Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Washington grapples with Delta.


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Credit…The New York Times

Italy said it would require proof of vaccination or a negative test for many social activities.

China denounced the W.H.O.’s call for another look at the Wuhan lab as “shocking” and “arrogant.”

Biden predicted that the F.D.A. would give final approval to a Covid vaccine by the fall.

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

A “pivotal point” in the pandemic

The director of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, issued a blunt new warning about the virus today, calling the Delta variant “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses” known to scientists, and said that the U.S. was at “another pivotal point” in the pandemic.

The dramatic shift in tone comes as the country is experiencing a U-turn in virus statistics. Since the beginning of the month, the number of new cases in the U.S. has shot up 171 percent. The virus is also claiming around 250 lives each day, 42 percent higher than just two weeks ago.

The public health crisis is particularly acute in parts of the country where vaccination rates are the lowest. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, the number of new cases detected each day is up more than 200 percent in the past two weeks, driving new hospitalizations and deaths almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. Intensive care units are filled or filling in southern Missouri, parts of Kansas and northern Arkansas.

The startling statistics are forcing both political parties to grapple with the new reality.

“This is like the moment in the horror movie when you think the horror is over and the credits are about to roll,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland. “And it all starts back up again.”

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, got his first shot last weekend. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said the vaccines were “saving lives.” The Fox News host Sean Hannity declared on his show: “I believe in the science of vaccinations.”

But when House Republican leaders gathered Thursday for a news conference ostensibly to urge Americans to get vaccinated, they only grudgingly signaled mixed support for vaccinations after being pressed by reporters.

“If you are at risk, you should be getting this vaccine,” said Representative Andy Harris of Maryland, a physician, adding, “We urge all Americans to talk to their doctors about the risks of Covid, talk to their doctors about the benefits of getting vaccinated, and then come to a decision that’s right for them.”

Representative Greg Murphy, Republican of North Carolina, said, “This vaccine is a medicine, and just like with any other medicines, there are side effects and this is a personal decision.”

The White House announced new grants to local health offices for vaccines and increased testing in rural communities, even as administration officials insisted that there was no need to rethink their basic strategy and deflected questions about whether people who are vaccinated should begin wearing masks indoors again.

Amid the uncertainty, one thing is clear: The rise of the variant has once again upended hopes for an end to the pandemic this summer, and for a safe return to work and school in autumn.

“I am worried about the fall,” said Representative Lauren Underwood, Democrat of Illinois and a nurse. “August is going to be rough. Back to school is going to be rough. We’re going to see more illness and more death.”

Delta and breakthrough infections

As the Delta variant surges across the nation, reports of so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people have become increasingly frequent.

But my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reports that, as worrying as the trend may seem, breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are still relatively uncommon, and those that cause serious illness, hospitalization or death even more so. More than 97 percent of people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

“The takeaway message remains, if you’re vaccinated, you are protected,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. “You are not going to end up with severe disease, hospitalization or death.”

All of the existing vaccines seem able to prevent serious illness and death from the variant (although questions have been raised recently about the Johnson & Johnson shot). The vaccines prevent serious illness by priming the immune system, which should recognize the virus and destroy it before significant damage occurs.

But given the upswing in cases, some scientists say that it’s time for vaccinated people to consider wearing masks indoors again. C.D.C. guidelines currently recommend masking only for unvaccinated people, but its guidance gives local leaders latitude to adjust to rates of transmission in their communities.

“Seatbelts reduce risk, but we still need to drive carefully,” said Dr. Scott Dryden-Peterson, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist. “We’re still trying to figure out what is ‘drive carefully’ in the Delta era.”

Should I mask up? Here’s what you need to know.

L.A.’s mandate. The California Today newsletter spoke to L.A. County’s public health chief about the new mask rules.

Vaccine rollout

With half the country in lockdown, the prime minister of Australia apologized for its slow vaccine rollout.

YouTube pulled videos by Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, for spreading misinformation on the virus and vaccines.

The European Union pledged to double the amount of vaccines it will donate to low and middle income countries to 200 million by the end of the year.

As nations in Europe look to national health passes, can the U.S. learn any lessons?

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

What else we’re following

Unvaccinated staff are being linked to a national surge in virus cases in nursing homes, The Associated Press reports.

Even after England reopened on “Freedom Day,” Scotland has kept its coronavirus restrictions in place.

Is New York City doing enough to halt a third wave of the virus? Experts have raised doubts.

More phone calls, less shopping. Here’s how the pandemic changed American lives, down to the minute.

U.S. airlines are seeing a surge in demand for domestic air travel that has exceeded forecasts.

Summer colds are back with a vengeance. Here’s why.

What you’re doing

I feel lost. I graduated college in May 2020. It seems like light years away, but I still haven’t been able to move on. Nowadays I’m afraid to do anything. I’m afraid to live. My friends ask me to go out, to dance, to drink, to act normal again, but I can’t bring myself to. I used to be a steadfast optimist and now this fear of everything has ripped through my soul. I feel my youth slipping away while I longingly stare from my bed, clicking the “continue watching” button on my TV for the umpteenth time. Is this “normal”?

— Samantha, New York City

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