New coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are falling as the United States begins to recover from a persistent summer surge that strained hospitals across the country and killed over 100,000 Americans in just three and a half months.
As of Tuesday night, virus cases in the United States had averaged more than 101,000 a day for the past week, a 24 percent decrease from two weeks ago. Reported new deaths are down 12 percent, to 1,829 a day. Hospitalizations have decreased 20 percent and are averaging below 75,000 a day for the first time since early August, according to a New York Times database.
Public health officials, however, said the pandemic remained a potent threat. Most of the Covid deaths in that span were people who were unvaccinated, and about 68 million eligible Americans have yet to be inoculated. That leaves the country vulnerable to continued surges.
“We’re not out of danger,” Ali Mokdad, a University of Washington epidemiologist who is a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist, said in an interview this week. “This virus is too opportunistic and has taught us one lesson after another.”
He worries about people dropping their use of masks and traveling more, as they have after earlier drops in new cases — actions that could help fuel a fresh surge in December and January.
The number of new daily cases in the United States has fallen 35 percent since Sept. 1, according to a New York Times database. The drop was especially stark in Southern states that had the highest infection rates during the Delta variant surge that started in June.
Florida, which averaged more than 20,000 new cases a day during much of August, is reporting fewer than 6,000 infections a day. Louisiana, which weeks ago was averaging more than 5,000 cases daily, has about 1,000 cases each day.
“This wave is petering out,” Edwin Michael, a professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, said in an interview. “If there were waning immunity, then we should be at the beginning of another wave now.”
Only 57 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated, and Dr. Michael said his biggest worry was the greater chance for the virus to genetically mutate while people remain unvaccinated across the country. Still, he said, “this might be the last wave, pending any new variants that arrive, and the boosters will help with that.”
While there are about 20,000 fewer Covid patients hospitalized nationwide than at the start of September, many hospitals in hard-hit parts of the country remain overstretched. That is especially true in Alaska, which leads the country by a wide margin in recent cases per person. The threat of flu season could worsen matters.
Newly reported cases in Montana and Wyoming, which had reported some of the worst outbreaks in recent weeks, appear to have stabilized. In both states, less than 50 percent of the population is inoculated against the coronavirus. Montana is at 49 percent fully vaccinated, and Wyoming 42 percent. Only West Virginia, at 40 percent, has a lower rate.
Nearly 2,000 Covid-related deaths are being reported nationally each day, and the United States surpassed 700,000 deaths on Friday. About 65 percent of the eligible U.S. population is fully vaccinated against the virus.
New Zealand hopes to vaccinate as many as 350,000 people in a single day next week, the country’s largest Covid inoculation effort to date, as it pushes closer to reopening its economy.
Vaccination clinics will be open all day on Saturday, Oct. 16, said Chris Hipkins, the minister leading New Zealand’s Covid-19 response. The facilities will be able to vaccinate 350,000 people — about 8.3 percent of the eligible population of people 12 and older, he said.
“Like on Election Day, we’ll be asking all of our civic and political leaders to contribute to our efforts to turn people out,” Mr. Hipkins said.
New Zealand has had one of the most successful responses to the pandemic, recording just 28 deaths from the virus. And though it was late to begin its vaccination campaign, the country is now on pace to fully vaccinate about 90 percent of its eligible population by the end of November.
New Zealand is the latest country to focus its intense vaccination efforts into a single day. In August, Tunisia vaccinated more than 500,000 people in one day, and this month India said it had given 25 million shots on a single day to mark Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday.
As of Wednesday, 50 percent of New Zealand’s eligible population had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, the only vaccine the country is using, while 80 percent had received a single dose.
New Zealand is also cutting the time between receiving a first and second dose, to three weeks, from six — a shift that means “more people can be fully vaccinated sooner, increasing our community immunity,” a health ministry official said in a statement.
The country is currently administering about 17,000 first doses and about 46,000 second doses a day, according to the most recent data. Its rate of first vaccination doses has been dwindling, down more than three-fourths from an August high of about 67,000 doses a day.
New Zealand has not set a vaccine target or a date at which to ease restrictions, although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that the country would introduce a national vaccine certificate that would be required for entry into “high-risk settings” like summer music festivals.
Covid-19 vaccinations helped prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations and deaths among older people in the United States in the first five months of this year, according to a new federal study of Medicare recipients.
The study, published by the Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday, indicated that Covid-19 vaccinations were associated with 39,000 fewer deaths and 107,000 fewer hospitalizations among Medicare recipients nationwide from January through May.
Reductions in deaths were observed in all 48 states included in the study sample, and among members of all racial and ethnic groups, although the greatest reductions appeared to be among American Indians and Alaska Natives, groups that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
In counties with average to above-average vaccination rates, the study found that deaths and hospitalizations fell more sharply than in areas where uptake of vaccines was lower.
The study used county vaccination statistics and a sample of 25.3 million Medicare beneficiaries to estimate the impact of Covid vaccines on the entire population of Medicare recipients, about 62.7 million people. The authors found that a 10 percent increase in a county’s vaccination rate was correlated with an 11 to 12 percent decrease in Covid-19 hospitalizations and a similar decrease in infections among Medicare recipients.
Rapid at-home Covid-19 testing is about to become much more widely available in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration says, following authorization of a mass-produced testing kit.
Competing at-home tests have been on the market for months, but Acon Laboratories’ test, authorized by the agency on Monday, “is expected to double rapid at-home testing capacity in the U.S. over the next several weeks,” Dr. Jeffrey E. Shuren, the director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.
“By year’s end, the manufacturer plans to produce more than 100 million tests per month, and this number will rise to 200 million per month by February 2022,” he said.
Like tests already available from Abbott, Quidel, Becton Dickinson and other makers, Acon’s test is made to detect antigens, proteins from the coronavirus, on a nasal swab, and produces results in 15 minutes.
Such tests, which cost as little as $10, are not as sensitive as P.C.R. tests, which replicate the virus’s genetic material and are performed in labs. As a result, experts recommend that users carefully follow instructions and test themselves more than once, rather than trust what might be a false negative result.
But antigen tests are highly accurate in detecting infection in someone who is suffering symptoms in the first week after they appear, when the viral load is likely to be highest.
Despite their limitations, “we believe at-home diagnostic tests play a critical role in the fight against Covid-19,” Dr. Shuren said.
Demand for at-home tests has grown sharply as workplaces and schools have reopened, the highly contagious Delta variant has spread, and many people have returned to in-person gatherings and travel. At times they have been hard for consumers to find.
Federal regulators have approved hundreds of lab tests for the coronavirus, and some kits for taking samples at home and sending them to labs, but only a handful of at-home tests.
The California National Guard has been deployed to four hospitals in Northern and Central California, where some areas with relatively low vaccination rates have struggled to handle an influx of Covid patients.
Teams of up to 17 National Guard troops were sent over the past week to staff the hospitals in two counties: Mercy Medical Center Redding, in Shasta County in the northern part of the state; and Adventist Health Bakersfield, Bakersfield Memorial Hospital and Mercy Hospital Southwest – Bakersfield, in Kern County in Central California, according to a statement from the California National Guard.
The rate of recent daily cases per person in California overall is very low, second only to Connecticut in the mainland United States, according to a New York Times database. But hospitals in some parts of the state have been overwhelmed by a Delta variant-driven surge of Covid patients.
New cases and hospitalizations all reached or exceeded peak levels in mid-September in Shasta County and have been trending back down. In the more populous Kern County, hospitalizations jumped at the beginning of last month but have been falling ever since.
The amount of fully vaccinated people in both counties — 42 percent of the population — is far below the statewide rate of 59 percent.
The National Guard’s deployment in California coincides with a mandate that took effect last week that requires all of the state’s health care workers to be vaccinated. Major health systems then reported that the mandate had helped boost their vaccination rates to 90 percent or higher. There have been no reports of mass firings of health care workers in the state.
Each National Guard medical team includes a physician assistant or registered nurse who leads a group of medical and administrative assistants, Lt. Col. Jonathan M. Shiroma, a spokesman for the state National Guard, said in the statement.
The situation at Mercy Medical Center Redding was further complicated by the Fawn Fire, which left about 30 staff members unable to work toward the end of the month, the Record Searchlight in Redding reported. A spokeswoman for the hospital did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday night.
Several states have called on the National Guard to ease the strain on hospitals during the pandemic. Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon asked in August for at least 500 of the state’s National Guard troops to help staff hospitals. Idaho’s governor, Brad Little, also deployed his state’s National Guard troops this summer.
The pandemic has led to a surge of inexperienced hikers venturing into the outdoors, and that in turn has increased the pressure on search-and-rescue teams, as well as the costs.
Increasingly, U.S. states are looking for ways to penalize people who take unnecessary risks. But some question whether these laws might also discourage people from seeking help soon enough after putting their lives at risk because of an honest mistake.
“We don’t do it very often,” said Col. Kevin Jordan of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “It’s got to be something that’s pretty wild, pretty out-there. But one thing I am pretty strict on is being unprepared, because those are literally the things that cost lives.”
Five other states — Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Vermont and Oregon — have similar laws allowing them to bill people for the cost of rescues in certain situations.
Hawaii has two bills pending that would allow search and rescue operators to seek reimbursement from people who stray from hiking trails or intentionally disregarded a warning or notice and then need to be rescued.
And South Dakota passed a law to help offset search and rescue costs. In March 2020, Gov. Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 56, allowing rescue agencies to charge each person as much as $1,000.
LONDON — England took a high-stakes gamble when it sent millions of students back to school last month with neither vaccines nor a requirement to wear face masks, even as the coronavirus continued to course through the population.
On Tuesday, the country’s Education Department issued its latest report card on how the plan is working: About 186,000 students were absent from school on Sept. 30 with confirmed or suspected virus infections, 78 percent more than the number reported two weeks earlier, and the highest number since the pandemic began.
Yet to hear many parents tell it, the bigger risk would have been to force the students to keep wearing masks or, worse, to keep them home.
“It’s important for kids,” said Morgane Kargadouris, who was picking up her daughter recently at Notting Hill Preparatory School in northwest London, where none of the children wear masks. “So much of what they learn is through expressions and through contact they have with people.”
Such sentiments are not unusual in a country that has shrugged off social-distancing rules and made an aggressive rollout of vaccines and a swift return to normalcy the twin cornerstones of its pandemic response. But they are striking in a debate as parents across the globe struggle to balance the risks of a potentially deadly disease with the costs of keeping children at home or in classrooms where protective measures are required.
Across New York City, many tenants who lost their jobs after the city went into lockdown are facing millions of dollars in unpaid rent. They’ve been kept in their homes by government aid programs and a state eviction moratorium that expires in January.
But the pandemic has also mobilized some tenants to take on landlords who have done little to improve their living conditions and pushed them into a new kind of activism.
At 1616 President St. in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, Patricia Edwards is one of a dozen residents — about half of the building’s tenants — who are withholding rent until the landlord forgives the debt owed by residents affected by the pandemic and makes repairs to a building that they say has long been neglected.
It has been years since Ms. Edwards’s top-floor apartment has felt like an acceptable home. When it rains, water leaks into the kitchen and living room. It also pours through a crack in the bathroom ceiling so big that Ms. Edwards needs an umbrella just to use the toilet.
But when the pandemic hit last year, leaving many of her neighbors struggling financially, Ms. Edwards, a retired bank employee, decided to do something she had never done: She refused to pay.
The Biden administration warned Arizona on Tuesday that it could lose some of its state and local recovery funds because it has been using money meant to quell the pandemic to undercut mask requirements in schools.
In a letter to Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, the Treasury Department said the state was misusing the money, which was intended to help local governments bolster public health measures. As part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package that Congress passed this year, states and cities were awarded $350 billion of relief money that they could use for a wide variety of purposes.
However, the funds cannot be used to impose conditions “that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based solutions for stopping the spread of Covid-19,” Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, wrote.
Arizona was awarded $4.2 billion from the fund and has received about half of that so far.
Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature banned school mask mandates this year, but some school districts imposed them anyway. In August, Mr. Ducey said that he was rolling out two education programs intended to undercut such requirements.
The letter to Mr. Ducey was the first warning that the Treasury Department has sent to a state over what it views as misuse of funds.