Covid News: Delta Variant Accounts for Estimated 83 Percent of U.S. Cases

Vjosa Isai

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Delta Variant Accounts for 83% of Virus CasesHealth officials testified before the Senate that the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus was spreading rapidly across the country, particularly in areas with low levels of vaccinations.

“C.D.C. has released estimates of variants across the country, and predicted the Delta variant now represents 83 percent of sequenced cases. This is a dramatic increase from, up from 50 percent for the week of July 3. In some parts of the country, the percentage is even higher, particularly in areas of low vaccination rates. The best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have.” “It has now been detected in at least 90-plus countries throughout the world. The reason it’s so formidable is the fact that it has the capability of transmitting efficiently from human to human in an extraordinary manner, well beyond any of the other variants that we’ve experienced up to now, which has led to its becoming the dominant variant in this country.” “We are at a point of great promise and peril in the fight against Covid-19. While I am encouraged by the fact that two-thirds of adults in our country have received their first dose of vaccine, I am alarmed by how the rate of vaccination has been slowing, and how driven by the Delta variant, rates of Covid-19 cases and deaths are once again on the rise.” “Covid won’t just go away. We need all Americans who can get the vaccine to get the vaccine. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your friends, your families, for your neighbors and your local community. Do it for your grandchildren, so they can go back to school. Do it for your grandparents, so they can finally go out and eat.”

Health officials testified before the Senate that the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus was spreading rapidly across the country, particularly in areas with low levels of vaccinations.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The highly infectious Delta variant now accounts for an estimated 83 percent of new coronavirus cases in the United States — a “dramatic increase” from early July, when it crossed the 50 percent threshold to become the dominant variant in this country, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

In some regions, the percentage is even higher — particularly where vaccination rates are low, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said during a Senate health committee hearing. Two-dose vaccines have been shown to be effective against the Delta variant but questions have been raised about Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose regimen against Delta. While almost 60 percent of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, less than half of the total U.S. population is.

She said the C.D.C. would update its website later Tuesday to reflect the new estimate of Delta cases, which the agency derives from gene sequencing of new coronavirus cases.

The new figure comes as new cases have been rising across the United States, though cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain a fraction of their peaks. Still, public health experts are watching the increases with deep concern and Dr. Walensky warned last week that “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The seven-day average now shows nearly 38,000 new daily cases, up from about 11,000 a day not long ago, according to a New York Times database.

Tuesday’s hearing was contentious at times. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, pressed Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, on when the F.D.A. would authorize booster shots — and was not happy when she could not provide a specific answer. Federal health officials have said booster shots are not necessary now and have pressed Pfizer for more evidence.

Other Republicans clashed with witnesses over matters including mask mandates, booster shots for Covid-19 vaccines and “gain of function” research designed to identify genetic mutations that could make a virus more powerful.

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‘If Anybody Is Lying Here Senator, It Is You,’ Fauci Says to Rand PaulDr. Anthony S. Fauci responded angrily to Republican Senator Rand Paul during a committee hearing after Mr. Paul accused him of lying to Congress about the National Institutes of Health funding the “gain of function” research in Wuhan, China.

Dr. Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11th where you claim that the N.I.H. never funded “gain of function” research in Wuhan? I have never lied before the Congress and I do not retract that statement. This paper that you were referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being “gain of function.” What was. Let me finish. You’re saying that’s not “gain of function?” Yeah, that is correct. And Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially. You’re trying to obscure responsibility for four million people dying around the world from a pandemic. If the point that you were making is that the grant that was funded as a sub-award from EcoHealth to Wuhan created SARS-CoV-2, that’s where you are getting. Let me finish. We don’t know. Well, wait a minute. We don’t know if it did come from the lab but all the evidence is pointing that it came from the lab and there will be the responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself. I totally. This committee will allow the witness to respond. I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating. You’re saying they are “gain of function” viruses because they’re animal viruses that became more more transmissible in human and you funded it. And you. Admit the truth. Senator Paul your time has expired. And I will allow witnesses who come before this committee to respond. You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individual. I totally resent that. If anybody is lying here, senator, it is you.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci responded angrily to Republican Senator Rand Paul during a committee hearing after Mr. Paul accused him of lying to Congress about the National Institutes of Health funding the “gain of function” research in Wuhan, China.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, escalated his long-running attacks on Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser for the coronavirus pandemic, and accused Dr. Fauci of committing a crime by lying to Congress in May when he told senators that the National Institutes of Health did not fund “gain of function” research at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic’s early days.

Dr. Fauci, in turn, accused the senator of falsely implying that the N.I.H. is somehow responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths from the pandemic — an extraordinary exchange for the Senate, where witnesses almost always defer to lawmakers.

“I have never lied before Congress and I do not retract that statement,” Dr. Fauci declared, adding, “Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially.”

Cremations of those who died from the coronavirus in New Delhi in April.Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

The number of people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic in India so far is likely to exceed three million — nearly 10 times the official Covid-19 death toll — making it one of the worst human tragedies in the nation’s history, according to a new study.

In a comprehensive examination of the true toll of the pandemic in the sprawling nation of 1.4 billion, the Center for Global Development, a Washington research institute, attempted to quantify excess deaths from all causes during the pandemic based on state data, international estimates, serological studies and household surveys.

“True deaths are likely to be in the several millions, not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy,” said its authors, one of whom is a former chief economic adviser to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The official government numbers have been called into question repeatedly. Even as funeral pyres lit up the night sky and bodies washed up on the Ganges River, with death all around, the Indian government was widely underreporting the scale of the devastation.

A chorus of experts have said the country’s official estimates are a gross understatement.

The study released on Tuesday estimated that between 3.4 and 4.7 million more people than would normally be expected died between January 2020 and June 2021, and includes an estimate suggesting that deaths from Covid-19 alone may have reached four million.

“Estimating Covid deaths with statistical confidence may prove elusive,” the authors wrote. “But all estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count of 400,000; they also suggest that the first wave was more lethal than is believed.”

The authors said the undercount of death after the first wave of infections last year may have resulted, in part, from the fact that it was “spread out in time,” as opposed to the sharp curve of the second wave when hundreds of thousands of people died amid shortages of oxygen, beds and vaccines.

The study has said that the country’s inability to grasp the “scale of the tragedy in real time” during its first wave from March 2020 to February 2021 may have caused “the collective complacency that led to the horrors of the second wave.”

At the height of the second wave, interviews by New York Times reporters at cremation grounds across three states in India revealed an extensive pattern of deaths far exceeding the official figures.

Nervous politicians and hospital administrators may also have undercounted or overlooked large numbers of dead, analysts said. And grieving families may be hiding Covid connections as well, out of shame, adding to the confusion.

India is still reporting nearly 40,000 new cases and about 500 deaths a day, according to a New York Times database. Less than 7 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“The challenge of the pandemic is far from over,” said Arvind Subramanian, Mr. Modi’s former chief economic adviser and a senior fellow at Brown University who is a co-author of the study. “Vaccination offers the best hope but its pace needs to be ramped up considerably.”

Mr. Modi’s government has warned of an impending third wave of infections, which government scientists say could strike as early as August.

“The spirit of this paper is not to privilege any one estimate but simply to lay them out with transparency,” the authors of the excess deaths study, Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur and Dr. Subramanian, said.

“Given all the difficulties, getting at the true estimate will be difficult and only by piecing together data from different sources will we improve our understanding of the reality of the pandemic.”

A site where Johnson & Johnson vaccines were being administered in Newark, N.J., in March.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The single-dose coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is much less effective against the Delta and Lambda variants than against the original virus, according to a new study posted online on Tuesday.

Although troubling, the findings result from experiments conducted with blood samples in a laboratory, and may not reflect the vaccine’s performance in the real world. But they add to evidence that the 13 million people inoculated with the J.&J. vaccine may need to receive a second dose — ideally of one of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, the authors said.

The conclusions are at odds with those from smaller studies published by Johnson & Johnson earlier this month suggesting that a single dose of the vaccine is effective against the variant even eight months after inoculation.

The new study has not yet been peer reviewed nor published in a scientific journal. But it is consistent with observations that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine — which has a similar architecture to the J.&J. vaccine — shows only about 33 percent efficacy against symptomatic disease caused by the Delta variant.

“The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J.&J. vaccine, but we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J.&J. or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” said Nathaniel Landau, a virologist at N.Y.U.’s Grossman School of Medicine, who led the study.

The Delta variant is the most contagious version yet of the coronavirus. It accounts for 83 percent of infections in the United States, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, N.Y., May 2020. The new policy will affect workers at 11 city-run hospitals.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

For months, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been reluctant to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for anyone, hoping that encouragement, convenience and persuasion would be enough.

But with two million adult New Yorkers still unvaccinated and the Delta variant threatening the city with a third wave of cases, City Hall is trying out a new tactic: requiring workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics to get vaccinated or get tested on a weekly basis, the mayor’s spokesman said Tuesday.

The new policy, which will be announced by Mr. de Blasio on Wednesday and goes into effect at the beginning of August, goes nowhere near as far as San Francisco’s announcement last month that it will require all municipal employees to get vaccinated. Still, it is Mr. de Blasio’s first move to require any city employee to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test as a condition of showing up to work, city officials said. It is likely to cover more than 10 percent of the more than 300,000 people who work for city government.

The new policy will apply to workers at the 11 city-run hospitals, which include Bellevue and Elmhurst, as well as nursing homes and clinics. The policy will also cover some employees of the city’s Health Department.

It remains unclear whether City Hall will expand this approach to other city employees — police officers, teachers, bus drivers — or will limit this to those who work in hospitals and clinics.

Getting more adults vaccinated is a pressing concern as the Delta variant has already sent case counts spiking to nearly 600 a day in the last week, more than double the daily average in late June.

Fox anchor Steve Doocy on Jan. 28, 2020. On Tuesday, the conservative co-host urged viewers to get the vaccine.Credit…Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

The morning anchor’s plea was urgent and framed in the starkest of terms: Get the Covid-19 vaccine, or you could die. “It will save your life,” he said on Tuesday, echoing a now-common refrain in the news media as the highly contagious Delta variant drives a rise in coronavirus infections.

But the messenger in this case was Steve Doocy, the conservative co-host of “Fox & Friends,” and the venue was Fox News, the Rupert Murdoch-owned network whose stars have often relayed the view that vaccines can be dangerous and Americans are justified in refusing them.

Mr. Doocy was not the only big Fox News personality to intensify his warnings about the coronavirus this week. Sean Hannity urged viewers on Monday to “please take Covid seriously — I can’t say it enough.” He added: “I believe in the science of vaccination.”

Fox News has not changed overnight. When Mr. Doocy made similar remarks on Monday, his co-host Brian Kilmeade issued a counterpoint, telling viewers to “make your own decision” and adding, “We are not doctors.” Laura Ingraham, whose 10 p.m. show follows Mr. Hannity, accused Democrats on Monday of trying to “de-platform, cancel, defame or eliminate inconvenient opinions regarding their Covid response.”

Still, the comments from Mr. Hannity and Mr. Doocy turned some heads.

Coronavirus patients at a public hospital received treatment at an emergency tent set up to handle an overflow of patients in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday.Credit…Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia said Tuesday he would extend coronavirus restrictions at least until Monday as the country celebrated a muted Eid al-Adha, one of the most important Muslim holidays traditionally marked by large gatherings and the slaughter of cows and sheep.

The country hit a series of daily records last week, surpassing India and Brazil with the largest number of daily cases in the world and establishing Indonesia as an epicenter of the virus.

Many hospitals on densely populated Java island are overwhelmed by patients, and lifesaving oxygen is in short supply. Some patients wait days in tents and hallways for admission to a hospital ward and many others die in isolation at home. Gravediggers struggle to keep pace with the surge of bodies. On Monday, the government reported a record 1,338 deaths.

Mr. Joko said the restrictions on much of Java and Bali islands were needed “so as not to paralyze hospitals due to overcapacity.”

Since last week, the number of reported cases has declined sharply, reaching 38,325 on Tuesday. But the number of tests being conducted has also dropped sharply, from a high of nearly 260,000 on Friday to fewer than 115,000 on Tuesday.

Indonesia had hit a record of nearly 57,000 cases on Thursday.

Mr. Joko, who has been reluctant throughout the pandemic to impose lockdowns that slow the economy, said that if the trend continues, he will begin lifting restrictions on commerce and gatherings in stages.

“This is a very difficult situation,” he said in a video address. “But with our joint effort, God willing, we will soon be free from Covid-19 and social activities and people’s economic activities can return to normal.”

The percentage of tests that are positive has remained at more than 30 percent for the past week, which health experts say is a sign that the virus is widespread and that too few tests are being conducted.

On Tuesday, the positivity rate was even higher: one out of every three people tested was positive.

This was the second year in a row that Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, celebrated Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, under the shadow of the coronavirus. The holiday commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, Ismail, at God’s command.

This year, mosques in high-risk areas were not allowed to stage the ritual animal sacrifices and distribution of meat that traditionally draw large crowds.

The restrictions, which were imposed July 3, were set to expire Tuesday. They include the closure of malls, sports facilities and a ban on nonessential travel. The government had initially ordered the closure of houses of worship, but later said they were merely advised not to hold services.

In his address, Mr. Joko called on the public to follow health guidance and help reduce pressure on the health care system.

“For this, we must all heighten discipline in implementing health protocols, isolate those with symptoms, and provide treatment as early as possible to those who are exposed,” he said.

People walked through Red Square in Moscow, earlier this month.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

MOSCOW — A summer surge of new coronavirus cases in Russia pushed the country’s total reported number of infections since the start of the pandemic above six million, government news sites reported on Tuesday.

The milestone highlighted the authorities’ struggle to vaccinate the Russian population. When they announced eleven months ago that the country was the first in the world to develop an effective vaccine, other vaccines were in fact further along in trials at the time.

As of Tuesday, 14 percent of the Russian population was fully vaccinated. A mix of vaccine hesitancy caused by mistrust of the government and lack of supply because of glitches producing the Russian vaccine, called Sputnik, slowed the rollout.

Over the last seven days, Russia has reported a daily average of 17 cases per 100,000 people according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Scientists and officials have blamed the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus for the uptick in cases that began in June. For comparison, the United States has reported a daily average of 11 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, according to a New York Times database.

The new surge came despite months of assurances from President Vladimir V. Putin’s government that the worst of the pandemic had passed. Instead, Russia followed the path of India and several other countries that had seemed to squelch the outbreak, only to see a resurgence with the spread of virus variants in a partially vaccinated population.

As of Tuesday, Russia had reported a total death toll from Covid-19 of 149,922, but statistics showing excess mortality over the period of the pandemic suggest the real number is far higher.

Madeleine Fugate co-founded the Covid Memorial Quilt project, a living memorial to those who died of Covid-19 inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt.Credit…Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In Facebook groups, text chains and after-work Zoom calls, survivors of Covid-19 and loved ones of those who died from it are organizing into a vast grass-roots lobbying force that is bumping up against the divisive politics that helped turn the pandemic into a national tragedy.

With names like Covid Survivors for Change, groups born of grief and a need for emotional support are turning to advocacy, writing newspaper essays and training members to lobby for things like mental health and disability benefits; paid sick leave; research on Covid “long haulers”; a commission to investigate the pandemic and a national holiday to honor its victims.

As President Biden tries to shepherd the country into a post-pandemic future, these groups are saying, “Not so fast.” Scores of survivors and family members are planning to descend on Washington next week for “Covid Victims’ Families and Survivors Lobby Days” — a three-day event with speakers, art installations and meetings on Capitol Hill — and, they hope, at the White House.

Not since the early days of the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic, however, has an illness been so colored by politics, and the new Covid activists are navigating challenging terrain.

Global roundup

A news program showing South Korean service members inside the naval destroyer Munmu the Great, at the Seoul Railway Station, on Tuesday.Credit…Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press

South Korea is airlifting the entire crew from a navy destroyer off the coast of East Africa after hundreds of sailors tested positive for the coronavirus in the military’s worst outbreak of the pandemic.

Two top government officials apologized on Tuesday for the outbreak, in which at least 247 out of 301 sailors have contracted the virus. None of the crew had been vaccinated. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a meeting of health officials that he was “very sorry for failing to carefully take care of the health of our soldiers.”

In separate remarks, Defense Minister Suh Wook also apologized and said he would look into ways to improve antivirus measures for service members overseas.

Two military planes have been dispatched to transport the sailors back to South Korea, where they will be sent to hospitals or quarantine facilities after arriving on Tuesday.

The ship, Munmu the Great, departed for the Gulf of Aden on an eight-month antipiracy mission in early February, shortly before South Korea began its vaccination campaign. Officials say logistical issues made it to difficult to supply the sailors with vaccines, but opposition lawmakers say the government should have made a greater effort. They also accused the government of not taking the outbreak seriously enough when it began earlier this month.

The military has not said what caused the outbreak, though there have been suggestions that it could be linked to a stop at an unspecified harbor in the area in late June.

An immunized replacement crew will steer the ship back to home waters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, while a different destroyer is on its way to the region to continue the antipiracy mission.

The outbreak on the ship has drawn public anger in South Korea, which is already grappling with a fourth wave of infections and a stalled vaccination campaign.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in said that although the military had acted quickly to bring the sailors home, “it wasn’t enough in the eyes of the Korean people, and criticism for taking the situation lightly would be unavoidable.”

In other developments across the world:

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the United States would send over a million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African nations of Gambia, Senegal, Zambia and Niger, and three million doses to Guatemala, new allocations of hundreds of millions of doses the Biden administration has promised to send abroad.

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‘There Will Be Breakthrough Cases,’ Psaki SaysWhite House officials confirmed that a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus, in a breakthrough case after vaccination. The White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that precautions were in place to protect the president.

First, let me confirm that yesterday, a fully vaccinated White House official tested positive for Covid-19, off campus. In accordance with our rigorous Covid-19 protocols, the official remains off-campus as they wait for confirmatory P.C.R. test. The White House medical unit has conducted contact-tracing interviews and determined no close contacts among White House principals or staff or the president. The individual has mild symptoms. We know that there will be breakthrough cases. But as this instance shows, cases in vaccinated individuals are typically mild. The White House is prepared for breakthrough cases with regular testing. This is another reminder of the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalizations. And of course, we wish our colleague a speedy recovery. Our protocols are in alignment with the highest standards and the guidance of our public health experts. So let me just remind you all, because I’m sure you don’t have it handy, to what those protocols are that remain in place: regular testing of those surrounding and meeting with the president. For those who have closer proximity, they are tested more regularly than those who have less proximity. So the news today is, is that, while breakthrough cases will happen, the vaccines are effective and prevent against serious illness and death. We’ve seen that statistically across the country with 99.5 percent of cases in hospitals being for individuals who are not vaccinated.

White House officials confirmed that a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus, in a breakthrough case after vaccination. The White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that precautions were in place to protect the president.

An aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tested positive for the coronavirus after coming into contact last week with a group of Texas lawmakers who were visiting Washington, some of whom later tested positive for the virus.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, said on Tuesday that a member of her staff, a senior spokesperson who had been “fully vaccinated,” had tested positive on Monday. He said the aide had had no contact with the speaker since being exposed to the virus.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said a fully vaccinated White House official had also tested positive for the virus “off campus,” was experiencing “mild symptoms,” and remained away from the complex awaiting a test to confirm the diagnosis.

She would not divulge whether the aide had been with the Texas lawmakers, all of whom say they were fully vaccinated as well, who made a high-profile trip to Washington in an effort to block the adoption of a restrictive election law. Axios reported that both the Pelosi aide and the White House aide had had contact with the Texans.

“We know that there will be breakthrough cases,” Ms. Psaki said, adding that there had been previous cases at the White House that had not been disclosed. “This is another reminder of the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalizations.”

She said the aide had no close contact with Mr. Biden or top White House officials.

The Covid vaccines in use in the United States have proven to be effective at reducing the risk of severe symptoms or hospitalization, but infections among fully vaccinated individuals, known as breakthrough infections, are not unheard-of. It is not yet clear whether the highly transmissible Delta variant circulating across the country increases the likelihood of breakthrough infections.

As a result of the positive test, Mr. Hammill said that Ms. Pelosi’s press office was working remotely, with the exception of those aides who had tested negative or did not come into contact with the infected spokesperson.

The news of the infections rattled some on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers and professional staff have been moving toward more normal operations for months now. Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said that rising coronavirus cases across the country could force the House to reconsider its relaxation of mask requirements and other pandemic-era measures like the use of proxy voting.

“We are going to have to decide, given the upswing in every state, whether or not prudence demands we go back to wearing a mask,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.

A short time later, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the Capitol physician, issued new guidance saying the rising cases could require the return of universal masking, although he would not recommend it for now. He said that “several” congressional aides had experienced breakthrough infections and urged vaccinated people seeking “to further reduce their risk of disease” or transmission to voluntarily put a mask back on.

“Individuals have the personal discretion to wear a mask and future developments in the coronavirus Delta variant local threat may require the resumption of mask wear for all as now seen in several counties in the United States,” he wrote.

Members of the Texas legislature left the state last week to travel to D.C. in last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a restrictive new voting law by the Republican-controlled legislature. Photographs showed them maskless while traveling to Washington. Since then, six lawmakers on the trip have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Joan Poh, a 30-year-old rower who will represent Singapore at the Tokyo Games, training in Singapore this month.Credit…Kong Chong Yew/SNOC

As many of her competitors spent their days preparing for the Olympics, Joan Poh spent much of the past year working long shifts at a Singapore hospital.

Ms. Poh, a 30-year-old rower who will represent Singapore at the Tokyo Games, had been training and competing full time. But she put that on hold in April of last year when she returned to her job as a nurse after the government put out a call for frontline medical reinforcements.

“In a time of pandemic, going back to work felt like a calling,” she said. “When I’m at work, I’m 100 percent a nurse. When I’m training, I’m 100 percent a rower. It’s always about finding that balance and making it work.”

After resuming eight- to 10-hour hospital shifts in the renal unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Ms. Poh sought ways to continue to train. She squeezed in workouts before and after work, sometimes skipping meals. To make up for lost time, she would spend her entire weekend on the water.

Though Ms. Poh did not work in a Covid ward, she was one of a handful of specially trained dialysis nurses at the hospital. She often had to treat patients suspected of having the coronavirus and feared she might contract it herself.

Ms. Poh will also have to be on guard against the virus at this year’s Games, which are unlike any other as organizers try to minimize the risk of transmission. Spectators will be barred from most events, and athletes are discouraged from giving hugs, high-fives and handshakes. Out of about 20,000 people traveling to Japan for the Games, dozens have tested positive for the virus, including three people inside the athletes’ village.

Ms. Poh returned to her job as a nurse last year after the Singapore government put out a call for frontline medical reinforcements amid the pandemic.Credit…Tan Tock Seng Hospital

But as a nurse, Ms. Poh plans to take precautions. Her manager, Koh Yu Han, said that despite attracting stares, they both make a point of wiping down equipment and tables. They carry their backpacks at all times to avoid putting them down and becoming contaminated. When traveling to a qualifying race in Tokyo in May, Ms. Koh said, she and Ms. Poh were the only passengers on a bus full of athletes to sanitize their seats with alcohol.

Just 23 athletes will represent Singapore at the Olympics this year, and Ms. Poh is the only female rower. She is only the second Singaporean rower to reach the Olympics, placing 12th in the qualifying regatta.

Her event, women’s single sculls, will take place on Friday.

Ms. Poh did not first get into a boat until she was a teenager, but quickly fell in love with being on the water. Her parents could not afford sports leagues or professional coaching, but she still found ways to practice.

She joined a dragon boat team when she was 17, honing her paddling skills on a traditional long boat before learning how to sail and row a scull. In 2019, she took an extended leave from her hospital job in order to train and compete full time in Australia.

The past year, splitting time between the gym and the hospital, she said, only increased her drive.

“I understood from when I was young that sport is a luxury,” she said. “To be able to pursue your dream is a luxury. And therefore, if you can, then you must.”

The St. Pancras railway station in London on Sunday. Unlike other European nations on Britain’s medium-risk amber list, travelers arriving in England from France must continue to quarantine upon arrival.Credit…Yui Mok/Press Association, via Associated Press

Nearly all of England’s pandemic restrictions were lifted on Monday, with a notable exception: Travelers to England from France must continue to quarantine upon arrival, even if they are fully vaccinated.

The rule, announced on Friday, was spurred by concerns about the presence of the Beta variant of the coronavirus in France and is intended as a precautionary measure, officials said.

So what is the Beta variant?

Formerly known as B.1.351, Beta was first detected in South Africa last year. It contains several mutations, in a protein called spike, that help the virus bind more tightly to human cells.

It also contains the E484K mutation, sometimes known as the “Eek” mutation, which appears to help the virus partially evade antibodies. This mutation has emerged independently in multiple variants, including Gamma, which surfaced in Brazil, and in some samples of Alpha, which was first identified in Britain.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both designated Beta as a “variant of concern.”

Scientists and health officials became concerned about Beta because it spread quickly through South Africa and research indicated that some vaccines were less powerful against it. One of them, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, is the vaccine Britain has depended on most heavily.

Several authorized vaccines do provide strong protection against severe disease caused by the variant, however.

Some monoclonal antibody treatments are also less effective against Beta, although there are other authorized antibody treatments that appear to work well against it.

Beta’s ability to bind tightly to human cells may also make it more transmissible; the C.D.C. notes that it appears to be roughly 50 percent more infectious than the original form of the virus. It does not appear to be as contagious as the Delta variant that was first detected in India.

Beta has now been reported in 123 countries, but it remains far less prevalent than Delta, which the World Health Organization has said is likely to become the dominant variant globally in the coming months.

Over the last four weeks, the Beta variant has appeared in 3.7 percent of virus samples sequenced in France, according to GISAID, a repository of viral genomes. French officials have criticized the British restrictions as excessive, saying the majority of their Beta cases are in overseas territories like Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean where Beta accounts for 31.2 percent of sequences.

Beta is not common in the United States, where it represents just 0.1 percent of infections, according to C.D.C. estimates. It has been detected in Britain, but accounts for a negligible share of cases there.

Hector Velazquez, along with another teammate, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. They are asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the Mexican baseball federation said in a statement.Credit…Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Mexican national baseball team is in quarantine after two players tested positive for coronavirus ahead of traveling to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, Mexican baseball federation officials announced.

Hector Velazquez and Sammy Solis, both of whom are 32-year-old pitchers, were tested on Sunday in Mexico City as the team gathered to begin practice and were asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the federation said in a statement. As a result, national federation officials said practice on Monday was canceled and the rest of the team was quarantining in its hotel pending results from further testing.

Over the weekend, players and coaches reported to Mexico City and had begun training ahead of their departure to Japan. Mexico’s first game in the Olympics is scheduled for July 30, against the Dominican Republic, at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Solis and Velazquez — both former Major League Baseball players — play for the same team in Mexico’s top professional league.

“Honored and excited to announce that I will be representing #TeamMexico at the Olympics in #Tokyo2020!!!!,” Solis said earlier this month, when the Mexican team was announced. “Being named an Olympian is a lifelong dream! Time to chase that.”

The news was a blow for fifth-ranked Mexico, which had qualified for the first time for the Olympics in baseball, a sport making its return to the Summer Games after a 13-year hiatus.

With games beginning on Wednesday and the opening ceremony on Friday, nearly 60 people connected to the Tokyo Games, from athletes within the Olympic Village to Japanese residents working at the events, have tested positive. Organizers are struggling to manage public anxiety as many thousands more athletes, coaches and other officials arrive in Japan for the Games.

The Mexican baseball team was the latest Olympic team to be disrupted by the virus. The United States’ men’s basketball, women’s 3×3 basketball and the women’s gymnastics teams have had to reshuffle their rosters after athletes either tested positive or entered virus health and safety protocols.

From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for an exclusive virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for Tokyo 2020. Plus learn about the sports new to the Olympics through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.

State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer of Texas, right, was in the third day of a 10-day quarantine on Tuesday after testing positive for the virus.Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democratic state lawmakers from Texas arrived in Washington last week with plans to apply unending pressure on the Senate to pass voting rights protections that would help counteract a Republican election overhaul back home. Then a Covid-19 outbreak stalled their progress.

The entire delegation from Texas is now stuck at a Washington hotel after six members tested positive for the coronavirus, and officials from the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office who met with them have also tested positive. All are fully vaccinated, but nobody in the capital is now particularly eager to meet in person with the group, which has resorted to virtual meetings.

In the meantime, Senate Democratic leaders remain focused on passing an infrastructure package, President Biden is in a standoff with social media companies, and there is no public sign that the Texas Democrats have won over any senators who weren’t already on board with their push to pass new federal voting legislation without clearing a 60-vote Senate threshold. They have not secured meetings with any Republicans or with Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a key Democratic opponent of eliminating that threshold.

And they cannot go home to Texas for another two and a half weeks, or they will risk being arrested for leaving the state.

By staying away from the State Capitol in Austin, the representatives have denied Republicans a quorum necessary for the State House to conduct business, delaying the passage of new restrictions on voting. Those measures, along with other conservative priorities, were put forward in a special session that was called only because the Democrats walked out of the Capitol in the final hours of the regular session in May, preventing Republicans from passing a voting bill then.


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