Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

A hiccup in one country can become a tragedy for everyone.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

More than 90 million people around the world have received a coronavirus vaccine outside of clinical trials — but only 25 people total have in all of sub-Saharan Africa, a region of about one billion people.

That has set the stage for a “catastrophic moral failure,” in the words of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization. But it is also a failure of self-interest for wealthier nations, as a hiccup in one country can quickly become a tragedy for everyone.

South Africa and the variant discovered there offer a powerful example. Recent research suggests that the highly contagious variant is less responsive to at least four vaccines. The variant is estimated to make up 90 percent of all cases in the country, and has quickly turned up in dozens of others, including the United States. The lesson here is that if the world fails to stop the spread in some areas, the virus will keep mutating in ways that could make all vaccines less effective, potentially leaving inoculated populations vulnerable once again.

“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 best-case scenarios, Ms. Taylor said, at the current rate of production, there will not be enough vaccines for everyone in the world until 2023. South Africa, which received its first shipment of vaccines today, has secured just 22.5 million doses for its 60 million people, and many nations lag further behind. At the same time, some wealthy countries have secured enough vaccine doses to inoculate their populations many times over.

Morale at the New York State Health Department has plunged during the pandemic and nine top officials have quit in recent months — including the deputy commissioner for public health and the director of its bureau of communicable disease control.

People inside the department told my colleagues J. David Goodman, Joseph Goldstein and Jesse McKinley that senior health officials have felt sidelined or treated disrespectfully, and the focus of their concern was Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has seized control over pandemic policy from state and local public health officials.

A prime example is the vaccine rollout. Mr. Cuomo blindsided health officials when he cast aside longstanding State Department of Health plans and instead adopted an approach that relied on large hospital systems to vaccinate people. (So far, the vaccine rollout in New York has been troubled and delayed, although inoculation rates have picked up in recent days.) Often, health department officials would hear about major changes to pandemic policy only after Mr. Cuomo announced them at news conferences, and then asked health experts to match their guidance to the announcements.

“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference on Friday, referring to scientific expertise at all levels of government during the pandemic. “Because I don’t. Because I don’t.”

Comments like these reflect a rift that has existed between elected officials and career heath experts throughout the pandemic. Former President Donald J. Trump warred publicly with Dr. Anthony Fauci and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and across the country, public health officials have resigned in large numbers as they have been vilified or ignored.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

After almost three months, I am still struggling with post-Covid anosmia. I have discovered that truffles are one of the few flavors my reduced taste buds can detect and enjoy. Last weekend I made an all-truffle dinner: chicken with a white wine truffle sauce, black truffle latkes and a green salad with white balsamic truffle vinaigrette. I reminded my husband that truffles are a known aphrodisiac. After dinner we sat down for a Saturday evening film, “Phantom Thread.” Two-thirds of the way into the movie, the character of Alma decides to teach Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock a lesson by feeding him a small dose of toxic fungi, making him violently ill but not killing him. “So why exactly did we eat all of those mushrooms tonight?” my husband chuckled nervously. Needless to say, it put a damper on the evening.

— Alison, Montana

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Jonathan Wolfe