As spring classes draw to a close and more people in the United States get vaccinated, coronavirus infections, which plagued college campuses across the country and seeped into the community at large, appear to be slowing among students and employees.
The New York Times has been tracking virus cases at U.S. colleges and universities for nearly a year and has identified about 700,000 infections involving students and employees. Of those, more than 260,000 cases have occurred since Jan. 1.
The Times has regularly surveyed more than 1,900 colleges and universities for coronavirus information for nearly a year. Altogether, the colleges reported about 60,000 cases each month between January and late April. From late April to late May, however, they reported fewer than 30,000 cases. Some of the newly identified cases may be from earlier in the pandemic and cases may be slowing in some places because spring semesters ended in early May, but the decline suggests that the overall outlook might be improving.
Many students experienced an unusual academic year. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who visit campus frequently were required to be tested twice a week for the coronavirus. The class of 2021 is set to graduate virtually, much like graduates from the previous year, but both classes anticipate an on-campus celebration in 2022.
The college has announced that all enrolled students must be fully vaccinated before the start of the fall semester, with certain exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
“I think most students really, really, really want to get back onto campus, be able to socialize with their friends again,” said Danielle Geathers, student body president. “If that’s what it takes, everyone is willing to do that.”
People in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 represent about 8 percent of those with at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least 200 schools have said they will require students to be vaccinated before the fall semester. Many dozens more, including large public university systems in California and New York, have said they will mandate shots if the Food and Drug Administration fully approves one or more vaccines, according to a Times survey. And hundreds are currently requiring masks indoors on campus, regardless of vaccination status.
An earlier version of this article misstated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 represent about 8 percent of those who have received at least one shot. It is not the case that 8 percent of people in the United States in that age group have received at least one shot.
Abbigail Bugenske, 22, had all but forgotten about her long-shot bid to become Ohio’s next millionaire.
As the clock inched toward 7:29 p.m. on Wednesday night, the state was preparing to announce the winner of its first lottery drawing for vaccinated Ohioans live on television. Ms. Bugenske was driving from Cincinnati to her parents’ house near Cleveland when she got a call that left her in hysterics. The governor was on the line. She had just won $1 million.
“I thought it was a prank call initially,” said Ms. Bugenske, who soon saw an explosion of messages on her phone that confirmed the news. She walked into her parents’ house in disbelief.
“I was screaming enough that my parents thought that I was crying and that something was wrong,” she recalled on Thursday. “I started yelling that I won a million dollars and I was going to be a millionaire.”
Ms. Bugenske, who graduated from college last year and recently moved to the Cincinnati area to take a job as an engineer, won the money through Ohio’s new lottery offering $1 million to people who have gotten at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. The idea, which has drawn both enthusiasm and scrutiny, is gaining traction across the country, as states like Colorado, Maryland and Oregon offer similar incentives in an effort to boost waning vaccinations.
On Thursday, California joined the bandwagon. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would fund a $116.5 million vaccine incentive program to motivate Californians: $100 million in $50 prepaid cards for the next two million newly vaccinated people and $16.5 million in cash prizes for all vaccinated Californians. Thirty winners in total will be selected for $50,000 cash prize drawings on Fridays, and on June 15, 10 Californians will be randomly selected for $1.5 million awards each.
One criticism of such programs is that they may do little to change the minds of people who are against the vaccines. Ms. Bugenske, for example, said she got her shot as soon as she became eligible, before the lottery was announced, and later entered her name for the drawing. (Ohio residents who have gotten at least one shot are eligible to enter the lottery, no matter when they got vaccinated.)
“I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine,” she said. “If winning a million dollars isn’t incentive enough, I don’t really know what would be.”
More than 2.7 million Ohioans entered to win $1 million in the lottery, and additional drawings will take place in the coming weeks. The lottery also offers a full-ride scholarship to college for children ages 12 to 17.
Joseph Costello, a 14-year-old from Englewood, near Dayton, won the first scholarship out of more than 104,000 entries. On Thursday morning, he wore a polo shirt for a series of television interviews and sat sheepishly on his couch, in between his beaming parents.
His mother, Colleen Costello, who entered her family into the lottery, recalled how she had joked with her colleagues over lunch on Wednesday that her life could dramatically change if she or a family member won. Ms. Costello, a chemical engineer, soon forgot about the drawing and was leaving the office when she got a call from Gov. Mike DeWine.
“My first reaction was, I thought maybe I was listening to your voice and it was a taped message,” she told the governor at a news conference on Thursday. “The more we talked, the more we realized, it was really you, live. I was really thankful at that moment that there was a bench nearby because I needed to sit down.”
Her husband, Rich Costello, who works as a teacher, was at a coffee shop doing school work when his wife called and asked if he was sitting down. He hurried to pick up his son from youth group, but kept the news a secret until they got home, where the governor, his wife and members of the governor’s staff planned to visit.
“We were riding home, and I said, ‘Joe, it’s good news, but no questions,’” Mr. Costello said. “Just look out the window.”
A member of the governor’s office broke the news to Joseph in the family’s driveway, his parents recalled, and later, they visited with the governor, their family and neighbors in their front lawn in the Dayton suburbs.
Ms. Costello said that she and her husband had intended to have their children get a Covid-19 vaccine, but the lottery accelerated their plans. Joseph, who became eligible for a vaccine in the 12 to 15-year-old age group earlier this month, got his shot on Saturday, and Ms. Costello entered the family on Sunday, before a midnight deadline.
Joseph, who just finished the eighth grade and is enjoying the first days of his summer vacation, said he is still deciding what he might study. On his list of potential colleges: Ohio State University.
As for Ms. Bugenske, she said she had no plans to quit her day job. She hopes to donate some of the money and invest the rest. But there is one thing she might like to buy. When she got the call from the governor, she was on her way to Northeast Ohio, with the hopes of looking at a used car.
“I think buying a used car is still in my future,” she said.
President Biden’s call for a 90-day sprint to understand the origins of the coronavirus pandemic came after intelligence officials told the White House that they had a raft of still-unexamined evidence requiring additional computer analysis to shed more light on the mystery, according to senior administration officials.
The officials declined to describe the new evidence. But the revelation that they are hoping to apply an extraordinary amount of computer power to the question of whether the virus accidentally leaked from a Chinese laboratory suggests that the U.S. government may not have exhausted its databases of Chinese communications, the movement of lab workers and the pattern of the outbreak of the disease around the city of Wuhan.
In addition to marshaling scientific resources, Mr. Biden’s push is intended to prod American allies and intelligence agencies to mine existing information — like intercepts, witnesses or biological evidence — as well as hunt for new intelligence to determine whether Beijing covered up an accidental leak.
Mr. Biden committed on Thursday to making the results of the review public, but added a caveat: “unless there’s something I’m unaware of.”
His call for the study has both domestic and international political ramifications. It prompted his critics to argue that the president had dismissed the possibility that the lab was the origin until the Chinese government this week rejected allowing further investigation by the World Health Organization. And, administration officials said, the White House hopes American allies will contribute more vigorously to a serious exploration of a theory that, until now, they considered at best unlikely, and at worst a conspiracy theory.
So far, the effort to glean evidence from intercepted communications within China, a notoriously hard target to penetrate, has yielded little. Current and former intelligence officials say they strongly doubt that anyone will find an email or a text message or a document that shows evidence of a lab accident.
Mexico gave emergency authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, paving the way for the country to start using the doses of the vaccine, according to the country’s drug regulators.
The Mexican government has previously authorized vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Russia’s Sputnik V, as well as China’s Sinovac and CanSino.
The pandemic has taken a brutal toll on Mexico. The government resisted imposing strict lockdowns, fearing damage to the economy, and has not tested widely, arguing it is a waste of money. Mexico now has the fourth highest coronavirus death toll worldwide. (An earlier version of this item reported incorrectly that it was the third.)
The country began its coronavirus vaccination campaign in December. According to a New York Times database, nine percent of the country is fully vaccinated and 15 percent has received at least one dose. Virus cases have been slowly dropping in Mexico. Over the past week, the country has averaged 2,173 cases per day, a decrease of 1 percent from the average two weeks ago. Deaths have decreased by 13 percent.
In March, the White House announced its plans to send millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada.
After the vaccine campaign got off to a glacial start, the pace began to pick up nationally by mid-April. In a bid to improve their customer service, vaccination centers in Mexico’s capital now come with a slate of entertainment options, including dancing, yoga, live operatic performances and the chance to watch large, bare-chested Lucha Libre wrestlers do the limbo.
Facing a national decline in Covid-19 vaccination rates and an underwhelming response to vaccines in its own stores, the U.S. pharmacy chain CVS will offer a chance at money, vacations and a Super Bowl trip to persuade the unvaccinated to start going in for their shots.
CVS said in April that it could administer 25 million shots each month, but as of this week it had only administered about 17 million doses in total as mass vaccination sites ended up playing a bigger role in the nation’s early vaccination campaign.
The CVS incentives could not only help get more people vaccinated, but provide a boost to the company: The Medicare payment to administer each dose is $40.
Nationally, the average number of doses administered daily has slowed to 1.7 million, down from a peak of more than 3.3 million in April.
CVS said in a statement that in an effort to “provide a positive reminder of the activities that are possible once vaccinated,” it had joined with other companies to offer prizes to people who get a shot at one of its pharmacies.
Among the incentives: Weeklong Norwegian Cruises, $100 dates sponsored by the dating app Hinge and a trip to Super Bowl LVI next year.
CVS will give 125 people $500 and five people $5,000 to host family reunions.
People 18 and older who “received a vaccination or certify that they’ve registered to receive a vaccination from CVS Health” are eligible for the sweepstakes, which runs from June 1 to July 10, the statement said.
CVS isn’t the first to offer inducements to the unvaccinated. Ohio, Colorado and Oregon are offering residents a chance at $1 million for getting vaccinated, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York on Wednesday said that residents ages 12 to 17 who get vaccinated would be entered to win a full-ride scholarship to a public university in the state. (Other incentives include free beer in New Jersey and $50 gift cards in Detroit for driving someone to a vaccination site.)
More than 165 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, only 40 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, leaving a significant portion of the country vulnerable to infection.
With the Memorial Day holiday looming, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, warned unvaccinated Americans on Tuesday that they “remain at risk of infection” and should still take precautions like distancing and wearing a mask.
On the heels of President Biden’s abrupt order to U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, many scientists reacted positively, reflecting their push in recent weeks for more information about the work of a virus lab in Wuhan, China. But they cautioned against expecting an answer in the three-month time frame of the president’s request.
After long steering clear of the debate, some influential scientists have lately become more open to expressing uncertainties about the origins of the virus. If the two most vocal poles of the argument are natural spillover vs. laboratory leak, these new voices have added a third point of view: a resounding undecided.
“In the beginning, there was a lot of pressure against speaking up, because it was tied to conspiracies and Trump supporters,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University. “There was very little rational discussion going on in the beginning.”
Virologists still largely lean toward the theory that infected animals — perhaps a bat, or another animal raised for food — spread the virus to humans outside of a lab. There is no direct evidence for the “lab leak” theory that Chinese researchers isolated the virus, which then infected a lab worker.
But China’s integral role in a joint inquiry with the World Health Organization made its dismissal of the lab leak theory difficult to accept, Dr. Iwasaki and 17 other scientists argued in the journal Science this month.
On Wednesday, two weeks after that letter was published, President Biden called on intelligence agencies to “redouble their efforts” and deliver a report to him within 90 days. On Thursday Mr. Biden said he expected to release the report to the public.
While researchers generally welcome a sustained search for answers, some warn that those answers may not arrive any time soon — if ever.
China’s lack of cooperation with the W.H.O. has long fueled suspicions about how the coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, had emerged seemingly from nowhere to seize the world.
The mysterious London public relations agency sent its pitch simultaneously to social media influencers in France and Germany: Claim that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is deadly and that regulators and the mainstream media are covering it up, the message read, and earn thousands of euros in easy money in exchange.
The claim is false. The purported agency, Fazze, has a website and describes itself as an “influencer marketing platform” connecting bloggers and advertisers. But when some of the influencers tried to find out who was running Fazze, the ephemeral trail appeared to lead to Russia.
“Unbelievable. The address of the London agency that contacted me is bogus,” Léo Grasset, a popular French health and science YouTuber with more than one million followers, wrote on Twitter on Monday. “All the employees have weird LinkedIn profiles … which have been missing since this morning. Everyone has worked in Russia before.”
Mirko Drotschmann, a German health commentator with 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, said in a tweet that the P.R. agency had asked if he wanted to be part of an “information campaign” about Pfizer deaths in exchange for money. After doing some research, he concluded: “Agency headquarters: London. Residence of the C.E.O.: Moscow.”
Their responses prompted two other social media influencers to come forward and say that they, too, were approached last week with the offer of a “partnership” to criticize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. One was offered 2,000 euros, about $2,400. It’s uncertain how many influencers received the solicitations, or if any acted on them.
And it’s not at all clear that there ever was a Fazze agency. Within hours of the questions on social media, the employee profiles on the agency’s LinkedIn account had disappeared, and someone scrubbed its Facebook page blank. Its Instagram account was made private. Its website offers no way to contact the company.
The French health minister, Olivier Véran, denounced the operation on Tuesday, calling it “pathetic and dangerous.” He did not elaborate on whether the government was investigating the matter.
South America’s largest soccer tournament is scheduled to start in just over two weeks, but with one of the planned host countries, Colombia, removed because of ongoing political protests, and the remaining host, Argentina, mired in its worst coronavirus surge to date, it is unclear where the competition will take place.
Argentines and their government officials are torn over the wisdom of hosting the championship, Copa América, in a discussion that mirrors the one in Japan over holding the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Last week, President Alberto Fernández called this Argentina’s “worst moment in the pandemic” and announced stringent lockdown measures. The country now ranks third in the world, after neighboring Uruguay and Paraguay, in the number of deaths as a proportion of the population over the past week, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
Last Wednesday night, Mr. Fernández met with Alejandro Domínguez, the head of the South American soccer federation, Conmebol, and presented a “strict protocol” that would have to be followed in order for the tournament to be held in the country.
Argentina’s Health Ministry will analyze the plans and come to a determination of whether the games, set to start June 13, and to feature stars like Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Neymar of Brazil, can go ahead.
Like many New Zealanders before her, Cat Moody chased the broader horizons of life abroad, unsure whether she would ever return to a homeland that she saw as remote and limiting.
But when the pandemic arrived, fresh air, natural splendor and a sparse population sounded more appealing, as did the sense of security in a country whose strict measures have all but vanquished the coronavirus.
In February, Ms. Moody, 42, left her house and the life she had built in Princeton, N.J., and moved back to New Zealand with her husband, a U.S. citizen. She is among more than 50,000 New Zealanders who have flocked home during the pandemic, offering the country a rare opportunity to win back some of its best and brightest.
New Zealand typically posts a net loss of thousands or tens of thousands of citizens each year, with its overall population growth fueled by migrants. In 2020, New Zealand posted a yearly net gain of thousands of citizens for the first time since the 1970s.
The question is how long the edge will last. Those returning face some of the same pressures that provoked their departure, like sky-high housing costs, lagging wages and constricted job prospects. And fewer than 153,000 people in the country of five million have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
Bryan Anselm for The New York Times
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Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times
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Ahead of Memorial Day a year ago, many officials in the United States had canceled parades and banned crowded gatherings. The country was on the cusp of recording 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
This year, parades and barbecues are set to take place across the country and vaccinated people are being urged to get outside and enjoy the holiday. As the national economy roars back, concerns over soaring gas prices, sold-out hotels and lifeguard shortages may be eclipsing virus fears.
“A year ago, we were at the end of the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S., and now we’re kind of at the beginning of the end,” said Dr. Dan Diekema, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa.
Hundreds of people are still dying each day, pushing the death count in the United States past 592,000 — an enormous toll that few envisioned a year ago. But the vaccinations over the past six months have proved a game-changer in the fight against Covid-19, even as challenges remain in reaching those without shots and the nation may never reach herd immunity.
About 62 percent of people 18 and older have received at least one shot; President Biden has set a goal of reaching 70 percent of adults by July 4. New cases have plunged 40 percent or more in many states around the country. The daily death rate is at its lowest level since last summer.
“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 at a White House news conference 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.”
After the C.D.C. shifted its guidance this month by saying fully vaccinated people could take off their masks in most situations, one state after another moved to ease restrictions or eliminate them altogether.
California, the most populous U.S. state, announced plans to lift capacity limits and social-distancing restrictions while still requiring masks in indoor settings for now. At the same time, other states are barreling ahead with reopening plans.
Missouri’s governor, a Republican, reopened all remaining businesses this month and directed all state workers to return to offices for in-person work. Texas went even further, banning public schools and local governments from requiring masks.
Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, also a Republican, similarly prohibited mask mandates in state office buildings.
“If somebody wants to wear a mask, that is their personal choice,” he said.
As political leaders embrace policies aimed at returning to normalcy, the vaccines are accentuating a chasm between the United States — where the shots are widely available and where doses are being offered to children — and other nations, such as Brazil and India, where the virus is still raging and vaccines are in short supply.
There are also reminders around the United States that the pandemic, and the partisan positioning around the crisis, remain far from over. The pace of vaccinations has declined sharply since mid-April, with providers administering about 1.7 million doses per day on average, about a 50 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13. As the Biden administration has shifted its vaccine strategy to more local and personalized efforts, states are trying different tactics, including offering $1 million vaccine lottery prizes and other incentives.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in remembrance of the frontline workers who died during the pandemic, only to have a top Republican leader in the State Senate demand an apology from the governor for such a move during a holiday honoring soldiers.
A year ago, President Donald J. Trump mocked Mr. Biden for appearing in public with a face mask. Some states that moved early to reopen, such as Arizona, Florida and Texas, were slammed with a surge in cases weeks later.
Dr. Diekema, the Iowa epidemiologist, said he hoped that the resurgence of the virus last summer would serve as a reminder of the risks to unvaccinated people.
He said he couldn’t imagine a year ago that more than half a million people in the United States would die because of the virus. And the toll continues to grow: Over the holiday weekend, Dr. Diekema said that he planned to be working.
“I’ll be in the hospital seeing patients with infectious diseases like Covid-19,” he said.
Memorial Day weekend is underway in the United States, and things are decidedly different for travelers than they were a year ago.
More than half of all adults in the United States have now been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A federal mandate requires travelers in airplanes or on public transportation to wear masks, though most airlines then were asking passengers to wear them. And many, many more people are likely to leave town for the holiday this year than in 2020.
Darby LaJoye, the acting administrator at the Transportation Security Administration, said the number of travelers at U.S. airports has been increasing steadily during the spring, reaching nearly 1.9 million last Sunday, nearly eight times the figure for May 17, the comparable Sunday in 2020.
On Friday, the number of daily travelers topped 1.9 million, a level of travel not seen since March 2020, according to agency data released on Saturday. The T.S.A. predicted that airports would probably see two million passengers in a day over the holiday weekend, the latest crest in the recent waves of returning travelers. Mr. LaJoye said the increasing number of passengers could lead to longer wait times at security checkpoints.
AAA, the automobile owners group, predicted earlier this month that, all told, more than 37 million people would travel 50 miles or more from Thursday to Monday — a 60 percent increase from last year, though still 9 percent below 2019. A great majority will travel by car.
“We will continue to see a very steady increase as we approach the summer travel season,” Mr. LaJoye said. “As vaccinations continue to rise and confidence continues to build, the nation’s planes, trains, buses and roads are going to be heavily traveled.”
To help control the spread of the virus, the T.S.A. has erected acrylic barriers, installed new machines allowing some passengers to scan their own documents and adjusted the rules to allow passengers to have up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-on bags.
A year ago in the United States, there was no authorized coronavirus vaccine, mask requirements were left up to local officials and individual carriers and air traffic was sparse.
Now, people 12 or older can get vaccinated, and those who choose to travel have a sense of their own safety that even the boldest voyagers last year did not. (Still, traveling, and many other activities, can be complicated for younger children and their families.)
“Thanks to vaccines, tens of millions of Americans are able to get back to something closer to normal, visiting friends and family,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said this week at a news conference.
This year’s holiday falls at a time when parts of the world, like the United States and the European Union, are progressively reopening their borders and allowing tourism to restart. But the virus continues to ravage other areas, notably India, South America and Southeast Asia, where vaccine supplies are scarce and worrisome virus variants have been detected.
As it happens, the average number of new cases being reported in the U.S. is about the same now as it was around Memorial Day last year, about 23,000 a day, though testing was far scarcer as the pandemic initially hit. In each case, the figure had been declining from a recent peak in mid-April.
Last year, reports of revelers ignoring mask and social distancing rules over the holiday weekend were legion. Within weeks of some states reopening, virus cases were starting to surge to record levels. Jumps in virus cases have been seen after other holiday weekends, Dr. Walensky noted this week.
Now that many people have been vaccinated, any virus outbreaks in the United States after the holiday will probably look different, according to Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. She said she was concerned about “micro-epidemics” in vulnerable areas.
“We could potentially see these surges focused in specific communities, where there’s low vaccination rates and low masking rates,” Dr. El-Sadr said.
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