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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

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New cases are falling in the U.S., but hot spots along the East Coast have been sticking around longer.

Scotland will emerge from its lockdown in stages over the next few months, beginning with reopening schools.

Federal regulators are expected to allow the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be stored at standard freezer temperatures.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and vaccines in development.

A pandemic question mark: The variants

Epidemiologists have been warning for months that more contagious and deadly coronavirus variants have been bubbling just beneath the surface in the U.S. and could soon lead to another powerful surge of the virus — just as many places are easing up on restrictions.

And yet, there have been a number of signs in the U.S., and across the world, that the pandemic is in decline. During the last month, new cases globally have dropped to half their peak while hospitalizations in the U.S. have reached their lowest point since November. Recorded deaths around the world are also falling, declining roughly 50 percent since late January.

So then, are the variants losing?

My colleague Carl Zimmer, who writes about science for The Times, told me that assuming the positive trends will continue was “presumptuous.”

“The dynamics of viruses are weird,” Carl said. “And this is our third peak, so you’d think we’d have learned our lesson by now not to be too smug.”

It’s not certain that variants — like those discovered in South Africa or Brazil — will spread rapidly when they arrive in new territory. They may have showed up too late to the party, when another variant was already dominant, Carl said. Or the new population could be healthier, or with high rates of previous infection and antibodies.

But in the U.S., we just don’t know exactly what the variants are doing. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ramped up its sequencing of genomes, to about 9,000 cases per week, when it comes to our ability to watch the variants, Carl said, “Our eyesight is not great.”

Denmark, however, has 20/20 virus vision, and its experience may act as a warning to the U.S. The country sequences the genome of the vast majority of its coronavirus cases, and has found that even as a national lockdown drove down cases over the last few months, the virus variant B.1.1.7., first discovered in Britain, has continued to gain steam.

Camilla Holten Moller of the Statens Serum Institute, which models the epidemic for the Danish government, told me that they think the variant could make up as much as 80 percent of cases in the country, possibly by the end of this month. If that happens, she expects a sudden rise in infections and hospitalizations.

“And with B.1.1.7, it’s like speeding in a car,” she said. “Your reaction time is shorter.”

The California variant. Two new studies show that the variant first discovered in California in December is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus, and may be better at evading vaccines. The findings added to concerns that emerging mutants could hamper a decline in cases.

How immigrants are being left behind

The vaccine rollout across the country has left Black, Latino and poorer people at a disadvantage. In New York City, new data suggests that immigrants are also being passed over. Vaccination rates in immigrant neighborhoods are among the lowest in the city.

This month, The Times interviewed 115 people living in immigrant neighborhoods in the city about the rollout and their attitudes about the vaccine. The interviews tell a story of roadblocks and obstacles that threaten to exclude some immigrants from vaccination.

Time. For many, the greatest obstacle to getting vaccinated is a lack of time. “I’m working seven days a week,” said Jatinkumar Rasikbhal Patel, who is originally from India and works at a bodega. He will find the time later, he added, “when everything is easier.”

Misinformation. “Some of these people have nothing,” said Sarahi Marquez, a restaurant manager who has become a conduit of information about the vaccine to members of her Mexican community. “They don’t even have TV.” She added that “some people think it is a conspiracy” and “there is an idea that they are not here to vaccinate us but to put a chip in us to monitor us.”

Mistrust. Otto Charles, whose parents are from Haiti, said city officials neglected his community at the height of the pandemic. He said officials failed to even stop local price gouging for items such as Lysol disinfectant, which he saw as evidence that he and his neighbors had been left to fend for themselves. “They didn’t come rescue us when we needed help, and now they want us to take this vaccine?” Mr. Charles said. “We don’t want to be experimented on.”

Vaccine rollout

The Covid-19 vaccination drive in Lebanon erupted in scandal after 16 lawmakers jumped the line and received shots inside the Parliament building.

A half-million vaccine doses arrived this month in Afghanistan, where many insist the virus isn’t real and vaccines aren’t needed.

In the U.S., the White House said that weekly shipments of coronavirus vaccines to the states would rise by one million doses to 14.5 million, as manufacturers continue to ramp up production.

In India, the pharmaceutical giant that dozens of countries are counting on to supply them with Covid-19 vaccines said that their deliveries might be delayed because it had been “directed” to fill domestic needs ahead of export orders.

What else we’re following

President Biden’s national security adviser urged the World Health Organization to dig deeper into the origins of the coronavirus, casting doubt on the completeness of a coming report from the health organization.

State lawmakers in the U.S., most of them Republicans, are moving to strip the powers of governors, often Democrats, who have taken on extraordinary authority to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

A global shortage of monkeys, used to develop Covid-19 vaccines, has been exacerbated by a recent ban on the sale of wildlife from China.

A 105-year-old New Jersey resident survived the Spanish flu and then the coronavirus. Her secret? Gin-soaked raisins.

The New York Times Magazine ethicist columnist answered the question: Should I get a Covid vaccine when others need it more?

What you’re doing

I am writing this on behalf of my son Tim, who happens to have Down syndrome. When the pandemic began a year ago, he was laid off from his job at a greenhouse. Like many people, Tim was ata loss without his job and community. He loves to dance, so last March I suggested he go out and dance and make people smile. Tim would head out each day to our town square and dance, and people would honk and wave. Soon he had someone at our local Staples store help him make a sign: “Honk if my dancing makes you smile.” He was soon a celebrity in our small town. Here it is a year later and Tim continues to dance each day. He now has a permanent sign that a local sign maker created for him. He never let the virus get him down. He’s maintained his positivity and marvels at how many people’s days he’s brightened with his dancing.

— Julie Mclaurin, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

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