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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Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona and an author on one of the new studies, which has not yet been peer reviewed.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.
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 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.
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 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 sick-out 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.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House Democratic leadership are considering cutting the chamber’s summer recess short in order to deal with the crisis unfolding in the United States Postal Service, two people familiar with the talks said on Saturday. While the House is not scheduled to return for votes until Sept. 14, Democratic leaders could call lawmakers back in the next two weeks.
Accounts of slowdowns and curtailed service have emerged across the country since Louis DeJoy, a Republican megadonor and an ally of President Trump’s, took over as postmaster general in May. Mr. DeJoy has been pushing cost-cutting measures like reduced hours and the elimination of overtime pay that he says are intended to overhaul an agency sustaining billion-dollar losses.
Mr. Trump has tried to pin Postal Service funding troubles on Democrats, and he rails almost daily against voting by mail. Voting-rights advocates and postal workers have warned that the growing crisis could disenfranchise millions of Americans who plan to cast their ballots by mail in November because of the pandemic.
Among the legislative options under consideration is a measure that would require the Postal Service to maintain current service standards until after the pandemic ends. Lawmakers are also discussing adding language that would ensure that all ballot-related mail is treated as first-class mail.
While Democrats have been fighting to include funding for the Postal Service in a coronavirus relief package, it is unlikely that party members will act on a stand-alone funding bill, said the two people, who asked for anonymity to disclose details of private discussions.
In other developments around the U.S.:
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.
The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization on Saturday for a new saliva-based test to detect the virus. The test, SalivaDirect, was developed by researchers at Yale University with some of the funding coming from the N.B.A. and the National Basketball Players Association, the university announced on Saturday in a news release. A lab affiliated with Rutgers University received emergency authorization in May for a similar test.
Health officials in South Korea reported 279 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, warning of a resurgence of infections, many linked to a church that has vocally opposed President Moon Jae-in.
South Korea had battled the epidemic down to two-digit daily caseloads since April. But the number of new cases has soared in recent days, with 103 on Friday and 166 on Saturday, most of them worshipers at the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, the capital, and another church in the surrounding province of Gyeonggi.
President Moon on Sunday warned of a surge in infections in coming days as health officials rush to test thousands of church members and their contacts. He called the crisis at Sarang Jeil the biggest challenge faced by health officials since a similar outbreak five months ago at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the central city of Daegu, about 150 miles southeast of Seoul.
Members of Sarang Jeil were reportedly among thousands who attended an antigovernment rally in Seoul on Saturday. On the same day, Kwon Jun-wook, the deputy director of the government’s Central Disease Control Headquarters, warned of “early signs of a large-scale resurgence of the virus.”
Over the weekend the government tightened social-distancing rules in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, limiting indoor gatherings to below 50 and outdoor gatherings to below 100. The new rules also bar spectators from professional baseball and soccer games and empower the authorities to shut down high-risk facilities like bars, karaoke rooms and buffet restaurants if they do not take stricter preventive measures.
Virus fears also prompted South Korea and the United States on Sunday to delay an annual joint military drill, rescheduling it to begin on Tuesday after a South Korean Army officer who was expected to participate tested positive.
In other developments around the world:
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.
New Zealand on Sunday reported 13 new cases, all but one of them locally transmitted, amid a new outbreak in Auckland, its most populous city.
South Africa, reporting a drop in cases from 12,000 a day to about 5,000, will lower its alert status to a so-called Level 2 at midnight on Monday. Bans on the sale of tobacco and alcohol will be scrapped; travel between provinces will be allowed; and bars, restaurants and taverns will return to normal business, subject to strict hygiene regulations.
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.
Nursing homes have been a center of America’s coronavirus 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.
It is hardly unusual for embattled industries to seek help from Washington. But instead of relying only on trade associations, some of the country’s largest nursing-home companies have assembled a fleet of lobbyists, many with close ties to the Trump administration. Among these companies are some with long histories of safety violations and misusing public funds.
One of the industry’s biggest goals is for the federal government to block residents and their families from suing nursing homes for wrongful deaths and filing other malpractice claims — even those that have nothing to do with Covid-19.
Senate Republicans introduced legislation last month that would make it virtually impossible for families whose relatives died from neglect or the coronavirus to hold nursing homes accountable in court. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said the legislation — which would also apply to a range of other industries — must be included in any new economic stimulus package.
The industry has successfully lobbied at least 20 states to gain immunity from lawsuits in state courts. But the federal Safe to Work Act would also apply to deaths that occurred months before the virus began spreading.
“The industry is using this epidemic to win a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Toby Edelman, a senior lawyer at the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit legal assistance group for the elderly.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s Tribute in Lights will shine this year after all, officials said on Saturday, reversing an announcement by the museum last week that it would cancel the tribute because of the coronavirus crisis.
The tribute, which features 88 specially made lights used to create the projections that tower over the city until dawn on Sept. 12, has memorialized the attacks on the Twin Towers since 2002. The lights create two ghostly towers that are beamed into the sky from near ground zero. On a clear night they can be seen from 60 miles away.
It takes a team of about 40 stagehands and electricians working closely on the installation for more than a week to get it ready, and the museum had safety concerns. “In the last 24 hours we’ve had conversations with many interested parties and believe we will be able to stage the tribute in a safe and appropriate fashion,” Alice M. Greenwald, the president and chief executive of the museum, said in a statement on Twitter.
A drop in ticket sales, prompted by the pandemic, drove the organization to institute layoffs and furloughs in June. The outdoor memorial reopened on July 4, but the museum remained closed.
High-profile events at Disney’s theme parks and Knott’s Berry Farm have been canceled, and in places like Salem, Mass. — where the holiday accounts for more than 30 percent of the city’s annual tourists — officials are trying to figure out what Halloween looks like during a pandemic.
“The sales that the businesses generate during October are what carry them through the quiet winter months,” said Kate Fox, the director of Destination Salem, the city’s marketing organization.
“It’s just really a catastrophic year from the business perspective,” she said, noting that with five weekends in October this year, two full moons, and the end of daylight saving time falling during Halloween night, 2020 had been “on track to be our biggest year for tourism ever.”
The City of Salem released its first Covid-adjusted plans for this year’s Haunted Happenings events in early August under the assumption that by October, Massachusetts would still be in Phase 3 of its reopening, which prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 25 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. Days after the city’s announcement, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts tightened restrictions on Phase 3 after a rise in cases.
“I think one of the greatest fears for anyone is becoming a Covid hot spot or cluster location,” Ms. Fox said, “and to some extent we’re always prepared for the worst.”
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Ben Carey, Chris Cameron, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Monica Davey, Melina Delkic, Jesse Drucker, Rebecca Halleck, Jan Hoffman, Annie Karni, Alyson Krueger, Aimee Ortiz, Bryan Pietsch, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Will Wright and Katherine J. Wu.
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