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

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Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Ten Republican senators wrote to President Biden on Sunday, outlining a framework for coronavirus relief legislation and pushing for Mr. Biden to compromise. The letter came as Democrats were preparing to bypass the need for Republican support in order to deliver a sweeping relief package.

The 10 senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine, proposed a framework that includes some of the provisions in Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan but would curtail others, including eligibility for direct payments and unemployment aid. It would include $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, Covid testing and the production of personal protective equipment, along with relief for schools, small businesses and “more targeted assistance” for individuals.

“Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support,” the senators wrote.

The group, which also includes Mitt Romney of Utah, Michael Rounds of South Dakota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, is expected to release additional details of their proposal on Monday.

One of the signers, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he expected the Republican package to total about $600 billion, roughly one-third of what Mr. Biden has proposed.

Another, Rob Portman of Ohio, called for a smaller stimulus package that would limit direct payments so that they would not go to Americans earning more than $50,000 a year or to families with a combined income exceeding $100,000.

“Let’s focus on those who are struggling,” Mr. Portman said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

To pass a package through the regular legislative process, Mr. Biden would need 60 votes in the Senate. Adding the 10 Republicans who signed the letter to the 50 Democrats in the chamber would just reach that threshold. But substantially shrinking the size of the package would probably cost Mr. Biden Democratic support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Mr. Biden and top Democrats have said they want Republican support for a new relief bill. But with several Republicans already balking at passing a sweeping package, Democrats are preparing to pass a bill on their own using budget reconciliation, a legislative process that is more complicated but requires only a simple majority in the Senate.

Mr. Portman warned against going that route, saying on CNN that doing so would “set President Biden down a path of partisanship that will poison the well.”

The 10 Republicans’ letter appeared to do little on Sunday to change the Democrats’ plans, which begin with the introduction of a budget resolution later this week. Administration officials signaled on Sunday that they intended to resist calls to reduce the scale of the relief package.

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on “Fox News Sunday” that speed in approving a package was more important to most Americans than how Congress goes about it.

“President Biden has consistently said he will negotiate with those on the other side of the aisle about getting this plan out as quickly as possible,” Mr. Bernstein said.

United States › United StatesOn Jan. 30 14-day change
New cases 133,914 –33%
New deaths 2,641 –5%
World › WorldOn Jan. 30 14-day change
New cases 507,008 –21%
New deaths 13,690 +4%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Where states are reporting vaccines given

Brian Deese, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, speaking at a news conference at the White House this month.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden remains willing to negotiate with Republicans on an economic relief package, but it must pass quickly in order to arrest the Covid-19 pandemic and help keep millions of Americans from going hungry, two top White House economic aides said on Sunday morning.

Brian Deese, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said on the CNN program “State of the Union” that the cost of failing to provide enough help for the economy would be far greater than the cost of the $1.9 trillion package Mr. Biden’s administration has proposed.

“We just lived through the worst economic year since the de-globalization in the wake of World War II,” Mr. Deese said. “We’re in a unique crisis, and the elements of this plan really were designed, and are designed, to take on that crisis head-on.”

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Americans care more about how quickly they will get relief than about the process of passing a relief bill.

“President Biden has consistently said he will negotiate with those on the other side of the aisle about getting this plan out as quickly as possible,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Shortly before Mr. Deese and Mr. Bernstein appeared on television, 10 Republican senators released a letter to Mr. Biden, calling for talks on a smaller economic relief package than the president has proposed. The senators’ plan, which they said would be laid out in greater detail on Monday, would scale back assistance for the unemployed and eligibility for direct payments of $1,400, compared with Mr. Biden’s plan.

Mr. Deese and Mr. Bernstein each sidestepped questions about the Republican letter, which Mr. Bernstein said he had seen for the first time only a few minutes before his interview.

Mr. Deese suggested that the administration might be willing to consider more narrowly targeting the $1,400 direct payments. “We’re open to looking at how to make the entire package effective at achieving its objective,” he said, “including providing support to families with children.”

Police patrol Scarborough Beach near Perth, Australia, on Sunday after officials announced a lockdown for the region.Credit…Richard Wainwright/EPA, via Shutterstock

Australian officials abruptly locked down the city of Perth in Western Australia for five days, after one person tested positive there for the coronavirus — a security guard at a quarantine hotel. The state of Western Australia had gone nearly ten months without any sign of community transmission.

Under the new restrictions, about two million people in the city and surrounding areas can leave home only for essential reasons like exercise, medical needs and shopping for groceries until Friday evening. Restaurants, bars and gyms will shut and mask-wearing will be compulsory in public. Schools, which were scheduled to reopen this week, will remain closed.

“I know for many Western Australians, this is going to come as a shock,” Mark McGowan, the state’s premier, said at a news conference announcing the measures on Sunday. The state had “crushed” the outbreak before, he said, but “we cannot forget how quickly this virus can spread, nor the devastation it can cause.”

The security guard developed symptoms on Thursday after working that week at a hotel where travelers are quarantined, Mr. McGowan said. One traveler there had tested positive for the more contagious virus variant that was first spotted in Britain.

Australia has been praised for its comparative success in handling the pandemic, reporting a total of 28,810 cases and 909 deaths, far fewer relative to its size than most other developed countries. It has moved aggressively to clamp down on new outbreaks, and has largely banned its citizens from leaving the country. New cases have mainly been discovered in returning travelers, who are strictly quarantined in hotels.

The city of Brisbane quickly imposed a three-day lockdown earlier this month after a cleaner who worked at a quarantine hotel there tested positive.

The country has reopened a travel bubble with neighboring New Zealand and has begun to allow domestic travel from state to state, though officials have not hesitated to close state borders against emerging outbreaks.

A resident getting the Pfizer vaccine at a nursing home in New York last month.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Amid a sometimes chaotic rollout of vaccines across the United States, health experts say a glimmer of good news has emerged: Recent reports of coronavirus cases in nursing homes have declined for the past four weeks, according to federal data.

The country recorded 17,584 cases in nursing homes during the week ending on Jan. 17, according to the federal data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A month earlier, during the week ending on Dec. 20, more than 32,500 cases were reported.

In part, the development reflects a downward trend in new cases across the country, health experts said. Coronavirus cases in nursing homes are driven by infections in the rest of the community, said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, so one can expect to see cases at long-term care facilities drop when the numbers are declining elsewhere.

But the decline in cases in nursing homes is more pronounced than it is nationally, and it also began earlier, Dr. Jha said. Residents in nursing homes have been prioritized as among the first groups to get the vaccine. “That combination really does make me think this is not just broad national patterns, but that vaccines probably are playing a role,” Dr. Jha said. “I’m optimistic, this is good.” Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that as of Saturday, more than 3.5 million shots have now been administered in long-term care facilities, including to workers and residents.

Still, a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout in nursing homes has been deeply frustrating, Dr. Jha said. Efforts to efficiently give shots to all nursing home residents should be a top priority, he said, adding, “Once that’s in, then we should feel really confident that these declines will continue and we will not see a spike back up, even if we see one in the national picture.”

Nursing homes have been devastated by the virus. Although 5 percent of the country’s cases have occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths related to Covid-19 in these settings have accounted for about 36 percent of deaths from the virus in the country, according to a New York Times database.

In New York, new reports of cases among residents in nursing homes run by the state health facilities association — which includes 425 skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities — have been steadily declining since the first and second week of January, said Stephen Hanse, the president and chief executive of the association.

“Throughout the state, providers really saw the cases reducing, residents stabilizing,” he said, adding that it’s too early to tell if the drop is directly linked to the number of vaccine doses being administered. A large majority of residents in the association’s facilities — at least 80 percent — have now received their second dose of the vaccine, Mr. Hanse said. Nursing home administrators and directors “really see the vaccine as the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Paris is gone for now, its lifeblood cut off by the closure of all restaurants, its nights silenced by a 6 p.m. curfew aimed at eliminating the national pastime of the aperitif, its cafe bonhomie lost to domestic morosity. Blight has taken the City of Light.

Taboos fall. People eat sandwiches in the drizzle on city benches. They yield — oh, the horror! — to takeout in the form of “le click-and-collect.” They dine earlier, an abominable Americanization. They contemplate with resignation the chalk-on-blackboard offerings of long-shuttered restaurants still promising a veal blanquette or a boeuf bourguignon. These menus are fossils from the pre-pandemic world.

Gone the museums, gone the tourist-filled riverboats plying the Seine, gone the sidewalk terraces offering their pleasures at dusk, gone the movie theaters, gone the casual delights of wandering and the raucous banter of the most northern of southern cities. In their place, a gray sadness has settled over the city like fog.

Paris is far from alone in its deprivations. The pandemic has, in some ways, imposed conditions of war in time of peace. It, too, will end.

But until then, “We’ll always have Paris,” and in these photographs by Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times, the City of Light proves it is worth soldiering through for in the fog.

People waiting in line for their vaccine at the Bronx River Community Center last week.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced on Sunday that vaccine appointments scheduled to take place in the city on Monday would be postponed because of a looming winter storm that is expected to dump up to 16 inches of snow on the region.

At a news conference on Sunday, Mr. de Blasio said he did not want older New Yorkers on the road traveling to vaccine appointments, warning of incoming blizzard-like conditions with gusty winds. Winter storm warnings were in place for a large swath of the Eastern United States on Sunday, affecting major metropolitan areas from Washington to Boston.

In-person learning at New York City schools will also be closed Monday.

Mr. de Blasio did not specify when the rescheduled vaccine appointments would take place. Vaccinations scheduled for Tuesday have not been canceled, for now, he said.

The storm will temporarily derail a vaccine rollout in New York City that has been plagued with inadequate supply, buggy sign-up systems and confusion over the state’s strict eligibility guidelines. In New York, the vaccine is currently available to residents 65 and older as well as a wide range of workers designated “essential.”

About 800,000 doses have been administered so far in the city, Mr. de Blasio said.

An Abbott Laboratories Panbio Covid-19 rapid antigen testing kit.Credit…Tara Walton for The New York Times

As frustration mounts in Canada over lockdowns and the glacial pace of vaccinations, a consortium of some of the country’s largest companies has begun a rapid testing program with the aim of protecting their 350,000 employees.

The program is believed to be the first of its kind among the Group of 7 industrialized nations, and has already attracted the attention of the Biden administration.

The 12 companies, including Canada’s biggest airline and grocery chain, have worked together for four months, creating a 400-page operating manual on how to run rapid antigen tests in various work settings. They began piloting the tests in their workplaces this month, and expect to expand the program to 1,200 small and medium-size businesses.

They also plan to share their test results with the government health authorities, greatly raising test counts in the country and providing an informal study of the virus’s spread among asymptomatic people.

The companies in the consortium were brought together in the spring by Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, which helps science and technology start-ups. They were inspired by the most Canadian of muses: Margaret Atwood, the author.

“How soon can we have a cheap, buy-it-at-the-drugstore, self-administered test?” Ms. Atwood asked during a virtual meeting last May of business leaders and others tasked with brainstorming ideas for economic recovery during the pandemic.

The problem, the group posited, was the “information gap” — since there was no way to tell who might be an asymptomatic carrier, everyone was treated as a potential threat.

Ms. Atwood envisioned something like a home pregnancy test.

“That would be a game changer,” she said.

A worker unloading coffins at a funeral home in Cape Town, South Africa, on Saturday. The country has yet to begin a vaccination program for its citizens.Credit…Nardus Engelbrecht/Associated Press

As new variants like the one discovered in South Africa migrate to more countries — including the United States — it is becoming ever clearer that the tragedy for poorer countries could become a tragedy for every country. The more the virus spreads, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the greater chance it has to continue to mutate in ways that put the whole world at risk.

Recent studies suggest that at least four vaccines that are effective at preventing infection with the original virus did not perform as well against the variant found in South Africa. That variant is also more infectious — as is another one, discovered in Britain — and it is now estimated to make up 90 percent of all cases in South Africa, according to data compiled by researchers. It has turned up in dozens of other countries.

Inoculation prompts the immune system to make antibodies to the virus, but as mutations change its shape, the virus can become more resistant to those antibodies. In the worst case, failing to stop the spread of the virus globally would allow more mutations that could make existing vaccines less effective, leaving even inoculated populations vulnerable.

“This idea that no one is safe until everyone is safe is not just an adage, it is really true,” said Andrea Taylor, the assistant director at Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

Even in the most optimistic scenarios, Ms. Taylor said, at the current pace of production, there will not be enough vaccines for true global coverage until 2023. The current rollout plans across Africa are expected to vaccinate only 20 percent to 35 percent of the population this year if everything goes right.

And while some wealthy countries have secured enough vaccine to cover their populations multiple times, South Africa has secured just 22.5 million doses for its 60 million people, and many nations lag even farther behind.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at his home in Bnei Brak, Israel.Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

BNEI BRAK, Israel — Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, 93, can’t use a phone. He rarely leaves his house. His family says he has never successfully made a cup of tea. His closest aides think he doesn’t know the name of Israel’s prime minister. He studies the Torah for, give or take, 17 hours a day.

Yet despite his seeming detachment from worldly life, Rabbi Kanievsky has become one of the most consequential and controversial people in Israel today.

The spiritual leader of hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Kanievsky has landed at the center of tensions over the coronavirus between the Israeli mainstream and its growing ultra-Orthodox minority.

Throughout the pandemic, the authorities have clashed with ultra-Orthodox Jews over their resistance to antivirus safety protocols, particularly their early refusal to close schools or to limit crowds at religious events. Similar conflicts have arisen in the New York area.

Rabbi Kanievsky, issuing pronouncements from a book-filled study in his cramped apartment in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, has often been at the fore of that resistance. Twice, during the first and second waves of the pandemic in Israel, he initially rejected state-imposed safety restrictions and refused to order his followers to close their yeshivas, the independent religious schools where students gather in close quarters to study Jewish Scripture.

If anything, he said, the pandemic made prayer and study even more essential.

Both times he eventually relented, and it was not clear whether his stances did as much to accelerate the spread of the virus as his critics said. But the damage was done.

Many public health experts say that ultra-Orthodox Jews — who account for about 12 percent of the Israeli population but 28 percent of the country’s coronavirus cases, according to Israeli government statistics — have undermined the national effort against the pandemic. The reaction to the outsized role of the ultra-Orthodox has been fierce, and much of it has centered on Rabbi Kanievsky.

Those We’ve Lost

Isidore Torres served on state benches for more than a quarter-century.Credit…via Torres family

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

As a boy, Isidore Torres owned two pairs of pants: one for school, one for hoeing sugar beet fields outside Bay City, Mich., alongside his mother and siblings.

“If you could hold a hoe, you were out there working from sunrise until 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” an older brother, Abel Torres, said.

For years, the family had shuttled between Michigan and Texas looking for migrant work, eventually settling in Bay City so the children could receive a steady education.

Mr. Torres never forgot his humble roots, even as he became the first Hispanic judge in the Wayne County court system and served on state benches for more than a quarter-century. A prominent figure among Michigan Latinos, known for an endearing smile and a love of coffee, he had the ear of mayors, governors and congressmen as he lobbied for more minority representation in the legal system.

Mr. Torres died on Jan. 12 at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Mich. He was 73. The cause was Covid-19, his family said. He also had central nervous system lymphoma.

“My father always had to fight for the life that he wanted,” said his son, Felipe Barboza Torres, a Wayne County prosecutor. “No one ever told him that he would be a great lawyer. They told him he wouldn’t be able to be a lawyer because he was brown.”

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