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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.

New Zealand is trying to keep a Delta outbreak from spreading, but officials are beginning to acknowledge it cannot stay in lockdown forever.

The C.D.C. said that unvaccinated Americans should avoid traveling for Labor Day.

Joe Rogan, a podcasting giant who has been dismissive of vaccines, tested positive.

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

The future of Delta

Before the highly contagious Delta variant spread through the U.S., it first struck India and Britain.

In both places, it caused devastating waves. But then cases subsided unexpectedly.

In India, after a horrific spike in the spring, infections fell drastically in June. In Britain, daily cases fell from a peak of 60,000 in mid-July to half that within two weeks, though they have since been climbing again. Scientists are struggling to understand what the patterns may mean for surges in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The next few months

In the U.S., the variant’s pace has slowed.

New infections are falling in some states, like Missouri, that Delta struck hard. Nationwide, the number of infections over the past week was 14 percent higher than it was two weeks ago, a fraction of the rate during much of July and early August.

Still, some experts expect a rebound. A number of national forecasts being tracked by the C.D.C. predict that cases will rise in the early weeks of September.

“Whatever downturn we have, I think, will be fairly mild,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. “We’re right at that tipping point where back-to-school will tip us back into growth at some point.”

It’s important “not to overly extrapolate” from Britain and India, Dr. Gounder added. The three countries vary greatly in vaccination rates, the prevalence of mask wearing and other precautions.

In Britain, for example, cases soared in part because of the European soccer championships, which filled pubs with the young and unvaccinated. Once it was over, cases slumped.

Right now, the U.S. is heading into fall with a huge burden of cases. More people gathering indoors will mean more opportunities for the virus to spread, and Dr. Gounder expects to see surges over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s — although none as bad as they were last winter.

“I don’t think we’re really going to turn the corner until next spring,” she said.

How to protect yourself

If you are unvaccinated and eligible, a shot is your best protection. Unvaccinated people account for an overwhelming majority of hospitalizations and fatalities now, and the shots are widely considered to be safe.

The risk of getting infected from a vaccinated person is also relatively low.

In many cases it will be relatively safe for vaccinated people to spend time, unmasked, with an older relative, my colleague Tara Parker-Pope reports in a new article about how to navigate this phase of the pandemic. But the risk depends on local conditions and the precautions the visitor has taken in the days leading up to the visit.

“If I just came back from a big crowded gathering, and I had to go see my mom, I would put on a mask,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, whose mother is 87.

Children under 12 probably will not be eligible for vaccination until the end of the year. The best way to protect them is to make sure all the adults and older kids around them are vaccinated. Studies show that schools have not been a major cause of Covid spreading events, particularly when a number of prevention measures are in place.

Latest Updates

Kidney issues and long Covid

A large new study found that Covid-19 survivors were 35 percent more likely than other patients to have long-term kidney damage.

The study, based on data from veterans, suggests that kidney issues can last for months after patients recover from the initial infection, and that they may lead to a serious lifelong reduction of kidney function.

Researchers found that the sicker Covid patients were initially, the more likely they were to experience lingering kidney damage. People with less severe initial infections could be vulnerable, but the risk for Covid patients who never needed hospitalization was very small.

“People who are at highest risk are the people who really had it bad to start with,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of the research and development service at the V.A. St. Louis Health Care System and senior author of the study. “But really, no one is spared the risk.”

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.

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