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The highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in India now accounts for 6 percent of infections in the United States, the Biden administration said Tuesday, but vaccines appear to be highly effective against the version that has quickly spread in Britain and beyond.

Anthony S. Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said the variant was “taking over” in Britain. “We cannot let that happen in the United States, which is such a powerful argument” for vaccination, he said.

Vaccinations are tapering off in the United States, with the nationwide average of daily shots dropping below 1 million last week. Cities, states and private organizations are offering an array of incentives to boost the numbers — including a free cannabis campaign promoted by Washington state.

Here are some significant developments:

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is weighing whether to fully reopen society as the new and highly infectious variant surges. British scientists say B.1.617.2, originally discovered in India and known now as the delta variant, is exploding.
  • World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on vaccine manufacturers to give half their doses to Covax, the initiative to distribute them equitably, as part of a push to inoculate 30 percent of the world’s population by Dec. 31.
  • Millions of unused doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States are set to expire this month. With vaccination rates plummeting, states are racing to use the doses before they must throw them away.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is refusing to allow cruise ship operators to require proof of passenger vaccinations, a move that reflects a growing willingness by Republicans to demonize and defy corporations that have been among the party’s closest allies.
  • The State Department is easing travel advisories for dozens of countries, moving nations like Canada, France and Japan from Level 4 (“Do Not Travel”) to Level 3 (“Reconsider Travel”).
  • The United States reported a seven-day rolling average of 15,589 new infections on Monday, down nearly 15 percent from the previous week. The number of hospitalizations, deaths and tests continued to fall.

Houston hospital system suspends 178 workers for not getting vaccinated

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A Houston-based hospital system suspended more than 170 health-care workers for failing to comply with the organization’s vaccine mandate, the system’s CEO said on Tuesday.

While 24,947 of Houston Methodist’s employees were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Monday’s deadline, 178 employees did not get fully vaccinated and were suspended without pay for two weeks, Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom wrote in an internal message that the system shared with The Washington Post.

“Of these employees, 27 have received one dose of vaccine, so I am hopeful they will get their second doses soon,” Boom wrote.

“I know that today may be difficult for some who are sad about losing a colleague who’s decided to not get vaccinated,” he added. “We only wish them well and thank them for their past service to our community, and we must respect the decision they made.”

Meanwhile, 285 employees received a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine, and 332 employees were granted deferrals for pregnancy or other reasons, Boom said.

Boom in March called on Houston Methodist staff members to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, saying the health system needed to set an example and protect patients. The policy drew attacks from conservative media and prompted legal threats, including a lawsuit from more than 100 of the system’s own staffers, led by a nurse who worked in the coronavirus unit and insisted the vaccines needed further study.

Boom and outside experts have countered that the vaccines are safe and effective, citing the growing body of data on their protective effects.

“As the first hospital system to mandate covid-19 vaccines we were prepared for this,” Boom added. “The criticism is sometimes the price we pay for leading medicine.”

Millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses may expire this month

1:15 a.m.
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Millions of unused doses of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine are set to expire this month, as federal and state health officials scramble to get as many shots into arms as possible despite a drop in demand.

Officials say the cache of unused doses is partly a consequence of the temporary pause in the administration of the vaccine in April after safety concerns stemming from a rare and severe type of blood clot. Now, as vaccination rates have plummeted, states are racing to use the doses before they must throw them away.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) urged unvaccinated residents and vaccine providers alike to do their part to help the state use up about 200,000 doses of the vaccine set to expire on June 23.

“The time to act is now,” DeWine said Tuesday, following appeals to residents that included a $1 million lottery.

Doses have already been disposed of in Oklahoma, where demand for the vaccine has dropped to a worrying level, Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed told Oklahoma City outlet KOCO News. The daily average of doses administered fell by 15 percent in recent weeks, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

“We are seeing kind of a steady decline, and it’s a bit concerning because we are not reaching the goals we would like to be reaching to ensure that we are positioned well to go on into the summer and into the fall,” Reed told the TV station.

A representative for Johnson & Johnson said research into extending the shelf life of the vaccine is ongoing. Currently, the drugmaker’s one-dose vaccine can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for three months.

White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt said at a news conference Tuesday that health officials are looking into how to make the doses last longer and encouraging governors to speak with the Food and Drug Administration about proper storage procedures. However, Slavitt acknowledged some of the hundreds of millions of doses manufactured and distributed won’t make it into arms.

“There is a very, very small fraction of doses that have been sent out to states that will ultimately not be used,” Slavitt said.

Working groups to help determine when U.S. will ease international travel restrictions

12:22 a.m.
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The White House will form “expert” working groups to help determine when to lift rules that ban travelers from coming to the United States from certain countries, a White House official said Tuesday.

The groups will be led by the White House Covid Response Team and the National Security Council. They will include representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Transportation.

The groups also will include partners from Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

The formation of the groups is a signal that despite pressure from the travel industry, the administration is taking a measured approach to lifting international travel restrictions, some of which have been in place since March 2020.

State Department lowers dozens of countries from ‘Do Not Travel’ to ‘Reconsider Travel’ status

11:30 p.m.
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A month and a half after warning Americans not to travel to most of the world, the U.S. State Department is easing travel advisories for dozens of countries — at least a little.

The department on Tuesday said that it was taking 58 countries and territories out of the Level 4, or “Do Not Travel,” category and designating them as Level 3, or “Reconsider Travel,” destinations. Another 27 places were moved to the first two levels, where travelers are urged to exercise increased caution or exercise normal precautions.

Among the countries no longer in the “Do Not Travel” bucket: Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Canada and Mexico.

Tuesday’s shuffling was prompted by changes to travel health notices by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said it updated the primary and secondary criteria that it uses in determining those notice levels “to better differentiate countries with severe outbreak situations from countries with sustained, but controlled, covid-19 spread.”

Can Jill Biden help move the needle on vaccination rates?

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When Monique Harouna, 51, showed up at a vaccination center in the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York's most famous predominantly Black neighborhood, on Sunday, she knew there was a to-do going on. The Secret Service was outside doing security searches, plus dozens of cameras were crowded around, with an Eyewitness News 7 van parked outside. Yet, it was still a surprise when first lady Jill Biden, accompanied by infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), walked over to shake her hand.

“Hi, I’m Jill,” said Biden, as Harouna did a double take.

Fauci and the first lady had come to Harlem as part of the administration’s push to get 70 percent of U.S. adults to get at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by July 4 — an aggressive goal that has been imperiled by falling daily vaccination rates.

Biden’s presence might not make much of a difference among vaccine-hesitant communities in, say, Wyoming, but in theory her advocacy might have a meaningful effect in this New York City neighborhood whose voters supported her husband.

According to data from the city’s health department, vaccination rates are lowest in communities of color, with 29 percent of Black New Yorkers and 37 percent of Hispanics/Latinos having received at least one shot, compared with 45 percent of White New Yorkers. Harlem is a heavily Black and Hispanic neighborhood, and vaccination rates here hover between 39 and 46 percent, while the average across Manhattan is 64 percent.

Highly transmissible India variant makes up 6 percent of U.S. infections, White House says

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Though it is just one of many variants to have arisen during the pandemic, the delta variant is considered one of the most alarming. (The Washington Post)

A highly transmissible coronavirus variant first identified in India now accounts for six percent of new infections in the United States, the Biden administration said Tuesday, but vaccines appear to be highly effective against the version of the virus that has quickly spread into Great Britain and elsewhere.

Anthony S. Fauci the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, revealed the extent of the variant’s push into the United States, but said it appears to be slowed by vaccines. .

“It’s essentially taking over” in the United Kingdom, Fauci said at a briefing for reporters. “We cannot let that happen in the United States, which is such a powerful argument” for vaccination, he said.

Fauci referred to data from Britain’s public health agency that shows two doses of the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca are 88 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease caused by the new variant, also known as delta. He said in an interview the Pfizer data would be similar for Moderna’s product, which also is an mRNA vaccine.

But one vaccine dose offers just 33 percent protection, the data show, a reminder of how strongly the second shot boosts immunity to the virus, Fauci said. With the U.S. now in the midst of providing vaccines to adolescents and other people who have waited to get them, second doses are critical, he said.

Rise of Delta variant puts Boris Johnson in a tough spot as he weighs Britain’s reopening

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LONDON — Boris Johnson faces a life-or-death decision. That is not hyperbole. In the next few days, the British prime minister must decide whether to fully reopen society as planned, even as a new and highly infectious coronavirus variant surges.

Johnson will make this decision as British scientists — who are running one of the best genomic surveillance programs in the world — are telling him that the viral strain B.1.617.2, originally discovered in India and known now as the delta variant, is exploding, and that Britain could soon enter a dreaded third wave.

The delta variant is at least 40 percent more infectious, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday, and it is quickly becoming the dominant strain in Britain. It is outpacing an earlier variant, first discovered in southeastern England, that is now ubiquitous in Europe and the United States.

Why this city is sending grocery workers $1,000 checks

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A city in Southern California is using stimulus money to get hazard pay bonuses into the pockets of essential workers.

In Oxnard, a city of about 208,000 northwest of Los Angeles, the city council unanimously approved a measure last week to give a $1,000 bonus to anyone who worked at least three months in a grocery store or pharmacy during the first 12 months of the coronavirus pandemic.

City officials and labor leaders said the program in the city was the first of its kind in the country. The measure would use $2.5 million in stimulus money allocated to the city by the American Rescue Plan, which Democrats in Congress passed, and President Biden signed, in March.

“We worked through the whole pandemic. We got up every day and came into work. A lot of us never called out sick — we put ourselves on the line,” said Lucy Gilbertson, a clerk at a Von’s grocery store in Oxnard. “This is showing the gratitude for what we did through the pandemic.”

Washington state promotes ‘joints for jabs’ to push residents to get their shots

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Washington state residents can now get a free joint with their vaccine.

The state’s liquor and cannabis board announced on Monday that to encourage coronavirus vaccinations it will temporarily allow state-licensed cannabis retailers to provide a free joint to adults who get their first or second dose at a vaccine clinic at one of the locations.

It’s the latest in an ever-expanding list of incentives popping up across the county meant to push people to get their shots. “Joints for jabs” promotions have been around for months, with local cannabis activist groups and dispensaries offering joints to the vaccinated. Now, a state is promoting the program.

Washington’s “joints for jabs” program is running from June 7-12. Licensed cannabis retailers can provide one free pre-rolled joint to adults who get a first or second coronavirus vaccine dose at a participating vaccine clinic event at the retail location.

Washington’s program to push more shots in arms also comes amid a waning vaccination pace nationwide. The United States has recently averaged fewer than 1 million shots per day, a decline of more than two-thirds from a mid-April peak of more than 3.3 million doses per day, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

A judge’s momentous gun rights ruling comes with a side of coronavirus vaccine misinformation

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The true extent of coronavirus vaccine misinformation is something that, like all misinformation, is difficult to gauge. Many Americans — particularly Republicans — are declining vaccination, but plenty of them are doing so because of a perceived lack of necessity. From there, various theories abound, including about what’s in the vaccines and potential side effects.

But when it comes to epitomizing how much such misinformation has penetrated our society, it’s difficult to do better than this: a federal judge inserting a baseless claim about vaccine deaths in a completely unrelated opinion.

“More people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California,” U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez wrote in a momentous ruling striking down an assault-weapons ban in California.

This is, to put it diplomatically, completely baseless. Such claims often come with citations to back them up, but Benitez offers none, probably because there isn’t one.

Analysis: Biden will likely miss his July 4 vaccination goal due to states that didn’t vote for him

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The goal was ambitious but not complicated. Biden wanted at least 70 percent of American adults to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by July 4, moving the country closer to the point at which the virus couldn’t spread easily.

It seems increasingly likely that we won’t hit that mark. And if we don’t, it will probably be because of states that voted against Biden in November.

For the first few months of the vaccine rollout, there wasn’t a big divide between Biden states and those that voted for former president Donald Trump in terms of the uptake of the coronavirus vaccine. During that period, most of the vaccine rollout was targeted at older Americans, a group that has been disproportionately affected by covid-19, the disease the virus causes.

But then things diverged, at about the time that use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused.

Nepal restarts coronavirus vaccinations after China donates doses

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Nepal on Tuesday restarted vaccinating elderly residents after China donated 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the Himalayan nation’s struggling immunization campaign.

Nepalese officials had called on the international community to help secure vaccine doses amid a deadly surge in infections that is still ravaging the population. China stepped in to assist its neighbor following a call from Nepal’s president, the Associated Press reported. On Tuesday, authorities again began vaccinating residents aged 64 and older.

So far, Nepal has immunized less than 3 percent of its 30 million people, according to Our World in Data, which tracks publicly available figures. The country was hit by a wave of new cases that coincided with India’s devastating outbreak.

Nepal kept its border with India open as a stream of migrant workers returned home. And at the beginning of May, as much as 44 percent of coronavirus tests were coming back positive, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

At the same time India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, announced a ban on vaccine exports meeting skyrocketing demand at home.

Nepal was relying on vaccine doses manufactured in India to prop up its immunization drive.

The country was also included on a list of Asian nations the Biden administration said would receive vaccine doses from the United States. It was unclear, however, how many doses Nepal would receive.

Immigrant mothers had to help their children with remote learning in a language they hadn’t mastered

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NEW YORK CITY — Trina Haque had always felt it: the glare from others, the slight change in tone in a conversation when it became clear that she couldn’t speak English fluently. But the pandemic brought it even closer to home: Her children told her she could be of no help with their remote learning because of the language barrier.

Haque, a Bangladeshi immigrant who has lived in New York City for 15 years, said although not speaking English was an underlying challenge before the pandemic, it was often mitigated by meeting with her children’s teachers in person.

Haque hasn’t been alone in this struggle during the pandemic. As stay-at-home orders pushed schools into the tricky-to-navigate territory of remote learning, many immigrant mothers say they felt the weight of it disproportionately.

Analysis: The world is reopening. But not all of us are ready for ‘normal.’

10:15 a.m.
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Pants with zippers, bras with hooks, small talk, traffic — and frantic “I’m running a little 8” voice texts while we’re stuck in that traffic — are back.

And I’m not ready.

Can I hit the snooze button on this whole return-to-normal thing?

In these weeks when our circadian rhythms tell us to begin the annual unclenching because summer is here, we’re not exhaling. We’re taking off in a sprint as airplane travel, sports, in-person meetings, concerts, shows, graduations and even a Donald Trump rally (limp as it was) all came roaring back this month.

Make it stop. Please?

“You know, I’m not really sure if I’m ready for post-pandemic life,” Jen Humston, 28, said after a busy weekend of graduations, lunches and Pride events in Fairborn, Ohio, that reminded her that life before the coronavirus wasn’t exactly normal, either.