Even mild Covid-19 cases confer ‘durable immunity,’ new studies find.
Scientists who have been monitoring immune responses to the coronavirus for months are now starting to see encouraging signs of strong, lasting immunity, even in people that developed only mild symptoms of Covid-19, a flurry of new studies has found.
Disease-fighting antibodies, as well as immune cells called B cells and T cells capable of recognizing the virus, appear to persist months after infections have resolved — an encouraging echo of the body’s robust immune response to other viruses.
“This is exactly what you would hope for,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington and an author on one of the new studies, which is currently under review at the journal Nature. “All the pieces are there to have a totally protective immune response.”
“This is very promising,” said Smita Iyer, an immunologist at the University of California, Davis, who is studying immune responses to the coronavirus in rhesus macaques and was not involved in these papers. “This calls for some optimism about herd immunity, and potentially a vaccine.”
Research on the coronavirus is proceeding so quickly, and in such volume, that the traditional review process often cannot keep pace. For the studies discussed here — as with un-peer-reviewed studies in general — The Times arranged for several experts to read and evaluate them.
Although researchers cannot forecast how long these immune responses will last, many experts consider the data a welcome indication that the body has a good chance of fending off the coronavirus if exposed to it again.
“Things are really working as they’re supposed to,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona and an author on one of the new studies, which has not yet been peer reviewed.
Protection against reinfection cannot be fully confirmed until there is proof that most people who encounter the virus a second time are actually able to keep it at bay, Dr. Pepper said. But the findings could help quell recent concerns over the virus’s ability to dupe the immune system into amnesia, leaving people vulnerable to repeat bouts of disease.
Fearing a ‘twindemic,’ health experts push urgently for flu shots.
As public health officials look to fall and winter, the specter of a new surge of Covid-19 gives them chills. But there is a scenario they dread even more: a severe flu season resulting in a “twindemic.”
Even a mild flu season could stagger hospitals already coping with Covid-19 cases. And although officials don’t know yet what degree of severity to anticipate this year, they worry that large numbers of people could forgo flu shots, increasing the risk of widespread outbreaks.
Flu, a life-threatening respiratory illness that crowds emergency rooms and intensive care units, shares symptoms with Covid-19: fever, headache, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. Flu could leave patients vulnerable to a harsher attack of Covid-19, doctors believe, and that coming down with both viruses at once could be disastrous.
The concern about a twindemic is so great that officials around the world are pushing the flu shot even before it becomes available in clinics and doctors’ offices. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been talking it up, urging corporate leaders to figure out ways to inoculate employees. The C.D.C. usually purchases 500,000 doses for uninsured adults but this year ordered an additional 9.3 million doses.
Because common places of access, including offices and school health clinics, will be largely off limits, pharmacies and supermarkets are expected to play greater roles in administering the shots. As of this week, CVS and Walgreens will have doses ready.
The flu vaccine is rarely mandated in the U.S. except by some health care facilities and nursery schools, but this month the statewide University of California system announced that because of the pandemic, it is requiring all 230,000 employees and 280,000 students to get the flu vaccine by November 1.
Fighting flu proactively during the continuing pandemic presents significant challenges: not only how to administer the shot safely and readily, but also how to prompt people to get a shot that a majority of Americans have typically distrusted, dismissed and skipped.
Public campaigns will describe the shot as a critical weapon during the pandemic. “Hopefully people will say, ‘There’s no Covid vaccine so I can’t control that, but I do have access to the flu vaccine and I can get that,’” Ms. Stinchfield said. “It gives you a little power to protect yourself.”
A cluster of cases prompts New Zealand to delay its election.
New Zealand on Monday said it would postpone its national election by four weeks as a cluster of new virus cases continues to spread in Auckland, which is under lockdown.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has the sole authority to determine when people cast ballots, said she had consulted with all the major parties before making her decision.
Ms. Ardern called the decision to move the election, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 19, to Oct. 17 a compromise that “provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we could be campaigning under, for the electoral commission to prepare, and for voters to feel assured of a safe accessible and critical election.”
But she ruled out further change.
“New Zealand deserves to have both a certain and a balanced decision,” the prime minister said.
The election postponement came as the mysterious cluster of new cases grew to 49 on Sunday.
Health officials are still scrambling to test thousands of workers at airports and other points of entry, along with quarantine facilities, as they try to work out how the virus re-emerged last week after 102 days without known community transmission in the country.
Pressure on Ms. Ardern to change the date had been building for several days.
With a Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, the country’s largest city, putting a stop to campaigning, the leaders of other major parties argued that a free and fair election was impossible on the date that it was originally scheduled.
Winston Peters, the deputy prime minister, in a letter sent to Ms. Ardern last week, said community transmission in Auckland was already disrupting the campaign. Until the alert level drops in Auckland, he said, the “playing field is hopelessly compromised.”
The National Party’s leader, Judith Collins, said she would prefer that the election be moved to next year, but that would require approval from 75 percent of the Parliament. She said the election would be impossible “if a lot of people are frightened to leave your house or even frightened of having postal ballots.”
Ms. Ardern, however, said Monday that New Zealand needed to move forward.
“Covid is the world’s new normal,” she said. “Here in New Zealand, we are working as hard as we can to make sure our new normal disrupts our lives as little as possible.”
In other developments around the world:
It’s lights out for discos and clubs in Italy. As infections in the country creep back up — especially among young people — the authorities are clamping down. In addition to ordering dancing establishments closed, they are requiring the outdoor use of masks from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in popular gathering spots. “We cannot nullify the sacrifices made in past months,” Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said on Facebook.
The Australian state of Victoria has extended its state of emergency until Sept. 13. The state of emergency, which gives health officials broad powers to quarantine people, restrict movement and declare lockdowns, has been in effect since March. Victoria, which is the center of the outbreak in Australia, on Sunday reported 279 new cases and 16 deaths.
Health officials in South Korea reported 279 new virus cases on Sunday, warning of a resurgence of infections, many linked to a church that has vocally opposed President Moon Jae-in.
In Chicago, tensions have risen and so have cases — but don’t blame one for the other, the mayor says.
As protests over policing in Chicago led to tense clashes between officers and demonstrators over the weekend, city leaders were simultaneously contending with a rise in coronavirus cases. Cook County, which includes Chicago, is now averaging 640 new known virus cases a day, nearly twice as many as it was at the start of the summer.
But Mayor Lori Lightfoot, appearing on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday, declined to attribute the rise in virus cases to the protracted unrest, noting that earlier protests in the city had not appeared to yield any uptick in infections.
Instead, Ms. Lightfoot pointed to people traveling from state to state as a factor in the rise, and said that young people in particular were spreading the disease. “We’ve just got to break through to young people that they are not immune to this virus,” she said.
Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, finds itself contending with an array of problems at once: rising virus cases, which have prompted officials to announce that schools will begin the academic year online only; protests over police brutality and a campaign to defund the police; and a burst of looting last week in the city’s downtown shopping district.
After a protest on Saturday, skirmishes broke out overnight between police officers and some protesters. The Chicago Police Department said that 17 officers were injured and 24 people were arrested.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in cities all across the country — not just Chicago — is a continuing wave of protests,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “The vast majority of these have been peaceful. But what we’ve also seen is people who have embedded themselves in these seemingly peaceful protests and come for a fight.”
What happened overnight, she said, was entirely unrelated to looting that took place on the city’s gleaming Magnificent Mile in the early hours of Monday.
The C.D.C. begins developing a plan to distribute a coronavirus vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is consulting with four states and a large city to develop plans for distributing a coronavirus vaccine, the first doses of which are expected to be available later this year or early next.
The agency is not prioritizing those communities to receive the vaccines, but chose them because they represent different kinds of challenges as the government prepares to begin the largest such campaign ever undertaken. The communities include small and large states, some that are doing well with their current epidemic response and at least one that is not, according to a federal official familiar with the discussions.
The states are California, Florida, Minnesota, and North Dakota; the city is Philadelphia. Each has a different demographic, ethnic makeup and population density, as well as its own infrastructure to store and deliver doses of vaccine. State and city officials are advising the C.D.C. and the Department of Defense, which are coordinating the federal response and determining how to most efficiently deliver doses of vaccine to the individuals who are most vulnerable to Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Federal officials said last week that the administration’s program to accelerate the development of effective responses to the epidemic, called Operation Warp Speed, expected to deliver tens of millions of vaccine doses by early 2021.
The challenges facing a nationwide vaccine campaign are enormous, including how best to store the vaccine and what kinds of clinics could handle the volume of demand. The C.D.C. reportedly favors a centralized distribution system, and the Defense Department apparently disagrees, according to the official familiar with the discussions.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration, said on Sunday that the government should enlist private companies to distribute a vaccine, once it is developed.
“If the government tries to take physical possession of the vaccines and distribute them,” Dr. Gottlieb said on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” “that could lead to hiccups and delays in getting vaccines to the consumers. What they should be doing is directing the existing supply chain.”
Play it cool or play it safe? Scorching heat during a pandemic poses dilemmas in California.
A punishing heat wave scorching the Southwest is threatening to turn deadlier, as people struggle to keep cool in a region already plagued by wildfires and a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
With demand soaring for power to run air-conditioners, the agency that oversees California’s electric grid declared an emergency on Friday and, for the first time in 19 years, shut off service to hundreds of thousands of customers for several hours to avoid a damaging overload.
But the state’s health crisis may be deterring residents who lack air-conditioning at home from gathering at cooling centers or public places like malls and libraries. California’s cases are on the rise, with more than 65,000 new cases and about 950 related deaths over the past week.
The pandemic is “taking away one of the most critical resources for the most vulnerable,” said David Hondula, a professor who studies heat at Arizona State University. “Even in cases where facilities haven’t closed, people have to decide, ‘Do I stay home where I may be too hot, or do I go to a public or semipublic building where I may contract the virus?’ That’s a tough dilemma for folks to deal with.”
There is little relief in sight. High temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit are expected in Los Angeles every day through Friday. In parts of California and Arizona, thermometers have been cracking 110. And extreme heat advisories extend to parts of Washington, Oregon, Utah and Nevada.
The California Independent System Operator, which manages much of the state’s power grid, ordered rotating power cutoffs for a little over two hours on Friday night to reduce overall demand by about 1,000 megawatts. Bloomberg reported that as many as two million people may have been without power at one time or another.
Democrats warn of a ‘grave threat’ to the U.S. election and demand answers from the Postal Service.
With millions of Americans expected to cast presidential ballots by mail this year because of the pandemic, congressional Democrats warned on Sunday of “a grave threat to the integrity of the election” and called on top Postal Service officials to testify before lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The demand by top Democrats — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York — came after the Postal Service told states it might not be able to meet their deadlines for delivering last-minute mail-in ballots.
The move reflects growing alarm among Democrats and voting rights advocates about changes enacted under Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general and a Trump megadonor, that have resulted in delays in delivery and curtailed service. The changes include overtime cuts and the removal of mail-sorting machines.
“The postmaster general and top Postal Service leadership must answer to the Congress and the American people as to why they are pushing these dangerous new policies that threaten to silence the voices of millions, just months before the election,” the lawmakers said on Sunday.
Democratic state attorneys general said Sunday that they were exploring legal action against the cutbacks and changes at the Postal Service.
“My colleagues and I are working as we speak to determine what Trump and DeJoy are doing, whether they have already violated or are likely to violate any laws, and what tools we have at our disposal,” Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia said in a statement.
The attorney general of Washington State, Bob Ferguson, noted that he and his colleagues “have a strong record of stopping illegal actions by President Trump and his administration.”
Two people with knowledge of the discussions said Washington State was expected to file a lawsuit this week that other states might join.
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said on Sunday that the administration would be open to a measure that would provide supplemental funding to help the Postal Service handle a surge in mail-in ballots.
In other developments around the U.S.:
Nursing homes have been a center of America’s virus outbreak, with more than 62,000 residents and staff members dying from Covid-19 at such homes and other long-term care facilities — about 40 percent of the country’s virus fatalities. Now, the lightly regulated industry is campaigning in Washington for federal help that could increase its profits.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said the state would provide the health personnel and supervision so that the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s Tribute in Lights, which has memorialized the attacks on the Twin Towers since 2002, could safely continue.
A school district outside Phoenix has canceled its plans to reopen schools on Monday after teachers staged a “sick out” in protest. The J.O. Combs Unified School District “cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume,” Superintendent Gregory A. Wyman said in a letter to families posted online Friday. Virtual classes were also canceled for the time being, though breakfasts and lunches will be available for pickup.
A rural U.S. county has a jump in virus cases as a university reopens.
Story County, in the dead center of Iowa, is mostly farmland, with only about 90,000 residents. But it has seen its coronavirus case count shoot up by almost 30 percent, or at least 308 cases, just in the last two weeks.
What happened? Iowa State University, in Ames, reopened.
At least 141 of those new cases are students who were tested as they moved into residence halls or campus apartments for the fall semester. The university said it had tested 6,500 students, using its veterinary diagnostic lab to process the tests and get results back quickly, usually within 24 hours.
That is still only a portion of the student body, which numbered nearly 33,400 students last year. Many students living in sorority or fraternity houses or in off-campus apartments, for example, may not have been included.
Students who test positive are moved to “isolation rooms” on campus, and their recent contacts are notified. Other students living in university housing who may have been exposed to them are given quarantine rooms and monitored for symptoms.
“We understand that receiving news that you need to isolate or quarantine is stressful for our students and families, especially when this impacts participation in campus events and classes,” Erin Baldwin, the interim senior vice president for student affairs at the university, said in a statement on Friday, adding that the school would “provide flexibility while they navigate coursework virtually.”
The increase in virus cases comes as Ames and the rest of Story County work to recover from an unusual type of severe windstorm, known as a derecho, that wreaked havoc across much of the Midwest last week.
“We are acutely aware that as many as 1,200 Ames customers remain without electricity five days after the storm,” Mayor John Haila said in a statement late Saturday. He said the city had opened cooling centers and had distributed ice to residents without power.
Travelers to New York say they’re quarantining. Their social media says otherwise.
With New York State’s coronavirus infections at a small fraction of the levels they reached during a devastating spring, the effort to prevent a resurgence includes a 14-day quarantine for travelers entering New York from states where positive test results for the virus exceed 10 percent.
The quarantine, mandated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, applies to over 30 states, along with Puerto Rico. And this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City announced checkpoints at bridges and tunnels throughout the city where people would be informed about the restrictions.
But in the absence of broad enforcement, many travelers to New York seem to be making their own rules.
Social media has been capturing the exploits of these quarantine scofflaws as they risk generating another outbreak in a state that has lost more than 32,000 residents to the virus, twice as many as any other state.
Olivia Awe, a figure skating coach and pastry chef, noticed on social media that an acquaintance from college was returning to New York City after temporarily living with her parents in Florida. The acquaintance stopped in Virginia, another high-risk state, on her way back, to attend a wedding that did not require masks.
After the woman arrived in New York, Ms. Awe said she saw a post from the woman on social media saying she had received a piece of paper about the need to quarantine. Soon after, there were posts of the acquaintance bar hopping, eating out at restaurants and hosting a group of people at her apartment.
“This person is putting so many people at risk and putting our state at risk,” Ms. Awe said.
New York’s approach stands in contrast to countries and regions that strictly monitor new arrivals or bar them completely. In many Asian countries, everyone is tested upon arrival and then required to quarantine for 14 days, sometimes in government facilities or wearing electronic monitoring devices. Western Australia, which includes the city of Perth, has been closed even to domestic travelers since April. Travel between provinces in South Africa will be allowed starting Monday for the first time since March.
The C.D.C.’s updated guidelines on infections in children reflect rising case rates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued updated guidelines on coronavirus infections in children, after recent reports that cases in youngsters surged last month.
At least 97,000 children tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks of July, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, bringing the total number through the end of that month to 338,000.
The reports of increased cases come as states across the country are trying to reopen schools safely. Some districts have already had to implement quarantines or close their doors after students tested positive. The state of Georgia announced on Sunday that it would switch to online instruction two days a week after reporting at least nine cases among students.
Many teachers are worried. A district in Arizona canceled classes that were set to start Monday after teachers staged a sickout in protest.
The effect of the virus on children has been a matter of debate and uncertainty since the pandemic began. On Sunday, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, would be sending their children to school for in-person instruction. “Our school is not opening up five days a week,” he said. “I wish they were, but we absolutely will be sending our kids back to school and I have no fear in doing so.”
However, it remains unclear how susceptible youngsters are to the virus, compared with adults, and how transmissible Covid-19 is among them or to adults. A recent study in Chicago found that infected children carry at least as much virus in their nose and throat as adults do.
But several studies from other countries have also suggested that children under 10 are much less likely to spread the virus to others. Children seem to be less likely than adults to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms, although the C.D.C. reported 570 cases of a related inflammatory syndrome among young people from infancy to age 20, from early March through late July. Those stricken were disproportionately Black and Latino.
The C.D.C.’s updated guidelines, which were addressed to pediatric health care providers, said that 7.3 percent of all reported Covid-19 cases through Aug. 3 were in people 17 or younger, who make up 22 percent of the U.S. population.
“Due to community mitigation measures and school closures,” the report stated, transmission of the virus to and among children “may have been reduced in the spring and early summer of 2020. This may explain the low incidence in children compared with adults.”
The report added: “Comparing trends in pediatric infections before and after the return to in-person school and other activities may provide additional understanding about infections in children.”
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Ben Carey, Chris Cameron, Damien Cave, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Monica Davey, Melina Delkic, Jesse Drucker, Catie Edmondson, Hailey Fuchs, Abby Goodnough, Rebecca Halleck, Jan Hoffman, Annie Karni, Alyson Krueger, Eric Nagourney, Aimee Ortiz, Bryan Pietsch, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Lucy Tompkins, Will Wright and Katherine J. Wu.