Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

By Jonathan Wolfe

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Credit...The New York Times

As fall and winter approach, American public health officials are growing increasingly concerned about the possibility of a resurgence of Covid-19 paired with a severe flu season.

If large numbers of people do not take the flu shot this year — out of distrust or lack of access — it would increase the risk of a widespread outbreak and possibly overwhelm hospitals as they battle the coronavirus. Doctors believe that the flu can leave people vulnerable to a harsher case of Covid-19, and if patients were to contract both at the same time, it could be disastrous.

To prevent this nightmare scenario, the Trump administration announced yesterday that pharmacists nationwide would be allowed to administer all scheduled shots to children as young as 3, including the flu vaccine — a convenience for parents. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that it was offering flu shots offering protection from four flu strains rather than three, including a stronger-than-normal version aimed at protecting people over 65.

Flu vaccine compliance rates in the U.S. are not great. During the 2018-19 flu season, only 45.3 percent of adults over 18 got the vaccine, and skepticism continues to run high, particularly in communities of color because of longstanding distrust and experiences of discrimination in public health.

American public health officials typically look to Australia’s flu season as a predictor of how the flu will play out in the U.S. Australia’s June-to-August winter recorded a 99 percent drop in flu cases compared with 2019, because lots of people got shots, social distancing was prevalent, and Australians decreased their movement.

But this year, experts say, Americans can’t put stock in the Australian experience.

“This situation is of no comfort, as these measures do not apply to the United States, where the populace has never been effectively physical distancing,” said Dr. Paul Van Buynder, a public health professor at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. “It is likely they will have a significant influenza season this northern winter.”

Our colleague Andy Newman hit the streets to find out.

Over several days this summer, he tallied the face-covering status of over 7,000 people at 14 spots across the city — aided by Melody S. Goodman, a biostatistician and associate dean at New York University’s School of Global Public Health.

What they found: Not everyone follows the state’s mask rule — especially men.

Almost everywhere, more men than women skipped masks. At some corners, the gender gap approached 25 percentage points. Overall, nearly one in three men was walking around barefaced, while only about one in six women was.

Men were also more likely than women to be wearing masks incorrectly — dangling from one ear, nostrils peaking out, or mask tucked under the chin.

“Probably they have to be macho,” said Damir Otovcevic, 53, an out-of-work waiter sitting on a bench in Astoria, Queens. “They don’t want women to see them cover their faces. Like how they show the muscles — the same thing.”

Does your little one dislike masks? There are ways you can help make wearing one more tolerable, like adjusting the straps for a better fit, sewing it onto a baseball cap or headband, or distracting children with bubble gum or toys while you slip it on.

Updated August 17, 2020

    • The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It's a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it's windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
    • As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
    • The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
    • It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
  • The U.S. Virgin Islands is halting tourist visits for a month, shutting nonessential businesses and restoring stay-at-home orders, while struggling with some of the highest per capita case numbers in the United States.

  • Southern India has emerged as a hotbed for new infections. The country recorded at least 69,000 new cases overall on Wednesday, its largest daily caseload of the pandemic, and nearly a thousand deaths.

  • A large virus outbreak in South Korea linked to a church is spreading through Seoul and beyond, threatening the country’s success in fighting the pandemic.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

We’ve become a family of anglers this summer, scouting out new lakes and rivers to fish. We’ve lived here forever, and are finally exploring many fisheries in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” It’s given our family a ton of welcome time outdoors, and I’ve gained a sport I can do alongside my teenage boys.

— Amy Dong, Minneapolis, Minn.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.