New Covid-19 Cases Rise Sharply in Upper Midwest

Health officials say that a fourth surge of cases could hit the United States despite the vaccination push. Here’s the latest on the pandemic.,

LiveUpdated April 8, 2021, 5:27 a.m. ETApril 8, 2021, 5:27 a.m. ET

States including Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota have reported significant increases in cases and hospitalizations. Health officials say that a fourth surge of cases could hit the United States despite the vaccination push.

New Yorkers in Union Square Park during a lunch hour last month. Amid spots of pre-pandemic normalcy, there are signs of possible problems ahead.
New Yorkers in Union Square Park during a lunch hour last month. Amid spots of pre-pandemic normalcy, there are signs of possible problems ahead.Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

As states lift restrictions and coronavirus variants spread, scientists and federal health officials have warned that a fourth surge of cases could arise in the United States even as the nation’s vaccination campaign gathers speed. The seeds of such a surge may now be sprouting in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast.

Michigan is in tough shape. New cases and hospitalizations there have more than doubled in the last two weeks, and the six metro areas in the United States with the greatest number of new cases relative to their population are all in Michigan.

Several other states in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota and Illinois, have also reported significant increases in new cases and hospitalizations. And in the Northeast, New York and New Jersey have continued to see elevated case counts.

Illinois is seeing a spike in cases as well. The daily average for new cases there has jumped about 56 percent in the past two weeks, to about 2,832 a day. Hospitalizations have risen about 28 percent from two weeks ago. Wisconsin and North Dakota have also seen their average case counts jump 50 percent or more in the last two weeks.

While new cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide have declined from their peaks in January, new infections have increased after plateauing.

Further progress in reducing new cases has stalled, hospitalizations have leveled off and deaths remain near an average of about 800 a day, according to a New York Times database. The average number of new cases had reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, up 19 percent from two weeks ago.

Scientists are particularly concerned about the rising prevalence of variants, which they say could draw out the pandemic. On Wednesday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a highly infectious variant first identified in Britain had become the most common source of new infections in the United States.

That variant, B.1.1.7, has been found to be most prevalent in California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota, according to the C.D.C.

Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling rates of infection over all, lulling Americans into a false sense of security and leading to prematurely relaxed restrictions, researchers say.

The C.D.C.’s efforts to track down variants have substantially improved in recent weeks and will continue to expand, in large part because of the $1.75 billion in funds for genomic sequencing in the stimulus package. By contrast, Britain, with a more centralized health care system, began a highly touted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.

On Wednesday, Michigan’s troubles drew attention at a White House news conference on the pandemic.

The C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said that a team from her agency was in the state working to assess outbreaks in correctional facilities and to improve testing among participants in youth sports.

And Andy Slavitt, a senior health policy adviser to President Biden, said the administration had not ruled out sending extra vaccine doses to Michigan. He said he was in direct touch with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her aides about what federal assistance might be helpful.

“Nothing is off the table in those conversations,” he said.

Other states, including Minnesota, could soon follow Michigan’s path.

Minnesota is averaging 1,826 new cases a day, according to the Times database. It surpassed 2,000 new confirmed cases on April 1, a daily figure not seen since early January. Hospitalizations have also climbed about 41 percent from two weeks earlier. Minnesota’s health department has attributed recent outbreaks in schools to the variant.

Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a state epidemiologist, said there had been a notable rise in cases in people ages 10 to 19, who accounted for about one in six new cases from mid-February to the end of March, compared with just one in nine over a similar period in October and November.

“It’s a race of vaccine against variants,” Dr. Lynfield said. “People really need to work hard and be patient, and continue to wear masks and continue to socially distance.”

Administering the AstraZeneca vaccine at a sports arena in San Juan, Philippines, last month.
Administering the AstraZeneca vaccine at a sports arena in San Juan, Philippines, last month.Credit…Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

A day after European regulators described a “possible link” between AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine and rare blood clots, the drug faced increasing hurdles on Thursday as countries move to restrict its use in younger people.

The Philippines said that it would temporarily stop administering the vaccine to people age 60 and under — the latest setback for AstraZeneca, the world’s most widely used coronavirus vaccine. Although European regulators said that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risks for most people, several countries are now using the AstraZeneca shot only on older people who are most at risk of dying from the coronavirus.

South Korean officials said that they would decide this weekend whether to resume administering the shot to people 60 and younger after a panel of experts reviewed the information on blood clots on Thursday.

Late Wednesday, Belgium said that it would temporarily halt use of the vaccine in people under 56, and that younger people will be offered alternative vaccines — measures that the country’s health ministry said would be reviewed in four weeks. Others, including Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark and Norway, have suspended use of the vaccine altogether until more information about the clotting risk is available.

In the Philippines, Rolando Enrique Domingo, the director general of the country’s Food and Drug Administration, said that there had been no local reports of blood clots, but that the government was taking a precautionary step after the European Medicines Agency’s decision to list clots as a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In the meantime, he said, inoculations using the Chinese-produced Sinovac vaccine will continue.

“We await results of the review being done by our local experts, as well as the official guidance of the W.H.O.,” Mr. Domingo said, referring to the World Health Organization.

Businesses have discovered that they can function with nearly all of their workers out of the office.
Businesses have discovered that they can function with nearly all of their workers out of the office.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

As office vacancies climb to their highest levels in decades with businesses giving up office space and embracing remote work, the real estate industry in many American cities faces a potentially grave threat.

Businesses have discovered during the pandemic that they can function with nearly all of their workers out of the office, an arrangement that many intend to continue in some form. That could wallop the big property companies that build and own office buildings — and lead to a sharp pullback in construction, steep drops in office rents, fewer people frequenting restaurants and stores, and potentially perilous declines in the tax revenue of city governments and school districts.

In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan, home to the country’s two largest central business districts, has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday. That has contributed to an estimated $1 billion drop-off in property tax revenue.

JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce and Target are giving up expensive office space, and others are considering doing so. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest private sector employer in New York City, wrote in a letter to shareholders this week that remote work would “significantly reduce our need for real estate.” For every 100 employees, he said, the bank “may need seats for only 60 on average.”

Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in cities’ downtown areas has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield — the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further, even as vaccinations allow some people to go back to work, if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work.

Senior executives at property companies claim not to be worried. They say that working from home will quickly fade once most of the country is vaccinated.

Their reasons to think this? They say many corporate executives have told them that it is hard to effectively get workers to collaborate or train young professionals when they are not together.

Landlords also argue that even if employees don’t come into the office every day, they’ll still want their own desks and cubicles that will have to be socially distanced.

So far, the cities with the lowest return-to-office rates are on the coasts — including New York, San Francisco and Washington — where long commutes, often on dysfunctional transit systems, are common, according to the security company Kastle Systems.

Moody’s said in March that office landlords with many buildings in coastal cities would come under the most financial pressure in the coming years.

New Zealand has all but eliminated local transmission of the virus.
New Zealand has all but eliminated local transmission of the virus.Credit…Nigel Marple/Reuters

India has become the world’s biggest coronavirus trouble spot, reporting more than 242,000 new infections over the past two days. And on Thursday, New Zealand announced a temporary ban on travel from the South Asian country, after 17 people who had arrived from there tested positive while in isolation.

It is the first time since the start of the pandemic that New Zealand — which has all but eliminated local transmission of the virus — has said it would close its borders to its own citizens. Many travelers from India are returning New Zealand nationals; others are workers in health care or other critical sectors.

The ban will run from Sunday through April 28, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters.

“Cases of the virus have been on the rise internationally, with surges particularly in Brazil and India,” Ms. Ardern said. “We are starting to see this global trend mirrored here.”

New Zealand has reported more than 60 cases in its isolation facilities in the last two weeks, she said.

Just days ago, Ms. Ardern announced that a long-awaited travel bubble with Australia would begin on April 19. The decision to bar arrivals from India, even temporarily, underscores the continued risks of cross-border travel even for countries that have tamed the coronavirus.

New Zealand’s border is currently open only to citizens and permanent residents and their families, as well as holders of certain “critical purpose” visas. The ban on travelers from India could open up some spaces in New Zealand’s two-week hotel quarantine program, which has a long waiting list.

About 130,000 people have come through New Zealand’s isolation facilities since they were introduced in March 2020, according to a government website. The country of five million has administered about 90,000 vaccinations, mostly to frontline health and border workers.

Emergent has a federal contract to produce Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine.
Emergent has a federal contract to produce Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine.Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

A top federal pandemic official warned last June that Emergent BioSolutions, the government contractor that last month threw out millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines because of contamination, lacked enough trained workers and had a record of problems with quality control.

A copy of the official’s assessment, obtained by The New York Times, cited “key risks” in relying on Emergent to handle the production of vaccines developed by both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca at Emergent’s Bayview plant in Baltimore.

The assessment, which has not been released publicly, was based in part on a visit to the plant days after the government awarded Emergent a contract worth up to $628 million, mostly to prepare its factories to make coronavirus vaccines as part of Operation Warp Speed.

Addressing the problems “will require significant effort,” and the company “will have to be monitored closely,” said the report, which was written by Carlo de Notaristefani, a manufacturing expert who has overseen production of Covid-19 vaccines for the federal government since May.

Ten months after his report, the plant has become a major headache for the team named by President Biden to oversee the pandemic response. The Times reported on Monday on a host of quality control problems, flagged in audits and investigations by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, two federal agencies and Emergent’s own quality evaluators.

Federal officials ordered major changes to the plant after revelations late last month that Emergent had to jettison 13 million to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. It is not clear what will happen to another 62 million doses of the vaccine produced at the plant, or whether Johnson & Johnson will be able to deliver the 24 million doses it has promised to the federal government by the end of the month.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration has not certified the factory to distribute any doses for public use, and the agency is not expected to do so until it conducts a thorough review, which can take weeks.

Asked about the June report, a company spokesman said on Wednesday night that “Emergent’s top priority continues to be the strengthening of the supply chain for Johnson & Johnson’s vitally needed Covid-19 vaccine.”

Biden administration officials insist that the government has enough doses from the other two federally authorized vaccine makers — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — to cover most of the nation’s roughly 260 million adults. Yet federal officials are still concerned about Emergent’s problems, not only because the federal government has invested heavily in the plant, but also because there may be implications for the world’s vaccine supply if the issues are not resolved.

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