French authorities placed three more regions under lockdown as the country tries to stop the spread of a growing outbreak.
Hospitals, prisons and nursing homes in Brisbane, Australia, went into lockdown on Friday after a 26-year-old man tested positive for the coronavirus, the first local transmission in the country in more than a week.
Kenya imposed stringent new restrictions on its capital, Nairobi, and in four other counties, after a 52 percent increase in hospital admissions this month.
A top health official in Germany warned that the country could have 100,000 new cases a day amid a new wave of the virus that he said was likely to be worse than either of the first two.
The coming vaccine glut
By the end of July, the U.S. government will have had enough doses to vaccinate the country’s entire population, with 70 million doses to spare. Tens of millions more doses are promised to the U.S. in the months that follow.
With many poorer countries yet to receive a single dose, the Biden administration is coming under increasing pressure to figure out what to do with the excess stock, our colleagues Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland report. It’s a question that will need to be answered within a matter of weeks, as the long manufacturing process will need to be adjusted if doses are to be sent abroad.
It’s not as simple as taking back surplus vaccines from states after they’ve inoculated their populations. Federal rules prohibit recalling them, and doses meant to be sent overseas would need to be relabeled and vials must be used within four to six months of being bottled.
Biden administration officials who would like to hold on to the surplus argue that children still need to be vaccinated, though clinical trial results from Moderna for children under age 12 are not expected until next fall. Immunity could also eventually wear off, which could require booster shots, but we don’t yet know when or whether that will happen.
With the deadline fast approaching, senior officials say the administration is nearing a decision. The government would keep the doses it has ordered, then later direct the extra shots to other nations in bilateral deals, or donate them to Covax, the international nonprofit that is trying to send doses to poorer nations.
Who cleans N.Y.C.’s subway?
For a few hours each night during the pandemic, the New York City subway system shuts down for deep cleaning. Our colleague Annie Correal spoke to a dozen of the contract workers, who are raising concerns about their safety, salary and difficult working conditions.
“It’s so scary to be left without work right now that you’ll accept almost anything,” said Yaneth Ochoa, a Colombian woman who joined the subway crew over the summer. Ms. Ochoa, 30, quit after refusing to clean a train smeared with excrement with just a few rags, she said.
Full-time transit workers are paid up to $30 an hour with health insurance and are eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. Contract workers are paid as little as half that amount, they said, and do not have access to health insurance. They are also not eligible for the vaccine, even though they say their work routinely exposes them to unmasked passengers and dangerous waste. “We’re invisible,” said Juan, who asked The Times to use only his first name because he is still employed as a cleaner.
The workers said their employers did not provide them with adequate personal protective equipment or cleaning supplies, although the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and some of the contractors who employ the workers have denied some of the claims. Several transit workers said they did not have access to the station bathrooms or a place to eat or take a break.
“We were the ones who had to go in there,” said Beatriz Muñoz, 38, who cleaned trains for six months before she was fired without explanation in November, she said. “We would be praying to God that we wouldn’t get sick.”
The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
In the aftermath of the “Stop the Steal” movement, far-right extremists have started bashing the vaccines as symbols of excessive government control.
Who’s getting vaccinated? Wealthy and urban areas are outpacing poor and rural areas in the U.S., which could hinder herd immunity.
Check out this map of who has been vaccinated so far in New York City. White and Asian residents have been vaccinated at higher rates than Black and Latino people, who have been more likely to die from or be hospitalized with Covid-19.
Rutgers University will require all students to be vaccinated before they can come to campus in the fall.
At least 34 states have pledged to make vaccines available to all adults by mid-April as the U.S. infection curve plateaus for the third straight week.
The president of Regeneron, who has longstanding ties to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, received special access to coronavirus testing last year when tests were severely limited.
What else we’re following
Can people immunized against the coronavirus still spread it to others? A new study of more than 12,000 vaccinated college students will seek to answer that question.
Cheap, rapid genomic sequencing has been the key to tracking variants of the virus. As a result, the pandemic may usher in a new era in science.
The variant first discovered in the U.K. quickly overwhelmed the tiny Isle of Sheppy before spreading worldwide. Reuters investigates how it happened.
Summer camps in the U.S. are seeing a rebound in interest as parents seek an antidote to a socially isolated school year.
The number of American adults reporting recent bouts of anxiety or depression rose significantly from August to February, increasing to more than two in five adults in late January, federal health researchers said on Friday.
What you’re doing
We hugged our preschool grandkids for the first time in a year this week, as our 14 days of post-vaccine waiting time was completed. We ate pizza, played hide and seek, competed in Candyland and watched a couple of episodes of “Bluey” with them. It was the best time ever. — Mary Jo Asmus, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
Whet Moser contributed to today’s newsletter.