Covid-19, Booster Shots and Delta Variant: Live Updates

People receiving Covid-19 vaccinations at Pharos Academy Charter School in the Bronx in July.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

New York City’s high school student athletes and coaches participating in high-risk sports will have to be vaccinated in order to play, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday. The announcement represents the first student vaccine mandate in New York City, and could set the stage for broader mandates for the city’s roughly 1 million public school students later this year.

About 20,000 students and staff — about half of the total Public School Athletic League — will have to receive at least one vaccine dose by the first day of competitive play. That means students with fall seasons, including football and volleyball players, will have to be at least partially vaccinated by the first few weeks of school.

But students who play winter and spring sports like basketball, ice hockey and lacrosse, along with wrestlers, have several months before they have to start the vaccination process. And more than 20,000 students and staff who participate in sports considered low-risk, including baseball, soccer, tennis, track and gymnastics, will not have to be vaccinated.

Private schools can determine their own mandates for student athletes.

The first day of school for all students is Sept. 13, which means eligible students who are still unvaccinated will not be fully protected by the start of school, even if they begin their vaccination process immediately. Just under 60 percent of all eligible New Yorkers ages 12 to 17 have received at least one dose, according to the city, but it’s not clear how many of those children are public school students.

The mandate follows guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that students playing contact sports should be vaccinated to prevent canceled or virtual sports seasons. Last year, some districts across the country saw higher transmission among high-risk sports teams than in classrooms.

The state of Hawaii has already mandated vaccines for its high school student athletes. But vaccine requirements for eligible public school students remain extremely rare. The Culver City school district in California is believed to be the first district in the country to issue a broad vaccine mandate for all its eligible students.

Students and teachers wearing their school-required masks wait for parents to arrive outside Lamar Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas.
Credit…Matthew Busch for The New York Times

The Texas Education Agency said it would temporarily stop enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates and the State Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing school districts to require face-coverings. Both decisions are temporary.

The agency said in new guidance on Thursday that it would immediately stop enforcing the ban on mask mandates until litigations were resolved.

In a reversal, the agency’s new guidance requires schools to notify their local health department if a student tests positive. The school must also notify students in the same classroom as well as those who share extracurricular activities.

As coronavirus hospitalizations have again surged in the state, nearing last year’s peaks, Mr. Abbott has resisted calls for new mandates and doubled down on his ban.

The governor’s mask mandate ban has been making its way through the courts as school districts and parents have continued to challenge it. Seven counties and 48 school districts have defied the governor by ordering mask mandates, The Associated Press reported. Several large cities, including Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, have bucked the governor’s ban.

School districts say they need mask mandates to combat a spike in pediatric cases, just as they face the monumental task of trying to restore in-person learning and reverse the devastating setbacks experienced by a range of students. A confluence of factors — including the Delta virus variant’s contagiousness and the fact that people under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated — is sending more children to hospitals, especially in areas of the country where the virus is surging, like Texas.

New daily cases in Texas have increased by 37 percent over the past two weeks, approaching the peak levels of winter, according to a New York Times database, as the virus stretches hospitals in hotspots to their limits. According to the most recent data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 829 students and 872 school staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Aug. 8, The Associated Press reported.

Last week, after Mr. Abbott’s ban suffered at least three legal setbacks, the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, said that he was taking the issue to the State Supreme Court. The setbacks were in areas with Democratic leaders, rampant cases and rising hospitalizations.

The State Supreme Court sided with the governor on Sunday, ruling temporarily that schools could not make masks mandatory.

Thursday’s ruling denied the governor’s request to block a Travis County judge’s temporary restraining order that allowed mask mandates. The court said the attorney general should have taken his case first to an appellate court.

In another legal fight, parents of young children with disabilities filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Abbott on Tuesday over his ban, arguing that it prevents their medically at-risk children from being able to attend school safely.

On Tuesday, Mr. Abbott’s office announced the governor, 63, had tested positive for the coronavirus and had no symptoms, but had begun receiving monoclonal antibody treatment. The governor received his first vaccine dose in December.

Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi leaving the Senate subway at the Capitol this month.
Credit…Cheriss May for The New York Times

Senators Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, Angus King, independent of Maine, and John Hickenlooper, Democrat of Colorado, said on Thursday that they had tested positive for the coronavirus, adding to the number of breakthrough cases among lawmakers.

“Senator Wicker is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, is in good health and is being treated by his Tupelo-based physician,” his spokesman, Phillip Waller, said in a statement released by his office, adding that the senator was experiencing only mild symptoms.

The announcement from Mr. Wicker came as his home state has shattered previous records for new cases this week, and is now reporting more new cases relative to its population than any other state in the country. Mississippi is averaging 118 new cases a day for every 100,000 people, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

Mr. King’s statement said he was symptomatic but taking recommended precautions.

“While I am not feeling great, I’m definitely feeling much better than I would have without the vaccine,” he said. “I am taking this diagnosis very seriously, quarantining myself at home and telling the few people I’ve been in contact with to get tested in order to limit any further spread.”

Mr. Hickenlooper said on Twitter that he was experiencing limited symptoms and expressed gratitude to scientists who had developed the vaccine. He also encouraged vaccinated people to get booster shots in accordance with a plan that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week.

The Senate is in recess this week after adjourning early last Wednesday, leaving it unclear whether any of the men had been in recent contact with other lawmakers, as well as when or where they were first exposed. Their diagnoses bring to 11 the number of senators who have tested positive so far, according to news reports compiled by Ballotpedia, a political data website; more than 50 members of the House have tested positive.

Several other vaccinated politicians have recently announced breakthrough cases of their own, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said he had tested positive for the virus after attending a gathering hosted by Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas tested positive and began receiving an antibody treatment, highlighting both the growing concerns over breakthrough cases in the United States and the political tensions over public health measures that Mr. Abbott has consistently opposed in his home state.

While Mr. Wicker has encouraged his constituents to get vaccinated and has applauded the national vaccination effort in official statements, he has also resisted elements of the Biden administration’s coronavirus response. In June, he introduced a resolution calling on the C.D.C. to end a mask mandate for vaccinated people on public transportation.

As the Delta variant spreads aggressively, infections in vaccinated people have been seen more frequently, though they are still rare. The surge and the rising frequency of breakthrough infections have prompted agencies to extend public health measures. The Transportation Security Administration said on Tuesday that the mask mandate would remain in effect on public transportation through Jan. 18.


Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this item referred incorrectly to John Hickenlooper’s elected office. He is a senator, no longer a governor.

Unloading boxes of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in Tangerang, Indonesia, this month.
Credit…Antara Foto, via Reuters

Few places benefited from China’s vaccine diplomacy as much as Southeast Asia, a region of more than 650 million that has struggled to secure doses from Western drugmakers. Several of these countries have recorded some of the fastest-growing numbers of cases in the world, underscoring the desperate need for inoculations.

China, eager to build good will, stepped in, promising to provide more than 255 million doses, according to Bridge Consulting, a Beijing-based research company.

Half a year in, however, that campaign has lost some of its luster. Officials in several countries have raised doubts about the efficacy of Chinese vaccines, especially against the more transmissible Delta variant.

Indonesia, which was early to accept Chinese shots, was recently the epicenter of the virus. Now, officials there are administering the Moderna vaccine as a booster to health care workers who had received two doses of Sinovac.

And in Thailand, residents vaccinated with one dose of China’s Sinovac are now given the AstraZeneca shot three to four weeks later.

The setback to China’s vaccine campaign has created a diplomatic opening for the United States when relations between the two countries are increasingly fraught, in part because of the coronavirus.

Vaccine aid from the United States offers an opportunity to restore relations in a region that American officials have mostly ignored for years while China extended its influence. The Biden administration has dispatched a crowd of senior officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who is scheduled to arrive on Sunday to visit Singapore and Vietnam. It has also, at last, made its own vaccine pledges to Southeast Asia, emphasizing that the American contribution of roughly 20 million shots comes with “no strings attached,” an implicit reference to China.

Muktita Suhartono and Vo Kieu Bao Uyen contributed reporting. Claire Fu and Elsie Chen contributed research.

Waiting for shuttle buses to mandatory government-designated quarantine hotels in the arrival hall at the Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday.
Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

The members of the Bordia family thought they were finally going home.

Priyanka and Ankur Bordia had been trying for almost a year to return to Hong Kong from India, where they traveled in February 2020 as coronavirus cases began to increase in the Chinese territory.

In accordance with Hong Kong’s pandemic border policies, which vary by country, they had to be outside India for at least 21 days before they could return. So they went to the Maldives and then Dubai. From there, they planned to fly to Hong Kong and complete another 21 days of mandatory hotel quarantine, all at their own expense.

But their plans were upended this week when the Hong Kong government, citing concerns about the more contagious Delta variant, abruptly moved 15 additional countries to its “high risk” category, including the United States, France and the United Arab Emirates. The changes extended the quarantine period from 14 to 21 days for vaccinated travelers arriving from those countries, and barred unvaccinated travelers who had been in any of those countries in the previous 21 days.

The changes went into effect on Friday, the day the Bordias were supposed to arrive in Hong Kong. And even though the Bordias were vaccinated in India, Hong Kong does not recognize Indian vaccine certificates, which meant they would be barred from entering. Now stranded in Dubai with their two daughters, ages 1 and 3, they are contemplating starting their 21-day “washout” all over again in a lower-risk country.

“We are drained financially, emotionally, mentally, physically,” said Mrs. Bordia, 37, who has lived in Hong Kong for many years, along with her husband, Ankur, 38, who owns a jewelry business there.

Since the government’s announcement, untold numbers of travelers have canceled trips to and from Hong Kong, while others have found themselves stranded or rushed to get back before the new rules went into effect.

The abrupt rule changes have drawn criticism from businesses and Hong Kong residents. Public ire has been raised further by reports that the actress Nicole Kidman was allowed to skip quarantine altogether when she arrived in Hong Kong last week to film “Expats,” a new Amazon Prime Video series about privileged foreigners living in the global financial hub.

Ms. Kidman was seen boarding a private jet in Sydney, Australia, the center of a Delta-driven outbreak that has sent much of Australia into lockdown. As of Friday, Hong Kong is requiring vaccinated travelers from Australia to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, up from the previous seven.

Amid the growing anger, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, apologized to travelers on Tuesday for the disruptions.

“I hope they will understand that everything we are doing is to protect Hong Kong from another major outbreak,” she said.

And without naming any celebrities, the Hong Kong government said in a statement that an unnamed person filming in Hong Kong had been granted a quarantine exemption “for the purpose of performing designated professional work, taking into account that it is conducive to maintaining the necessary operation and development of Hong Kong’s economy.”

Hong Kong’s Covid-zero strategy has been successful in keeping virus cases to a minimum: about 12,000 in a population of seven million. The government says strict quarantines are necessary to protect the local population, with vaccination uptake especially low among older residents.

But the frequent rule changes have made travel risky. The government also said this week that it was suspending an antibody testing program that would have allowed some travelers to reduce their quarantine to seven days, which again sent people scrambling to extend their stays at quarantine hotels that are often booked solid.

Global Roundup

Australian armed forces standing by outside a Covid-19 vaccination site in Sydney on Wednesday.
Credit…Saeed Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The lockdown in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, has been extended for another month as a Delta outbreak continues to surge.

Sydney has now recorded over 10,000 infections and 65 deaths since the outbreak began in mid-June. This week, daily case numbers jumped from the 400s to the 600s, forcing the state government to extend the lockdown, which began in late June, to Sept. 30. It had previously been scheduled to be lifted later this month.

On Thursday, Australia reported 754 cases, its highest daily number since the start of the pandemic, surpassing the height of the Melbourne outbreak last year. On Friday, New South Wales reported 644 new infections.

From Monday, a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will also be imposed on 2 million people in 12 areas with the highest infection rates around Sydney. Those areas are also home to some of the city’s most diverse and impoverished residents.

A total of 7 million Australians are now under curfew, with Melbourne having implemented similar measures earlier this week.

Although evidence of the efficacy of measures like curfews has been “mixed,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday that they were part of a “a final list of what we can throw at this, to leave no shadow of a doubt as to how serious we are about getting the rate of growth down, the case numbers down.”

The New South Wales government has come under criticism for not acting quickly enough to contain the current outbreak and for initially trying to avoid going into lockdown.

Other new measures introduced on Friday include mandatory masks outdoors across all of Sydney and a one-hour daily limit on outdoor exercise for residents in the 12 high-risk areas.

On Thursday, the federal government fully opened vaccinations to all Australians age 16 to 39. Previously, Pfizer vaccinations were only available to those age 40 to 60 because of supply issues. Those under 40 had previously been given access only to the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the country’s health experts did not recommend for them because it carries an extremely small risk of blood clots.

As of Thursday, 51 percent of Australians over 16 had received at least one vaccine dose and 29 percent were fully vaccinated, according to government statistics.

In other developments across the world:

  • The Philippines logged its highest single-day tallies of new infections, 17,231, and deaths, 317, while the government of President Rodrigo Duterte extended the lockdown covering metro Manila until the end of the month, albeit with some modifications. Essential workers can continue with their jobs, but al fresco services at restaurants will be forbidden, and salons and barbershops will be closed. Religious gatherings will be allowed only online. About 70 percent of all intensive care unit beds in Manila are already in use, with many hospitals turning away patients. “We will continue to see a dramatic increase in cases in the coming days and this is not the time to be complacent,” said Maria Rosario Vergeire, a health department spokeswoman.

  • New Zealand extended its three-day nationwide lockdown to the end of Tuesday after 31 people across several cities tested positive for the Delta variant. Genomic sequencing has revealed that the outbreak began with a person who had traveled to New Zealand from New South Wales, Australia, earlier this month.

  • Nitzan Horowitz, Israel’s minister of health, announced on Twitter that booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are now available for people 40 and older, as well as teachers.

Teen twins Kira and Nola Barth receive the coronavirus vaccine in Nashville, Tennessee.
Credit…Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

Vaccination rates among middle and high school students need to rise drastically if the United States is going to achieve what are arguably the two most important goals in addressing the pandemic in the country right now: curbing the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant and safely reopening schools.

President Biden told school districts to organize vaccination clinics, but that is putting superintendents and principals — many of whom are already at the center of furious local battles over masking — in a delicate position.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for people 12 and older, but administering it to anyone younger than 18 usually requires parental consent, and getting shots into the arms of teenagers has proved harder than vaccinating adults. Only 33 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds and 43 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, according to federal data, compared with 62 percent of adults. Yet some school districts offering the shots, along with pediatrics practices, appear to be making progress: Over the past month, the average daily number of 12- to 15-year-olds being vaccinated rose 75 percent, according to Biden administration officials.

Nationally, more children are hospitalized with Covid-19 — an average of 276 each day — than at any other point in the pandemic.

Children ages 11 and under are not yet eligible for the vaccine, but if and when it is authorized for them, experts expect it could be harder to persuade their parents than those of older children. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that parents of younger children were “generally more likely to be hesitant to vaccinating,” said Liz Hamel, who directed the research.

Deborah Childs, a staff member at Forest Hills Nursing Home, receiving her second dose of Covid vaccine.
Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Of the 1.5 million nursing home staff members in the United States, some 540,000 are unvaccinated. Their fate could be directly impacted by a policy announced on Wednesday by President Biden requiring all nursing home employees to be vaccinated, with the rules likely to take effect sometime in September. Facilities that fail to meet that target could face fines or lose eligibility to receive federal reimbursement, a vital source of income for many.

The practical effect is that workers will have to be vaccinated or lose their jobs.

Janet Snipes manages Holly Heights Care Center in Denver. She wants to see all nursing home workers vaccinated, but not at the risk of losing employees who won’t comply, in an industry with a high turnover rate and a labor shortage.

Ms. Snipes said several employees had told her that they might leave, including one she described as her best nurse. Getting vaccinated “is the safest thing for our residents and our staff, but we feel strongly he needs to mandate for all health care settings,” Ms. Snipes said of Mr. Biden. “We can’t afford to lose staff to hospitals and assisted living facilities.”

Several major nursing home chains, and some states, have already imposed vaccine mandates. Industry officials said inoculations were strongly advised, but their position on the new policy echoed that of Ms. Snipes.

“We will lose tens of thousands, maybe hundred thousands, of workers,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive of the American Health Care Association, a major nursing home trade group.

Dr. Lee A. Fleisher, chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said recent data indicated a “direct relationship” between rising infections at nursing homes and unvaccinated staff.

Of the 625,000 Covid deaths in the United States to date, nearly one-fifth — 133,700 — have been nursing home residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The industry is again experiencing rising infection rates and deaths among residents, although none approaching the peak figures of last year.

Jared Mezzocchi, an advocate for digital experimentation, in the Geffen Playhouse production of “Someone Else’s House.”
Credit…Geffen Playhouse

If you were marshaling evidence that streaming theater can pay off, look no further than the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, which sold 35,000 tickets and grossed over $3 million during the pandemic from magic shows and other performances that could be watched at home.

As quickly as you could say “Pick a card, any card,” that’s changed, reports Matt Shakman, the company’s artistic director. “The ticket desire started to drop precipitously as the country was opening up,” he said recently of the digital initiative.

But theater is not beating a full retreat to the Before Days. Spirited arguments have erupted over the relationship between theater and screens — down to an ongoing debate about what to call the new hybrid forms, if not theater.

Many theaters want to incorporate online strategies into a new way of working.

“Would we want to just be a streaming theater?” asked Martin Miller, executive director of TheaterSquared in Fayetteville, Ark. “No. But it did start to feel additive to us when we started having performances in person again this April, because we were still having people streaming the shows. So it was no longer a question about what was lost but what was gained.”

Hybrid plans are in place at the family-friendly New Victory Theater in New York, which is building up its successful online New Victory Arts Breaks, a series of free interactive artistic activities for kids.

“In a given year, we see 100,000 people live; in a year where we’re remote, we’re going to have served a million people,” said Russell Granet, president and chief executive of the theater’s parent organization, New 42. The New Victory is planning to make all of the new season’s shows available on demand for $25.

“Our business model is forever changed in a good way as a result of this past year,” Granet added.