Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

U.S. Covid upswing,

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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

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Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

Europe toughened rules for the unvaccinated.

India reopened to vaccinated travelers as more Asian countries loosen travel rules.

New York City told health providers to give booster shots to all adults who want them.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

U.S. cases climb

Covid cases in the U.S. are starting to tick up again after plateauing at a high level following the Delta surge this summer. Conditions are slowly deteriorating in the West, Upper Midwest and the Northeast — and some experts are warning of a possible winter surge.

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Average daily cases per capita by region.Credit…The New York Times

My colleague Mitch Smith, who covers the virus for The Times, told me that there are worrying signs in states like New Mexico, Illinois and Minnesota, where cases have jumped more than 40 percent over the last two weeks. However, he said, the current outlook is more nuanced than it was during previous moments of the pandemic.

“It’s a tricky situation right now,” Mitch said. “There are parts of the country that are operating under crisis standards of care — we’re not through this, it’s not over — but we also aren’t seeing, so far, exponential style growth like we’ve seen in the past.”

Many of the places that are seeing cases rise have seen temperatures drop as winter approaches, sending people indoors, which could be helping to drive infections. Some of these states also avoided the worst of the Delta surge during the summer and may now be feeling the full effects of the highly contagious variant, Mitch said.

Some experts are concerned that the country’s infection rate is stabilizing at an elevated level as it heads into the holidays, when multiple households tend to congregate. But it’s unclear how that might affect case rates going forward.

“One thing that’s important to understand at this current moment is that the country is largely open,” Mitch said. “Schools are open. Planes are pretty full. Many workplaces are open. And stores and restaurants are open and busy. So for many Americans, something approaching a normal day-to-day routine resumed a long time ago.”

“Certainly, people will transmit and get Covid at Thanksgiving festivities,” Mitch added, “but they’re also getting it at Cub Scouts, and book club, and dinner.”

There are also a lot of factors that could help mitigate a large surge. A majority of the country is vaccinated, with 68 percent of the population having received at least one dose. School-age children are now eligible for the vaccines, millions of Americans have lined up for boosters and the country has a fair amount of natural immunity from previous infections.

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Credit…The New York Times

In some ways, the country understands that this holiday season feels different.

“Unlike last year, I have not seen any governors or public health directors come out and plead with people not to go to their family’s home for Thanksgiving this year,” Mitch said. “So I think that we’re already seeing — but perhaps not talked about in explicit terms — some discussion about how to move forward with this virus circulating.”

The vaccines also continue to be highly protective against the worst outcomes of the virus. Because most people who become infected won’t fall seriously ill, Mitch told me that he’s shifting his focus from case numbers to hospitalizations as a better way to track the pandemic.

“We know the virus is going to become endemic in some form, and Covid is likely to play a role in our collective life for an extended period of time,” Mitch said.

Israel’s booster gamble

Israel has been a country of Covid extremes, and a harbinger of the pandemic. It quickly vaccinated a large portion of its population early this year and saw cases drop to near zero in June. A few weeks later, it experienced a huge Delta-driven surge and had some of the highest infection rates in the world. Now, the country seems to have the virus under control once more. To catch up on the last few weeks, I spoke to Isabel Kershner, who covers Israel for The Times.

A few weeks ago Israel looked like a cautionary tale. What happened?

I think the game changer was definitely the booster shots. Israel had a huge spike in infections this summer that necessitated drastic action. The country has a very centralized and digitized health system, which is why Pfizer was using Israel as a kind of real-world lab test case. Israel was able to analyze the data and it became clear that a combination of waning immunity five or six months after the second jab, together with the highly infectious Delta strain, led to the spike.

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Credit…The New York Times

So Naftali Bennett, the new prime minister, went out on a limb and took a bit of a risk. He said boosters were going to be the savior and the way to combat the fourth wave. But when he started the booster campaign, there was really no science on how well it would work.

So what happened?

What we saw, over time, was a very steep reduction in infections, hospitalizations and deaths among the people that got the booster shot. We’ve gone from over 11,000 new cases a day at the peak, down to a few dozen today. Before the booster campaign started, we also saw hospitalizations tick up among vaccinated people whose immunity had waned, but now, the overwhelming majority of hospitalizations are of people who are unvaccinated.

What are the lessons from the booster campaign?

Israel was able to achieve the goal of dealing with Covid and the fourth wave, while keeping the economy open, which the government attributes to the booster campaign.

Now there is this question of Israel giving everyone a third jab while there are people in other countries that haven’t had one vaccine yet. There have been a few doctors and public health officials who, like the World Health Organization, have said the priority should be to vaccinate more of the world with at least one dose, and we’re never going to get rid of Covid until that happens.

But in a way the Israeli government has kind of justified giving the third dose, saying, Well, look, we’re ahead of the rest of the world and were this testing ground. We’ve shown that it works and we’ve provided a service in that case. And the rest of the world is now following us. So there’s a kind of sense of vindication that the booster shot campaign worked, especially now that other countries are following Israel.

What’s life like there now?

People have kind of stopped talking about the pandemic. There was a time when it was just obsessive, where you couldn’t talk about anything else. But now people have kind of accepted that it’s a part of life. They’ve gone back to hugging and kissing, and are just getting on with it.

The government did take a new tack, which was to avoid lockdowns at all costs, try to live with the virus while taking all the necessary precautions, and banking on the booster. And it seems, at least at this point in time, to have worked. But no complacency. People are fully aware that the next strain could be on its way, and they remain ready and alert and they’re not declaring victory.

What else we’re following

Some U.S. states are dangling cash and scholarships to get children vaccinated.

Austria’s new lockdown rules that apply only to the unvaccinated went into effect.

A Maori tribe told anti-vaccine protesters to stop performing its haka.

A new study found that at least 50 percent of people who have had Covid experience health issues six month after infection, The Washington Post reports.

Dozens of New York City sanitation workers were suspended during an inquiry into the use of fake vaccine cards.

As remote work empties San Francisco, can theaters fill their seats?

The Atlantic explored how the pandemic was a mass hair loss event.

Scientists have developed vaccines for cats and dogs, but experts say vaccinating companion animals is not a priority.

What you’re doing

My two sons, ages 5 and 7, got their first Covid shot at a Sam’s Club. They were very stoic and didn’t even shed a tear. I however, cried a river of relief.

— Cara Carney, New Hampshire

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