and for married couples who earn more than $150,000. People earning more than $80,000 or couples making more than $160,000 are not eligible for payments.

David Gordon, 40, said he saw a post on Twitter about the stimulus payments and checked his bank account at about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday to find a $1,400 deposit in the account that he shares with his wife.

Mr. Gordon, an assistant attorney general for the state of Texas, used some of his payment to donate $400 to a charity organization that supports cyclists. He also spent about $250 on plants at a garden nursery after a recent winter storm destroyed the ones in his yard.

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Although he said he was not an ardent supporter of Mr. Biden and his centrist positions, he said the payments were a “good thing for the country.”

Lilliana Cardiel, a 48-year-old supply chain manager at the University Medical Center of El Paso, said she received her payment at about 1 a.m. early Saturday. She was surprised to get her payment so early, after the last two rounds of stimulus checks took more than a week to arrive.

She put the $4,200 — which she received for her daughter, grandmother and herself — toward her savings account for emergencies. “I’ve been saving all of my stimulus checks,” Ms. Cardiel said. “It’s money I can count on.”

Recipients can check the status of their payments on the I.R.S. website starting Monday.

Dr. Colm Kerr, an infectious diseases specialist at St. James’s Hospital, administering a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine to Nicola Faichney, at an HSE vaccination center in Dublin, Ireland, last month.
Credit…Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Ireland suspended use of the Covid-19 vaccine by Oxford-AstraZeneca on Sunday, citing reports of unusual blood clotting problems among people who recently received shots in Norway.

The decision followed a new advisory from Norway on Saturday that four people given the AstraZeneca vaccine had experienced blood clotting issues and all had low platelet counts. Major public health agencies, including the World Health Organization, point out that millions of people have received the vaccine without experiencing such blood clotting issues, and that experts have not found a causative link between any of the vaccines and the conditions.

Ireland’s health minister, Stephen Donnelly, said:

Regulators like the European Medicines Agency are investigating to determine whether there is evidence of any link.

Professor Karina Butler, the chairwoman of Ireland’s immunization advisory committee, said the panel’s recommendation was made while agencies were investigating. “We will continue to monitor the situation, and if we can be satisfied that these events are coincidental and not caused by this vaccine, we will reassess the situation.”

No such cases have been reported to Ireland’s medicine regulators, with over 117,000 doses of the vaccine administered in the country. Of the newest reports in Norway, one patient died from an unexpected brain hemorrhage and the three others with severe cases of blood clots or brain hemorrhages were being treated in a hospital, according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

That agency issued an advisory for people under age 50 who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past two weeks, and who feel increasingly unwell with several large blue patches on their skin more than three days after vaccination, to consult doctors or other medical advice as soon as possible.

Ireland joined other European countries in halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past week as a precaution because of concerns over the risk of blood clots, though officials there emphasized that there was no evidence yet of a causal link and that the new reports from Norway were still being investigated. Thailand delayed its rollout of the vaccine, which was to begin Friday. The Democratic Republic of Congo has also delayed its rollout, Reuters reported. On Sunday, Italy’s northern region of Piedmont said it would temporarily suspend giving the AstraZeneca vaccine, a day after a teacher there died after receiving the shot.

The European Medicines Agency, which is investigating the relationship, said on Wednesday that 30 cases of obstructive blood clots had been reported in the nearly five million people who received the shot — a rate no higher than that seen in the general population, and that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risks. AstraZeneca has said that its safety data of more than 10 million records does not show evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis.

Various health experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been investigating whether there is a link between a rare platelet disorder that has emerged in a few recipients of other vaccines in the United States. A Florida doctor died of the disorder after getting vaccinated this year.

Warlene Gary, right, pulling her sleeve up while explaining to her nurse that she would like to have the COVID-19 vaccination given to her in her right arm, at the Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Silver Spring, Md., last month.
Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Thousands of clergy members from a cross-section of faiths — imams, rabbis, priests, swamis — are trying to coax hesitant Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

By weaving scripture with science, they are employing the singular trust vested in them by their congregations to dispel myths and disinformation about the vaccines. Many are even offering their sanctuaries as vaccination sites, to make the experience more accessible and reassuring.

Their mission is becoming increasingly vital. With the White House promising enough doses for every American adult by May, public health officials are shifting their attention to the substantial number of people who are still skeptical about the vaccines. Winning them over is imperative if the country is to achieve widespread immunity from the virus and a semblance of normalcy.

Some of the most potent reasons people cite in resisting vaccines are rooted in religious beliefs. But clergy members who believe in the importance of vaccines are uniquely positioned to counter those claims.

A Covid-19 vaccine being administered in Little Rock, Ark., this month.
Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

About 20 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot as the pace of inoculations in the United States sharply climbs. Here is a look at the vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and where some other vaccine candidates stand.

Three: from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer’s was the first, in December, with Moderna’s following shortly after; each is given in two shots spaced three to four weeks apart. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, authorized last month, is given in one dose.

Not yet. When it was authorized on Feb. 27, Biden administration officials cautioned that supplies would be limited for the first month, with 3.9 million shots initially and 16 million more by the end of March.

Johnson & Johnson pledged last year to deliver 37 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June, but it is still working on getting production up to that scale. A recent deal with Merck is meant to increase manufacturing and packaging capacity.

President Biden said last week that the federal government would order another 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s shot.

Novavax could apply for emergency use authorization for its two-shot vaccine in late April. It offers robust protection, though it was not as effective against a variant circulating rapidly in South Africa as it was against other versions. Novavax could deliver 110 million doses by the end of June if the F.D.A. clears the vaccine for use.

AstraZeneca, whose vaccine is authorized in more than 70 countries, has not yet reported results from its U.S. clinical trial, nor has it applied for authorization in the U.S.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has run into some problems. European countries have suspended use of it over concerns about blood clots, although no evidence has been found of any causal link. Some people in Germany are also declining to receive it because of its lower overall efficacy in clinical trials, compared with other vaccines.

Mr. Biden said he would direct all states to expand eligibility to include every adult — roughly 260 million people — by May 1. No vaccine is authorized yet for children.

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Yo-Yo Ma Plays Mini-Concert at Massachusetts Vaccination Site

The world-renowned cellist used the 15-minute observation period after receiving his second Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday to perform for others waiting at the Berkshire Community College site.

[cello music] [applause]

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The world-renowned cellist used the 15-minute observation period after receiving his second Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday to perform for others waiting at the Berkshire Community College site.CreditCredit…Bilal Hussein/Associated Press

The world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma gave a surprise concert on Saturday at a vaccination site in Massachusetts.

Mr. Ma, 65, who lives in the Berkshires part time, was spending 15 minutes in observation after receiving his second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Mass. He “wanted to give something back,” Richard Hall of the Berkshire Covid-19 Vaccine Collaborative told The Berkshire Eagle.

Clips shared on Facebook by the community college show the masked musician seated with his cello against a wall, away from other people under observation after being vaccinated. The songs included “Ave Maria” and Bach’s Prelude in G Major.

His post-vaccination performance came one year to the day after he first posted on Twitter about his project #SongsOfComfort, sharing a recording of himself playing Dvorak in an effort to reassure an anxious public as lockdowns began in the United States and elsewhere. Other musicians, both professional and amateur, soon joined in. In December, Ma and the British pianist Kathryn Stott released “Songs of Comfort and Hope,” an album that was inspired by the project.

Last year, Mr. Ma also gave a series of pop-up performances with the classical pianist Emanuel Ax for small groups of bus drivers, firefighters, health care providers and other essential workers in the Berkshires region.

“People need each other for support beyond the immediate staples of life,” Mr. Ma told The New York Times in November. “They need music.”

Audrey Mann, a high school senior in New Orleans, at softball practice last Thursday. “I need to exercise and get out,” she said. “It’s the only way I’m social over this past year.”
Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

A year after the coronavirus crisis first closed athletic fields and darkened school gyms, students, parents, coaches and officials have struggled to navigate the challenges of youth sports, weighing concerns about transmitting the virus against the social, emotional and sometimes financial benefits of competition.

For months, a tangle of rules and restrictions that vary by state and sport has forced players and coaches to adapt. Vaccine rollouts and warmer spring temperatures have prompted some states to lift mask mandates and loosen safety guidelines, but health experts continue to urge caution for young athletes amid the spread of possibly more contagious variants of the virus.

Officials have linked virus outbreaks to ice rinks in Vermont, Florida and Connecticut, while a January report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that two high school wrestling tournaments in Florida led to nearly 80 people becoming infected with the virus, including one adult who died. In Minnesota, at least 68 cases since late January have been linked to participants in school-sponsored and club athletics, including hockey, wrestling and basketball, according to the state’s Health Department.

In at least some cases, the spread did not occur during competition, but at team-related gatherings. Recent data from the N.F.L. and the C.D.C. found that shared transportation and meals were the most common causes of the virus spreading among sports teams.

Many experts agree that youth sports are important for both physical and mental health. That has meant school athletics have continued in some places even when students are learning virtually.

“Sports for me is a huge mental thing,” said Audrey Mann, 17, a high school senior in New Orleans who is a captain of three varsity teams. “I need to exercise and get out. It’s the only way I’m social over this past year.”

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