More than a week after a powerful winter storm barreled through Texas, some experts say that the conditions — which forced hundreds of people across the state to huddle together in homes, cars and shelters to seek warmth — could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases.
The devastating storm almost collapsed the state’s power grid, leaving millions of people in dark and unheated homes during some of the most frigid temperatures recorded in the state’s history.
Coronavirus case reporting dropped precipitously for a week in Texas during the storm and has subsequently risen again sharply in the week since, so it is still too early too discern any specific growth or decline in case numbers there. But experts say that the conditions created during the storm raised concerns.
“It is possible to see an uptick from the Texas storm,” said Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas. “We had a lot of things going against us,” Dr. Jetelina said, noting that she, like many others, had to go from house to house when she lost power.
People stood in long lines for water and food at grocery stores and food distribution sites, stayed overnight in warming centers, and crashed with friends and family while electricity cut out and pipes burst in their homes.
Although it’s unclear how many people are still displaced because of the storm, reports from various cities suggest that thousands across Texas may have been forced to seek shelter.
In Fort Worth, almost 200 hundred people took refuge at a convention center. In Dallas, a convention center housed about 650 people, The Texas Tribune reported, and one site in Houston had almost 800 people, while some 500 people were living in emergency shelters in Austin, officials said. Even in Del Rio, a smaller city, officials reported that almost 40 people had to stay at the city’s warming center.
“There are very real possibilities that the coronavirus either had superspreader events or was more easily transmissible because people were congregated indoors for long periods of time,” Dr. Jetelina said. “It is a little bit worrying.”
But cases could also go the other way, she said, because millions of people were forced to stay home while work and school were largely canceled. With the data reporting lags, it is still too early to tell, she noted, so the full impact from the Texas storm on case numbers will not be known for at least another week. Even then, Dr. Jetelina said, it will be hard to tell whether an uptick in cases is related to the storm or to new, more contagious variants — or to a combination of both.
Although the average rate of daily new cases reported in Texas has returned to pre-storm levels, it remains about half of what it was in January.
That broader decline mirrors the fall in cases nationally in recent weeks, as the average daily new cases in the United States hovers around 70,000 — far below its peak of 250,000 last month.
The stories of people gathering together in desperate search of heat and water were ubiquitous across Texas.
In San Antonio, Diana Gaitan had more water and power than her relatives did. So several of them ended up crashing at her home, she said while waiting in a food distribution line at the San Antonio Food Bank last weekend. At one point, there were a dozen people staying overnight in Ms. Gaitan’s home.
“We were all stuck inside the house,” she said.
A third effective weapon was added to America’s arsenal against the coronavirus on Saturday when the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for a vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.
The company said it would start shipping millions of doses early this week, and would provide the United States with 100 million doses by the end of June. Together with 600 million doses of the nation’s first two authorized vaccines, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, that are due to be delivered over the next four months, that ought to be enough to cover every American adult who wants to be vaccinated.
The new vaccine differs markedly from the two already in use in the United States. Here is how they compare.
One shot instead of two
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is administered in a single shot, while the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are given in two shots several weeks apart.
The way it works
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a different method to prime the body to fight off Covid-19: a viral vector called Ad26. Viral vectors are common viruses that have been genetically altered so that they do not cause illness but can still cause the immune system to build up its defenses. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA to do that.
How well it works
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is rated as highly effective at preventing serious illness and death, as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are. It is also very effective at preventing milder illness, though a bit less so than those two. It appears to do well against the highly contagious B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa, that has given at least one other vaccine candidate trouble.
Storage and handling
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not have to be stored at extremely low temperatures like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It can safely be kept in an ordinary refrigerator for three months, much longer than the Moderna vaccine, which spoils after a month if not kept frozen.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine appears to be less prone than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to trigger the kinds of side effects that require monitoring after the injection, which may make it more suitable for use at drive-through vaccination sites. There have been reports that side effects tend to be felt more strongly after second doses, which the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require.
Kentucky expects to be the first state in the nation to fully vaccinate every teacher who wants a shot, Gov. Andy Beshear said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Mr. Beshear said the state had rushed teachers to the front of the line, faster than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance had recommended, in order to get students back in school. Kentucky has pushed to reopen all its schools for in-person learning by Monday.
“For us, this was a work force issue, it was development for our children scholastically, emotionally, and socially,” he said, noting that deciding who qualifies as an essential worker and prioritizing some people above others is a contentious process.
“We made this call early on, we stuck to it, and no matter what you decide during Covid, some are going to oppose it,” he said. “But it’s about trying to do the right thing, the best thing for your people, and then to let the consequences be what they’ll be.”
Teachers are now eligible for the vaccine in 32 states, according to a New York Times tracker, and grocery workers and other essential workers have also begun to receive shots in some states.
Governor Beshear said his state has been expanding its capacity to administer doses, and that the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be a “game changer” because of its single-dose protocol.
For 10 nights, Barcelona’s streets, long quiet from pandemic curfews, have erupted in sometimes violent demonstrations that have spread to Madrid and other Spanish hubs.
What began as a protest over the arrest in mid-February of Pablo Hasél, a Spanish rapper known as a provocateur, has become a collective outcry by a generation that has struggled through years of economic hardship and that faces a lost future even after the pandemic ends.
The frustration is not limited to Spain. Across Europe, university life has been deeply altered by the limitations of virtual classes. Social isolation is endemic. Anxiety and depression have reached alarming rates among young people nearly everywhere, mental health experts and studies have found. The police and mostly young protesters have also clashed in other parts of Europe, including last month in Amsterdam.
“It’s not the same now for a person who is 60 — or a 50-year-old with life experience and everything completely organized — as it is for a person who is 18 now and has the feeling that every hour they lose to this pandemic, it’s like losing their entire life,” said Enric Juliana, an opinion columnist with La Vanguardia, Barcelona’s leading newspaper.
Barcelona was once one of the best places in Europe to be young, with all-night bars and music festivals on the beach. But the crisis, which devastated tourism and shrank the national economy by 11 percent last year, was a catastrophe for Spain’s young adults.
For those who lived through the financial crisis of 2008, which took one of its heaviest tolls in Spain, the pandemic brings a strong sense of déjà vu. Once again, young people have had to move back into the homes of their parents, with entry-level jobs being among the first to vanish.
But the pandemic has cut deeper than past economic downturns. It hit at a time when unemployment in Spain for people under 25 was already high, at 30 percent. Now 40 percent of Spain’s youth are unemployed, the highest rate in Europe, according to statistics by the European Union.
For many young people, the arrest of the rapper Mr. Hasél — and his rage-against-the-machine defiance — has become a symbol of the frustration of Spain’s young people.
In the final months before this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, organizers and government health officials are grappling with how best to address vaccinations for athletes. How they proceed could determine whether the Olympics unfold as a cathartic mass celebration of international sports, or a monthlong global super-spreader event.
A foremost challenge is one of bioethics. In any other year, the athletes — young, healthy and obviously very fit — would be ushered to the back of the line. But after Japan’s rising case counts forced many of the country’s largest cities into a state of emergency last month, the question has become rather more vexing.
A growing number of countries, a group as diverse as India, Hungary and Israel, have announced that they will push their Olympians to the front of their vaccination lines. Mexico’s president this month placed his country’s athletes in a priority group alongside medical workers and teachers. Lithuania began administering vaccine shots to its Olympians weeks ago.
But in countries including the United States, Britain and Italy, there is opposition to the idea that athletes should be given priority, as counter to their duty to be role models.
“Athletes in the U.S. agree that they should wait their proper place in line,” said Bree Schaaf, a former Olympian who is now the chair of Team USA Athletes’ Advisory Council.
The debate pits those appealing to rigid ideas of bioethical morality against others calling for common-sense exceptions in extraordinary times. The Olympics will, after all, bring together representatives of more than 200 countries for several weeks, and then send them home to every corner of the globe.
“Athletes are essential workers,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, echoing views expressed recently by the governments of Denmark, Serbia and the Philippines, who have all said they will usher prospective Olympians toward the front of the vaccination line.
Caplan said that while the focus of this pandemic had rightly been on the physical consequences of the deadly virus, not enough attention was being paid to the psychosocial side effects of widespread lockdowns. He said sports, in that regard, provided a healthy distraction.
“Maybe we should do what we need to do to make it possible for them to entertain us, to help us bear up under tough isolation circumstances,” he said.
JERUSALEM — The Israeli government approved a measure on Sunday to vaccinate tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers, after facing fierce criticism over the small number of inoculations it had provided to Palestinians living under its military occupation.
Israeli medical teams will soon begin vaccinating Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel or in settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to a statement by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry unit that is responsible for liaising with the Palestinians.
There are approximately 80,000 Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel, and about 30,000 who have permits for work in the settlements. Most are construction workers, but some have jobs on farms or in factories, stores, restaurants and other workplaces.
The tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in Israel without official documents would not be eligible for inoculations.
A heated debate has raged for weeks over whether Israel bears responsibility for the health of Palestinian in the occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip. Human rights groups have argued that international law requires Israel to provide Palestinians with the same access to vaccines as its own citizens receive. But supporters of Israel’s policies have contended that the Palestinians assumed responsibility for health services when they signed the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.
As of Sunday, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has received about 2,000 doses from Israel and 10,000 from Russia, according to Palestinian officials. Israel has put the number of doses it sent at 2,200, and promised to hand over another 3,000.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has obtained 20,000 doses from the United Arab Emirates and 2,000 from the Russian shipment to the Palestinian Authority.
With the nation’s coronavirus vaccine supply expected to swell over the next few months, states and cities are rushing to open mass vaccination sites capable of injecting thousands of shots a day into the arms of Americans, an approach the Biden administration says will be crucial for reaching herd immunity in a nation of 330 million.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has joined in, too: It recently helped open seven megasites in California, New York and Texas, relying on active-duty troops to staff them, and it plans to open many more.
Some mass sites, including those at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and State Farm Stadium in suburban Phoenix, aim to inject at least 12,000 people a day once sufficient supplies are in hand; the site in Phoenix already operates around the clock.
On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, and both Moderna and Pfizer had promised much larger weekly shipments of vaccines by early spring.
With only about 9 percent of adults fully vaccinated to date, the kind of scale that mass sites provide may be essential in meeting the huge demand, as more people become eligible for the vaccines and as more infectious variants of the virus proliferate in the United States.
But there are clear signs that they won’t be able to address a different challenge lying ahead: the many Americans who are more difficult to reach and who may be reluctant to get the shots.
Drive-through clinics can be better than indoor sites for infection control, some experts say — people roll down their car windows only for the injection — and are more comfortable for recipients than standing in line would be. But a month after a drive-through mass vaccination site opened in East Hartford, Conn., the approach’s weaknesses are also clear.
Traffic can get snarled on the busy road leading to the site, and bad weather can shut it down, requiring hundreds of appointments to be rescheduled on short notice. Spotty vaccine supply, which forced sites in California to close for a few days recently, can also wreak havoc.
More significantly, you need a car, gas money and, for some people, a driver to get to and from the site
The sometimes-chaotic vaccine rollout has come with a maze of confusing registration pages and clunky health care websites. And the technological savvy required to navigate the text alerts, push notifications and email reminders that are second nature to the digital generation has put older adults who need the vaccine the most at a disadvantage. As a result, people who lack tech skills are missing out on potentially lifesaving shots.
The digital divide between generations has always been stark, but the pandemic’s abrupt curtailing of in-person interactions has made that division even more apparent.
Advocates for older Americans, 22 million of whom lack wired broadband access at home, say it is ridiculous that a program that has vaccinating vulnerable older people as one of its top priorities would be set up to depend on internet know-how, Twitter announcements and online event pages.
“We’re running into a crisis where connectivity is a life-or-death alternative for people,” said Tom Kamber, the executive director of Older Adults Technology Services, a nonprofit organization that trains older people to use technology. “It couldn’t get much more stark than people being told, ‘If you go outside, you’re likely to be at risk of dying.’”
People in nursing homes, among the first to get vaccines, had staff members to assist them. But when vaccines became available to a wider group of older adults in late December and early January, many who lived alone had to navigate the rollout by themselves.
Federal agencies like the Administration for Community Living, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as nonprofit groups, say they are doing what they can to guide older adults, but they are stretched thin.
As of Thursday, about 24 million Americans ages 65 and older, or about 41 percent, had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to population and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
One Medical, a premium subscription-based health care provider, has had its vaccine supply cut off by San Francisco Bay Area health departments after the company inoculated people who were ineligible to receive a shot, health officials said Saturday.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health stopped allocating doses to One Medical after it was unable to verify the eligibility of a “cohort” of people who received the vaccine from the company and self-identified as health care workers but were not, the department said in an email on Saturday.
The department asked One Medical on Monday to return 1,620 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which it said will be given to other providers, though the company will be allowed to retain enough vaccine to administer second doses to people it had given the first shot to.
The San Mateo County Health Department said it found that One Medical had vaccinated 70 ineligible people using doses provided by the county.
After the discovery, the county “promptly ceased providing One Medical with vaccine and terminated its agreement,” Preston Merchant, a spokesman for the department, said in an email on Saturday. He said the episode was “disappointing” and that people who had received their first dose from One Medical would be able to receive a second one.
Friends and family of company executives, employees who were working from home and some One Medical customers were among those who received the vaccine even though they were not eligible under local guidelines, National Public Radio reported.
Two other counties in the Bay Area, Marin and Alameda, have stopped distributing the vaccine to One Medical, ABC News reported. Marin and Alameda Counties did not respond to request for comment. Another Bay Area county, Santa Clara, said it did not have plans to provide more doses to the company but that it was not aware of any improper vaccinations using its doses.
Los Angeles County Public Health said in an email on Saturday that after it received a complaint in January that One Medical had vaccinated someone who was not eligible, the department told the company in a phone call and in emails that “if there are breaches and they are not holding tight to our priority groups, and checking and validating groups, we could not allocate vaccine to them any longer.”
The department said that after the warnings it had not received further complaints.
One Medical has terminated two clinical employees in California “for their intentional disregard” of eligibility requirements, said a spokeswoman for the company. She said the company was not aware of “confirmed instances” of executives facilitating vaccine appointments for family or friends, but that the company was investigating the matter.
The spokeswoman also said that 96 percent of individuals vaccinated by One Medical across the country had eligibility documentation, and noted that “it is impossible for any provider to know how many people misrepresented their eligibility and received vaccinations as a result.”
The Washington State health department paused its vaccine allocation to One Medical on Monday after it received a complaint that people had to sign up for a free trial of the company’s $199 annual membership in order to receive a vaccine there.
The department said One Medical had been cooperative in addressing that matter, as well as questions following the episodes in the Bay Area, adding that the state was “relying on people to be honest” when attesting to their eligibility for a shot.