Covid-19 News: Super Bowl Gatherings Raise Worries About New Surges

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Football fans on Thursday in Tampa, Fla.
Credit…A.J. Mast for The New York Times

Just as the United States seems to have emerged from the worst of a surge in coronavirus cases that ravaged the country for months and peaked after Americans crowded indoors for the winter holidays, public health officials are concerned about another potential superspreader date: Super Bowl Sunday.

January was the country’s deadliest month so far iin the pandemic, accounting for 20 percent, or 95,246, of the more than 460,000 coronavirus deaths the United States has recorded in the past 12 months. That’s more people than could fit into even the largest N.F.L. stadium.

Experts worry that football fans gathering on Sunday in Tampa, Fla., for the championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or at watch parties across the country, could set back the nascent progress of recent weeks. The daily reports of new cases and deaths remain high but have fallen somewhat. The seven-day average of new case reports in the U.S. dropped to 125,804 on Friday, the lowest level since Nov. 10. Reports of deaths, a lagging indicator because patients who die from Covid-19 generally do so weeks after being infected, averaged 2,913 a day, the lowest rate since Jan. 7.

The United States is administering 1.3 million vaccine doses a day on average, as the Biden administration pushes to speed distribution before more contagious variants that might evade vaccines can become dominant. The N.F.L. has offered President Biden all 30 of its stadiums for use as mass vaccination sites.

Officials like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, have warned Americans against gathering for Super Bowl parties with people from other households, especially in places without ideal ventilation.

“You’re really putting yourself and your family in danger,” Dr. Fauci said Friday on MSNBC.

“It’s the perfect setup to have a mini superspreader event in your house,” he added. “Don’t do that for now.”

While health experts worry about a rise in cases after the game, some said they don’t anticipate anything as deadly as the post-holiday wave that peaked in January. That is because Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to spur more domestic travel than the Super Bowl does, said Dr. Catherine Oldenburg, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Still, even parties pose a threat, said Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington.

“My sense is that it’s a really great year to watch it at home with your family, and not go to Super Bowl parties that you usually would, because we’re just starting to get this under control in this country,” Dr. Bergstrom said.

Dr. Bergstrom said he was also concerned about the more than 20,000 people who are expected to attend the game in person at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa — about one-third of the stadium’s usual capacity.

“Any time you get 25,000 people together yelling and screaming during a pandemic, you’re going to have transmission,” Dr. Bergstrom said.

Public health experts worry that new, more contagious variants, like one first identified in Britain and known as B.1.1.7, will soon become dominant and drive a deadly surge this spring. At least 187 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected in Florida, more than in any other state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bars will be open in Florida during the game, and some are advertising Super Bowl parties. Before the game, Tampa’s mask order was extended to apply to outdoor areas where people could gather.

Super Bowl ticket holders have not been discouraged by the pandemic. Jeremiah Coleman, a Chiefs fan from Wichita, Kan., said, “On my deathbed, this will probably be one of the top five days I remember in my life, you know?”

A small but vocal band of demonstrators caused the Los Angeles Fire Department to shut down the vaccination site at Dodger Stadium for about an hour last weekend.
Credit…Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times, via Shutterstock

An out-of-work stand-up comic originally from New Jersey. An actor and conservative podcast host dressed in a white lab coat. A gadfly who has run several unsuccessful campaigns for Congress in Los Angeles. And at least a few who had been in Washington the day of the Capitol riot.

They were among the motley crew of vaccine skeptics who recently converged on the entrance of the mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles to protest distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.

The loosely formed coalition represents a new faction in California’s long-established anti-vaccine movement. Their protest was the latest sign that Californians have become the unlikely standard-bearers for aggressive opposition to the vaccine at a time when virus cases continue to spread in the state.

California, which has averaged 500 daily deaths tied to the virus over the past week, will soon become the state with the largest number of coronavirus deaths, surpassing New York.

For months, far-right activists across the United States have been rallying against mask-wearing rules, business lockdowns, curfews and local public-health officials, casting the government’s response to the virus as an intrusion on individual liberties. But as masks and lockdowns have become an increasingly routine part of American life, some protesters have shifted the focus of their antigovernment anger to the vaccine.

Last week at Dodger Stadium, the same small but vocal band of demonstrators who previously staged anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests in the Los Angeles area disrupted a mass vaccination site that gives an average of 6,120 shots daily. About 50 protesters — some carrying signs reading “Don’t be a lab rat!” and “Covid = Scam” — marched to the entrance and caused the Los Angeles Fire Department to shut down the entrance to the city-run site for about an hour.

Then vaccinations continued as scheduled.

Diann Ferril-Reader vaccinating Ramona Perez, 75, and her husband, Robert Occasio, 93, on Thursday at the Castle Hill Community Center in New York.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Black Americans are being killed by Covid-19 at 1.5 times the rate of white Americans, yet many Black people are hesitant to line up for a vaccine.

According to a survey in January by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 43 percent of Black adults say they will most likely take a “wait and see” approach before deciding whether to get the vaccine. Eight percent say they will get it only if it is required.

But Kaiser also said that the numbers reflected “a rise in enthusiasm across racial and ethnic groups since December,” with more of the public now wanting to get the vaccine “as soon as possible.”

Still, the finding was troubling to Thomas A. LaVeist and Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, who wrote an opinion essay published on Sunday in The New York Times, urging Black Americans “to claim your place in line to get vaccinated.” The article is signed by 60 Black health experts.

“Our country is facing a public health crisis on a level not experienced for more than 100 years,” wrote Dr. LaVeist, dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, and Dr. Benjamin, a physician and the executive director of the American Public Health Association. “It should be reasonable to expect that all citizens can rely on their government and health institutions to protect them. But for many Black Americans, trust in the government does not come easily.”

They point to disinformation that has “pervaded social media” and to distrust in health institutions in Black communities as reasons that Black Americans are getting vaccinated at lower rates than white people.

In New York City, recent data show that of the nearly 300,000 city residents who have received their first doses of the vaccine, 11 percent were Black. (The city’s population is made up of roughly 24 percent Black people.)

“Vaccines are now available,” Dr. LaVeist and Dr. Benjamin wrote, adding: “We have reviewed the research and feel confident the research was done correctly. Most importantly, we know that the trials were conducted across a diverse group of Americans from all backgrounds — Black, Native American, White, Hispanic, Asian, and men and women. While we understand why there might be hesitancy about getting vaccinated, we need to weigh the risks of taking the vaccine versus being infected by the virus and the potential of health problems, hospitalization, even death.”

Black Americans are among the most affected in the country by the pandemic, mostly because of socioeconomic factors. Compared with white Americans, Black Americans tend to live in more crowded households and are more likely to have jobs that require them to work in close contact with others.

Floral tributes outside Wuhan Central Hospital in memory of Li Wenliang before the anniversary of his death. Dr. Li, one of the first to warn publicly about the coronavirus, died in the early hours of Feb. 7, 2020.
Credit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

One day. Two deaths. A year later, despite the hundreds of thousands of deaths that followed, the loss of two people — one in China and one in the United States — still reverberates in two countries where the pandemic took drastically different paths.

Saturday is the anniversary of the death of Dr. Li Wenliang in Wuhan, China, from the illness that he had sounded the alarm about, before being silenced by the authorities there.

At the end of December 2019, Dr. Li warned his medical school classmates, in an online chat room, of a lab report about a spreading virus that resembled Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a coronavirus that had spread from China 17 years earlier. Shortly after that, he was summoned in the middle of the night by health officials, and later by the police, and forced to sign a statement disavowing his “illegal behavior.” Without naming Dr. Li, Chinese state television news reported that eight people in Wuhan had been punished for spreading “rumors” about the virus.

Dr. Li was 34, and expecting a second child with his wife. His silencing and his death set off rare waves of fury and revolt online in China, flooding Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform similar to Twitter, with an illustration of him muzzled by a barbed wire mask.

Though his initial warning wasn’t heeded, China reversed course, locking down Wuhan and offering the world a forewarning about the dangers of the virus. A year later, far from the long months of harsh lockdown, the city shows what awaits when the virus is contained: unmasked faces, joyous get-togethers and daily commutes.

The anniversary of Dr. Li’s death early on Feb. 7 in China (and Feb. 6 in the United States) inspired an outpouring of online messages in China, including many from people who warned that the lessons from his persecution should not be forgotten. Many left comments, some with emoticons of lit candles, on Dr. Li’s personal page on Weibo.

“So many people have visited here to thank you,” one message said. “We must not forget,” said another, a sentiment echoed by many other comments.

On Sunday in China, comments with a hashtag created in remembrance of Dr. Li had attracted over 410 million views on Weibo, and — even with censorship — many longer posts took aim at the official censorship and secrecy that led to his punishment.

Some mourning Dr. Li cited his own words in an interview days before he died: “I think a healthy society should not have just one voice.”

Saturday is also exactly one year since the first known coronavirus-related death in the United States, where a unified pandemic strategy never existed under the Trump administration and the virus was never controlled.

On Feb. 6, 2020, weeks before there was evidence that the coronavirus was spreading in U.S. communities, Patricia Dowd, an otherwise healthy 57-year-old auditor at a Silicon Valley semiconductor manufacturer, developed flulike symptoms and abruptly died in her kitchen in San Jose, Calif. The startling discovery months later that her death was from Covid-19 rewrote the timeline of the virus’s early spread in the United States, and suggested that the optimistic assumptions that drove federal policies over the early weeks of the outbreak were misplaced.

“R.I.P. Patricia,” Pam Foley, a San Jose City Council member who represents Ms. Dowd’s district, wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “You are loved & deeply missed.”

A year and over 460,00 deaths later, about 1.3 million people in the United States are receiving a vaccine dose every day and the spread of the virus is finally slowing, but the threat of more contagious variants looms. A return to normalcy remains an aspiration, but only that, a notion that is far from reality.

Anushka Patil and

Angelica Gabriel, 47, and her husband, Felix Cesario, 50, at their apartment complex in Mountain View, Calif. The couple share their apartment with others to manage the rent.
Credit…Sarahbeth Maney for The New York Times

As the pandemic enters its second year, millions of renters are struggling with a loss of income and with the insecurity of not knowing how long they will have a home. Savings depleted, they are running up credit card debt to make the rent, or accruing months of overdue payments. Families are offsetting housing costs by moving in together.

Even before the pandemic, about 11 million households — one in four U.S. renters — were spending more than half their pretax income on housing, and overcrowding was on the rise.

Now, the pressure has grown worse. One study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed that tenants who lost jobs in the pandemic had amassed $11 billion in rental arrears.

On Friday, as monthly jobs data provided new evidence of a stalling recovery, President Biden underscored the housing insecurity faced by millions. The rental assistance in his $1.9 trillion relief plan, he said, is essential “to keep people in their homes rather than being thrown out in the street.” And $25 billion in federal rental aid approved in December is set to be distributed. That, and Mr. Biden’s extension of an eviction moratorium, should help many people.

But for every million or so households who are evicted in the United States each year, there are many more millions who move out before they miss a payment, who cut back on food and medicine to make rent, or who take up informal housing arrangements that exist outside the traditional landlord-tenant relationship. The federal rental aid may not reach these people, who are the most vulnerable to slipping into homelessness.

While rents have fallen in many big cities, vacancy rates for the cheapest buildings are essentially flat from last year, according to CoStar Group, a commercial property group. Before the pandemic there was already a longstanding shortage of affordable housing, so anyone who loses an affordable home will still have a hard time finding a new one.

The coronavirus pandemic has been especially hard on single people.
Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

The coronavirus pandemic has been rough on virtually everyone.

But those who have been single through the isolation, fear and upheaval say they’ve been confronted with a distinct set of challenges — not necessarily more or less severe than those who are coupled up, but different.

“The first few months I thought: ‘This is OK, I can work on myself,’” said Gagan Bhatnagar, 35, a clinical oncology consultant in London. “But then it just dragged on. One day I realized it had been three months since I had touched a human being.”

With a widely shared Twitter thread in December, Mr. Bhatnagar tapped into a wide range of single angst. The thousands of responses he received indicated single people often felt their needs were being overlooked or dismissed, and they frequently felt guilty about expressing them. What’s a bit of mopey loneliness when others are dying?

Being unable to date as usual has robbed people of the hope and excitement that can sustain them through typical rough patches, he said. (Many reported that socially distanced walks in the cold, one of the few Covid-safe ways to meet people after matching online, wasn’t conducive to forming connections.)

“The most physical contact I’ve had was with a cashier giving me change,” said Marc Fein, 35, an educator and mental health advocate in Jerusalem. “I don’t think I realized how much I needed it.”

Science supports the necessity of human touch: Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, said research had shown touch to be crucial as a mood stabilizer.

“To have well-being, you need to have touch,” she said. “And if you don’t have that, you go into these states of anxiety and depression.”

Nancy Townsend and Herb Thomas, who met last March, on their wedding day, Sept. 6, 2020, at Harriet Wetherill Park in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
Credit…Lili Ditmer

If the world is ending, who do you want by your side?

Nancy Townsend selected Herb Thomas: a man she met for lunch in early March, whom she FaceTimed later that month, dined with (outdoors) in April, and got engaged to the week after Easter. They married Sept. 6, 2020, at Harriet Wetherill Park in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

“We felt like we didn’t have time to waste,” said Ms. Townsend, 66, a widowed semiretired Salvation Army officer.

She and everyone else, apparently.

Snagging a coveted wedding license during the pandemic became more difficult than it used to be to get toilet paper, as singles have been grasping the person by their side and clinging to them for better or for worse.

Getting a marriage license in New York is now done via Project Cupid, which involves filling out paperwork online and trying to snag a virtual appointment (new spots are released Thursdays at 9 a.m.).

Historically, scary, stressful times have led to increased marriage rates. Following South Carolina’s Hurricane Hugo, marriage rates increased in the areas affected by the storm (these numbers had previously been trending downward). After the 9/11 attacks, the marriage rate didn’t change but couples were less willing to get a divorce: the number of couples in New York who filed for divorce decreased by 32 percent. It was a similar situation in Japan after the 2011 tsunami.

The pandemic was no different. According to an October Brides’ survey of 4,000 engaged couples, 82 percent said that living through the pandemic had made them even more eager to get married so they could weather this — and other storms — together. Fifty-five percent said the pandemic had changed their expectations for marriage, and that they were prioritizing their relationship above anything else.

It’s not surprising, said Rebecca Haney, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Cincinnati. When you’re scared, anxious or overwhelmed, you feel out of control. Your body and mind are experiencing sensations you don’t know how to manage, Ms. Haney said.

“So to compensate for this feeling, people tend to find other ways to feel in control,” she said. “This is why some people make big changes or major decisions during times of fear.”

Getting married during a pandemic feels like a guarantee of safety and stability, said Nick Bognar, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Pasadena, Calif.

There’s also the idea that if your relationship could survive the pandemic, then it could survive anything.

Those We’ve Lost

Albert Hale was elected the second president of the Navajo Nation in 1994, and later served in the Arizona State Senate and House of Representatives.
Credit…Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Albert Hale was serving as president of the Navajo Nation when one of the most powerful political figures in the United States flared tempers by telling leaders in Indian Country that he had trouble understanding the concept of tribal sovereignty.

So in 1998, Mr. Hale, a trailblazing lawyer all too familiar with Washington’s methods of dealing with tribal nations, issued a retort to the official, Newt Gingrich, a Republican who was then speaker of the House of Representatives.

“When I come to Washington, you don’t send me to the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said Mr. Hale, representing the largest Indian reservation in the United States, according to an article in The New York Times. “You have a state dinner for me.”

After a long political career, Mr. Hale died on Feb. 2 at a hospital in Mesa, Ariz. He was 70. The cause was Covid-19, his daughter April Hale said.

Mr. Hale was elected the second president of the Navajo Nation in 1994, not long after it created a three-branch system of government similar to many other democracies. He later served in the Arizona State Senate and House of Representatives.

Mr. Hale’s death was a reminder of how the virus is devastating the Navajo Nation, which has been one of the hardest-hit places in the United States during the pandemic. At least 1,038 people have died from the virus in the nation, which spreads over parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, tribal officials said Wednesday.

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