Covid-19 Live News: Confusion and Shortages Impede Some U.S. Vaccination Campaigns

India has approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and a local version. The virus has taken the life of a young American teacher who became famous for a 2018 video of her students.

As distribution of Covid-19 vaccines begins to open up to wider segments of the United States population, there have been scenes of chaos across the country.

Waiting for Covid-19 vaccinations in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday. At several sites across the country, there have been long lines and delays.
Credit…Octavio Jones for The New York Times

A crashed phone network in Houston. People waiting overnight in long lines in Florida. Older Tennesseans leaning on their walkers outside in the cold alongside a highway.

Those warnings appear to have been borne out, leaving the U.S. inoculation campaign behind schedule and raising fears about how quickly the country will be able to tame the epidemic.

The initial vaccine deliveries were mostly for frontline medical workers and nursing home staff members and residents. But there was less of a clear consensus on how to distribute the second round of doses, and public health and elected officials had warned the process would become messier.

Many vaccination sites have operated smoothly since the first U.S. inoculation on Dec. 14, but as availability of vaccines broadened, logistical complications arose at some sites and yielded unnerving images.

In Puerto Rico, a shipment of vaccines did not arrive until the workers who would have administered them had left for the Christmas holiday. In California, where coronavirus cases are surging and hospitals are overstretched, doctors are worried about whether there will be enough staff members to both administer vaccines and tend to Covid-19 patients.

A video of the scene posted to Facebook showed seniors leaning on walkers and canes and sitting on footstools and lawn chairs as they waited for the building to open. Vickie Rayfield Ham, who posted the video, wrote that she thought the distribution center would be a drive-through.

In Tullahoma, Tenn., older people lined a sidewalk on Saturday as they waited to enter the Coffee County Health Department’s Tullahoma clinic, about 70 miles northwest of Chattanooga. Most of the people in line were wearing heavy coats or huddled under blankets.

In a Facebook post that went up shortly before 10 a.m. local time, a couple of hours after Ms. Ham’s video, the city of Tullahoma said that all available doses had been administered for the day and that information about next week’s vaccination schedule would be released on Monday.

“Some of the elderly were having to walk down the road with their walkers to get to the end of the line, and people were flying by,” she told WTVC, a local television news station.

Vaccinations began in Houston soon after the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine started arriving at its hospitals on Dec. 14. On Saturday, the city opened a clinic at the Bayou City Event Center providing the Moderna vaccine to high-risk members of the public, saying it could accommodate 750 appointments a day.

The opening day for Houston’s first free public Covid-19 vaccination clinic unleashed so much demand that the city health department’s phone system crashed, causing officials to scramble to move to on-site registration.

“The system was literally overwhelmed,” he said during a news briefing on Saturday.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said that the health department had received more than 250,000 calls.

Vaccine rollout sites in Florida continued to be overwhelmed in some places, with people waiting for hours overnight in hopes of getting the shot. The state had expanded its offering of vaccines to older members of the general public — in some cases, on a first-come, first-served basis.

The clinic’s phone system was back up by the afternoon and as of 2 p.m. local time about 450 people had received a Covid-19 vaccine, Mr. Turner said.

Mina Bobel, 74, and her husband, Dave Bobel, lined up at 2 a.m. outside the Lakes Regional Library in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday in hopes of getting vaccinated. They came prepared with snacks and water, and even took turns sleeping in the back of their S.U.V. There were about 300 people ahead of them in line, Ms. Bobel said, and most of them had come well equipped, too — with coats and blankets to keep warm.

Florida became one of the first states to open up vaccination to anyone older than 65, after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Dec. 23.

When she left, Ms. Bobel said, the line was even longer than when she arrived.

“For us, it was an adventure,” Ms. Bobel said, adding that she was “giddy” when finally, around 10 a.m., she stepped up to get her first dose. “We feel really lucky.”

Nineteen states reported no data on Friday, which was a public holiday for New Year’s Day. The remaining states reported a total of more than 147,000 new cases on Friday. The near doubling of cases on Saturday can mostly be explained by many states reporting cases for both Friday and Saturday, with one state, Michigan, reporting cases for Thursday as well. Other states will wait until Sunday or Monday to report cases from the past few days, which will continue to distort the totals.

A testing site at the University of San Diego in California on Friday.
Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

The United States reported at least 291,300 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, a single-day record but one that is inflated because of delays in reporting over the holidays.

The country’s previous single-day record, according to a New York Times database, was 280,514 new cases on Dec. 11, though that number was also inflated because of 43,000 cases that were added from a backlog in Texas. The highest number of new cases in a single day without any data anomalies was 251,191 on Dec. 18.

Regular data reporting is expected to resume toward the end of next week.

And with fears that another wave of cases will crest after holiday travel and gatherings, the country reached yet another milestone on Saturday that was once unthinkable, surpassing 350,000 total deaths. At the same time, more than 123,000 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized, only a slight drop from the record level on Thursday.

Regardless of holiday reporting delays, the United States has had the world’s worst outbreak for most of the pandemic and is experiencing a new surge in infections even as vaccine distribution begins. The deluge is particularly strong in Los Angeles County, the largest in the United States, where the seven-day average of new cases is at a peak of 16,193, about 12 times higher than the seven-day average from Nov. 1, which was 1,347.

Jennifer Jett and

Distribution of the vaccine in the United States is taking longer than expected, with holiday staffing shortages and other resource issues putting the campaign far behind schedule in its third week. More than 4.2 million people in the United States have received a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far short of the goal federal officials set to give at least 20 million people their first shots before the end of December.

The weekly average of new cases per day in the county, the largest in the United States, is at its highest yet, 16,193.

Mourners comforting one another at a funeral in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The number of coronavirus cases has surged again because of holiday gatherings.
Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Los Angeles County, already in the throes of a devastating surge in coronavirus cases after Thanksgiving travel and gatherings, is being hit with a spike from Christmas festivities.

Even as the deluge of coronavirus cases has overwhelmed hospitals around the state and Los Angeles County in particular, some Angelenos sought to celebrate the new year at clandestine parties. Police dispersed more than a thousand people who had attended a warehouse party, The Los Angeles Times reported.

That is about 12 times the weekly average of Nov. 1, which was 1,347.

For weeks, many intensive care units in the Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley regions have been at or near capacity. At one Los Angeles hospital late last month, incoming patients waited in a tent outside — the lobby was being used to treat patients, and gurneys were placed in the gift shop.

More than 21,000 people were in the hospital on New Year’s Day in California, according to a New York Times database, a 26 percent increase from two weeks earlier.

“Things, unfortunately, will get worse before they get better,” he said, adding that care for non-Covid patients in emergency rooms was being slowed as intensive care units struggle to manage the onslaught brought by the wave of coronavirus cases.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday that the state of the virus in California had made it “self-evident” that stay-at-home orders for the state’s southern and central regions, which were set to expire, would remain in place.

Dr. V.G. Somani, the drugs controller general of India, said at a news conference in New Delhi that the decision to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and a local vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech came after “careful examination” of both by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, India’s pharmaceutical regulator.

Indian health workers taking part in a drill for administering Covid-19 vaccinations in Bangalore on Saturday.
Credit…Manjunath Kiran/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

NEW DELHI — India said on Sunday that it had approved two coronavirus vaccines, one made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other developed in India, for emergency use, a major step toward halting the spread of the coronavirus in one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.

On Wednesday, Britain became the first country to grant emergency approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Argentina soon followed suit.

Indian regulators are still considering approvals for other vaccines. One, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, has already been approved in the United States, Canada and Europe. Another, Russia’s Sputnik V, appears to be less far along.

India’s government will face steep challenges as it works to inoculate more than 1.3 billion people across the vast country. The government says it is ready. To get the vaccine across a country famous for its size and its sometimes unreliable roads, officials will tap into knowledge from nationwide polio vaccination and newborn immunization campaigns, and the skill and flexibility employed in India’s mammoth general elections, where ballot boxes are delivered to the furthest reaches of the country.

Officials in India moved quickly for a number of reasons. The country is No. 2 in confirmed infections behind the United States, and the outbreak is widely believed to be worse than the official figures suggest. The pandemic has devastated the economy, and the unemployment rate is at a 45-year high.

The Bharat Biotech vaccine, called Covaxin, is still in Phase 3 clinical trials in India and has not published efficacy data. Dr. Somani, the regulator, said the vaccine had so far been administered to 22,500 trial participants, “and the vaccine has been found to be safe.”

But the effort has already faced setbacks. The Serum Institute, an Indian drug maker that struck a deal to produce the Oxford vaccine even before its effectiveness had been proven, has managed to make only about one-tenth of the 400 million doses it had committed to manufacturing before the end of last year.

In Birmingham, England, last month. Britain is facing a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, in part because of a new virus variant.
Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

LONDON — Parts of England may face harsher restrictions in the coming weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday, as Britain confronts a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations linked to a new, more transmissible variant of the coronavirus.

Both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Bharat Biotech vaccine require two doses, Dr. Somani said. He did not specify whether the participants in Bharat Biotech’s continuing clinical trials had received both doses.

Mr. Johnson said in an interview with the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” that he was “fully reconciled” to implementing more restrictions and that the government had taken “every reasonable step” to prepare for the winter. He said that ministers could not have predicted the emergence of the new variant, which has led dozens of governments to restrict travelers from Britain, and that he hoped more vaccinations would lead the country out of lockdowns.

But with classes set to resume and his government’s plans for in-person teaching under increasing pressure, he also urged parents to send their children to school.

With classes set to return in many primary schools in England on Monday, Mr. Johnson added that parents should “absolutely” send their children to schools if possible. “We’ve really fought very hard in this pandemic across the country to keep schools open,” he said. “Schools are safe.”

Britain was the first country to give emergency authorization to the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and then, last week, one from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Teaching unions have opposed a return to in-person schooling, and on Saturday the largest, the National Education Union, advised primary-school teachers to stay home and offer to conduct lessons remotely. “The science now tells us that, although children largely do not become ill with Covid-19, they spread it to others,” the union said in a statement.

The government had planned for primary schools across England to reopen on Monday, with secondary school students returning later in phases, but it moved last week to delay opening primary schools in parts of London and southeastern England, where the new variant first took off. The delay was extended to cover all of London late last week.

Those We’ve Lost

Britain reported 57,724 new cases on Saturday and 445 new deaths.

Ms. Blancas, who was born in Texas and lived in Mexico for much of her childhood, was a bilingual Spanish teacher at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary School, and she was hoping to become a bilingual special education teacher.

Zelene Blancas, 35, died of complications from Covid-19, after spending more than two months in the hospital battling the virus. Her death has devastated El Paso.
Credit…Zelene Blancas

Anyone who had worked with Zelene Blancas in El Paso knew her as a teacher whose goal was to spread compassion above all else.

Ms. Blancas tested positive for the virus on Oct. 20 and was hospitalized a few days later, her brother, Mario Blancas, said. After she had spent nearly two months in the I.C.U. and had exhausted all of her available sick days and paid time off, Mr. Blancas set up a GoFundMe page on Dec. 14 to help pay for his sister’s health care since she would soon be “without an income and will have to pay the full cost of her health insurance out of pocket,” according to the page.

She gained popularity online after posting a video in 2018 of her students that gained more than 23 million views. It showed classmates hugging one another before a weekend break, smiles spread across their faces as they said goodbye — a reminder of the human capacity for love and connection.

During her teaching career, Ms. Blancas would often stay up late to speak on the phone with her students’ parents. She ran a literacy program for parents in the evenings, and when classes shifted to remote learning during the pandemic, she delivered care packages, complete with handwritten notes, to her students. Even from her hospital bed, Ms. Blancas was asking about her work at school, said her principal, Cristina Sanchez-Chavira.

But this week, at just 35 years old, Ms. Blancas died of complications from Covid-19. Her death has devastated the city.

Ms. Blancas had been shocked to see the 2018 video clip of her students being shared so widely, Ms. Sanchez-Chavira said, adding that for Ms. Blancas, encouraging empathy among her students had always been a priority.

“Her calling was just to spread kindness,” Ms. Sanchez-Chavira said. “I think education was the vehicle that she found, but that was her. She embodied kindness, and making others feel special. And she did that in and outside of the classroom.”

Ms. Blancas spent her 35th birthday in her hospital room, without family by her side, Mr. Blancas said. The nurses all signed a birthday card for her, and her father sent her a picture of a cake and balloons.

“She was so humble about it,” Ms. Sanchez-Chavira said of the video. “She was just doing everything for the kids, and I think that’s what made her such a phenomenal teacher — because she just did everything from her heart.”

Graffiti seen on the front door of Senator Mitch McConnell’s home in Louisville
Credit…Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

The homes of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi, political opponents and the two most powerful members of Congress, were reported to have been vandalized, as their standoff continues over a stimulus bill that has been criticized as inadequate by from both the left and right — including President Trump.

The day before her death, Mr. Blancas said, he was able to visit his sister. It was painful, he said, to see his only sister in a hospital bed, breathing through a tube, her face swollen from the treatments. He brought a gift he knew would make her happy: a blanket emblazoned with pictures of her two beloved dogs, Chico and Rocky.

“I’ve spent my career fighting for the First Amendment and defending peaceful protest,” Mr. McConnell said in the statement. “I appreciate every Kentuckian who has engaged in the democratic process whether they agree with me or not. This is different. Vandalism and the politics of fear have no place in our society.”

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the Senate majority leader, lamented what he called a “radical tantrum” drawn from a “toxic playbook.” The Louisville station WDRB-TV reported that the senator’s home was tagged overnight with red and white spray paint. Photos show writing on the front of Mr. McConnell’s home, including a message that says “Weres my money” on the front door. The Louisville Metro Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

The Police Department did not respond to additional questions, including whether the pig’s head discovered on the property was real or fake. The speaker’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Around 2 a.m. Friday, San Francisco police officers responded to a report of vandalism at a home in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Graffiti had been spray-painted on the garage door and “a pig’s head” was left on the sidewalk in front of the house, a spokesman for the Police Department said. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the home belonged to Ms. Pelosi, a Democrat who serves as House speaker.

Mr. McConnell said on Tuesday that the Senate would “begin a process” to consider bigger payments along with Mr. Trump’s other demands, which include investigations of his baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election and the repeal of certain legal protections for tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

President Trump signed a bill providing $900 billion in stimulus last Sunday, but called for payments to individuals be increased to $2,000 from $600. Ms. Pelosi rallied support for the shift, and the House voted to raise the payments on Monday. Mr. McConnell blocked the effort the following day .

But those numbers do not capture the feeling of growing desperation in some communities that had already been struggling before the pandemic. In certain neighborhoods on Cleveland’s east side, for example, longtime residents and workers talk of a steady unraveling.

The Rev. Richard Gibson, pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in the Cleveland neighborhood of Slavic Village. 2020 was the worst year for murders in Cleveland in decades.
Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

Plenty of numbers can quantify the way the pandemic and the resulting recession have battered the United States: At least 7.8 million people have fallen into poverty, the biggest plunge in six decades; 85 million Americans say they have had trouble paying basic household expenses, including food and rent.

Everyone talks about the crazy driving — over the past few months in the neighborhood of Slavic Village, cars have crashed into a corner grocery store, a home and a beloved local diner. In Cuyahoga County, 19 people died of drug overdoses in one recent week. All as the virus continues its lethal spread.

Gunfire echoes almost nightly, they say. The Cleveland police reported six homicides in one 24-hour period in November. As in Cincinnati, Wichita, Kan., and several other U.S. cities, 2020 was the worst year for murders in Cleveland in decades.

The places where many would ordinarily have gone to learn about new benefits and new rules — where they might have access to a decent internet connection, for example — are now closed.

“Sometimes,” said the Rev. Richard Gibson, whose 101-year-old church stands in Slavic Village, “it feels like we’re losing our grip on civilization.”

A decade ago, during the foreclosure crisis, parts of Mr. Brancatelli’s ward were among the hardest-hit places in the country, but more people kept their jobs. They had friends and relatives they could move in with or turn to for financial support. Today, with parts of Slavic Village above 30 percent unemployment and a virus that spreads in small gatherings, those supports are not there.

“Our library is not open anymore, our Boys Club is not open anymore,” said Tony Brancatelli, a member of the City Council whose ward includes Slavic Village.

At University Settlement, a 94-year-old social service institution in Slavic Village, there used to be a weekly sit-down dinner for anyone in the community. This has changed to takeout. Some of the people whom the organization routinely checked up on seem to have just disappeared, no longer answering phones or knocks at the door.

And the virus continues to rage. Cleveland has been spared the catastrophic case totals of cities like Detroit or New Orleans but has nonetheless just endured its worst two-month stretch. As December came to a close, four out of five critical care beds in Cuyahoga County hospitals were being used.

“The community felt frayed and forgotten anyway,” said Earl Pike, the executive director of University Settlement. “It’s beginning to feel a little ‘Mad Max’-y.”
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