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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

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A new poll suggests that the U.S. could vaccinate at least 70 percent of the adult population against Covid-19 by the summer.

Intelligence officials told the White House they had unexamined evidence about the virus’s origins.

The E.U. drug regulator approved the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

A brighter summer?

The Memorial Day weekend is typically the unofficial start of summer, but this year it could represent so much more: the return of optimism in the U.S.

A year ago, officials were canceling parades and banning large gatherings ahead of the holiday as the country neared 100,000 Covid deaths. This year, many Americans are being told to get out and have a good time.

“If you are vaccinated, you are protected, and you can enjoy your Memorial Day,” the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, said this week. “If you are not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you. You remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions.”

The vaccines have proved to be a game-changer in the fight against Covid-19, driving down new cases by 40 percent or more across the country. The daily death rate is also at its lowest level since last summer. The positive outlook, along with the lifting of virus restrictions across the country, has made Americans more comfortable with the idea of traveling.

More than 37 million people are expected to venture 50 or more miles away from home this weekend, the American Automobile Association said, a 60 percent increase from last year. On Sunday, the T.S.A. screened more than 1.8 million people, the most since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.

But the U.S. is not fully back to normal, and travelers can expect added complications this weekend, and into the summer, my colleague Concepción de León reports.

AAA said that drivers in major cities should be prepared for road trips to be double or triple the length of a normal trip. Those using ride-sharing apps might face long waits and elevated fares because so many drivers stopped working during the pandemic. Many travelers are finding that house rentals, hotel rooms and rental cars in some areas are almost entirely booked up. Many destinations are also struggling to hire staff, which means that service may be rocky.

Adding to the tension for travelers are the conflicting feelings and differing regulations around mask usage and other Covid-19 rules. The F.A.A. recently said that there had been a “disturbing increase” in the number of unruly passengers who had returned to the skies with the easing of pandemic restrictions.

A fresh start

As the pandemic wanes, Americans are rethinking how they want their lives to look going forward.

My colleagues across the newsroom created the Fresh Start challenge — a 10-day project that shared tips for mindful living and healthier habits — which wrapped today.

To hear how the challenge went, I spoke to my colleague Tara Parker-Pope, our Well columnist, who led the project.

Why did you create the challenge?

Science shows that moments of disruption — like moving to a new city, changing a job, having a baby, getting married, getting divorced — are all opportunities to start fresh and start new habits. And I was hearing from people who were saying: “I feel like I wasted the opportunity of the last year. I didn’t take advantage of it to exercise, lose weight or make my life better. I just kind of held on.” But I knew that, actually, the better opportunity for people to start fresh is now. Emerging from this stressful time when the pandemic disrupted so many of our natural rhythms is a clean slate for a lot of people.

Of course, not everyone had the luxury of being at home during the pandemic. Some people, like grocery store workers, delivery people or frontline workers, had a very different experience than most of us. So my feeling was, I wanted really small, simple strategies that were backed by science that anybody, from any walk of life, could do and could benefit from.

What was one of the challenges that resonated most with readers?

In the first challenge we asked people to name their feelings. We tend to want to ignore our negative feelings, but science tells us that when you identify it and you label it, your brain is more likely to calm down. I wasn’t sure how readers would react to this, but they sent us thousands of texts naming their feelings. I’ll give you the top five: Unsettled, anxious, overwhelmed, frazzled and tired. There was a positive word that cracked the top six: hopeful. So that’s good, too — there’s some hope there.

I think readers discovered in this challenge that there’s a shared experience of being in a really tough emotional place right now. And we know that having a shared human experience is something that can create a sense of resilience.

Readers also really loved our gratitude photo challenge — they sent in thousands of images — as well as our fierce mediation and exercise snacks.

What did you learn from this experiment?

I think the large lesson from the Fresh Start Challenge is that people are struggling, they feel gratitude and they’re longing for a sense of connection. And they’re very hungry for strategies to make their post-pandemic lives not just better than pandemic life, but better than life before things got crazy. I think people are saying, “I’m never going to take anything for granted, and I’m actually going to make my life better than it was before.”

You can take the challenge here.

Want more tools? These seven podcasts will help you navigate feelings about the world reopening, and ease you back into society at your own pace.

Vaccine rollout

California will give away a total of $116.5 million in prizes to residents who get vaccinated.

The U.K. approved the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the fourth shot to be approved in the country.

India is in talks with Pfizer to obtain 50 million doses of the company’s vaccine starting this summer.

Canada, which has largely followed a plan of giving as many first doses to as many people as possible, has seen a “low rate” of infection in vaccinated individuals, The Global News reports.

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

What else we’re following

Zeynep Tufekci writes in a Guest Essay for Opinion that the B.1.617.2 variant, which was first identified in India, could result in the deadliest phase of the pandemic in countries without widespread vaccination.

A rise in virus cases in the U.K., driven by the variant first discovered in India, are igniting concerns over a possible third wave in the country, The Associated Press reports.

Idaho’s governor, Brad Little, repealed a ban on mask mandates that a political rival, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, had issued while he was traveling out of state for a conference of the Republican Governors Association.

With regulations changing by the week, the Hollywood Bowl went from planning a modest reopening to planning to return at full capacity.

The Atlantic explores how Americans should test for the virus post-vaccination.

Japan extended a state of emergency until at least June 20, barely one month before the Olympics.

A concert promoter in Florida is charging $18 for tickets to a show for vaccinated people, and $999.99 for people who are not, ABC reports.

What you’re doing

During the pandemic, my husband, dog and I packed up our wagon and moved across the country. We’ve settled in our new community and gotten our vaccines. Now that restrictions are relaxing we’ve been looking forward to actually interacting with others and hopefully making some new friends. Then last week I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Just when I was looking forward to backyard barbecues and beer gardens, my future switches to surgery and recovery instead. Life is … interesting like that.

— Holly Keegan, Marysville, Wash.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

The Coronavirus briefing will be taking Monday off for Memorial Day. Have a safe weekend and see you Tuesday.

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