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.
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.
Vaccines for Europe, via Africa
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.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
“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.”
Tell us about your self-care
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.
New York City plans to mandate vaccines for museum visitors and staff.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that all health care workers in New York State must have received at least one dose by Sept. 27.
Country music artists are struggling to impose safety protocols like vaccine mandates or recent negative tests for their concerts, The Guardian reports.
Booster shots are causing a global debate, as many developing nations still struggle to access vaccines.
The Washington Post has tips to ease back into your commute.
What else we’re following
The Delta variant has spread beyond Sydney, Australia, endangering Aboriginal communities.
A conservative Roman Catholic cardinal who spread vaccine misinformation is critically ill with Covid-19 at a hospital in Wisconsin, The Washington Post reports.
Two brothers in Kenya died in police custody, setting off a national reckoning about the enforcement of Covid rules.
Infected babies and toddlers spread the virus in their homes more easily than teenagers, according to a new study in Canada.
Taiwan is using public health campaigns instead of lockdowns to fight the coronavirus.
Iran’s latest surge is its most catastrophic yet.
There will be virtually no spectators at the Paralympics in Tokyo.
What you’re doing
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.
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.