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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.


By Amelia Nierenberg

Nursing homes will have to require vaccines for their employees to receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funds.

The Biden administration will use a federal civil rights division to deter states from banning universal masking in classrooms.

Israel, once the model for beating Covid, faces a new surge of infections.

A group of small businesses is suing New York City, hoping to block its vaccine mandate for restaurants, gyms and other businesses.

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

The basics on boosters

The Biden administration, concerned that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are losing potency against the Delta variant, said today it wants vaccinated people to get booster shots — but not quite yet.

Here are the basics:

People who received a full course of the vaccines will be eligible eight months after their second dose.

The program will start on Sept. 20, contingent on authorization from the F.D.A.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients may also need a booster, but officials are still reviewing data.

As with the initial round of vaccines, health care workers, nursing home residents and other older adults will be first.

Access to vaccines will continue to be free, regardless of health insurance or immigration status.

As we told you yesterday, breakthrough infections appear to be more common than scientists originally believed. And while the vaccines are holding their ground when it comes to hospitalizations and deaths, federal officials worry that the protection could wane — especially among high-risk groups.

“We are concerned that this pattern of decline we are seeing will continue in the months ahead, which could lead to reduced protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, said at a White House news briefing.

The C.D.C. released three studies on Wednesday that showed waning protection against infection, our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reports. That decline could be the result of decreased vaccine potency, a drop in precautions like wearing masks, the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant — or all three.

Together, the new studies indicate that mRNA vaccines have an effectiveness of roughly 55 percent against infections, 80 percent against symptomatic infections and 90 percent or higher against hospitalizations, noted Ellie Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University.

One study of nursing home residents found that the vaccines’ effectiveness at preventing infections dropped to 53 percent from about 75 percent after the rise of the Delta variant. It did not evaluate the vaccines’ protection against severe illness.

The W.H.O. has asked that wealthy countries defer distributing booster shots until the end of September, because many people in developing countries are still waiting for their first doses. There is also concern that variants even more potent than Delta could emerge in countries with low vaccination rates.

Some experts immediately pushed back against the Biden administration’s decision, arguing that the data showed only that some older adults and people with weakened immune systems needed extra protection.

“We’ll be better protected by vaccinating the unvaccinated here and around the world,” said Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and a former pandemic adviser to the administration.

Jeff Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, said the administration was on its way to donating more than 600 million doses of vaccines to other countries.

Latest Updates

“We’re going to do both,” he said. “We’re going to both protect the American people and we’re going to do more and more to help vaccinate the world.”

A look at Texas

Yesterday we reported that Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, had tested positive for the coronavirus. His office said he was receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment, which can help patients who are at risk of getting very sick, although he had no symptoms.

The announcement came less than a day after Abbott appeared at a crowded indoor political event where he and other attendees were not wearing masks. His office has said he is fully vaccinated, and NBC News reported that Abbott “told people he received a third booster dose.”

Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

    • 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.
    • Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
    • 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. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. 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. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. 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.

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