Virus Updates: 3 Great Plains States Recover After Staggering Spikes
New York City has fewer than 1,000 Covid-19 first doses on hand because of shipment delays caused by snowstorms across the country, the city reported on Saturday. (An earlier version of this briefing failed to note that the number applied to first rather than overall doses.)
The delays brought the city’s “entire vaccination effort” to a “standstill,” Avery Cohen, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, wrote on Twitter.
Vicious winter weather has snarled vaccine deliveries nationwide. The White House estimated that the weather had created a backlog of six million doses, and pleaded with local officials to extend hours at vaccination sites and schedule additional appointments. The bad weather has slowed two vaccine shipping hubs — a FedEx center in Memphis and a UPS site in Louisville, Ky. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency said this week that more than 2,000 vaccine sites were in areas with power outages.
In Texas, where millions of residents lost power during this week’s powerful storm, state health officials said that more than 100,000 first doses and 300,000 second doses that were supposed to be delivered this week were still waiting to be shipped to Texas from out-of-state warehouses, citing data from the federal vaccine tracking system. The missed doses are expected to be delivered during the first half of next week.
In the Houston area, some vaccination sites began reopening at the end of this week. A mass FEMA vaccination site at NRG Park will open for the first time on Tuesday, and is expected to vaccinate 42,000 people per week, Lina Hidalgo, chief executive of Harris County, said on Thursday.
Mr. de Blasio said on Friday that New York City had delayed scheduling up to 35,000 first dose appointments because of the shortage.
Despite the delays, New Yorkers whose appointments had not been canceled by their providers were able to get their shots over the weekend. And New York State is still scheduling appointments for new mass vaccination sites opening in Brooklyn and Queens on Wednesday in partnership with FEMA.
State officials said that they had received 40 percent of their vaccine allocation for the week, and that they expected the remainder would be distributed on Sunday.
The new sites, at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens, are open to residents of only select ZIP codes and are intended to increase low vaccination rates in communities of color. ZIP code data released on Tuesday showed drastic disparities between vaccination rates in whiter areas of New York City compared with predominantly Black neighborhoods.
Lots of vaccine appointments now available at the new Medgar Evers College vax site in Brooklyn for eligible New Yorkers in the following ZIPs:
11206, 11221, 11216, 11238, 11225, 11213, 11233, 11207, 11208, 11236, 11212, 11203, 11226, 11210
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) February 20, 2021
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said in a statement on Friday that he expected the FEMA sites would have “a dramatic impact on some of our hardest hit communities.”
Eligible New Yorkers who meet residency requirements for the new vaccination sites can schedule appointments through the state’s website, or by calling 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).
ROSTOCK, Germany — It was barely noon, but Steffen Bockhahn’s phone had not stopped ringing with people wanting to know if they qualified for a vaccination, and if not now, when?
Days earlier Germany had changed its guidance on who qualified for vaccines, resulting in a seemingly endless stream of questions from worried local residents for Mr. Bockhahn, the health minister for this port city in Germany’s northeast.
“No, I’m sorry, but we are not allowed to vaccinate anyone in Category 2 yet, only those nurses or other caregivers who are in the first priority group,” he told a caller. “You have to wait.”
More than two months into the country’s second full lockdown, people across Germany are growing tired of waiting, whether for vaccines, getting their government compensation, or a return to normalcy. It’s a disheartening comedown.
At the start of the pandemic, Germany showed itself to be a global leader in dealing with a once-in-a-century public heath crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel forged a consensus on a lockdown. Her government’s testing and tracing tools were the envy of European neighbors. The country’s death and infection rates were among the lowest in the European Union. And a generally trustful population abided by restrictions with relatively muted grumbling.
No more. In the virus’s second wave, Germany now finds itself swamped like everyone else. A host of tougher new restrictions has stretched on, amid loud complaints, and even occasional protests before everything was shut down again. Still, infection rates hover around 10,000 new cases per day.
And as fears grow over the new variants first identified in England and South Africa, Germany’s vaccination program, lashed to the fortunes of the European Union, has floundered. Only 3.5 percent of Germans have received their first shots, and just 2 percent, roughly, have been fully immunized.
A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that while more Germans feel confident in their country’s handling of the pandemic than Americans or Britons, their approval dropped 11 percentage points between June and December 2020.
The mood has only soured further as Germans watch other countries, especially Britain, step up their vaccination campaigns with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — developed with the help of German taxpayers — while they have been left waiting for doses to arrive.
Beyond that, mayors are warning of the death of inner cities if small stores are not allowed to reopen. Some states have reopened schools, while others remain shuttered. Doctors are warning of the lockdown’s lasting psychological damage to children.
Parents are frustrated with the lack of support for online learning. Germany’s stringent data protection laws prevent Germans from using U.S.-based digital learning platforms, but local solutions do not always function smoothly. In many public schools, education now consists of teachers sending lessons as email attachments for students to work through on their own.
Ms. Merkel has done her best to buck up a weary public. Over the past month, the normally reserved chancellor has chatted by video with overwhelmed families, appeared before the Berlin news corps and given two interviews on prime-time television.
“I wish that I had something good to announce,” she said, addressing the nation.
One month into his presidency, President Biden still has not named a candidate to head the Food and Drug Administration, a critical position at a time when new vaccines and coronavirus treatments are under the agency’s review.
The vacancy is glaring, given that the president has made selections for most other top government health posts, and the gap has spurred a public lobbying campaign by supporters of the two apparent front-runners, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former high-ranking F.D.A. official, and Dr. Janet Woodcock, the agency’s acting commissioner.
The absence of a nominee has also exposed rifts among congressional lawmakers and within public health and medical communities, as well as inside the health and drug industries that depend on the F.D.A. for approval of their products. In particular, some public health officials have used the open position to debate the leadership qualifications needed to restore the agency’s morale and credibility after a year fighting both a pandemic and a president who often belittled the F.D.A.’s process for approving treatments and vaccines.
“Every month is a crucial month in the pandemic,” said Scott Becker of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “There is so much going on regarding the vaccine, and new drugs and diagnostics. The time to have permanent leadership is now.”
Administration officials attributed the delay to the overwhelming focus on solving Covid-19 vaccine shortages and distribution problems.
The F.D.A. plays a key role in the nation’s pandemic response: vetting vaccines that are in development and under review as well as treatments, protective gear and devices. The agency also monitors the safety of new vaccines and therapies as they are distributed and administered to the public.
Interviews with several officials and other people familiar with the leading candidates indicate that the primary disagreement centers on how each would manage the inherent tensions between the agency’s mission to get drugs onto the market quickly and ensuring they are safe and will work.
Dr. Woodcock commands deep support, especially within the vast network of cancer-related patient advocacy groups, researchers and the drug companies that help finance them. But her decades of service at the F.D.A. have made her more of a target for critics, and she has drawn particular fire over her time as chief of the agency’s drug division during the opioid crisis.
Dr. Sharfstein held the No. 2 slot at the F.D.A. for nearly two years in the Obama administration and has extensive public health interests. He now works at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he is vice dean for public health practice and community engagement. He often criticized the Trump administration’s pandemic response, and called for the F.D.A. to “stand up for itself and for science, not politics.”
The last time his name was seriously floated for the top post, back in 2008, Dr. Sharfstein drew opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, which protested his criticism of off-label drug marketing and gifts from pharmaceutical companies to physicians.
Neither Dr. Woodcock nor Dr. Sharfstein would comment publicly because the selection process was underway.
With the vaccine rollout gaining steam and coronavirus cases declining after a dark winter surge, it may seem as though the end of the pandemic is in sight for the United States. In reality, how soon could we get there?
One answer lies in herd immunity, the point when enough people are immune to the virus that it can no longer spread through the population. Getting there, however, depends not just on how quickly we can vaccinate but on other factors, too, like how many people have already been infected and how easily the virus spreads.
The exact threshold for herd immunity for the coronavirus is unknown, but recent estimates range from 70 percent to 90 percent.
If the rate of vaccinations continues to grow, one model shows that Americans could reach herd immunity as early as July. But a lot could happen between now and then. The speed and uptake of vaccination is a big factor, as well as how long immunity lasts. The rise of new virus variants and how the United States responds to them will also affect the path to herd immunity.
In most scenarios, millions more people will become infected and tens or hundreds of thousands more will die before herd immunity is reached.
Not three months ago, the coronavirus had so ravaged South Dakota that its packed hospitals were flying patients to other states for treatment. An analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University had shown that the mortality rates from Covid-19 in North and South Dakota were the world’s highest. In one Montana county, the rate of hospitalization for the virus was 20 times the national average.
As in some earlier hot spots like Arizona and Florida, the surge mushroomed as most leaders and residents in these states resisted lockdowns and mask mandates for months. In South Dakota, no statewide mask mandate was ever issued.
The spike in these states was as brief as it was powerful. Today, their rates of new cases are back roughly to where they were last summer or early fall. In North Dakota, which mandated masks at the height of its surge in mid-November, the turnaround has been especially dramatic: The daily average deaths per person is now the country’s second lowest, according to a New York Times database.
By some measures, the three-state hot spot’s trajectory has mirrored the nation’s. After the daily U.S. average for new cases peaked on Jan. 9, it took 37 days — until last Monday — for the rate to drop by two-thirds. It took South Dakota and Montana 35 days to reach the same mark after cases peaked in those two states in November. (North Dakota did it in 24.)
Deaths remain high nationally, because it can take weeks for Covid-19 patients to die. The country continues to average more than 2,000 deaths each day and is on pace to reach 500,000 deaths in the next week.
Experts say the spikes in the Northern Great Plains ebbed largely for the same reason that the U.S. caseload has been falling: People finally took steps to save themselves in the face of an out-of-control deadly disease.
“As things get worse and friends and family members are in the hospital or dying, people start to adjust their behavior and cases go down,” said Meghan O’Connell, an epidemiologist in South Dakota and an adviser on health issues to the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board, which represents Native American populations in the area. Native Americans, who represent about 5 percent to almost 10 percent of the population in all three states, have been infected by the virus at far higher rates than the general population.
During the outbreak’s worst weeks, from early November to late December, mask use rose 10 to 20 percentage points in South Dakota and 20 to 30 percentage points in North Dakota, according to survey data from the University of Maryland.
Since then, the U.S. vaccination drive has been gathering speed. North Dakota ranks fifth among states for giving its residents at least one shot; South Dakota is seventh and Montana is 11th.
Some experts see the coronavirus’s race through these states as a rough test of the widely rejected idea that the pandemic should be allowed to run its course until the population gains herd immunity.
While the region did not reach herd immunity, it may have come closer than anywhere else in the United States.
The outbreak in November vaulted North and South Dakota to the top of the list in cumulative cases per person, where they remain, according to a New York Times database, with 13 and 12.5 percent of their residents known to have been infected. Montana, at about 9.2 percent, is close to the middle of the national pack.
Just over 8 percent of Americans — about 27.9 million — are known to have had the coronavirus, but for many reasons, including that asymptomatic infections can go undetected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the real rate is 4.6 times that.
By those measures, at least six in 10 Dakotans — and most likely more — could have gained some immunity to the virus by the end of 2020, according to Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University professor of environmental health sciences who is modeling the future spread of the virus. And in some places, he noted, the share could be even higher.
When a young Israeli woman was released from detention in Syria this week, after having been arrested for crossing illegally into Syria, the official story was that she had been the beneficiary of a straightforward prisoner swap. In return for her freedom, the Israeli government announced, she had been exchanged for two Syrian shepherds captured by the Israelis.
But if this deal between two enemy states, which have never shared diplomatic relations, sounded too swift and easy, it was. In secret, Israel had in fact also agreed to a far more contentious ransom: the financing of an undisclosed number of Covid-19 vaccines for Syria, according to an official familiar with the content of the negotiations.
Under the deal, Israel will pay Russia, which mediated it, to send Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the official said. Israel has given at least one vaccine shot to nearly half its population of 9.2 million, while Syria — now entering its 11th year of civil war — has yet to begin its vaccine rollout.
The Israeli government declined to comment on the vaccine aspect of the deal, while a Syrian state-controlled news outlet, the Syrian Arab News Agency, denied that vaccines were part of the arrangement. Asked about the vaccines in a television interview on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel evaded the question, saying only that no Israeli vaccines were being sent to Syria.
The deal constitutes a rare moment of uneasy cooperation between two states that have fought several wars and still contest the sovereignty of a tract of land, the Golan Heights, that Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
It also highlights how vaccines are increasingly a feature of international diplomacy. And it reflects a vast and growing disparity between wealthy states, like Israel, that have made considerable headway with coronavirus vaccines and may soon return to some kind of normality — and poor ones, like Syria, that have not.
BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s health minister, Ginés González García, resigned on Friday at the request of the president over revelations that people with close ties to the government were given early access to Covid-19 vaccines.
The resignation came just hours after a well-known journalist incited nationwide outrage by revealing that he had been vaccinated at the health ministry. The journalist, Horacio Verbitsky, who is seen as pro-government, said he had called Mr. Gónzalez García, an old friend, to find out where he could get vaccinated and was directed to the ministry’s headquarters.
Mr. González García presented his resignation on Friday. Carla Vizzotti, who as the No. 2 official at the health ministry has played a visible role during the pandemic, was sworn in as the new health minister on Saturday afternoon.
The scandal in Argentina comes amid a similar controversy in Peru, where several high-ranking officials, including the foreign and health ministers, were forced to step down after it was revealed that around 500 officials jumped the line to receive the vaccines before health care workers.
Mr. Verbitsky’s revelation led to widespread outrage on social media, which for days had been rife with rumors that well-connected Argentines had been quietly getting vaccinated. Local news media outlets quickly followed up with reports that Mr. Verbitsky was one of several government allies, naming lawmakers and business leaders, who received a shot at the ministry.
In his resignation letter, Mr. González García blamed his private secretary for an “involuntary confusion” that led to people being vaccinated at the ministry and said he would take responsibility “for the mistake.”
Argentina began its vaccination campaign in late December with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and until recently, most doses had been reserved for health care personnel and certain government officials.
Older Argentines became eligible for the vaccine this past week, but appointments are scarce.
Argentina, a nation of about 45 million, has received some 1.2 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, and earlier this week received a shipment of 580,000 doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine from India’s Serum Institute. The country has administered more than 445,000 first doses and more than 261,000 second doses, according to the health ministry.
The coronavirus has sickened more than two million people in Argentina, and more than 50,000 have died.
Prestigious universities like Cornell never have a hard time attracting students. But this year, its admissions office is swimming in 17,000 more applications than it has ever received before, driven mostly by the school’s decision not to require standardized test scores during the pandemic.
“We saw people that thought ‘I would never get into Cornell’ thinking, ‘Oh, if they’re not looking at a test score, maybe I’ve actually got a chance,’” said Jonathan Burdick, Cornell’s vice provost for enrollment.
But while selective universities like Cornell and its fellow Ivy League schools have seen unprecedented interest after waiving the requirement for SAT or ACT test scores, smaller and less recognizable schools are dealing with the opposite issue: empty mailboxes.
A drop in applications does not always translate into lower enrollment. But at a time when many colleges and universities are being squeezed financially by the pandemic and a loss of public funding, the prospect of landing fewer students — and losing critical tuition dollars — is a dire one at schools that have already cut programs and laid off staff.
The California State system extended the application deadline for all of its schools by two weeks, and Cal Poly Pomona managed to close the gap. But its herculean effort, at a time when Ivy League schools had to add an extra week just to consider their influx of applicants, further underscored inequities in higher education that have been widened by the pandemic.
“It’s impacting both students from an equity perspective,” said Jenny Rickard, the chief executive of the Common Application, which is used by colleges across the country, “and then it’s also showing which colleges and universities are more privileged.”
Many institutions outside the top tier were struggling even before the pandemic, and a smaller freshman class could mean further distress.
“Covid didn’t create this challenge, but it certainly exposes and exacerbates the risk that institutions face financially,” said Susan Campbell Baldridge, a former provost of Middlebury College and an author of “The College Stress Test,” a book that examines the financial threats to some American colleges and universities.
And the experiment with ignoring test scores could extend beyond the coronavirus crisis, some admissions officers said.
“For us,” said Luoluo Hong, who oversees admissions at the Cal States, “what is ultimately going to matter is: You’re admitted to college. But do you go?”
LONDON — The family of six lines up in front of microphones, ready to perform. The stage: their living room, complete with flowery curtains and family photos. The costumes: for the children, pajamas and bathrobes. The song: Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 raspy-voiced power ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” tweaked for the pandemic era.
“Third lockdown,” the father croons, before his son Alfie cuts in: “2021 … and it’s a little bit lonely, no one’s ever coming ’round.”
Meet the Marshes — Ben, Danielle, and their four children Alfie, 14, Thomas, 13, Ella, 11, and Tess, 9 — a family from the English town of Faversham that has gained unexpected fame for their revamped, tongue-in-cheek cover tunes about life in times of Covid. This choir, with its sweet harmonies and the occasional wobbly note, is creating songs that dramatize the mundane moments of lockdown life, from too much screen time to the horrors of remote learning.
In their version of “One Day More,” from the musical “Les Misérables,” the parents groan about grocery shopping online during the first lockdown as the children lament: “Our grandparents can’t Skype, we’re brokenhearted,” and “Watch our daddy drink, see our mummy sigh.”
And with England crawling through a third national lockdown, they felt the time was ripe for “Total Eclipse” — “Used to be bright eyes. Struggling to tell the days apart. Now we’re Lords of Flies.” It racked up more than two million views on YouTube in two weeks.
“We feel a little bit like we can put things into words that sometimes other people wouldn’t say — or struggle to say,” said Ben, the father, adding that they hoped to bring people some “fun and family.”
In March, the family was searching for ways to celebrate birthdays that suddenly had to go remote. Their gift, they decided, would have to go virtual.
“There was no schoolwork, there was no nothing,” Mrs. Marsh said. “That’s when the music became a focus for us all.”
Mr. Marsh uploaded their “One Day More” parody to Facebook, and within a day, they were online sensations.
Invitations for virtual appearances arrived from Jimmy Kimmel and “Good Morning America.” Fans drew comparisons to “The Partridge Family” and the von Trapps of “Sound of Music” fame.
On that last comparison, Mrs. Marsh would like to set the record straight. “I’m definitely no nun,” she said. “I can’t make dresses out of curtains.”
They said they were donating the proceeds from guest appearances, and were also encouraging people to get vaccinated, a departure from their more comedic fare.
How did they deliver the message? Try replacing “Hallelujah” in Leonard Cohen’s iconic song with this: “Have the new jab. Have the new jab. Have the new jab. Have the new-ew-ew-ew jab.”
There are many ways to assess how the coronavirus has affected the U.S. economy. The pandemic has decimated the labor market, driving the unemployment rate to 6.3 percent in January, nearly twice what it was a year earlier. Restrictions on activities led Americans to spend less money, pushing the savings rate to extraordinary heights. As people have fled to places with more space and fewer people, home prices have surged.
Another way the pandemic has affected the economy is by making people bored.
By limiting social engagements, leisure activities and travel, the pandemic has forced many people to live a more muted life. The result is a collective sense of ennui — one that is shaping what we do and what we buy.
Boredom’s impact on the economy is under-researched, experts say, possibly because there has been no modern situation like this one, but many agree that it’s an important one. How people spend money is a reflection of their emotional state — the answer to “How are you?” in Amazon packages and Target receipts.
Among the most vivid examples of boredom’s economic influence occurred late last month when amateur traders piled into shares of GameStop, a down-for-the-count retailer for gamers. These investors pushed its stock to astronomical highs before it crashed back to earth.
“Im bored i have 8k in free money what can i invest in that will make at least a little profit,” a Reddit user who goes by biged42069 wrote on Wall Street Bets at the height of the stock market frenzy. The response was unanimous: GameStop.
Of course, millions of people have been busier than ever during the pandemic. Essential workers have hardly experienced lockdown tedium. Women who have left the work force to take care of children who cannot go to school are frequently overwhelmed, their days a stream of Zoom classes and dinners and bedtimes. Boredom, in some ways, is a luxury.
And some groups of people are more likely to experience boredom than others. People who live alone, for instance, are more likely to be bored, said Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at Barnard College who has studied loneliness during the pandemic lockdowns.
Home improvement, too, has boomed. According to the NPD Group, 81 percent of consumers in the United States purchased home improvement products in the six months that ended in November. Sherwin-Williams said it had record sales in the fourth quarter and for the year, in part because of strong performances in its do-it-yourself and residential repaint businesses.
Pandemic boredom evidently has nothing on watching paint dry.
New studies show that people who have had Covid-19 should only get one shot of a vaccine, a dose that is enough to turbocharge their antibodies and destroy the coronavirus — and even some more infectious variants.
Some researchers are trying to persuade scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend only one dose for those who have recovered from Covid-19, a move that could free up millions of doses at a time when vaccines are in high demand.
At least 30 million people in the United States — and probably many others whose illnesses were never diagnosed — have been infected with the coronavirus so far.
The results of these new studies are consistent with the findings of two others published over the past few weeks. Taken together, the research suggests that people who have had Covid-19 should be immunized — but a single dose of the vaccine may be enough.
A person’s immune response to a natural infection is highly variable. Most people make copious amounts of antibodies that persist for many months. But some people who had mild symptoms or no symptoms of Covid-19 produce few antibodies, which quickly fall to undetectable levels.
The latest study, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, analyzed blood samples from people who have had Covid-19. The findings suggested that their immune systems would have trouble fending off B.1.351, the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa.
But one shot of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine significantly changed the picture: It amplified the amount of antibodies in their blood by a thousandfold.
In another new study, researchers at New York University found that a second dose of the vaccine did not add much benefit at all for people who have had Covid-19 — a phenomenon that has also been observed with vaccines for other viruses.
In that study, most people had been infected with the coronavirus eight or nine months earlier, but saw their antibodies increase by a hundredfold to a thousandfold when given the first dose of a vaccine. After the second dose, however, the antibody levels did not increase any further.
Republicans are struggling to persuade voters to oppose President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan, which enjoys strong, bipartisan support nationwide even as it is moving through Congress with just Democratic backing.
Democrats who control the House are preparing to approve the package by the end of next week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote before unemployment benefits are set to lapse in mid-March. On Friday, the House Budget Committee unveiled the nearly 600-page text for the proposal, which includes billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, small businesses and stimulus checks.
Republican leaders on Friday said the bill spends too much and includes a liberal wish list of programs like aid to state and local governments — which they call a “blue state bailout,” though many states facing shortfalls are controlled by Republicans — and increased benefits for the unemployed, which they argued would discourage people from looking for work.
The arguments have so far failed to connect, in part because many of its core provisions poll strongly — even with Republicans.
More than 7 in 10 Americans now back Mr. Biden’s aid package, according to new polling from the online research firm SurveyMonkey for The New York Times. That includes support from three-quarters of independent voters, 2 in 5 Republicans and nearly all Democrats.
In the poll, 4 in 5 respondents, including nearly 7 in 10 Republicans, said it was important for the relief bill to include $1,400 direct checks. A similarly large group of respondents said it was important to include aid to state and local governments and money for vaccine deployment.
On Friday, House Republican leaders urged their rank-and-file members to vote against the plan, billing it as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California’s “Payoff to Progressives Act.” They detailed more than a dozen objections to the bill, including “a third round of stimulus checks costing more than $422 billion, which will include households that have experienced little or no financial loss during the pandemic.” Ms. Pelosi’s office issued its own rebuttal soon after, declaring, “Americans need help. House Republicans don’t care.”
Mr. Biden has said he will not wait for Republicans to join his effort, citing the urgency of the economy’s needs.
The Republican pushback is complicated by the pandemic’s ongoing economic pain, with millions of Americans still out of work and the recovery slowing. It is also hampered by the fact that many of the lawmakers objecting to Mr. Biden’s proposals supported similar provisions, including direct checks to individuals, when Donald J. Trump was president.
Under pressure to reopen classrooms in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Friday that, starting March 1, the state will reserve 10 percent of its first doses of Covid-19 vaccines for teachers and school employees.
Noting that the federal government has been steadily increasing the state’s vaccine allotment, the governor said he would set aside 75,000 doses each week for teachers and staff members planning to return to public school campuses in person. Although California prioritizes teachers for the vaccine, supply has been an issue. Only about three dozen of the state’s 58 counties have had enough doses on hand to immunize those who work at public schools.
Most of California’s large school districts — including those in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco — have been operating remotely for the majority of students for almost a year. Mr. Newsom said reopening schools would be particularly important for single parents whose children have been learning from home.
As big school districts up and down the West Coast have mostly kept their buildings closed, Boston, New York, Miami, Houston and Chicago have been resuming in-person instruction.
New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that urge school districts to reopen have not changed the minds of powerful teachers’ unions opposed to returning students to classrooms without more stringent precautions.
In Oregon, the governor prioritized teachers and school staff members for vaccination — ahead of some older people, which went against C.D.C. guidelines.
Mr. Newsom’s announcement was aimed at appeasing California’s teachers’ unions, which have demanded vaccination as a condition of returning to what they regard as a potentially hazardous workplace. The California Teachers Association this week began airing statewide television ads noting that the coronavirus is still a threat and demanding that the state not reopen classrooms without putting safety first.
The governor, who faces a recall effort over the state’s lockdowns, was also responding to fellow Democrats who control the Legislature and who on Thursday introduced a fast-track bill to reopen schools by April 15, using prioritized vaccines for teachers and hefty financial incentives.
The legislative plan calls for spending $12.6 billion in state and federal funding to help districts cover reopening costs, summer school, extended days and other measures to address learning loss. It largely aligns with the priorities of the unions, and state lawmakers said they expect it to pass swiftly.
On Friday, Mr. Newsom said he was very pleased with the plan but felt it didn’t push districts to open fast enough, and threatened to veto the bill if it passes.
“April 15!” he exclaimed. “That’s almost the end of the school year.”
The governor also noted that the C.D.C. recently issued new guidelines saying that teacher vaccination need not be a prerequisite to reopening schools, as long as other health measures were enforced.
In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, issued an emergency order on Friday requiring schools to offer in-person instruction to all students starting March 8.
“The data and science is clear — kids can and should learn in-person, and it is safe to do so,” said Mr. Sununu in a statement. “I would like to thank all school districts, teachers and administrators who have been able to successfully navigate this path.”
This week, with vaccine production continuing to ramp up, President Biden declared that vaccines would be available for 300 million Americans “by the end of July” — enough to reach a critical mass. And on Friday, as Mr. Biden was headed to Michigan to tour a Pfizer vaccine plant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report stating that the available vaccines were quite safe, with only minor side effects.
Mr. Biden had put coronavirus relief at the center of his campaign, and his promise of additional stimulus checks for Americans was seen as particularly crucial to the Democratic Senate candidates’ wins in Georgia last month.
The president is working to deliver on his promises before voters lose faith — and he’s also facing down a stark deadline: Some key provisions in the latest round of economic relief, passed just before he took office, will run out in less than a month.
House Democrats on Friday released a nearly 600-page proposal for the legislation, and the president virtually dared Republicans in Congress to oppose the bill. “Critics say that my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion,” Mr. Biden said. “Let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest $20 billion to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest $290 million to extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed, so they can get by?”
But there’s one big campaign promise that continues to be particularly thorny: the dilemma of how quickly to reopen schools. As he was careful to note on Friday, those decisions will ultimately be made at the state and local levels, but Mr. Biden has stood by a promise to safely reopen most schools nationwide within the first 100 days of his presidency — meaning by late April.
But some experts remain skeptical about the feasibility of classrooms fully reopening by April without more concerted federal action to bring vaccines into schools. Some states have included teachers in the most highly prioritized category for vaccination, allowing them to receive shots immediately. Still, many have not.
“I can’t set nationally who gets in line when, and first — that’s a decision the states make,” Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question, adding, “I think it’s critically important to get our kids back to school.”