Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Delta fuels a new, disheartening phase.

Amelia Nierenberg

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Here’s a look at the state of the virus:

  • New cases — about 130,000 each day — are almost double last summer’s peak levels.

  • Hospitalizations have also reached their highest levels since the winter. Parts of the South have shattered case records as the Delta variant overwhelms intensive care units.

  • Vaccination rates still lag. Only about half of Americans are fully vaccinated, and since the Delta surge began, daily vaccination rates have risen only modestly, to about 700,000 doses a day.

  • The bottom line: The country has recorded about 36.7 million coronavirus cases and 621,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

Despite the worrying numbers, mayors, governors and public health officials have treaded lightly. Baseball games, music festivals and state fairs have forged ahead, and restaurants, gyms and movie theaters have stayed open.

In many places, people have been largely left to decide for themselves whether to start wearing masks again or how they work, socialize and vacation.

In Chicago, advisers warned Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, that Lollapalooza, a four-day music festival, could become a superspreader event. She insisted it go on, but the festival restricted access to people who provided proof of vaccination or a negative test. The gamble appears to have paid off: Officials have traced only 203 cases to the event, which hosted more than 385,000 people. At least 90 percent of attendees were vaccinated.

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Hawaii is one exception to the trend of imposing minimal restrictions. Despite having 65 percent of adults fully vaccinated, the state still set weekly case records in recent days (see the chart below). In response, Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, recently imposed restrictions on social gatherings and restaurants.

Across the country, some officials have been hostile to new restrictions, or have worried that rules could backfire and further politicize the pandemic. That’s roughly in line with the C.D.C., which has recommended that some vaccinated Americans wear masks in public again but has not suggested shutting down businesses.

“The fact that in this surge we have vaccines means that there shouldn’t ever be a need for another shutdown, and we shouldn’t have to look at capacity restrictions,” said Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat. He recently announced that masks would be required in schools and raised the possibility of a broader mask mandate, but said he was not considering a return to lockdowns.

“Between people getting vaccinated and wearing a mask when we need to during the surge, then we ought to be able to fight this one off,” he said.


Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine was supposed to be one of Africa’s most important weapons against the coronavirus: a one-dose shot that was relatively inexpensive and could be stored in a normal refrigerator.

But even though the company is bottling and packaging vaccines in South Africa with a local partner, the country has not received nearly its full order.

Instead, Johnson & Johnson has exported at least 32 million doses from South Africa, many of which went to Europe, dashing hopes that those doses would quickly go to Africans, my colleagues Rebecca Robbins and Benjamin Mueller report.

“It’s like a country is making food for the world and sees its food being shipped off to high-resource settings while its citizens starve,” said Glenda Gray, a South African scientist who helped lead Johnson & Johnson’s clinical trial there.

South Africa is still waiting to receive the overwhelming majority of the 31 million vaccine doses it ordered from Johnson & Johnson. Only about 4 million of its citizens, or about 7 percent, have been fully vaccinated.

Many Western countries have moved to secure access to coronavirus vaccines made within their borders. But Johnson & Johnson insisted on an unusually stringent contract that required South Africa to waive its right to impose export restrictions on vaccine doses.

“The government was not given any choice,” Popo Maja, a spokesman for the South African health ministry, said in a statement. “Sign contract or no vaccine.”


The pandemic has forced many of us to make lifestyle changes and reflect on our physical and mental health.

Now, as the Delta variant sends cases surging, we may all need to refine and create new routines. Click here to tell us your story. We may use your response in “Our Changing Lives,” our ongoing series about big lifestyle shifts during the pandemic.


See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.



We’ve become obsessed gardeners. Our retirement home had a potting shed but no garden. Forty raised beds plus a portage garden, pollinator berm, chickens (for eggs & fertilizer), new perennial beds and we raise enough for us and plenty to share with local food banks. — Mary Ellen Mahan, Birdsboro, Penn.

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Amelia Nierenberg