States in the Northeast, after experiencing spikes in coronavirus infections earlier this year, are reporting significant drops in cases and hospitalizations.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have all reported many fewer cases in recent weeks as more people receive vaccinations. New York and New Jersey have also seen steady declines in cases after struggling to contain the virus earlier this spring.
Reported cases across the United States reached a high in January, and then, as vaccinations accelerated, fell through February and most of March. A much smaller overall surge peaked in mid-April, but has dropped about 32 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations and deaths are also ticking down, even as the pace of vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks.
In Rhode Island, confirmed cases have dropped 48 percent and hospitalizations have dropped 23 percent in the past two weeks. State officials attribute the fall in cases to increased vaccinations.
“It’s the vaccinations,” Gov. Daniel McKee of Rhode Island said, adding that “the vaccinations are really our focus right now.”
The state announced on Friday that it would adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines eliminating most mask requirements for fully vaccinated people starting on Tuesday. Although Mr. McKee expressed concerns that unvaccinated people might stop wearing masks too, he said he hoped the C.D.C.’s new guidance would encourage more people to get vaccinated and that it was “not a pass for people who have not been vaccinated.”
State officials are still worried about the threat of more contagious variants of the virus, he said. And even though Rhode Island’s vaccination campaign is ahead of most states’, Mr. McKee said that convincing people who were hesitant was still a challenge. About 57 percent of Rhode Island’s population has received at least one dose, and 46 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times vaccine tracker.
In Pennsylvania, reported cases have dropped 44 percent and hospitalizations have dropped 28 percent in the past two weeks. Cases in the state started to rise in mid-March and continued to climb for weeks before reversing course in late April.
Alison Beam, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of health, said the state’s vaccination effort had “made great strides,” which had led to the decreases. About 55 percent of the state’s population has received at least one shot, and 39 percent have been fully inoculated.
“One of our greatest hesitancy strategies is making it really convenient for folks and we’ve been able to do that by spreading out the vaccine to more of our provider networks more recently because the supply has increased as well,” Ms. Beam said.
With the pace of vaccinations falling, the Biden administration has been focused on door-to-door and person-by-person efforts. The Department of Health and Human Services recently started a “Covid-19 community corps,” a loose group of volunteers, corporations, advocacy groups and local organizations working to vaccinate Americans who may prefer to get their shots by or around people they know.
Ms. Beam cautioned, however, that coronavirus testing had also decreased in the state and she urged people to continue getting tested if they showed symptoms.
Although reported cases are continuing to drop nationwide, public health experts warn that the United States will have to continue aggressively vaccinating its population over the next few months. It is possible that the virus could surge again more widely in fall and winter, when viruses like the flu are typically dominant.
“That would be a terrible shame because that will include serious cases and deaths, and that’s preventable,” said Dr. Sten Vermund, the dean of the Yale School of Public Health.
In Britain, normality seemed much closer on Monday, with indoor dining and socializing and visits to cinemas becoming options again in England, along with some international travel, and rules also easing in much of Scotland.
The English reopenings are the third step in a cautious plan by the British government to ease all restrictions by the summer. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson sounded a note of caution on Monday.
“All the data shows we’re making great progress against this virus,” Mr. Johnson said in address to the public. “But to ensure our progress is irreversible we must follow the rules.”
In England as of Monday, outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people and indoor gatherings for up to six people or two households will be permitted. Hostels and hotels will reopen for overnight stays and some nonessential travel abroad without quarantine will return for countries with low caseloads.
For many outdoor diners, who had shivered through a cool and rainy spring, news that indoor spaces were reopening was met with relief. In some pubs in England, Monday came at a stroke after midnight, with eager patrons being invited indoors for the first time since last year.
The financial strain of the past year has been especially heavy on the arts and hospitality sectors, which endured stop-and-start closures. “I just can’t wait,” said Alex McHale, owner of Mauds Cafe in the English town of Pontefract, said in an interview with the radio station LBC, adding that the business had just kept its head above water: “We need this time now to not look back and open the doors and let people in and we need to get that revenue stream back up again.”
The return of government-approved hugging was also welcomed, though experts warned people to be careful, some even demonstrating appropriate hug etiquette on television (with masks and face turned to the side.) And airline executives said there were signs that Monday would be the beginning of a long-hoped-for return to summer tourism, with an increase to bookings to countries on England’s “green list” for leisure travel, even as tighter restrictions remained for travel to most European destinations.
Mr. Johnson urged people to accept vaccines if offered and said though people could now make their own choices about close contact with loved ones, such as hugging, social distancing should remain in public places.
The easing comes as Britain has given more than half its population a vaccine dose and deaths from the virus have dropped to their lowest since last summer.
Still, officials said it was no time for complacency, announcing that they would speed up the delivery of second doses of a vaccine to people over 50 after a coronavirus variant first seen in India was found spreading in Britain. Cases have clustered in Bolton, a town of nearly 200,000 that has one of the country’s highest rates of infection.
Separate rules operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland also eased several restrictions on Monday, though retaining them in Glasgow and Moray, which have reported relatively high case numbers, potentially linked to the variant.
Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company, said on Monday that it would move the experimental Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with GlaxoSmithKline into a late-stage trial after the shot produced strong immune responses in volunteers in a mid-stage study.
The findings are encouraging for a vaccine that has fallen behind in development and has so far disappointed those expecting that it would be crucial in combating the pandemic. If the vaccine can become available in the last three months of this year, as its developers hope, it could still play a central role as a booster shot as well as an initial inoculation in the developing world, where the pace of vaccination is lagging.
The vaccine hit a major setback in December, when its developers announced that it did not appear to work well in older adults and that they would have to delay plans to test it in a Phase 3 trial, the crucial test that will assess the vaccine’s effectiveness.
But the companies modified the vaccine and in February began testing it in a Phase 2 study that included more than 700 volunteers in the United States and Honduras between 18 and 95 years old. Sanofi said the vaccine did not raise any safety concerns and produced a strong immune response across age groups, a finding suggesting it has been successfully tweaked.
Sanofi announced the findings in a statement and said it plans to soon publish the results in a medical journal.
Sanofi and GSK are much more experienced in vaccine development than a number of their rivals that have already won authorization. The two companies used a more established approach than those deployed in other, more swiftly developed Covid vaccines. Their shot is based on viral proteins produced with engineered viruses that grow inside insect cells. GSK is supplying the Sanofi vaccine with an adjuvant, an ingredient used in many vaccines meant to boost the immune response.
Sanofi and GSK’s vaccine was one of six selected for funding from Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to accelerate vaccine development. Last summer, the federal government agreed to give the companies $2.1 billion to develop and manufacture the vaccine, in exchange for 100 million doses once the shot was ready.
Sanofi also has supply deals with the European Union and Canada. It has also agreed to supply 200 million doses to Covax, the program to deliver vaccines to middle- and lower-income countries that has been struggling with a shortfall in expected doses. Sanofi has also announced plans to help manufacture the authorized vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Sanofi said its Phase 3 trial of its vaccine would begin in the coming weeks and enroll more than 35,000 adult volunteers around the world. It will test two formulations of the vaccine, one aimed at preventing the original strain of the virus and the other aimed at the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa that some vaccines appear to be less effective against.
Su-Peing Ng, Sanofi’s global head of medical for vaccines, told journalists on Monday that the company expected it to be “operationally quite challenging” to enroll unvaccinated participants in the Phase 3 trial as vaccination coverage increases in many nations. Still, she said, vaccine doses were still scarce in many parts of the world, pointing to Latin America and Asia as places where the company may look to enroll volunteers.
The company said that soon after starting the Phase 3 trial it planned to assess whether its vaccine could boost immune responses in people who had been vaccinated months before with authorized vaccines. Those booster studies are expected to enroll volunteers in well-vaccinated parts of the world, including the United States and Europe.
Sanofi and GSK said last year they were preparing to be able to make 1 billion doses annually. Thomas Triomphe, Sanofi’s global head of vaccines, said on Monday that the company’s production this year, if its vaccine were shown to work, would depend on the world’s needs.
The vaccine, he said, has “potential to be a booster of choice for many nations and many different platforms.”
A powerful cyclone that is heading up India’s western coast has forced many regional governments, which were already dealing with a virulent wave of the coronavirus, to divert resources to evacuating people and trying to minimize storm damage.
The storm, Cyclone Tauktae, which is traveling north, is likely to make a landfall on Monday evening in Gujarat, a state struggling with a devastating second coronavirus wave. The storm swept through three southern states on Sunday, wiping out hundreds of homes, uprooting power transmission infrastructure and drenching low-lying areas, officials said on Monday.
India’s National Disaster Response Force said it had deployed more than 100 teams across six coastal states to help with evacuations, relief and rescue measures. At least seven Indian states have issued warnings to residents in low-lying areas, warning them of large-scale destruction and encouraging them to leave for higher ground.
So far at least 12 deaths have been reported across coastal districts of four states: Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.
“This is another piece of bad news,” said Dr. Abhijeet Patel, a resident doctor at a public hospital in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. “The cyclone will not only impact vaccination drives, but it will also wreak havoc with the already exhausted health care infrastructure.”
A coronavirus second wave has devastated India’s medical system in its biggest cities, and over the past few weeks the virus has spread more widely, hitting states and rural areas with many fewer resources.
Positivity rates have been soaring in some coastal areas in the last few days, and some of the worst affected states are now in the south, where the storm hit over the weekend. In Karnataka State, six people died after the storm hit on Sunday.
India recorded 281,386 new Covid-19 cases on Monday and 4,106 deaths, the Health Ministry said on Monday. One bright spot: New cases have fallen below the 300,000 mark for the first time in 25 days.
Officials said they had evacuated tens of thousands of people from at least six Indian states, most of them severally affected by the rising Covid-19 cases in recent days as the severe cyclone barreled toward Gujarat.
The authorities in Maharashtra State, which includes Mumbai, India’s financial capital, said they had shifted hundreds of sick patients from the makeshift Covid care facilities as a precautionary measure and halted vaccination for four days, including on Monday. The storm was moving through the area on Monday. Miles of roads washed away in southern state of Karnataka as the storm brushed past the state.
Indian meteorological department said that by Monday evening, when the cyclone is expected to hit Gujarat, the wind speed is likely to increase to 99 miles per hour, from 93, gusting up to 108 miles per hour.
Officials there said on Monday that they were shifting Covid-19 patients from the areas likely to be most affected by the cyclone. Hospitals were sealing windows and doors, and more than 170 mobile intensive care unit vans were being deployed, according to local media.
In other developments around the globe:
Taiwan, which is facing its worst outbreak of the pandemic, added 333 locally transmitted cases on Monday, mostly in Taipei, the capital, and the adjoining New Taipei City, health officials said. It also added two imported cases. The authorities announced a series of measures to restrict travel and curb the spread. Transit passengers will be barred from the island’s airports for the next month and foreigners without residence cards cannot enter beginning Wednesday, officials from the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said.
Hong Kong said that it was tightening quarantine restrictions for residents traveling from Taiwan and denying entry from there to nonresidents. The Hong Kong government also announced another deferral of a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore, where the number of new cases without a known source has been climbing. Plans for a travel bubble were suspended previously in November because of a high caseload in Hong Kong.
For the first time since last October, Italy has reported fewer than 100 daily coronavirus deaths. For a country that was the first in Europe to be hit by the pandemic and then endured a brutal second and a third wave, the new low on Sunday of 93 daily deaths comes as a much-awaited glimmer of hope as the vaccination campaign speeds up. “The worst should be behind our back,” a senior health official, Pierpaolo Sileri, said on Italian television on Sunday. “Things are going well.”
Four nations’ delegations for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest missed the opening ceremony on Sunday after positive tests for Covid-19. Two virus cases were identified this weekend among the Icelandic and Polish entrants, forcing them to miss the event, and the contestants for Malta and Romania also skipped the ceremony as a precaution because they are staying at the same hotel. Eurovision was canceled last year because of the pandemic and the competition has been brought back with virus safety guidelines. The final will take place on Saturday in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in front of a live audience of around 3,500 and all the contestants have made backup recordings in case they are unable to compete.
Emma Bubola Tiffany May, Austin Ramzy, and Anna Schaverien contributed reporting.
Even as a combination of evolving public health recommendations and pandemic fatigue lead more Americans to toss the masks they have worn for more than a year, some say they plan to keep their faces covered in public indefinitely.
Whether made of bedazzled cloth or polypropylene, masks have emerged as a dystopian point of political contention during the pandemic. A map of states that enforced mask mandates corresponds closely with how people in those states voted for president.
Last year, protesters staged rallies against official requirements to wear masks, built pyres to burn them in protest and touched off wild screaming matches when confronted about not wearing them inside supermarkets.
But as more Americans become vaccinated and virus restrictions loosen, masks are at the center of a second round in the country’s culture brawl. This time, people who choose to continue to cover their faces have become targets of public ire.
In interviews, vaccinated people who continued to wear masks said they were increasingly under pressure, especially in recent days; friends and family have urged them to relax, or even have suggested that they are paranoid.
Following the latest C.D.C. guidance, at least 20 states repealed mask mandates or issued orders that gave vaccinated people exemptions from wearing masks. Other states, including New York, said they were reviewing their rules.
But for some people, no newfound freedom will persuade them to reveal their faces just yet.