Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

From “awful” to “good.”

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

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Credit…The New York Times

New York will lift most of its remaining virus restrictions on businesses and social settings when 70 percent of the state’s adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

The federal government in India will take over the vaccine program from states amid criticism over their handling of the outbreak.

In Uganda, a new wave is sickening young people.

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

The state of the virus

Over the last 15 months, I’ve relied on my colleague Mitch Smith, who tracks the coronavirus for The Times, to explain the virus situation in the U.S. for this newsletter. In the past, when talking about the national outlook, he commonly used words like “terrible,” lousy” and “awful.”

But when I rang up Mitch today, his tone was different.

“The national picture uniformly looks good right now,” he said. The country is averaging below 15,000 cases per day, the lowest since testing became widely available, and cases continue to decline rapidly. Deaths are falling, as are hospitalizations.

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Credit…The New York Times

“This feels very different than other moments when cases have declined,” Mitch said. “Recently, they’ve declined a lot, they’ve declined just about everywhere, and a very large percentage of people are now vaccinated. So this does feel like an extremely hopeful moment, although something short of ‘it’s over, we’re home free.'”

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Credit…The New York Times

Mitch isn’t seeing troubling signs in the case data, like cities or states where cases are beginning to bubble up. “You look at the map today and you see only a few small counties that have reason for concern,” he said. “But really small counties.”

Of course, case rates don’t tell the whole story of the pandemic, and Mitch said he is worried about the lagging vaccination rates in the South. Experts are warning that it could lead to a Covid surge there this summer. However, if there is a surge, it won’t be as grave as last summer, experts say, because many people are vaccinated and treatments have improved.

The other big mystery is the direction of the variants. As David Leonhardt wrote in today’s Morning newsletter, the Delta variant first detected in India has doubled cases in Britain during the last month, to 4,000 a day from about 2,000. Britain’s experience suggests that cases may soon rise in the U.S.

“The increase is a reminder that progress against the pandemic — even extreme progress — does not equal ultimate victory,” David wrote.

When will you need a booster shot?

Although many scientists estimate that coronavirus vaccines will last at least a year, no one knows for sure. I asked my colleague Carl Zimmer what we know so far.

How do Covid-19 vaccines stack up in terms of protection?

Early signs are encouraging. Researchers have been drawing blood from volunteers in vaccine trials and measuring their levels of antibodies and immune cells that target the coronavirus. The levels are dropping, but gradually. It’s possible that with this slow rate of decline, vaccine protection will remain strong for a long time. People who were previously infected and then received the vaccine may enjoy even more durable protection.

Will some Covid vaccines last longer than others?

Scientists have already found that vaccines using different technologies can vary in their effectiveness. The strongest vaccines include Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, both of which are based on RNA molecules. Vaccines relying on inactivated viruses, such as those made by Sinopharm in China and Bharat Biotech in India, have proved somewhat less effective.

How will we know when our vaccines are losing their effectiveness?

Scientists are searching for biological markers that could reveal when the protection from a vaccine is no longer enough to hold back the coronavirus. It’s possible that a certain level of antibodies marks a threshold: If your blood measures above that level, you’re in good shape, but if you’re below it, you’re at greater risk of infection.

What about the variants?

The emergence of variants in recent months has accelerated research on boosters. Some variants have mutations that lead them to spread swiftly. Others carry mutations that might blunt the effectiveness of authorized vaccines. But at this point, scientists still have only a smattering of clues about how existing vaccines work against different variants.

Emerging photos

In August, New York City is planing a megaconcert in Central Park to celebrate its reopening. In two weeks, California will lift most of its virus restrictions. Across the U.S., cities and states are emerging from the pandemic and Americans are beginning to re-enter society.

We’d love to be there with you.

We’re asking readers to send in photos of their first steps into post-pandemic life. We’re looking for the moments when you realized that something changed, and that life was returning to something resembling normal.

If you’d like to participate, send us a photograph, with a brief description of the event and how you felt to briefing@nytimes.com. Please include your name and where you live. We may use your photo and submission in an upcoming newsletter.

Vaccine rollout

A new study points to one of the secrets of the Alpha variant discovered in the U.K. Alpha disables the first line of immune defenses, giving the variant more time to multiply.

After more than a year of casting doubt on the efficacy of vaccines, Tanzania has given approval for doses to be flown in — but only for foreign embassies and international organizations, Reuters reports.

Russia said its one-dose Sputnik Light vaccine had been approved for use in the Republic of Congo, which had already approved the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine, Reuters reports.

In Germany, anyone 12 or older is now officially eligible for a vaccine appointment, DW reports.

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

What else we’re following

According to a yearlong Axios survey, people who reported never wearing masks were twice as likely to test positive for the virus compared to those who said they wore masks all the time.

Coronavirus tests will need to be updated in order to track possible variants, The Atlantic reports.

The Guardian looked at how health care employees working with Covid patients have been abused and threatened around the world.

Opposing views of mask requirements have rippled across a Michigan county, even influencing where people buy their fruit.

The New Yorker chronicled how residents of New York City are revising old haunts after a year of uncertainty.

What you’re doing

I am a vaccination nurse in Massachusetts, and we are winding down. It is bittersweet. I have been there since the first dose on Dec. 15. There were days we vaccinated until we were stumbling with exhaustion. We vaccinated our co-workers, then our parents, then people our age, then teenagers and then middle schoolers. I’ve seen people burst into tears of relief after receiving their shot; the doctor who worked straight through although she was pregnant; the grandmother who hadn’t hugged her grandkids in a year. I’ll never forget the dapper 89-year-old who pressed a Werther’s candy into my hand in thanks before picking up his cane to head home. It was like spreading a blanket of protection over all the good people around me. Daily cases here dropped to 100 the other day after being in the thousands a few months ago. The mask mandate and state of emergency have been lifted. It worked. It was so rewarding. I will never forget this experience for as long as I live.

— Katherine Haradon, Holyoke, Mass.

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