Covid Infections at California Jail Quadruple in Less Than a Week

The situation mirrored dangerous conditions in other jails. Gov. Gavin Newsom said two of his children tested positive. Catch up on pandemic updates.,

Daily Covid Briefing

Sept. 18, 2021Updated Sept. 18, 2021, 10:40 p.m. ETSept. 18, 2021, 10:40 p.m. ET

ImageCoronavirus rates at Monterey County Jail rose from 30 on Monday to 130 as of Saturday, with one person hospitalized.
Coronavirus rates at Monterey County Jail rose from 30 on Monday to 130 as of Saturday, with one person hospitalized.Credit…Kate Cimini/Salinas Californian via Imagn Content Services

A coronavirus outbreak at a jail in Monterey County, Calif., has caused cases among inmates to quadruple in less than a week, mirroring dangerous conditions in other jails across the country as the Delta variant spreads.

The number of inmates who tested positive at the Monterey County Jail rose to 130 people as of Saturday, with one person hospitalized, from 30 on Monday, according to data provided by the jail. Seventeen deputies have also tested positive in one week, and of those, only one was vaccinated, said Derrel Simpson, a spokesman for the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office.

Mr. Simpson said the outbreak wasn’t tied to unsanitary conditions, adding that staff members are still wearing masks and providing cleaning stations. The recent spread of the virus, he said, is not exclusive to Monterey County.

“It’s happening in other jails,” Mr. Simpson said. “It’s cohort living. There’s multiple people occupying one space.”

But activists have said throughout the pandemic that more precautionary measures are needed to ensure the safety of incarcerated individuals.

At New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, staffing shortages and unsanitary conditions have paved the way for a new surge in coronavirus infections.

Throughout the pandemic, people who are incarcerated have been infected at rates several times higher than those of their surrounding communities.

Mr. Simpson said it was unclear how this recent outbreak started. But he said in-person court appearances and lawyer visits that started in late July very likely increased the chances of exposure to the virus.

Of the two-thirds of workers in the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office who have reported their vaccination status, 70 percent are fully vaccinated, Mr. Simpson said. The vaccination status of the remaining one-third is unclear, he added.

Inmates are offered vaccinations at the jail, but it is unclear what percentage of them are fully vaccinated because it is not required and their vaccination status before incarceration is often unknown, Mr. Simpson said.

He said the number of infections could most likely increase in the coming days.

“We simply don’t have the facility to house everybody in a cell all by themselves,” Mr. Simpson said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom shared that two of his children tested positive for the coronavirus. The rest of the family has tested negative.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who four days ago beat back a pandemic-fueled attempt to recall him, is “following all Covid protocols” with his family after two of his four children tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The governor, the first partner and their two other children have since tested negative,” Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, confirmed late Friday. The children, she said, tested positive on Thursday and have mild symptoms. They are being quarantined.

The report came on the heels of Mr. Newsom’s victory over a Republican-led recall attempt that had gained traction as Californians became impatient with health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The rate of new Covid-19 cases in California is among the lowest in the nation, and the rate of vaccination is among the highest.

The governor’s children, however, are all under 12, the threshold age for inoculation. In a victory speech Tuesday night, the governor mentioned that his oldest daughter was about to turn 12 this weekend.

“The Newsoms continue to support masking for unvaccinated individuals indoors to stop the spread and advocate for vaccinations as the most effective way to end this pandemic,” said the governor’s wife, Jennifer Siebel-Newsom.

Governor Newsom’s spokeswoman did not specify which of his children had tested positive for the virus. But this is not the first time it has affected his family. In November, three of his children were quarantined after being exposed to a California Highway Patrol officer in the family’s security detail who was infected, and one child was quarantined after a classmate tested positive.

This summer, the Newsoms pulled their children out of a summer camp after it was determined that masking requirements were not being strictly followed.

The governor has been vaccinated since April, when he received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a news conference. The unvaccinated head of the recall effort, Orrin Heatlie, said this week that he had recovered after being sidelined with Covid-19 during the last weeks of the campaign.

A nurse tending to a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala., last December.Credit…Julie Bennett/Associated Press

For the first time in Alabama’s known history, the state had more deaths than births in 2020 — a grim milestone that underscores the pandemic’s calamitous toll.

“Our state literally shrunk in 2020,” Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said at a news conference on Friday. There were 64,714 total deaths in the state last year, compared to 57,641 births, Dr. Harris said.

Such a gap had never been recorded, not even during World War I, World War II and the flu pandemic of 1918, Dr. Harris said. Going back to the earliest available records, in 1900, “We’ve never had a time when deaths exceeded births,” he said.

Nationally, the birthrate declined for the sixth straight year in 2020, and some experts say the pandemic may be accelerating that trend. A study from the University of New Hampshire found that half of the 50 U.S. states had more deaths than births in 2020, compared with only five states with more deaths than births in 2019.

In Alabama last year, 7,182 deaths were officially attributed to Covid, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

On Wednesday, in a town hall discussion with, Alabama’s largest digital news site, Dr. Harris dismissed arguments that Covid deaths were being misrepresented.

“We get skeptical people who go, ‘Oh well, those were just older people who were going to die anyway, and you’re just attributing their deaths to Covid,'” he said. “That is not the case.”

Alabama has recently averaged about 60 deaths a day, according to a New York Times database, and only 41 percent of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated.

Alabama’s rate of full vaccination is on a par with Idaho’s, tied as the third-lowest rate in the country. The two that rank lower are Wyoming and West Virginia.

Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, has urged the people of her state to get Covid vaccinations, but like many other Republicans, she objected when President Biden recently announced vaccine mandates, calling them “outrageous” and “overreaching.”

Coronavirus testing in the Mission District of San Francisco last month. The Delta variant has contributed to a rise in cases across the U.S.Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

The extremely transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, which overtook all other variants in the United States just a few months ago, now represents more than 99 percent of cases tracked in the country, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variant caused caseloads to surge in Britain and India this spring and summer, and in both countries outbreaks resurfaced after cases had seemed to be on the decline. The Delta variant has been fueling outbreaks in the United States throughout the summer, its contagiousness taking advantage of the number of people who have resisted Covid-19 vaccinations.

The data on Delta’s prevalence, contained in the C.D.C.’s latest biweekly report of virus sequencing, shows it climbing from just over a quarter of cases in mid-June to near total dominance in September.

“It’s not unexpected, because it’s more transmissible, but it is also a strong reminder that we need to have continuous vigilance,” said Dr. Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at George Mason University.

The C.D.C.’s COVID Data Tracker, reporting results for the two-week period ending on Sept. 11, put the B.1.617.2 lineage of Delta at 99.4 percent among variants of concern, with two other Delta lineages tracked at 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent, the Mu variant — first detected in January in Colombia — at 0.1 percent and several other, unidentified variants at 0.2 percent. That data is based on thousands of sequences provided every week through the C.D.C.’s national genomic surveillance efforts, according to the agency’s website.

The country recently experienced a rise in hospitalizations, despite the availability of highly protective vaccines, and the Delta variant has been cited as the cause.

“We’re seeing more children in the hospital now because the Delta variant is more readily transmissible among everybody, adults and children,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, told The New York Times on Sept. 9.

Dr. Popescu said the rise of Delta should help Americans and health officials realize the coronavirus remains a serious public health threat.

“The biggest piece is, ‘Don’t let your guard down.’ We need continuous surveillance, genomic sequencing, access to testing and public health interventions,” Dr. Popescu said.

Vaccination and wearing masks can help, she said.

“We have transmission occurring with very limited exposure, and that means that, for example, times without a mask, when you are out and around others, become much more of a risk,” Dr. Popescu said.

— Victor Manuel Ramos

A masked statue of a lion at the Smithsonian National Zoo this month. Credit…Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

Lions and tigers and Covid? Oh my. Some of the lions and tigers of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., have tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.

According to a release on Friday from the Smithsonian, the felines are closely being observed and treated with anti-inflammatories, anti-nausea medication and antibiotics for secondary infections.

Animal keepers noticed that some of the great cats had decreased appetite, seemed lethargic and were coughing and sneezing. Fecal samples from those six African lions, a Sumatran tiger and two Amur tigers tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus. Additional results are expected in the next day or so.

The zoo said it wasn’t clear how the animals were infected. All staff members have been wearing masks indoors and in public areas as standard practice.

Gorillas at the Zoo Atlanta as well as the San Diego Zoo have previously tested positive for the coronavirus. In Atlanta, as many as 18 of the 20 gorillas at the zoo had tested positive during a recent outbreak while the San Diego infections in January were believed to be the first detected in gorillas in the United States.

Monoclonal antibody infusions at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas on Wednesday.Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

Lanson Jones, an avid tennis player in Houston, did not want to spoil his streak of good health during the pandemic by getting a vaccine.

Then he contracted Covid. Still, he chose not to get vaccinated. Instead, he turned to another kind of treatment: monoclonal antibodies, a year-old, laboratory-created medicine no less experimental than the vaccine.

In a glass-walled enclosure at Houston Methodist Hospital this month, Mr. Jones, 65, became one of more than a million Covid patients, including Donald J. Trump and Joe Rogan, to receive an antibody infusion.

The federal government covers the cost of the treatment, currently about $2,100 per dose, and has told states to expect scaled-back shipments because of the looming shortages. Seven Southern states account for 70 percent of orders.

Amid the din of antivaccine falsehoods circulating in the United States, monoclonal antibodies have become the rare coronavirus medicine to achieve near-universal acceptance. Championed by mainstream doctors and conservative radio hosts alike, the infusions have kept the country’s death toll — nearly 2,000 per day and climbing at a rapid rate — from soaring even higher.

“The people you love, you trust, nobody said anything negative about it,” Mr. Jones said of the antibody treatment. “And I’ve heard nothing but negative things about the side effects of the vaccine and how quickly it was developed.”

But the treatment’s popularity is straining the U.S. healthcare system.

The infusions take about an hour and a half, including monitoring afterward, and require constant attention from nurses at a time when hard-hit states often cannot spare them.

“It’s clogging up resources, it’s hard to give, and a vaccine is $20 and could prevent almost all of that,” said Dr. Christian Ramers, an infectious disease specialist and the chief of population health at Family Health Centers of San Diego, a community-based provider. Pushing antibodies while playing down vaccines, he said, was “like investing in car insurance without investing in brakes.”

A man receiving his third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine in Southfield, Mich., in the days after federal regulators approved offering the shots to people whose immune systems are compromised to bring their levels of protection into a more normal range. Booster shots, by contrast, are intended to counter any waning of the protections of full vaccination.Credit…Emily Elconin/Getty Images

American health experts spoke out on social media and other platforms on Friday and Saturday to applaud the likelihood that federal regulators could soon make Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots available for those 65 and older or at high risk of severe Covid-19, though some argued that the cutoff age should be lower.

The experts were reacting to the actions on Friday of an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration. That panel’s recommendation that the boosters be authorized was paired with its rejection of moving toward a blanket authorization for everyone 16 and older.

The only Covid-19 vaccine for which the F.D.A. has enough information to determine a booster shot’s effectiveness is the one made by Pfizer-BioNTech. The timing for the other two vaccines in use in the United States, Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s, is murky.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, a researcher who is dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, said on Twitter that authorizing people over 65 for boosters was a “Good result” supported by science. “Clearly consistent with the evidence and this outcome should never have been in doubt,” he wrote.

But Dr. Jha also noted in a separate tweet that boosters would benefit those 60 and above.

Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., called the F.D.A. panel’s decision “a very good outcome.” The decision, he wrote on Twitter, recognized “the need for high-risk individuals, due to co-existing conditions or occupational exposures, such as the heathcare workforce, essential workers, and teachers.”

However, Dr. Topol also questioned why the cutoff point for third-shot eligibility was set at 65, rather than including people 60 or older. He also said the updated F.D.A. advisory “didn’t address the vulnerability of people who received J&J shots.”

Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Associated Press that he supported a third dose for older adults but that “I really have trouble” when it comes to getting behind the idea of administering the shot to anyone closer to the age of 16. “The question becomes what will be the impact of that on the arc of the pandemic, which may not be all that much,” Dr. Offit said.

For some Americans outside the medical or scientific fields, the F.D.A. panel’s recommendations seemed opaque, or even contradictory.

For instance, Jen Macy, a wedding and event floral designer in Orange County, Calif., tweeted and also discussed with a Times reporter what she felt was an urgent question: “Can you explain why boosters are being recommended for high risk people but the general population needs to wait for further testing? This makes no sense.”

Michael Knowles, a conservative media figure with a large following on social media and via The Daily Wire, a site that publishes commentary and podcasts, took a comic dig at the F.D.A. panel’s actions. “The vaccines are so effective that you need a booster and so safe that the FDA won’t approve the booster,” he wrote on Twitter. “Do I have that right?”

A flu vaccination at a CVS pharmacy in Miami this month.Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Last fall, as coronavirus cases climbed and the world hoped for vaccines, health experts feared influenza and Covid-19 would combine for a devastating “twindemic.”

While pandemic measures appeared to keep the flu at bay, this year experts are again concerned, especially as some countries and state authorities roll back lockdown rules. Many officials and experts are urging the public: Do not dismiss the danger of the flu, and seek a flu vaccine.

“This year we are guaranteed to have the flu, and we are going to have some version of a twindemic,” said Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “It could really further strain an already extraordinarily stretched, strained, tired-to-the-bone health care system.”

In the United States, flu activity was significantly lower during the 2020-21 season than during any previous flu season since at least 1997, the first for which data is publicly available.

Scientists said pandemic precautions most likely played a role, as many people adopted masking, social-distancing and hand-washing habits.

But the relative lack of flu cases over the last 18 months could also mean that population-level immunity to the flu is lower this season, said Lynnette Brammer, the leader of the C.D.C.’s domestic influenza surveillance team.

And while it is still uncertain how the season will play out, she added, relaxed pandemic measures in some places will “likely result in the resumption of seasonal flu virus circulation.”

“This all could set us up for a potentially severe flu season,” she added.

The C.D.C. advises that everyone over the age of 6 months old receive a flu shot, with a few exceptions. It takes about two weeks for protection to develop after vaccination, so experts recommend getting vaccinated from September through the end of October, but even after that it is better to get the vaccine than not.

Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York signing the Less is More Act on Friday.Credit…Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

Responding to an escalating crisis inside New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday signed a measure that will lead to the release of about 200 detainees, many of them being held for parole violations.

The law, known as the Less is More Act, is intended to ease crowding in the jail at a time when severe staffing shortages at the city’s Department of Correction have led to unsafe and unsanitary conditions for detainees and guards. Ten people have died at Rikers since December, several by suicide.

Even though the law does not go into effect until March, Ms. Hochul said she was directing the board of parole to immediately release 191 people who qualify from Rikers Island. They were expected to be released on Friday.

Ms. Hochul also said an additional 200 people serving sentences would be moved from Rikers Island to state prisons over the next five days to ease the burden on the city jail.

But the legislation will still leave Rikers far more crowded than it was last spring, when a wave of releases amid the pandemic dropped the population below 4,000. As of Friday, more than 6,000 people were being held at the jail.

At the same time, coronavirus rates inside the jail appear to be climbing. Correctional health officials first reported an uptick in the prevalence of the virus in mid-August, followed by a spike in cases later that month. After active cases and rates in the jail dropped to near zero in June and July, the seven-day average positive test rate among detainees — 4.36 percent as of this week — is now higher than the city’s 3.92 percent rate at large.

During a City Council hearing this week to address the conditions at Rikers, officials described a two-pronged catastrophe in the making. About 2,700 staff members — roughly a third of the entire work force — are absent or unable to work on any given day for myriad reasons, leading to a lack of supervision that has caused violence among detainees. Crowding in unsanitary conditions is paving the way for a new surge in coronavirus infections. As of this week, the city said there were 65 active virus cases at the jail.

Only 36 percent of detainees at the jail are fully vaccinated, according to city data.

— Chelsia Rose Marcius

Medical staff at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, in August. The state has since declared a crisis that allows rationing care statewide.Credit…Kyle Green/Associated Press

Hospital systems across the United States are being strained to their breaking points by the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant. Nationwide, new cases and hospitalizations have declined slightly in recent weeks, but much of the progress seen in hard-hit Southern states is being offset by growing outbreaks in the Upper Midwest and Mountain West.

One in four hospitals across the country reports that more than 95 percent of its intensive care beds were occupied as of the week ending Sept. 9, up from one in five hospitals last month. Experts say hospitals may have difficulty maintaining standards of care for the sickest patients when all or nearly all I.C.U. beds are occupied.

Struggling to cope with a flood of patients, Idaho officials activated “crisis standards of care” across the state on Thursday, allowing overwhelmed facilities to ration treatment if needed. If the situation worsens, hospital may have to decide which patients will get priority for limited supplies of oxygen or ventilators.

Alaska’s largest hospital announced Tuesday that a relentless outbreak driven has left emergency room patients waiting hours in their vehicles and forced medical teams to ration care. At Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the hospital said it was now operating under “crisis standards of care” — procedures put in place to prioritize resources in a way that may leave some patients with substandard care.

State officials in Mississippi tried to outsource “I.C.U.-level-care patients” to Kentucky. And in North Dakota, an executive at the state’s largest health care system said it could use as many as 300 additional nurses to help treat Covid-19 patients. All I.C.U. beds are full in Alabama.

Here’s what else happened this week:

  • A scientific advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday recommended booster shots for recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine who are 65 or older or are at high risk of severe Covid-19, at least six months after the second shot. The panel also overwhelmingly recommended against approving a Pfizer booster for people 16 and older. The Biden administration had been hoping the F.D.A. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would approve a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine in time to begin rolling out boosters for Pfizer recipients next week.

  • Both elation and caution were palpable in New York City on Monday when the country’s largest public school system resumed full in-person classes for the first time since March 2020. But with the virus tearing through unvaccinated populations in the city and much of New York’s school-age population still ineligible for vaccination, disruptions are likely.

  • The longest shutdown in Broadway history is over. Some of the biggest shows in musical theater, including “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton,” resumed performances on Tuesday night, 18 months after the coronavirus pandemic forced them to close.

  • President Biden met on Wednesday with top executives from Microsoft, the Walt Disney Company, Kaiser Permanente and other companies that have endorsed vaccine mandates, days after he announced a federal effort to require employees of large companies to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be tested regularly. Vaccinations have divided the work force and many businesses fear the requirements may cause labor shortages.

  • In the Australian city of Melbourne on Saturday, 235 people were arrested and six police officers were injured during a violent protest against the country’s pandemic lockdown rules, the police said. An additional 193 people at the protest were fined, according to Acting Sergeant Melissa Seach, a spokeswoman for the Victoria Police. One video shared widely on Twitter shows hundreds of protesters running down a street after breaking past a handful of police officers, several of whom were knocked to the ground.

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