In a major policy revision intended to encourage more schools to welcome children back to full in-person instruction, federal health officials on Friday relaxed the six-foot distancing rule for elementary school students, saying they need only remain three feet apart in classrooms as long as everyone is wearing a mask.
The three-foot rule also now applies to students in middle schools and high schools, as long as community transmission is not high, officials said. When transmission is high, however, these students must be at least six feet apart, unless they are taught in cohorts, or small groups that are kept separate from others.
The six-foot rule still applies in the community at large, officials emphasized, and for teachers and other adults who work in schools, who must maintain that distance from other adults and from students.
“Transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., explained that the agency is always updating its guidance as new evidence becomes available. A recent study in Boston found no significant differences in the number of infections in school districts in Massachusetts that adopted a three-foot rule, when compared with those that required six feet of distance. Additional C.D.C. studies examining safety in schools were also released Friday.
“C.D.C. is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” Dr. Walensky said. “These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based road map to help schools reopen safely, and remain open for in-person instruction.”
The new guidance emphasizes that good air flow and ventilation in school buildings is a critical component of maintaining a safe environment, and continues to stress multiple layers of preventive behaviors including universal masking, hand washing, cleaning buildings and doing contact tracing, combined with isolation and quarantine.
Adults in schools must continue to stay six feet apart from other adults and from students, officials said. The six foot rule still applies in common areas of schools like lobbies and auditoriums, any time students are eating or drinking and cannot wear a mask, and during activities that involve more exhalation — like singing, shouting, band practice, sports or any exercise, activities that “should be moved outdoors or to large well-ventilated spaces whenever possible.”
The American Federation of Teachers had been staunchly opposed to changing the guidance. In a recent interview, Randi Weingarten, the president of the union and a close ally of President Biden, described herself as “very concerned” about the possibility that the agency might change the distancing guidance. Instead of reducing distancing, she said, districts should be finding additional space to accommodate students at six feet of distance.
France resumed administering the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday, but only to people aged 55 and above, as the country’s prime minister himself got a shot live on television to restore crucial trust in the jab.
The Haute Autorité de Santé, France’s top health regulator, officially gave its green light to resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations on Friday “without delay.” But noting that the rare cases of blood clotting disorders recorded around Europe had occurred among people younger than 55, it recommended using the vaccine only for people older than that.
Jean Castex, the country’s 55-year-old prime minister, flashed a thumbs up at television cameras after getting his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a military hospital in the Val-de-Marne area, southeast of Paris.
Unlike leaders in other countries, top government officials in France had thus far been reluctant to promote vaccination by getting their shots in public, many of them arguing that they did not fit the criteria currently defined by French health authorities and that they would wait for their turn.
But trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine was badly shaken after several countries, including Germany, Italy and France, temporarily suspended its use over worries about rare cases of blood clotting disorders among those who had gotten the shot.
France has been experiencing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, jumping 24 percent in just a week. The variant first identified in Britain now represents three-quarters of new cases, and several regions, including the hard-hit area that includes Paris, began a new lockdown on Friday that will last for at least a month.
Last week, health officials in Paris ordered hospitals to cancel many of their procedures to make room for Covid-19 patients. And this week some patients were transferred to other regions to ease the pressure on hospitals.
The health regulator said that France had only recorded three cases of clotting disorders after administering 1.4 million AstraZeneca doses: one involving a 26-year-old woman who experienced disseminated intravascular coagulation; and two cases of cerebrovascular thrombosis, one in a 51-year-old man and the other in a 24-year-old woman.
Until “complimentary data” was available on these rare cases, messenger RNA vaccines like the Pfizer one should be used for people younger than 55, the regulator said.
As more states expand eligibility for coronavirus vaccinations, the pace of daily shots administered in the United States has steadily increased to a rate that is now 12 percent higher than it was a week ago.
On Thursday, Illinois joined a growing list of at least 16 other states announcing that they were opening appointments to all residents 16 years and older this month or next.
“The light that we can see at end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a news conference.
President Biden said on Thursday that the United States was a day away from reaching his goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days — with six weeks to spare before his self-imposed deadline.
“We’re way ahead of schedule,” he said in brief remarks from the White House, “but we have a long way to go.”
Mr. Biden maintained that the 100 million-shot goal was ambitious, even though he conceded in January that the government should be aiming higher. And though the new administration has bulked up the vaccine production and distribution campaign, its key elements were in place before Mr. Biden took office.
As of Thursday, the seven-day average was about 2.5 million doses a day, according to a New York Times analysis of data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week, Mr. Biden set a deadline of May 1 for states to make vaccines available to all adult residents. At least Maine, Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin, in addition to Washington, D.C., plan to meet that goal. Others, including Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan and Montana, hope to make vaccines available to all of their adult residents even earlier.
Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah said opening up eligibility to all adults in his state would help address vaccine equity and reach rural communities. He also said it would “allow us to take our mobile vaccination clinics into these hard-to-reach areas or populations who may have a little more vaccine hesitancy.”
Other states have also pushed up their eligibility dates: Nevada will make vaccines available to all adults on April 5; Missouri on April 9; Maryland as of April 27; and Rhode Island starting April 19.
New York has yet to make all adults eligible, but the state recently expanded to include public-facing government employees, nonprofit workers and essential building service workers. On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, newly eligible because of the change, received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a news conference.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — A peculiar vaccine drama is unfolding at the international airport in Nepal’s capital. It involves a member of Bahrain’s royal family who arrived with thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccines from China for an expedition to Mount Everest.
Before setting out, a team of Bahraini climbers led by Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa had announced that they would be coming with 2,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, which Nepal’s government said would be of the AstraZeneca kind.
This move would fulfill a pledge that the climbers had made to local villagers during another expedition last September — a promise of generosity that led the villagers to name a local hill “Bahrain Peak.”
But when the climbers arrived in the capital, Kathmandu, on Monday, an inquiry by Nepal’s drug regulators found that the vaccines they were carrying were actually the one developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned vaccine maker.
The Nepali authorities now find themselves in a fix: whether to accept the vaccine doses or refuse.
The doses are being held in cold storage at the airport, and the climbers have been quarantined at a hotel as the authorities ponder how to handle the situation.
Nepal has largely relied on the AstraZeneca vaccine for its rollout, which is off to a slow start. Relying on a donation of one million doses from India, Nepal has vaccinated about 1.7 million people in a country of about 30 million.
Its efforts have been slowed because of a delay in the delivery of two million vaccine doses that it bought from the Serum Institute of India.
Although Nepal approved the emergency use of the Sinopharm vaccine after China pledged to give 500,000 doses to the country, it has not received the Chinese donation.
In September, the Bahraini climbers arrived in Nepal in a chartered plane to climb two mountains, Mount Manaslu and Lobuche Peak. The vaccine doses they were carrying this week were a gift for villagers in Samagaun, a gateway to Mount Manaslu.
The team of Bahraini climbers could not be reached for comment. But Mingma Sherpa, the owner of Seven Summit Treks, the agency that has been organizing the Bahrain team’s Everest expedition, said the complications might have resulted from miscommunication between Nepal’s foreign ministry and the health ministry.
He said the Sinopharm vaccine had also been used during Bahrain’s vaccination drive.
“It’s up to the government,” Mr. Sherpa said. “If they think it’s OK, the vaccines will be administered to villagers. If they think it’s risky to vaccinate the people, the team will take the vaccine back to Bahrain.”
For the first time in nearly a year, Iowa is reporting that there are no active coronavirus outbreaks in any of the state’s long-term care facilities.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 2,200 residents of those facilities have died from the virus, according to Iowa’s Covid-19 dashboard. But the rate of outbreaks began a steep decline in January, when the state ramped up vaccinations for residents and staff.
In the first two weeks of January alone, cases declined 70 percent, from 410 to 119 by mid-January, according to the Iowa Health Care Association. Of the state’s 445 skilled nursing homes and 258 assisted-living facilities, 146 were experiencing outbreaks in December.
“This is a big milestone,” said Nola Aigner Davis, the public health communications officer for the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. “It really speaks volumes of how effective this vaccine is.”
For much of the pandemic, residents and employees in nursing homes have been among the most vulnerable people in the country.
The coronavirus, as of late February, had scythed through more than 31,000 long-term care facilities and killed at least 172,000 people living and working in them. More than 1.3 million long-term care residents and workers have been infected over the past year.
Of Iowa’s 5,673 deaths, nearly 60 percent were people over age 80.
That has changed, however, with the advent of vaccinations.
Facilities for older people were given early priority for shots, and from late December to early February, a New York Times analysis found, new cases among nursing home residents — a subset of long-term care residents — fell more than 80 percent. That was about double the rate of improvement in the general population.
Even as fatalities were peaking in the general population, deaths inside the facilities decreased more than 65 percent.
About 4.8 million residents and employees in long-term care facilities have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 2.8 million have been fully vaccinated.
A Russian court has confined some of the country’s most prominent opposition figures to house arrest on accusations that they violated coronavirus safety rules, in what appears to be a government effort to use the restrictions to muzzle its opponents.
The legal action, known as a “sanitary case,” targets 10 opposition politicians and dissidents, including the senior leadership of Aleksei A. Navalny’s organization and members of the protest group Pussy Riot. All are accused of inciting others to violate rules introduced last spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Their lawyers have denied that they did.
Prosecutors say their social media posts promoting a protest in Moscow in January resulted in attendance by 19 people who were legally required to isolate because of positive Covid-19 tests, thus putting at risk others who attended.
Defense lawyers say the authorities are cynically twisting coronavirus rules to isolate people who pose no infection risk but are seen by the government as posing a political one.
“The ideological intent is to label opposition figures as infectious, as toxic, as poisoners of the public,” said Danil Berman, a lawyer for Maria Alyokhina, a member of Pussy Riot who was one of those targeted. Isolating key leaders before parliamentary elections scheduled for this year also hobbles the opposition, he said.
Many people around the world have complained that coronavirus restrictions have infringed on their freedoms as a byproduct of safety measures. But the Russian opposition members argue that the government is using the restrictions against them with the specific aim of curbing their liberty.
Online posts from the opposition figures promoting the protest did not specifically encourage people who were sick to attend, as the government charged, defense lawyers say. Lockdowns in Moscow had in any case been mostly lifted months earlier.
Also, the defense lawyers say, the rules are selectively enforced to restrict opposition activity while allowing pro-government events to go ahead with few restrictions, though the virus would spread as readily at either type of gathering.
Last June, as Americans began to emerge from lockdowns and into a new yet still uncertain stage of the pandemic, Amy Ryan and her family set sail in a 44-foot catamaran and headed up the Atlantic coast. They haven’t stopped sailing since.
Ms. Ryan’s husband, Casey Ryan, 56, was on partly paid leave from his job as an airline pilot. School was remote for their daughters, now 7 and 11. Ms. Ryan, a real estate agent, could manage her team from anywhere.
For nine months, the Ryans have been hopscotching, first up the coast and later in the Caribbean. “We’re so secluded most of the time, we won’t see any people on land for weeks at a time,” Ms. Ryan said. The biggest challenge is finding a Covid-19 test before setting sail for a new location.
For many people, the past 12 months have been lived in a state of suspended animation, with dreams and plans deferred until further notice amid worry over venturing out for even basic excursions. But some people, like the Ryans, took the restrictions — virtual school and remote work — as an opportunity to pick up and go somewhere else. With a good internet connection, a Zoom conference call can happen just as easily on a boat or in the back of a camper as it can in a living room.
Many people bristle at the idea of anyone taking a trip at all, let alone traveling indefinitely at a time of immense suffering. School and office closings weren’t meant to make it easier to see the world; they were intended to persuade people to stay home and slow the spread of a deadly virus. And with many out of work and struggling to pay bills, or trying to balance parenting with the demands of remote work, it would have been impossible.
But these families insist that their “slow travel” methods — allowing for only rare encounters with other people indoors — are no more dangerous than staying home. Spend your time crisscrossing the country in a camper and staying in state parks, and you rarely encounter anyone outside your family, except to get food and gas.
“This pandemic has been so incredibly hard for everybody, and people are finding their ways of managing and getting through it,” said Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adding that isolated activities like sailing and camping are not inherently risky.
Until the pandemic, the Ryans weren’t sailors, nor had they ever planned to be. But they spent the lockdown watching YouTube videos about families that sail. By May, they had bought a boat with no idea how long they would be on it.
“If it hadn’t been for Covid,” Ms. Ryan said, “there is no way this would have happened.”
Ukraine’s capital will become the latest European city to go into lockdown, with strict three-week measures being introduced for Kyiv on Saturday as vaccinations failed to prevent a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Restaurants, offices, schools, and shops selling goods other than food were ordered to close after months of relatively relaxed enforcement of safety measures.
The closings come as other parts of Europe are struggling with a surge in infections. A nationwide lockdown for Italy was announced on Monday, and several regions in France began a lockdown on Friday that will last for at least a month.
Even as case counts rose recently, Kyiv’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene often looked almost as if there were no pandemic. Night clubs stayed open, though they required mask-wearing on the dance floors.
But the partial measures did not work. Coronavirus hospitals in the city are 70 percent full, and Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday that 1,210 people had tested positive in the capital over the past 24 hours. Across Ukraine, the health authorities registered an average of 11,315 new cases a day over the past week.
“The situation is difficult and can become catastrophic,” Mr. Klitschko said this week.
Ukraine, which obtained vaccines in deals with India and China, has been slow to inoculate a population in which hesitancy over the vaccines is widespread. Just 0.2 percent of Ukraine’s population has been inoculated.
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