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Live Covid Updates: News of Vaccine Mandates and Variants

A community vaccination event in Martinsburg, W.Va., in February. The state had success in the early vaccine rollout, but as demand slowed it has recently seen its reported case numbers near record levels.
Credit…Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Coronavirus cases are nearing record levels in West Virginia, and the state’s schools are closing and its hospitals are choked with patients stricken by the perniciously infectious Delta variant.

Just seven months ago, as the Covid vaccine was still being rolled out, the state was a national leader. By late June the state’s governor, Jim Justice, a Republican, had removed a statewide mask requirement.

But West Virginia has since fallen far behind, and its pandemic status has deteriorated, a situation shared with other states with large unvaccinated populations. Just under 48 percent of West Virginia’s 18 and over population is fully vaccinated, the lowest of any state, according to federal data compiled by The New York Times.

President Biden tried to push the roughly 80 million eligible but unvaccinated people in the United States to be inoculated when he announced on Thursday a sweeping plan that included vaccine requirements he said would cover some 100 million American workers.

Federally authorized vaccines greatly decrease the risk of hospitalization and death, even from the Delta variant, according to three studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

Governor Justice has been more outspoken about vaccinations than many other Republican governors.

“We can stop this, West Virginia, we can stop it,” Mr. Justice said at a news conference on Friday. “The vaccines are safe. The vaccines are not an invasion on anyone.”

Even though Mr. Justice regularly beseeches his constituents to get a shot, vaccine mandates are “something that I absolutely do not believe in,” he said. In a video Mr. Justice tweeted the same day, he suggested that Mr. Biden’s announcement of new vaccine mandates was a ploy to try to distract the public from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan or the crush of migrants at the southern border.

The latest surge has enveloped West Virginia with a ferocity the virus had not shown before there, said the official running the state’s coronavirus response, Dr. Clay Marsh.

“The rapid rate of growth and the level of severity of illness has really been much greater than we’ve ever seen before,” Dr. Marsh said.

West Virginia’s seven-day average of new reported cases has neared record levels for all of September, hovering above 1,500 per day for most of the past week, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The state recently surpassed a total of 200,000 cases, more than four times the population of Charleston, the capital and largest city.

Hospitalizations are nearing the state’s pandemic high, pushing its understaffed health centers to near capacity, and record numbers of Covid patients are being treated in intensive care units. Dr. Marsh said the state was reducing the number of elective procedures and taking steps to ensure that hospitals were adequately staffed.

And while deaths are averaging just 12 a day, that is more than 41 percent of the state’s peak average for the pandemic, reached in January.

Last January, when the state faced the worst conditions it had seen up to that point, West Virginia’s vaccine rollout was the envy of other states. But demand for the vaccine fell off, as it did in much of the country. Since then Mr. Justice has turned to a number of incentive programs, including $100 savings bonds for young people and a vaccine sweepstakes in which West Virginians can win cash, a scholarship, a sports car or a pontoon boat.

Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer, a retired National Guard officer who leads the interagency task force that coordinates West Virginia’s vaccination efforts, said multiple approaches were necessary.

“Somebody said, ‘What’s the one thing that worked?’” Major General Hoyer said. “And there wasn’t one thing that worked. There was a whole series of things.”

The recent surge spurred more vaccinations, Major General Hoyer said, but the pace has slowed somewhat in recent days. Surveys showed that less than 20 percent of the people in the state were adamantly opposed to vaccination, he said, and direct outreach from health care providers was one important way to reach people who were hesitant.

Mr. Justice said that even with more West Virginians vaccinated there was no guarantee that the current surge was near its peak.

“Maybe we won’t peak until Halloween or Thanksgiving, and in all of that how many more are going to die, and die a horrible death, a death where you can’t breathe?” He asked.

Sarah Cahalan and Mitch Smith contributed reporting.

Leng Vong Reiff, 35, with her son Quentin, 5, at their home in Clive, Iowa.
Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times

As schools resume in-person classes across the United States, many parents have grown increasingly anxious for their children under 12, who remain ineligible for Covid vaccinations. And so some of those parents are taking extraordinary steps to get their younger children vaccinated in one available channel: enrolling them in clinical trials.

Dr. Tina Sosa, a pediatric hospitalist and mother of two, was able to get her 3-year-old son vaccinated by enrolling him in a Pfizer trial at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center during her fellowship there. He had no side effects from the two shots he received in April, she said. “I even squeezed his arm and asked did it hurt, and he said no.”

Now at the University of Rochester Medical Center in upstate New York, Dr. Sosa enrolled her 7-month-old in a Moderna trial set to there begin next month.

Another parent, Leng Vong Reiff of Clive, Iowa, jumped when she heard of openings in a Pfizer trial taking place hours away at a Nebraska clinic.

But spots in clinical trials are relatively rare, and it will be months before the F.D.A. can fully assess the results and decide whether lowering the age of eligibility is warranted — so some parents have even sought, through their pediatricians, off-label shots that are adult doses, a practice the F.D.A. discouraged on Friday.

This summer has been particularly trying for parents, especially after public health experts warned that the Delta variant was highly transmissible — even from vaccinated household members. Although children still are less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from Covid, nearly 30,000 children with Covid were admitted to hospitals in August, the highest level to date.

As many as 48 million U.S. children are under 12, and Covid concerns about them extend beyond their immediate health. They form a sizable pocket of vulnerability for the nation, one that will remain even if President Biden succeeds in vaccinating 80 million people or more under the mandates he announced on Thursday.

Patrons waiting to enter a nightclub in Copenhagen last week as Denmark began easing pandemic restrictions, a process it completed on Friday. 
Credit…Olafur Steinar Gestsson/Agence France-Presse, via Ritzau Scanpix/Afp Via Getty Images

Denmark has lifted the last of its coronavirus restrictions, effectively declaring that the virus was no longer a “critical threat to society” and allowing the country to get back to a semblance of prepandemic normal.

“This can only be done because we have come a long way with the vaccination rollout, have a strong epidemic control, and because the entire Danish population has made an enormous effort to get here,” Magnus Heunicke, Denmark’s health minister, said in a statement on Friday about the lifting of restrictions.

The Danish government announced late last month that it would allow the restrictions to lapse, and pointed to Denmark’s high vaccination rates. As of Saturday, about 76 percent of the country’s population had received one dose of a vaccine, and 73 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

While the rules lifted on Friday allow Danes to go more freely about their lives, foreign travelers will still be subject to some restrictions, including presenting a negative coronavirus test upon arrival or possibly even isolating for 10 days, depending on where they are coming from.

The Danish government had been gradually easing its coronavirus restrictions for weeks, including lifting a public transportation mask mandate in mid-August. But the rules lifted this week included the expiration of the coronavirus passport requirement that it had in place for entry into venues like nightclubs.

Mr. Heunicke said that the Danish government would continue to monitor the pandemic, and that it would be “ready to act quickly” if the situation were to deteriorate.

Denmark was one of the hardest hit countries of Scandinavia, though its northern neighbor Sweden, which shunned hard lockdowns, fared far worse. But cases have fallen in both, and Sweden expects to loosen most of its restrictions starting at the end of the month.

By contrast, Norway, which like Finland had kept cases low through most of the pandemic, is experiencing is worst outbreak to date. However, deaths remain low thanks to Norway’s high vaccination rates — 74 percent of the population have had at least one shot and 64 percent are fully vaccinated.

Waiting in line to receive a Covid-19 vaccine in Tokyo in July.
Credit…Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

Japan initially struggled to get its Covid-19 vaccination program into full gear, but now that it has, the percentage of its population that has received at least one dose has edged past the level achieved in the United States — leaving Americans last for that category among the world’s seven wealthiest large democracies.

The turning point came on Thursday, when Our World in Data, a project by the University of Oxford in England, reported that 62.16 percent of Japanese people were at least partially vaccinated, compared to 61.94 percent of Americans.

For the moment, the United States retains a slightly larger percentage of fully vaccinated people than Japan, 52.76 percent compared to 50.04 percent, according to Our World in Data, ranking sixth out of the Group of 7 nations, after Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy. But the United States appears all but certain to fall to last place among the Group of 7 nations shortly, given the rapid pace of achieving full vaccinations in Japan and the extremely slow rate in the United States.

Between July 24 and Sept. 9, the full vaccination rate in the United States grew by around 4 percent, while in the same period Japan lifted its level by 25 percent, a jump that doubled the size of its fully vaccinated population. Using doses made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, Japan is administering more than a million vaccine doses per day, some 300,000 above the U.S. average, even though the U.S. population is more than 2.6 times the size of Japan’s.

In Japan, new cases have fallen sharply from a peak of 23,083 on Aug. 25 to 11,347 on Friday, though Japan did confront a dramatic rise in new cases in July and August, coinciding with the Olympics. In the United States, cases spiked starting in early July.

Canada leads the G7 countries in vaccination rates, with almost three-quarters of its population at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday, according to Our World in Data. France, Italy and Britain follow, with percentages between 70 and 73. Germany’s rate is just ahead of Japan’s, at around 65 percent.

The U.S. vaccination curve has leveled dramatically since an initial surge in the first half of this year, when the vaccine first became widely available. In a push to vaccinate the roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for shots but have not gotten them, President Biden on Thursday mandated that two-thirds of American workers, including health care workers and the vast majority of federal employees, be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

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