President Biden singled out the governors of Florida and Texas, where cases have risen sharply, criticizing their pandemic response.
Tyson Foods, one of the largest meat processors in the U.S., will require vaccines for its workers.
Wuhan, the city in China where the virus emerged, will test all residents after its first outbreak in over a year.
We’re not where we thought we’d be
Eighteen months into writing this newsletter — and after a brief post-vaccination high this summer — I’m struck by how similarly frustrating things today feel compared to the earlier, darker days of the pandemic.
Mask wearing is back. A return to the office for many is nowhere in sight. Friends are canceling summer vacations. Parents of unvaccinated children are worried about school safety precautions — yet again.
The national outlook is worsening quickly: The country reported a daily average of nearly 86,000 new infections yesterday, up from about 12,000 in early July.
The crisis President Biden once thought he had under control is changing shape faster than the country can adapt. An evolving virus, new scientific discoveries, deep ideological divides and a year and a half of ever-changing pandemic messaging have left Americans with a sense of whiplash, and skeptical of public health advice. The White House’s promised “summer of joy” has instead turned into a summer of confusion.
Across the country, the questions are piling up again: Can I eat inside at a restaurant or bar? Should children be wearing masks when they go to school in September? What, exactly, is it about the Delta variant that people are supposed to be worried about? And what should they do about it?
There is no easy answer. The risk is different for different people, depending on whether they are vaccinated and the level of infections in their community. (What hasn’t changed is that vaccines remain effective and highly protective against hospitalization and death, even among those infected with the extremely contagious Delta variant. Mask wearing prevents transmission of the virus to those most at risk.)
On top of the confusion, the belated realization among Americans that the coronavirus will become endemic, and a problem that we may be dealing with for many years, is sparking denial. Stat News writes that the early focus on herd immunity as a way out of the pandemic has fueled this current sense of disillusionment. Americans expected to be able to clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel by now.
But while herd immunity through vaccine coverage may not be the magical wand we once thought it was, the long term picture for our ability to fight the pandemic is still positive. Nothing in the virus’s recent evolution suggests it can completely take over the immune systems of those who’ve been vaccinated or previously infected.
“It’s a slower progression with a less clear-cut end,” Jennie Lavine, an epidemiological researcher at Emory University, told Stat News. “That doesn’t mean there’s not an end. It’s just harder to see it definitely, and disappointing when it didn’t happen the way we were maybe led to believe.”
Cutting through the Delta confusion
The rise of the Delta variant is making many people who are vaccinated review their behaviors to stay safe and avoid breakthrough infections. My colleague Tara Parker-Pope, the founding editor of the Well section, asked experts for advice. Here are some of the answers.
What’s the real risk of a breakthrough infection after vaccination?
Although the C.D.C. has stopped tracking breakthrough cases, about half of all states report at least some data on breakthrough events. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently analyzed much of the state-reported data and found that the rate of breakthrough cases reported among those fully vaccinated is “well below 1 percent in all reporting states, ranging from 0.01 percent in Connecticut to 0.29 percent in Alaska.”
When should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has a color-coded map of Covid-19 outbreaks in the U.S. The agency advises people to wear masks if they live in an orange or red zone — which now accounts for about 80 percent of the counties in the United States. Infection numbers remain relatively low in much of the Northeast and Upper Midwest, while Delta has caused huge spikes in cases in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.
Should I upgrade my mask?
You will get the most protection from a high-quality medical mask like an N95 or a KN95, although you want to be sure you have the real thing. A KF94 is a high-quality medical mask made in Korea, where counterfeits are less likely. If you don’t have a medical mask, you still get strong protection from double masking with a simple surgical mask under a cloth mask. A mask with an exhale valve should never be worn, since it allows plumes of viral particles to escape.
Can I still dine at restaurants?
The answer depends on local conditions, your tolerance for risk and the health of those around you. Risk is lowest in communities with high vaccination rates and very low case counts. A restaurant meal in Vermont, where two-thirds of the population is vaccinated, poses less risk than an indoor meal in Alabama or Mississippi, where just one-third of the residents are vaccinated. Parents of unvaccinated children and people with compromised immune systems may want to order takeout or dine outdoors as an added precaution.
New York City’s vaccine mandate
New York City will become the first U.S. city to require proof of at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine for a variety of activities for workers and customers — including indoor dining, gyms, entertainment, indoor movies, concerts and performances, including on Broadway, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today.
The program, similar to mandates issued in France and Italy last month, is meant to put pressure on people to get vaccinated and will start on Aug. 16. After a transition period, enforcement will begin on Sept. 13.
“If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” de Blasio said. “It’s time.”
To enter indoor venues, patrons must use the city’s new app, the state’s Excelsior app or a paper card to show proof of vaccination. People will be able to dine outdoors without showing proof of vaccination. Children younger than 12 will not be excluded from venues because they are not eligible to be vaccinated, the mayor said. But the details of those plans remain to be worked out.
The mayor said the city consulted with the U.S. Department of Justice and got a “very clear message” that it was legal to move forward with these mandates, even without full F.D.A. approval for the vaccines.
About 66 percent of adults in the city are fully vaccinated, higher than the national figure at 61 percent, although pockets of the city have lower rates.
Over the past three weeks in the U.S., all 50 states have reported an increase in vaccinations, with the national rate up more than 73 percent, ABC reports.
In Texas, the unvaccinated fall into two main groups: white rural conservatives and Black and Latino people in big cities, The Texas Tribune reports.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron is answering vaccine skeptics on TikTok and Instagram.
What else we’re following
President Biden is expected to announce a new eviction moratorium for places hard hit by the Delta variant.
The F.D.A. authorized a preventive Covid antibody treatment, an option for the millions of Americans who have compromised immune systems, NBC reports.
Bangladesh is struggling to contain its worst wave of infections yet.
Japan tries a new tactic as virus surges: public shaming.
Israel will add 18 more countries, including the U.S., to its quarantine list.
The Atlantic reports that Congress has axed a $30 billion proposal to the current reconciliation package that would help the country fight the next pandemic.
McDonald’s is requiring U.S. customers and employees to wear masks at restaurants in areas of high transmission, USA Today reports.
Here’s the latest business response to the Delta variant.
What you’re doing
We have followed every rule, guideline and mandate from the governor. We were brought to tears when we were able to get our vaccines. My husband is a diabetic and 65. I am 64. We were feeling relief in the early summer as if “normal” was almost back. Then this week we both tested positive for Covid-19. We had to cancel our beach vacation and are isolating. I feel anger and disappointment. Everything we sacrificed this past year and we still got sick.
— Susan Morrison, North Carolina
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