The National Guard has been asked to help staff hospitals in at least four states as another virus surge is overstretching healthcare systems and straining overtaxed workers.
On Thursday, the largest hospital network in Indiana announced that it had asked the Guard for assistance for most of its hospitals. Hospitalizations in the state have increased 49 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from The New York Times.
Six-person teams with both medical support and non-clinical members will deploy to Indiana University Health across the state in two-week increments. All Guard members are fully vaccinated, the statement said.
“The demand and strain on IU Health’s team members, nurses and providers has never been greater,” the hospital system said in a statement.
New Hampshire and Maine took similar measures on Wednesday.
In New Hampshire, 70 National Guard members will be deployed the next few weeks to help hospitals with nonmedical functions like food service and clerical work. On top of that, Gov. Chris Sununu said at a news conference, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was dispatching a team of 24 people to assist the hardest-hit facilities.
More than 55,000 coronavirus patients are hospitalized nationwide, far fewer than in September, but an increase of more than 20 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database.
The United States is averaging over 121,300 cases a day, an increase of about 27 percent from two weeks ago. Reported deaths are up 12 percent, to an average of about 1,275 per day.
Last week, New York State also turned to National Guard troops to reinforce overburdened nursing homes. Gov. Kathy Hochul issued “a pre-emptive strike,” ordering that roughly 30 hospitals nearing their capacity stop performing elective surgeries.
Hospitalizations in the state remained much lower than the highs of last winter or spring. The new restrictions will mostly impact hospitals upstate.
“We continue to see an uptick in hospitalizations,” Ms. Hochul said at a news conference on Thursday. “This is what keeps me up at night.”
Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts signaled that he could take similar measures on Thursday.
Kentucky has yet to enlist the National Guard, but long-term staff shortages plague health care facilities there.
On Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear declared that the state’s chronic nursing shortage was an emergency, with shortages of up to 20 percent. Mr. Beshear said he would sign an executive order aimed at boosting enrollment in training programs for nurses.
Even states that rank among the highest in vaccination rates are struggling, like Maine, where about 73 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, behind only Vermont and Rhode Island, according to a New York Times database. Cases in Maine recently reached their pandemic peak.
Gov. Janet Mills of Maine activated as many as 75 state Guard members to help hospitals there. She said they would support nursing facilities and administer monoclonal antibodies, which help prevent serious illness.
Maine Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, said in a statement on Wednesday that there had been times this week “when there were no critical care beds available,” forcing hospital leaders to postpone surgeries.
“We are caring for an unprecedented number of patients,” the hospital said.
Officials are bracing for the Omicron variant, but the Delta variant remains the more imminent threat. Health care workers staff shortages brought on by burnout, illnesses and resistance to vaccine mandates have made the situation even more dire.
In Missouri, where 52 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, hospitalizations are up 43 percent in the past two weeks, data shows. More than 1,680 people were hospitalized with Covid as of Wednesday, compared with about 980 on Nov. 8.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting.
Federal regulators on Thursday authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds, at least six months after they received their second shot. The move clears the way for several million teenagers to receive an additional jab.
All adults have been eligible since Nov. 19 to receive a booster six months after their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines, or two months after a Johnson & Johnson shot. Nearly 50 million Americans — or one fourth of those fully vaccinated — have gotten the additional shots.
The Food and Drug Administration broadened Pfizer’s authorization to cover the younger age group on an emergency basis. The other two Covid vaccines, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are authorized for use only for adults.
The agency’s decision, which was expected, comes as an initial spate of laboratory tests have suggested that the new fast-spreading variant, Omicron, seemed to dull the power of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
“Since we first authorized the vaccine, new evidence indicates that vaccine effectiveness against Covid-19 is waning after the second dose of the vaccine for all adults and for those in the 16- and 17-year-old age group,” said Dr. Peter Marks, who oversees the F.D.A.’s vaccine division. A booster “will help provide continued protection against Covid-19 in this and older age groups,” he added.
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, promptly signed off on the move, saying the agency was encouraging adolescents to receive booster doses and early data suggests they could protect against Omicron.
The C.D.C., which sets vaccine policy for the federal government, and the F.D.A. acted without input from their vaccine expert advisory panels, which have typically met publicly before eligibility for shots has been authorized and expanded.
Those meetings would have given regulators and experts a chance to publicly discuss the merits of the move, including a review of safety data gathered on adolescents who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that tests with blood samples from people who had received only two doses showed much lower levels of virus-fighting antibodies against Omicron than against an earlier version of the virus. Antibodies are the immune system’s first line of defense against the virus, and the results suggest that two doses may not be sufficient to protect against infection, the companies said.
With a booster, the level of antibodies working to neutralize the Omicron variant were comparable to those combating the original variant after two doses, the companies said.
Senior administration health officials have said Omicron, which contains dozens of mutations never seen before, is even more reason for everyone eligible for a booster to get one. More than 200 million Americans — over 60 percent of the population — have been fully vaccinated.
Although the U.S. vaccination rate overall is still well behind that of some other countries, the discovery of Omicron has driven many people to get shots, even as much remain unknown about the variant.
Support for boosters has been growing among public health experts in the face of the Omicron variant; some who previously opposed them now support a broad campaign. The F.D.A.’s expert committee rejected Pfizer-BioNTech’s request in September to clear a booster shot for 16 and 17 year olds, partly because of concerns over what they saw as insufficient data about a rare heart condition tied to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots, especially in younger men.
As the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spurred governments of wealthy nations to step up booster-shot campaigns, the World Health Organization again expressed concern on Thursday that the push could further undermine global vaccine equity.
“Broad-based administration of booster doses risks exacerbating inequities in vaccine access,” Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the W.H.O.’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, told reporters.
The administration of boosters is now outpacing first shots around the world.
According to Richard Mihigo, coordinator for the W.H.O.’s Immunization and Vaccines Development Program in Africa, “If we looked at the data today, even before Omicron, we are seeing high-income countries administering more booster doses than even vaccines that are being given in developing countries.”
Because most current infections, which are still overwhelmingly being driven by the Delta variant, are affecting unvaccinated people, the W.H.O. said, getting vaccines to those who have no protection should be the priority.
“Remember that we only have 8 percent — 8 percent — of people who have been fully vaccinated in this region,” Mr. Mihigo said of Africa. “This represents around 103 million people in a continent of 1.3 billion.”
Worldwide, about 73 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 0.8 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.
The W.H.O.’s reticence on boosters has put it out of step with governments around the world. Data from both Israel and Britain has shown that an extra vaccine dose can sharply lower a person’s likelihood of catching the coronavirus and getting sick, leading many countries to expand their booster programs.
The W.H.O. advisory group said on Thursday that preliminary data has suggested that extra shots could be useful if administered to older or immunosuppressed people. However, Mr. Mihigo said that, at the moment, there appeared to be “very little benefit of the booster dose for the younger population.”
Now scientists are racing to understand how Omicron might affect the pandemic and to determine the effectiveness of vaccines in combating its spread and preventing serious illness and death.
Pfizer and BioNTech said on Wednesday that laboratory tests suggested a booster shot of their coronavirus vaccine offered significant protection against the fast-spreading variant.
While limited in scope, the findings provided a bit of hopeful news at a time of renewed uncertainty. Blood samples obtained from people who had received a booster shot contained antibodies neutralizing Omicron at levels comparable with those combating the original variant after two doses, Pfizer’s statement said. While antibodies are the first line of defense against infection, they are only part of a wider-ranging and powerful response by the immune system. Because antibodies are the fastest and easiest part to measure, those results typically come first.
President Biden called Pfizer’s data “encouraging,” adding on Twitter, “This reinforces what my medical advisors have been emphasizing: that boosters give you the highest protection yet.”
The W.H.O. has cautioned about the risks that booster campaigns present as tens of millions in lower-income countries have not had access to a single dose.
Dr. Kate O’Brien, the W.H.O.’s vaccine director, said that in the face of the Omicron variant, there was a risk that wealthy countries would go back to hoarding vaccine supplies.
But Andrea Taylor, who tracks vaccine production for the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, said that while it was hard to know the true status of vaccine supply and delivery because of a lack of transparency, booster campaigns should not significantly affect supplies for lower-income countries.
“Globally, we are producing a staggering 1.5 billion doses a month, and we theoretically have enough doses now to provide boosters across wealthy countries, as well as first and second doses to at least 40 percent of the population in other countries,” she said. “In reality, however, these doses are not where they need to be.”
“Too many of them are sitting unused in wealthy countries,” she said, adding that estimates showed that the world’s wealthiest nations would have about 770 million excess doses on hand at the end of this month.
Dr. O’Brien noted that efforts by wealthy countries to donate surplus vaccines had been threatened because the doses they were offering have a relatively short shelf life.
Many poorer countries, especially in Africa, are finding they do not have the capacity to get shots in arms before they expire.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Thursday rejected an emergency request to block the federal mask mandate for air travel while challenges to it moved forward.
The chief justice did not ask for a response to the application for emergency relief or refer the application to the full Supreme Court, and he gave no reasons for his ruling. Those were all signs that he viewed the legal question in the case as insubstantial.
Michael Seklecki, a Florida resident, sued on behalf of himself and his 4-year-old son, saying his son needed medical treatment in Massachusetts but that neither father nor son could wear a mask for medical reasons. They were joined by Lucas Wall, a Washington resident who said he “has been stranded at his mother’s house in The Villages, Florida, since early June because” the Transportation Security Administration “won’t let him fly maskless even though he can’t medically cover his face.”
In a brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the government said that the challengers had not pursued an available procedure for obtaining medical exemptions. In any event, the government said, Congress has authorized the transportation agency to protect travelers’ safety.
The T.S.A. has repeatedly extended its mask mandate for all transportation networks, including airways. The mandate is currently set to be in place through March 18, 2022.
The appeals court has not yet ruled on the merits of Mr. Seklecki’s case. Last month, it refused to block the mandate while the appeal moved forward.
“Because petitioners’ arguments center on the alleged impact of the mask mandate on their individual disabilities, petitioners have not demonstrated any basis for enjoining the challenged agency action in its entirety,” the order said.
“To the extent they seek individualized relief from the mask mandate, petitioners have wholly failed to demonstrate irreparable harm,” the order went on. “For example, the directive provides an exemption for those whose disability prevents them from safely wearing a mask, yet petitioners have made no showing that they exhausted this readily available exemption procedure.”
William Hartmann, one of two Republican election officials from Michigan who initially refused to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election in Wayne County, where Joe Biden had trounced Donald J. Trump, died on Nov. 30 at a hospital in Wyandotte, Mich., near Detroit. He was 63.
About two weeks before Mr. Hartmann’s death, which was confirmed by the Michigan Republican Party, his sister, Elizabeth Hartmann, wrote on Facebook that he was “in ICU with Covid pneumonia and currently on a ventilator.” Mr. Hartmann had been outspoken in his opposition to Covid vaccines.
He drew national attention after he and another Republican member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, Monica Palmer, refused to certify the election results. Mr. Biden had won the county, which includes the city of Detroit, with 68 percent of the vote, compared with 31 percent for Mr. Trump.
His sister began posting updates regarding his health on Facebook last month after he had contracted Covid. But she said she stopped once the news brought unwanted attention to her family.
“Bill is fighting for his life and why someone would want to use this time for their political vomit is disgusting and sad,” she wrote. “My brother is a kind, giving, honest, outstanding man.”
Online tributes called him a patriot and a true conservative.
Mr. Hartmann made it clear on his own social media accounts that he did not believe in Covid vaccines. He suggested that vaccine passports, showing proof of vaccination, were something out of Nazi Germany.
Leaders of a bipartisan coalition of experts in education, the economy and health have been meeting with White House officials, pressing for new initiatives specifically for the tens of thousands of children who have lost parents and primary caregivers to Covid-19.
On Thursday, the group, the Covid Collaborative, released a report estimating that more than 167,000 children in the United States have lost parents or in-home caregivers to the disease. The group is backed by wealthy philanthropies and headed by two former governors, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, a Republican, and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, a Democrat.
The collaborative is asking President Biden to initiate a national campaign to identify these children and, with help from the private sector, take steps to improve their emotional and economic well-being. Its recommendations include offering them mental health care and creating a “Covid Bereaved Children’s Fund,” similar to a fund established after the Sept. 11 attacks, to provide up to $10,000 to families in need.
“The president is uniquely positioned to put an official imprimatur on the call in this report to coordinate all resources, public and private, at every level of government and every level of the private sector and philanthropy to help these children,” Mr. Patrick said in an interview.
“It’s a tragedy not of their making,” he added, “but they’re our kids. They belong to us, and all we are saying is, ‘Let’s act like it.’”
Among the trillions of dollars Congress has allocated to combat the pandemic, more than $100 million has gone to existing children’s mental health programs and some $122 billion for schools.
The government itself has pointed to the need for more help for the country’s children. On Tuesday, the surgeon general warned that young people were facing “devastating” mental health issues related to the pandemic.
The Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors basketball teams abruptly canceled their practices Thursday, citing the N.B.A.’s Covid-19 health and safety protocols and “an abundance of caution.”
It wasn’t immediately clear exactly what precipitated the cancellations. Players can be subject to the protocols either by testing positive for the coronavirus or by being exposed to someone who has.
The Raptors and Pacers played in separate games Wednesday, but on that day’s injury report, only the Pacers listed a player — guard Justin Holiday — in the protocols. Neither team had a game Thursday, and they were not required to submit new injury reports until 5 p.m. Eastern time. Just after noon, a spokeswoman for the Raptors told The New York Times that no one on the team was in the Covid protocols.
The Pacers are scheduled to host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, while the Raptors are set to host the Knicks.
In recent weeks, the N.B.A. has seen a rise in the numbers of players placed in the protocols. The league instituted mandatory testing on Nov. 28, 29 and 30, following the Thanksgiving holiday, regardless of players’ vaccination status. Before that, vaccinated players were not required to be tested frequently.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James was in the protocols briefly last week and missed a game after a positive test result; he was allowed to return to action after several follow-up tests were negative, indicating that the first one was a false positive.
The Chicago Bulls have four players in protocols, including one of their stars, DeMar DeRozan. The Charlotte Hornets listed five this week, including their top player, LaMelo Ball, who won the Rookie of the Year Award last season.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines may offer older adults with underlying conditions waning protection against hospitalization four months after full inoculation, according to data released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the vaccines continued to provide significant defense, remaining at least 75 percent effective at keeping people from being hospitalized with Covid-19, the data showed.
The new study focused on a cohort of older, hospitalized military veterans, so its findings are not applicable to the broader population. But it offers new insight about the potential waning of the vaccines’ benefits — and strengthens the argument for boosters.
Seniors, who were among the first to be vaccinated in the United States, face a heightened risk of hospitalization from Covid-19. And infections among older people can cause stealthy, unexpected symptoms, according to an August study in the Journals of Gerontology.
The C.D.C. study included 1,896 participants with a median age of 67 years, 92.7 percent of whom were male.
In this group, the researchers found that the mRNA vaccines offered strong protection against Covid-related hospitalizations in the first four months after the participants became fully vaccinated — a point about two weeks after the second dose, according to the C.D.C.
During those four months, the Moderna vaccine was 90 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and Pfizer-BioNTech was 86 percent effective, the study showed. But after that period, Moderna’s protection rate dropped to 86 percent and Pfizer-BioNTech’s to 75 percent.
These findings echo a C.D.C. study from September that found waning protection by the Pfizer vaccine in a group of adults with a median age of 68.
The new study analyzed levels of antibodies — the protective proteins generated by the immune system — in some participants as a way of measuring the effectiveness of the vaccine. Antibody levels were higher among recipients of the Moderna vaccine than among those who received the Pfizer doses. But both groups experienced a decline in antibody levels over time.
The data was collected at five Veterans Affairs medical centers from Feb. 1 to Sept. 30, before the Omicron variant was first reported in the United States in November.
There is still not enough data on Omicron to know whether it is more dangerous than previous variants, such as Delta, although some evidence suggests that the variant can reinfect people more readily. But the continued spread of the Omicron variant may render the findings of the new study outdated.
The authors of the study said their findings underscored the need for booster shots to maintain long-term protection against severe illness. As of Tuesday, 55 percent of eligible seniors have received a booster, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said in a news conference.
DETROIT — Caitlin Reynolds, a single mother, was happy that her son, L.J., was finally settled into fourth grade after a rocky experience last year with remote learning.
Then, on Wednesday, Nov. 17, came an announcement: Detroit public schools would close their classrooms every Friday in December. There would be virtual school only. On Friday, another announcement: School was canceled starting that Monday, for the entire week of Thanksgiving. This time, there would be no online option.
After a few months of relative calm, some public schools are going remote — or canceling class entirely — once a week, or even for a few weeks, because of teacher burnout or staff shortages. Several Michigan districts extended Thanksgiving break; three in Washington State unexpectedly closed on Nov. 12, the day after Veterans Day; and in Florida, Brevard schools used leftover “hurricane days” to close schools Thanksgiving week. Some closings have occurred with little notice, causing major logistical problems for parents and worries that children will fall further behind.
For many districts, remote learning days are a last-ditch effort to prevent teachers who say they are burned out from resigning after a tough year of working with learning loss, and putting in overtime to make up for labor shortages.
Battles in the classroom — over mask mandates and critical race theory — have also taken a toll, said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers’ union.
“What you hear from teachers is that it’s been too much,” she said. “And they’re trying the best that they can.”
Parents say they are doing the same, but for some it comes down to being home when school is canceled on short notice or losing pay or stature at work.
“It’s very difficult already being a single parent, period,” said Kristina Morgan of Southfield, Mich., who works for the Wayne County courts and, when school is canceled on short notice, relies on relatives to care for her daughter Kennedy Martinez. If no one is available, she must take the day off work, which reflects poorly on her at the office. “When you have your life figured out based on your child being in school during certain hours — and when I have to scramble to find child care outside of those hours, or to ask around — it’s frustrating,” she said.
The detection of the Omicron variant has brought renewed attention, and a new urgency, to the worldwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign, which experts say remains among the most powerful tools at our disposal when it comes to preventing dangerous new variants.
Most wealthy countries have vaccinated significant shares of their populations and have rapidly moved into the booster-dose phase. But one year into the global vaccine rollout, the gap between vaccination rates in high- and low-income countries is wider than ever.
Poorly vaccinated countries face several challenges. Early in the rollout process, some countries were not able to secure enough doses to inoculate their residents, and many still face shortages. In others, supply is only part of the story. A New York Times analysis of available data highlights the countries where infrastructure issues and the public’s level of willingness to get vaccinated may pose larger obstacles than supply.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland apologized late Wednesday after photographs surfaced of her dancing maskless in a nightclub on Saturday night, one day after she came into contact with a government official who had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I did wrong,” she said in a television interview on the public broadcaster Yle. “I should have considered the situation more carefully.”
Coronavirus restrictions in Finland, as in many European countries, have evolved and changed over the past two years. Currently, those who are double vaccinated, like Ms. Marin, do not need to isolate after coming into contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.
But separate guidelines for government ministers and employees recommend that they limit social contact immediately after exposure, according to Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.
When images of Ms. Marin at the nightclub, in Helsinki, were made public this week, they quickly went viral.
Writing on Facebook, Ms. Marin said she was told by an official that the coronavirus rules did not require her to isolate, despite having been in contact with an infected person.
“I should have used better judgment and double-checked the guidance given to me,” she wrote. “I am very sorry for not understanding that I needed to do that.”
Ms. Marin has not tested positive for the virus.
Throughout the pandemic, Finland has had some of the lowest infection rates in Europe. The country, with a population of about 5.5 million, has recorded roughly 196,000 cases of infection and 1,384 deaths, according to Our World in Data.
Ms. Marin, now 36, became the world’s youngest sitting prime minister when she was sworn into office two years ago. She heads a government that is remarkably female and young: The other four major parties in the government are led by women, three of whom are, like the prime minister, under 40.
As New York City’s arts and culture sector seeks to rebound from the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic, the Department of Cultural Affairs announced on Thursday that it would award $51.4 million in grants to more than 1,000 nonprofit arts organizations.
The grants, for the 2022 fiscal year, represent the largest-ever allocation for what is known as the Cultural Development Fund. Some of the grants will broadly increase funding for organizations that need a financial shot in the arm; other grants will offer more targeted support of disability arts, language access, arts education and more.
Officials also said that a chunk of the money — about $5.1 million — is being sent to more than 650 groups working in underserved communities that were hard hit by the pandemic.
“This improved funding will encourage artists, creators and producers across the city to continue to express their insights and stories on their own terms,” Vicki Been, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said in a statement.
A survey of the effects of the coronavirus commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs in the spring of 2020 found that overall, about one in 10 arts organizations thought they would not survive the pandemic. Smaller organizations in particular were some of the hardest hit, according to the survey.
Some of the grants, of less than $10,000, have been awarded to small theater companies, choirs and museums. And to further help ensure that modestly sized groups and even individual artists receive a share of the funding, almost $3 million will be given to five local arts councils serving each borough. Those councils, in turn, will distribute the money to local constituents, city officials said.
But large organizations will also benefit. Some of the city’s most recognizable arts institutions like the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the 92nd Street Y are among the organizations that will receive some of the largest grants, in excess of $100,000 each.
The grants — $45.5 million in mayoral funds and $5.9 million in City Council member items — are part of what officials said was a roughly $230 million annual budget for the Department of Cultural Affairs.
“Culture is essential to healthy, vibrant neighborhoods, and there is no recovery for New York City without our cultural community,” Gonzalo Casals, the city’s cultural affairs commissioner, said.
Sarah Bahr contributed reporting.
A government decision last year to cull all of Denmark’s 17 million minks for fear that infected animals could transmit the coronavirus to humans prompted a huge outcry in the country, which until then was the world’s top exporter of the high-quality mink skins commonly used in fur coats.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was grilled in Parliament about the decision last year by her government, which resulted in the loss of 5,000 jobs in Denmark — and also turned out to be illegal.
Testifying on Thursday before a parliamentary commission investigating the decision to cull the minks, Ms. Frederiksen denied knowing at the time that the government lacked the legal authority to order the slaughter of the entire population of the animals. She testified, as she has said before, that she was not made aware of the legal problem until Nov. 8, 2020, four days after she announced the government’s decision.
The government later acknowledged that it had legal powers only to order the killing of infected animals, not healthy ones. The situation became a political crisis and prompted the minister of agriculture to resign.
Parliament has appointed an independent three-member commission to investigate the matter. If the commission concludes that the prime minister did not tell the truth about the legal questions, she could face impeachment.
— Thomas Erdbrink and Jasmina Nielsen