Coronavirus cases are surging faster in New Mexico than in any other state, despite its relatively high vaccination rate, and some hospitals there are overwhelmed.
After a quiet spring and summer on the coronavirus front, the past couple of months have been difficult for the state as cases rose rapidly, plateaued and are now rising again.
New daily cases per person are up 48 percent over the past two weeks, compared with a 6 percent increase nationwide, according to a New York Times database. Neighboring Colorado, which is facing its own surge, activated crisis care standards on Tuesday; that allows the National Guard to support overwhelmed hospitals and allow medical facilities to move staff around.
New Mexico was an early leader in vaccinations, and 63 percent of its population is fully vaccinated, compared with the national average of 58 percent. It has kept its mask mandate going, although it is set to expire soon without another extension.
Experts aren’t warning of a catastrophic winter, with New Mexico nowhere near the peak caseloads it reached late last fall. But increasing hospitalizations are causing concern in a state with fewer beds per person than almost any other state.
New Mexico led the way in vaccinations in the United States in the spring, and health officials in the state have been tracking whether that means residents who haven’t gotten booster shots could now be more vulnerable to infections. Although over 70 percent of the state’s hospitalized Covid-19 patients are unvaccinated, early vaccinations could be a factor in the current surge, Dr. David R. Scrase, New Mexico’s health and human services secretary, said in an interview.
“We’re the first ones to vaccinate, we’re going to be the first one to experience the waning immunity,” he said.
In Farmington, in northwestern New Mexico, the San Juan Regional Medical Center instituted “crisis standards of care” last week, meaning that some patients may be denied health care services because of a shortage of resources. It also brought in additional health care workers to manage the rise in patients.
Laura Werbner, a spokeswoman for the facility, said that 88 patients there had been hospitalized with Covid-19 on Wednesday. That is not the most the hospital has cared for in one day — that was 100 patients on Dec. 30 — but the difference now is “that resources are stretched so thin,” she said.
Numbers provided by the hospital indicate that vaccinations were still protecting many patients who had received shots. From Oct. 1 to Nov. 2, it cared for 289 Covid patients, 81 percent of whom were not fully vaccinated.
“Right now, this is a disease of the unvaccinated,” Ms. Werbner said.
The reasons for the increase in cases around the state are complex.
Kathryn A. Hanley, a professor of biology at New Mexico State University whose laboratory is studying the coronavirus, said that “New Mexico has been terrific about implementing regulations, mask mandates and social distancing regulations, and people have been good about complying with the regulations.”
The problem, she said, is that the Delta variant hit as residents’ immunity began to wane.
Demographics are also at play. New Mexico has more children per household than many other states, which makes it vulnerable because many children remain unvaccinated, Dr. Hanley noted.
“A lot of the communities here are closely connected, with a lot of family visitation,” she said, and that makes for conditions that are conducive to the transmission of the virus.
Sarah Cahalan contributed research.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday that the United States had negotiated a deal to ship additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine overseas, to help people living in conflict zones.
Speaking at a meeting with his overseas counterparts, Mr. Blinken stressed the need to extend vaccine access to people living in areas unreachable by government-run programs. The latest initiative is being carried out via Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program; Mr. Blinken did not specify a number of doses.
“We need to ensure that people who cannot be reached by government vaccination campaigns aren’t left out of our efforts,” Mr. Blinken said. “They need to be protected, too.”
President Biden has pledged more than a billion vaccine doses to send abroad, but he has been under pressure to lean on pharmaceutical manufacturers, who have resisted sharing their technology with vaccine makers in lower-income countries.
Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States has not been as high as that of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Johnson & Johnson doses have also been distributed abroad through the Covax program in an effort to bolster immunity in poorer countries, including many in Africa.
Many of those have been provided through a similar deal reached in May, under which Johnson & Johnson agreed to sell about 200 million doses to Covax at a discounted rate.
Worldwide, about 75 percent of shots that have gone into arms have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Only 0.6 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.
“In countries suffering from years of conflict — such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Yemen — less than 2 percent of the population have been vaccinated against Covid-19,” Esperanza Martinez, the head of the Covid crisis management team for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a statement.
“This shocking inequality must be rectified,” she said. “The donation of these doses is a positive step in that direction.”
Mr. Blinken also announced the launch of a new online tracker that would compile global data on vaccination and ICU rates, drawing on assistance from the World Health Organization.
He described the need to ramp up global vaccine distribution as the “current emergency,” acknowledging the ongoing challenges Covax has faced with delays and poor coordination.
“We’re eager for people in these difficult circumstances to get protection against Covid-19 as soon as possible,” he said. “We know the urgency of this fight.”
Germany’s state and federal politicians are scrambling to put new Covid rules in place as the country experiences record case numbers, and a top virologist has warned that the nation’s pandemic death toll could double if sufficient measures are not taken.
Nearly 40,000 new cases were registered in the country on Tuesday — the third time a daily record has been set within a week. And 236 people died of the disease in that 24-hour period.
“We have a real emergency situation,” Dr. Christian Drosten, the head of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital, Germany’s most renowned research hospital, said on a podcast that aired on Tuesday.
Since the pandemic began, Germany has reported almost 97,000 Covid deaths. Dr. Drosten warned that a further 100,000 could result if no additional solutions were found, although the number of patients in intensive-care beds is now less than half of what it was during the peak in January.
Germany’s national government, which under Angela Merkel’s guidance was seen as a model in Europe on how to deal with the pandemic, is now struggling to keep control of the situation.
The three parties that are poised to succeed Ms. Merkel’s coalition government have proposed a set of Covid rules that will be discussed in Parliament on Thursday, although they will not be voted into law before next week and do not include the kind of strict rules that many experts have called for.
The incoming parties said last month that they would let a countrywide state of emergency, which allowed for national rules to be brought in, lapse at the end of November. Under the new law, free quick coronavirus tests for all — a costly initiative that was abandoned last month in the hopes of lifting the vaccination rate — would be reinstated.
The authorities in Bavaria, where cases have been risen 68 percent over the last two weeks, declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. Markus Söder, the Bavarian governor, last declared an emergency in December 2020. Several more states, including those that have been hardest hit, either have in place or plan to enact their own stricter regulations this week. Those rules would mandate vaccinations or documentation proving a past infection for people seeking to use certain services.
“We’re about to have 16 different regulations again, and that doesn’t per se lead to more acceptance,” said Jens Spahn, the acting national health minister.
Experts say that the recent surge in infections has resulted from the relatively low vaccination rate in some regions of Germany and the slow rollout of booster shots. About 67 percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated.
Although a recent study suggested that 65 percent of unvaccinated people in the country did not plan to get a shot under any circumstance, lines at inoculation centers have been growing.
Two weeks ago, barely more than 200,000 vaccination doses were administered on some days, but on Tuesday, 312,000 shots were given in a single day, a daily total not seen since the summer.
Some places have come under criticism for their long quarantines, but few can compare to the northern Chinese city of Shenyang.
Travelers arriving there from overseas must spend 28 days in hotel quarantine, and during the hotel stay they are not allowed to open the door except to take in food deliveries. They are tested seven times for the coronavirus over that period. And once that hotel quarantine is over, they are expected to avoid going outside their home for another 28 days.
The latest restrictions, which have been in place for nearly a month, are a stark example of how seriously Chinese officials are taking the country’s “zero Covid” approach to the pandemic, nearly two years after the virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The restrictions come after China began locking down cities in mid-October to try to contain a fresh outbreak following a flurry of domestic travel during a nationwide holiday.
China on Wednesday reported 39 symptomatic Covid-19 cases and 25 asymptomatic ones. But Shenyang has not reported any Covid-19 cases since July 30. Dalian, another city in the same province, Liaoning, reported 15 cases on Wednesday.
While travelers from overseas face a four-week quarantine, those entering Shenyang from other parts of the country considered high risk are required to do 14 days in hotel quarantine and another 14 days of self-monitoring.
In Beijing, where a small outbreak in late October led the capital to lock down certain neighborhoods, the authorities shut down dozens of pharmacies that were caught selling cough medicine without requiring customers to register their identification. The authorities started requiring pharmacies to ask customers for their name, ID and contact information when buying cough medicine early in the pandemic.
China’s lockdowns and zero-Covid strategy appear to enjoy widespread support among the public as caseloads remain low, but there is occasional griping on social media.
A recent article about Shenyang’s restrictions had just one negative comment. One user, under the name JonasLambily, wrote, “A model of lazy governance.”
The U.S. surgeon general has pushed back against comments by the actor and author Matthew McConaughey, who is contemplating a run for governor of Texas, about coronavirus vaccine mandates for children.
Speaking at the DealBook Online Summit on Tuesday, Mr. McConaughey said, “I couldn’t mandate having to vaccinate the younger kids. I still want to find out more information.”
Although the actor is vaccinated, as are his wife, mother and older child, his two youngest children are not, having become eligible for shots only recently.
He added that in his household, “We go slow on vaccinations, even before Covid.”
Mr. McConaughey said he trusted that scientists were trying “to do the right thing,” and he suggested that the conspiracy theory “narrative” about vaccines was problematic. “Do I think that there’s any kind of scam or conspiracy theory? No I don’t.”
He also criticized the exaggerated and polarized response to mask mandates. “Early on, this whole thing got politicized,” he said. “I thought that should’ve been a quick, easy mandate. It’s a mask, it’s not the vaccine.”
Masks, he said, are “a small inconvenience for possible long-term freedom.”
Mr. McConaughey later clarified that his comments about vaccine mandates were about children ages 5 to 11, not for children 12 and older, and that he planned to thoroughly consider information about immunizing children as it becomes available.
But Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, later weighed in, telling CNN that the vaccines were effective and “remarkably safe” for children.
He also pointed out that the coronavirus posed a significant risk to younger people. Parents, Dr. Murthy told CNN, need to recognize that “Covid is not harmless in our children.”
“Many kids have died,” he said. “Sadly, hundreds of children — thousands — have been hospitalized, and as a dad of a child who has been hospitalized several years ago for another illness, I would never wish upon any parent they have a child that ends up in the hospital.”
Mr. McConaughey also told the DealBook summit that he was examining his “mind, heart and spirit” about the possibility of running for governor of Texas.
“I’m trying to study what politics is. What democracy is and can be. Where we got off track,” he said. “Are there ways to get back on track?”
Thousands of gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, salons and other indoor businesses in Los Angeles were required this week to start asking customers for proof that they had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, under one of the nation’s strictest vaccination rules.
The law, which the City Council approved last month, allows people with medical conditions that preclude vaccination, or a sincerely held religious objection, to instead show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within the preceding 72 hours.
Officials say that the law is meant to help revive a city that has been under varied levels of restriction for more than a year and a half, and that requiring almost everyone who enters an indoor public space to be vaccinated will help prevent a surge in cases as winter approaches.
“Our businesses can’t afford another shutdown,” Nury Martinez, the president of the Los Angeles City Council, said in a statement. “The goal of this mandate is to limit the transmission of the virus and save lives.”
But some business owners said they were frustrated that they might be forced to turn away customers.
Kim Prince, who owns Hotville, a popular Nashville hot chicken restaurant in the city’s Crenshaw district, said the vaccine verification requirement for indoor diners was just one more thing she had to worry about, along with staffing challenges and skyrocketing prices of ingredients.
While she has encouraged neighbors to get vaccinated and the restaurant has a patio, she said the mandate could put her employees in the difficult position of explaining the restrictions to customers — some of whom may be arriving from out of town — for the first time.
“We become the villain. We become that target,” she said. “That’s not my role — I’m not a policymaker, I’m a business owner who loves working in my own neighborhood.”
It’s particularly difficult for historically marginalized neighborhoods like Crenshaw, where fewer people are vaccinated than in Los Angeles County overall.
Ms. Prince said she thought much of the problem could be solved if the city did a better job of communicating the restrictions so that restaurant workers aren’t required to explain them to hungry, unsuspecting customers.
Some residents viewed the restrictions not as a mere logistical burden but as an unfair encroachment. At a protest outside City Hall on Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported, thousands of demonstrators voiced anger with vaccine mandates more broadly, especially those for public employees.
Still, across much of Los Angeles, the mandate took effect with little incident. Many bars, restaurants and fitness studios were already asking patrons to submit proof of vaccination if they planned to spend time indoors. In many cases, they said they hoped to lure back customers who might otherwise feel uncomfortable.
Allie Tichenor, the owner of Pilates Punx in the Echo Park neighborhood, said that even before the mandate went into effect, clients had asked whether instructors were vaccinated. Some volunteered their own vaccination status, and no one questioned the studio’s mask policy.
So although she didn’t hear from the city about the new law until just before it went into effect, she quickly emailed clients asking them to send proof of vaccination.
“It helps the clients feel really safe,” she said. “I’m happy to err on the side of caution, and I’ve figured if somebody wants to push back, maybe this isn’t the studio for them.”
Xiao Yu looked relieved when she walked out of the American Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday. Having passed her interview for a tourist visa, she can finally visit her friend in the United States. The last time they met was over 20 years ago when she was a bridesmaid at her friend’s wedding.
“I’m happy today,” said Ms. Xiao, who had arrived an hour before her appointment to beat the crowds. “It’s my first time applying for an American visa. There were not as many people here as I imagined.”
Before Covid, the street in front of the embassy in central Beijing drew some of the largest daily public crowds in the city as thousands waited in line for appointments to apply for visas.
On Tuesday, the United States resumed regular visa services in China, like in other parts of the world, for the first time since Feb. 3, 2020, after President Donald J. Trump blocked travel from China. And the lines have returned in Beijing and outside U.S. consulates in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang, though for now they are smaller than before.
That may reflect the political tensions between Washington and Beijing, but also the wariness of traveling to the United States, where the pandemic remains rampant compared with the relatively small outbreaks in China. Also, travelers returning to China face lengthy quarantines, deterring those who might leave.
The embassy declined to disclose how many applicants it had processed so far, but the website where people can schedule visa interviews showed that there were still slots open in Beijing next week.
Some, like Ms. Xiao, welcomed the chance to visit the United States again after so long, regardless of any safety concerns or logistical complications.
“Even if Americans are relatively free,” Ms. Xiao, 48, said on Wednesday, “I think they have beefed up their awareness” of the virus’s dangers.
She said she would stay in Indiana with her friend’s family, but also visit some college campuses to prepare for sending her son to study in the United States. She also wants to visit Times Square and the Statue of Liberty.
“I’m interested in the United States,” she said. “It’s also an American dream of a kind.”
Claire Fu contributed research.
The Biden administration last week released the details of a sweeping measure requiring large companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations by January or start weekly testing of their workers, expanding on a plan announced in September. The rule sorts employers into big and small right at triple digits, covering businesses with at least 100 workers.
That has left some companies weighing whether to keep head counts in the 90s as they grapple with people who remain resistant to vaccination and want assurances that the mandate will not apply to them.
The Labor Department said it had chosen the 100-person benchmark because it is confident that employers with at least that many workers have the administrative capacity to enforce the mandate. But most American employers — nearly six million of them — do not meet the 100-worker standard.
A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the rule on Saturday, in a sign of the legal wrangling that the measure will face.
In the meantime, many employers are scrambling to determine the rule’s legal requirements. The standard applies to part-time workers but not independent contractors. Remote employees and those who work exclusively outdoors do not have to comply with the requirements, but they are included in a company’s head count. And seasonal workers employed directly count toward the threshold as long as they are employed while the rule is in effect.
The N.F.L. has fined the Green Bay Packers $300,000 and two of its players, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Allen Lazard, $14,650 each for failing to follow the Covid-19 protocols agreed on by the league and players’ union.
The penalties come about a week after Rodgers tested positive for the coronavirus and his subsequent public statements espousing false and unfounded claims about the Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. Those comments were condemned by public health officials and by some fellow athletes, though the league’s decision focused on his compliance with the rules.
Rodgers and Lazard, who is also unvaccinated, were penalized for attending a Halloween party even though the Covid-19 protocols prohibit unvaccinated players from gathering outside the team facility in a group of more than three players.
Rodgers also did not wear a mask when speaking with reporters, another violation of the league’s rules.
The team, which was notified of the fines late Tuesday, was penalized far more than the players because it did not do more to police its players’ behavior. The fine against the Packers is one of the largest for Covid-19 protocol violations.
Potential organ donors are now routinely screened for coronavirus infections before their organs are removed, and the organs are generally considered safe for transplantation if the test is negative, even if the donor has recovered from Covid.
But there is no universally accepted set of recommendations regarding when organs can be safely recovered from virus-positive bodies and transplanted to patients in need.
Complicating the question is that people with long Covid, whose debilitating symptoms may persist for months, mostly do not test positive for the infection. Some researchers fear that the virus may be present nonetheless, hiding in so-called reservoirs within the body — including some of the very organs given to transplant patients.
The risk is that surgeons may “give the patient Covid, along with the organ,” said Dr. Zijian Chen, medical director of the Center for Post-Covid Care at the Mount Sinai Health System. “It’s a tough ethical question. If the patient assumes the risk, should we do it?”
Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing, which administers the nation’s organ procurement network, said decisions must be made on a “case by case” basis.
“Many people waiting for organs are deathly ill,” he said. “Their life span may be down to a few days. If they don’t get a transplant, they will not survive.”
Yet physicians with the American Society of Transplantation said they would not procure any organs from any patient who had shown signs of illness and had a positive test for the infection.
“If somebody has active Covid and they’re testing positive,” said Dr. Deepali Kumar, president-elect of the society, “we would not procure organs from that donor — none at all.”