New York City Coronavirus Cases Reach ‘High’ Alert Level (Published 2022) (2024)

Virus cases in N.Y.C. reach the city’s ‘high’ alert level.


By Joseph Goldstein

New York City health officials put the city on “high Covid alert” on Tuesday, after rising case counts and hospitalizations reached a level that could put substantial pressure on the health care system.

The announcement was triggered by a color-coded alert system that the city introduced in March. But so far, the system has had little impact on the city’s disease control strategy or the public’s perception.

Mayor Eric Adams warned Monday that the city was nearing the threshold, but said “we’re not at the point of mandating masks.”

For two months now there has been a persistent rise in known infections, driven almost entirely by Omicron subvariants. In recent days, the city logged on average more than 3,500 new daily cases, although those numbers significantly understate the virus’s prevalence, as many infections are detected by at-home tests but never counted by the health authorities.

Covid-19 hospitalizations have been ticking upward, recently reaching about 130 new admissions a day across New York City, according to state data.

This latest wave of coronavirus cases — New York City’s fifth — began in mid-March and has taken less of a toll so far than when Omicron first swept through the city in December and January. In that initial Omicron wave, perhaps 30 percent of the city was infected, according to research by the C.D.C., and hospitals came under strain as sick patients packed emergency rooms.

The city’s color-coded alert system incorporates data on both case counts and hospitalizations. And it ties specific recommendations to each threshold. On Tuesday, the city entered the orange, or “high” risk level, which comes with the recommendation that city government requires face masks in all public indoor settings.

But Mr. Adams has shown little interest in requiring masks. At the “high” level, the mayor may consider reinstating a mask mandate, including in schools, but on Monday he said he was not planning to take that step yet.

On Tuesday, his health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, put out a statement urging that New Yorkers take their own precautions. But he made no mention of taking government action to impose mask mandates.

“New York City has transitioned to a high Covid alert level, meaning now is the time to double down on protecting ourselves and each other by making choices that can keep our friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers from getting sick,” he said in a statement.

On Monday, Dr. Vasan issued an advisory recommending that people wear medical-grade masks in offices, grocery stores and other public indoor settings.

Still, some New Yorkers were struck by how long it has taken the city to raise the alert level to high, given that the virus has been circulating widely over the past two months, with test positivity rates in some neighborhoods well over 10 percent.

“The thresholds are meaningless,” said Professor Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, in a phone interview Tuesday morning, as he recovered from Covid-19.

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The F.D.A. authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech boosters for children ages 5 to 11.


By Sharon LaFraniere

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday for children 5 to 11, the latest in a series of actions intended to bolster waning protection against infection from the coronavirus vaccines.

More than eight million of the 28 million children in that age group in the United States have received two vaccine shots, and will now be eligible for the extra dose at least five months after their second shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considered highly likely to recommend the booster dose after an advisory committee of outside experts meets to discuss it on Thursday.

That would make all Americans 5 and older eligible for a booster shot. But booster uptake has been much slower than public health experts hoped; many parents have been reluctant to vaccinate children in this age group at all.

Although they have been eligible for Covid shots since November, only 29 percent of 5- to 11- year-olds have received two doses. Another 6 percent or so have received one shot.

In a statement, Dr. Robert M. Califf, the F.D.A.’s commissioner, said: “While it has largely been the case that Covid-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the Omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer-term effects, even following initially mild disease.”

Some experts have suggested that because children 5 to 11 received a much lower initial dose than older children or adults, they particularly need a booster. One study done by New York researchers found that for children 5 to 11, the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness against infection fell to 12 percent from 68 percent by four to five weeks after the second dose.

Another C.D.C. study stated that two Pfizer doses reduced the risk of Omicron infection by 31 percent among those 5 to 11, compared with a 59 percent reduction in risk among those 12 to 15. Dr. Peter Marks, the F.D.A.’s top vaccine regulator, said that “emerging data suggest that vaccine effectiveness against Covid-19 wanes after the second dose of the vaccine” in all age groups.

The newly authorized booster dose is the same strength as the first two shots. In a news release on Tuesday, Pfizer said its clinical trial data showed that the additional shot produced a strong immune response in the age group, generating neutralizing antibodies against both the Omicron variant and original version of the virus.

The F.D.A. said the safety of the dose was assessed in about 400 children. The most commonly reported side effects were pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, as well as fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain and chills and fever.

In a news release, Pfizer said the side effects were similar to those for the first two doses.



The White House opens up another round of free, at-home virus tests to order through the Postal Service.


By Noah Weiland

The White House said on Tuesday that Americans were now eligible for a third order of free, at-home coronavirus tests shipped through the Postal Service. The move doubled to 16 the total number of tests the program has made available to each household.

The tests, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and available on the federal website, extend a pledge President Biden made during the brunt of the winter Omicron wave, when Americans faced scarce supplies of tests, empty shelves and long lines.

Under withering criticism for those shortages, Mr. Biden promised a billion at-home tests, and his administration secured commitments for hundreds of millions of them. The White House has said that half of them would be distributed through the Postal Service program. Over 70 million U.S. households — more than half the households in the country — have ordered tests that way so far, and roughly 350 million tests have been delivered.

The opportunity to order more tests comes at a still-perilous moment in the pandemic. The average number of new confirmed cases reported daily in the United States has tripled since the start of April, reaching more than 95,000 as of Monday, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also increasing, by 26 percent nationally over the last two weeks. New deaths from the virus are down to about 300 a day on average — partly a reflection, public health experts have said, of the protection against severe disease that many Americans have acquired from being vaccinated or from getting over a past coronavirus infection.

How cases, hospitalizations and deaths are trending in the U.S.

This chart shows how three key metrics compare to the corresponding peak per capita level reached nationwide in January 2021.

About this dataSources: State and local health agencies (cases, deaths); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (hospitalizations).

Rapid at-home tests, which typically deliver results within 15 minutes, have become more prevalent and accessible in pharmacies, making the total number of virus cases around the nation more difficult to track. People who test positive using at-home tests typically do not report the results to local health departments, so many new infections are going uncounted.

Still, with more transmissible forms of the virus spreading in recent months, the tests continue to be critical resources for many Americans, including those who can quickly diagnose an infection and receive antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid.

The number of courses of Paxlovid dispensed has increased more than 300 percent over the past month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said on Tuesday that the new round of at-home tests were an important resource to help people avoid spreading the virus.

“Going to a large gathering? Use rapid tests to not be the person who brings Covid to the party,” Dr. Jha wrote on Twitter. “Visiting a vulnerable relative? Use rapids tests to keep them safe.”

The White House has warned that without more funding from Congress, the administration may not be able to “sustain” domestic test manufacturing this year, potentially leading to companies winding down production and leaving the nation more blind to the virus if demand for the tests should surge and go unmet.

Manufacturers continue to be able to churn out the tests, according to Mara Aspinall, an expert in biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University who is on the board of directors of OraSure, which makes coronavirus tests. Manufacturers that have received federal authorization could make an estimated 422 million rapid at-home tests this month, and 402 million next month, down from a peak of 535 million in February, according to figures Ms. Aspinall collected.

The Bidens join mourners after the Buffalo shooting in an area that is a significant virus hot spot.


By Johnny Diaz

When President Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, went to Buffalo on Tuesday to address the racist massacre over the weekend at a supermarket there, they were visiting a region that has become a significant hot spot for new coronavirus cases.

Buffalo is in Erie County, which is shaded bright orange on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest national map, signifying that community levels of the virus are high. Most of upstate New York and New England, and parts of several other nearby states, are shaded orange or yellow on the map, which was most recently updated May 12.

County health officials announced last week that Erie County “is currently experiencing among the highest Covid-19 reported case rates in the United States.” The health department reported more than 1,000 new cases last Wednesday — the first time it had done so since the height of the Omicron wave in January — and noted that the figure did not include the results of at-home coronavirus tests, which often go unreported.

The numbers of hospitalized Covid patients and Covid-related deaths in the Erie County area have also risen recently.


Kara Kane, a spokeswoman for the health department, said on Tuesday that the county’s new-case figures were slightly lower — about 5 percent — than they were the week before.

“Though it is too soon to tell if this marks the start of a longer downward trend, this was an encouraging data point,’’ Ms. Kane said.

County health officials and the C.D.C. are advising residents to follow safety measures, including wearing a well-fitted mask in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. That guidance also applies to schools.

The county does not have a general mask mandate in force, except in certain settings determined by New York State. Even so, officials said that people who test positive, or have symptoms, or have been exposed to someone with Covid-19, should wear a mask in public.

The Bidens wore masks during their visit to Buffalo, though the president removed his mask for his speech about the 10 people who were killed on Saturday at a Tops supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood of the city. As the president spoke, Dr. Biden stood next to him, wearing a mask.

After the speech, Mr. Biden put his mask back on, and then briefly shook a few hands in the crowd.

Concerns about the high level of coronavirus in the community could have an impact on plans for the funerals of the shooting victims, which may attract sizable crowds.



Apple delays and modifies its return to office plans in the Bay Area.


By Tripp Mickle

Apple, in a blow to its efforts to restore normalcy to its operations, has suspended its requirement that employees return to the office this month for at least three days a week because of a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

The reversal was welcome news for thousands of employees who pushed back against the company’s demand that they begin coming to the office three days a week in late May. Early this month, the group, which calls itself “Apple Together,” published a letter calling on the executive team to allow for a hybrid and flexible work schedule, saying they could collaborate remotely using online tools such as Slack and spare themselves hours of commuting.

One of Apple’s leading artificial intelligence engineers, Ian Goodfellow, resigned in early May because of the office return policy. Mr. Goodfellow didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment.

Apple said in a note to employees on Tuesday that it would proceed with a pilot program to bring some workers back to the office twice a week in the weeks ahead. It said anyone in that program who felt “uncomfortable coming into the office” would have the “option to work remotely.”

The company also asked that employees who do come to campus wear masks in common areas and elevators. It said it would continue to monitor Covid cases and provide employees with updates at least two weeks before any future changes to its office policy.

The pandemic hit less than a year after Apple celebrated the opening of its new, $5 billion headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., a splashy circular building that resembles a spaceship. It has largely sat unused for the past two years.

Shanghai says its Covid outbreak is under control, but many residents remain locked down.


By Vivian Wang

Shanghai health officials said on Tuesday that the city had brought the Covid outbreak there under control, after a nearly two-month lockdown that disrupted residents’ access to food and medicine, stoked widespread public outrage and brought China’s financial center to a standstill.

At a news conference, officials pledged to restart normal life as soon as possible, with a goal of reopening fully by June. Some businesses, bus lines and parks had been allowed to resume operations on Monday. Twelve trains were also allowed to leave from Shanghai’s Hongqiao train station on Monday, with more than 6,000 passengers aboard, according to state news media.

The city recorded 823 new coronavirus cases on Monday, all in people who had been in quarantine or in areas under increased surveillance. Officials declared they had achieved “societal zero,” a term used by the Chinese authorities to indicate the absence of uncontrolled community transmission.

More than 620,000 cases and 576 deaths have been recorded in Shanghai’s recent outbreak, which began growing rapidly in March. It was the worst outbreak China has faced since the virus first emerged in Wuhan in early 2020.

State media outlets shared images of residents buying groceries and getting haircuts. “Shanghai’s cooking oil smell is returning,” said one hashtag promoted by Xinhua, the state news agency, using a Chinese phrase to describe daily life.

But even as state media celebrated, some Shanghai residents pushed back, noting that they were still under strict lockdown measures. Under the Xinhua post on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, the most-liked comment was by a user who said they had just finished doing another mandatory coronavirus test and were still not allowed to leave their neighborhood. Others said they still could not receive deliveries and were running low on essentials.

Even in areas with looser restrictions, residents who were allowed to leave their neighborhoods had to first receive permission from neighborhood officials, and could only be out for a certain amount of time and in certain areas, state media acknowledged.

Schools remain closed, as do theaters, gyms and other cultural venues. The city would prioritize restarting work at industrial facilities, said Zong Ming, a deputy mayor.

In a widely shared article on WeChat, titled “Is ‘Shanghai’s cooking oil smell returning’ a lie?” a blogger there, Zhang Pei, wrote that many friends elsewhere had messaged her to congratulate her on the city reopening. But she did not know how to respond, as her complex remained sealed.

“We really feel like we are living in a parallel universe,” she wrote. “We don’t know who has gone to work, where has returned to business.”

In a jab at state news media’s tendency to dismiss any bad news as rumors or isolated incidents, she added: “When it’s good news, as long as it’s true in one place, that’s the same as it being true everywhere, and it’s not a rumor. When it’s bad news, as long as it’s not true everywhere, then that’s the same as it not existing.”

Joy Dong contributed research



North Korea’s Covid outbreak continues to spread.


By Victoria Kim

North Korea said the number of suspected coronavirus infections in the vulnerable, isolated country was nearing 1.5 million on Tuesday, and that the virus had caused 56 deaths there since April.

State media has recently been reporting hundreds of thousands of new patients a day with fevers, without saying how many of them had tested positive for the coronavirus. North Korea’s health system probably does not have the capacity for large-scale testing.

Before the country’s current Covid outbreak was first reported last week, North Korea had claimed for more than two years that it had not had a single case of the coronavirus. Most of the country’s 25 million people are unvaccinated against the virus, and the country has rebuffed repeated international offers of millions of vaccine doses.

The World Health Organization has offered to provide technical support and supplies to fight the outbreak, including diagnostic tests, essential medicines and vaccines, the organization’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Tuesday.

“W.H.O. is deeply concerned at the risk of further spread of Covid-19 in the country, particularly because the population is unvaccinated and many have underlying conditions putting them at risk of severe disease and death,” he said at a news conference in Geneva.

North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, remained locked down on Monday under a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system,” according to the state-run Korea Central News Agency, and the military was reported to be distributing medication. Officials had earlier ordered all cities and counties across the nation to lock down, saying the coronavirus was spreading “explosively.”

Uncontrolled spread of the virus could be particularly lethal in North Korea. The country’s already meager health system has been undercut and drained of resources by some of the world’s strictest pandemic border closures, cutting off supplies from China. The few international aid organizations that had been operating there have been forced to withdraw.

North Korea has also been facing its worst food crisis in decades, after extensive flooding in 2021, probably leaving its people more malnourished and in poorer health than before.

“Medicines of any kind are scarce in the country, and the health care infrastructure is extremely fragile, lacking medical supplies such as oxygen and other Covid-19 therapeutics,” Lina Yoon, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, wrote in a report, urging governments and the United Nations to try to persuade the country to accept outside aid. “North Koreans are facing a uniquely acute catastrophe, and the world should not turn away,” Ms. Yoon wrote.

The recent restrictions and the isolation of people with suspected coronavirus infections could be catastrophic for North Koreans who were already vulnerable, including children, lactating mothers and older people, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

Some outside observers of North Korea cautioned against taking state media reports about the pandemic at face value. They cast doubt on whether the country had really been spared past waves of the virus and questioned why the country had suddenly begun giving detailed daily reports on the outbreak.

Choi Jung-hun, who worked as a physician and local public health official in North Korea before fleeing the country in 2011, said the reports could be a way for the government to justify keeping the population under oppressive measures as the economic impact of isolation deepens. He said that the tally of 56 reported deaths as suspiciously low, compared with the reported number of suspected cases, especially given the state of the country’s health care system.

“The internal discontent is high, and they need an explanation,” Mr. Choi said.

Adeel Hassan contributed reporting.

U.S. public schools take a ‘seismic hit’ as enrollment plunges.


By Shawn Hubler

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — In New York City, the nation’s largest school district has lost some 50,000 students over the past two years. In Michigan, enrollment remains more than 50,000 below prepandemic levels from big cities to the rural Upper Peninsula.

In the suburbs of Orange County, Calif., where families have moved for generations to be part of the public school system, enrollment slid for the second consecutive year; statewide, more than a quarter-million public school students have dropped from California’s rolls since 2019.

And since school funding is tied to enrollment, cities that have lost many students — including Denver, Albuquerque and Oakland — are now considering combining classrooms, laying off teachers or shutting down entire schools.

All together, America’s public schools have lost at least 1.2 million students since 2020, according to a recently published national survey. State enrollment figures show no sign of a rebound to the previous national levels any time soon.

A broad decline was already underway in the nation’s public school system as rates of birth and immigration have fallen, particularly in cities. But the coronavirus crisis supercharged that drop in ways that experts say will not easily be reversed.

No overriding explanation has emerged yet for the widespread drop-off. But experts point to two potential causes: Some parents became so fed up with remote instruction or mask mandates that they started home-schooling their children or sending them to private or parochial schools that largely remained open during the pandemic. And other families were thrown into such turmoil by pandemic-related job losses, homelessness and school closures that their children simply dropped out.

Now educators and school officials are confronting a potentially harsh future of lasting setbacks in learning, hardened inequities in education and smaller budgets accompanying smaller student populations.

“This has been a seismic hit to public education,” said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. “Student outcomes are low. Habits have been broken. School finances are really shaken. We shouldn’t think that this is going to be like a rubber band that bounces back to where it was before.”


There are roughly 50 million students in the United States public school system.

In large urban districts, the drop-off has been particularly acute. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s noncharter schools lost some 43,000 students over the past two school years. Enrollment in the Chicago schools has dropped by about 25,000 in that time frame.

But suburban and rural schools have not been immune.

In the suburbs of Kansas City, the school district of Olathe, Kan., lost more than 1,000 of its 33,000 or so students in 2020, as families relocated and shifted to private schools or home-schooling; only about half of them came back this school year.

In rural Woodbury County, Iowa, south of Sioux City, enrollment in the Westwood Community School District fell by more than 5 percent during the last two years, to 522 students from 552, in spite of a small influx from cities during the pandemic, the superintendent, Jay Lutt, said. Now, in addition to demographic trends that have long eroded the size of rural Iowa’s school populations, diminishing funding, the district is grappling with inflation as the price of fuel for school buses has soared, Mr. Lutt said.

In some states where schools eschewed remote instruction — Florida, for instance — enrollment has not only rebounded, but remains robust. An analysis by the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank, concluded last month that remote instruction was a major driver around the country, with enrollment falling most in districts most likely to have delayed their return to in-person classrooms.

Private schools have also seen some gains in enrollment. Federal head counts have not yet been released, but both the National Association of Independent Schools and the National Catholic Educational Association have reported increases that total about 73,000 K-12 students during the past two years.

At the same time, some families are leaving their local public schools not because they are abandoning the system altogether but because they have moved to other parts of the country that are more affordable.

Enrollment has surged as well in rural resort areas, driven by the relocation of tech workers and others able to work remotely, particularly after the pandemic set in.

School funding is tied directly to enrollment numbers in most states, and while federal pandemic aid has buffered school budgets so far, the Biden administration has made it clear that the relief is finite. Some districts are already bracing for budget shortfalls.

“When you lose kids, you lose money,” Ms. Roza said. “There’s no hidden piece to this puzzle. You have to close schools and lay off people. And every day you spend trying to avoid that, your kids are getting older and still not reading, and your district is spending money it’s not going to have.”

Few states illustrate the challenge as clearly as California, which educates roughly one in eight of the nation’s public schoolchildren. For the first time in two decades, public school enrollment fell below six million this academic year.


The defections spanned the economic spectrum. In affluent Laguna Beach, Dr. Ann Vu became so fed up with the public school district’s plan for reopening classrooms that, this year, she moved two of her four children to private schools.

“The kids just weren’t doing anything at all,” said Dr. Vu, a dermatologist who said her children were gone for good from the public system. At the Catholic high school where her daughter landed, the once-modest wait list is 200 names long.

Up the freeway in Anaheim Hills, Jaime Parish’s three children also were gone from their former class as the year started. Rendered homeless in late 2020, they had struggled for months to keep up academically, shuffling for almost a year between motels, relatives and Ms. Parish’s 1997 Honda before they quietly stopped attending school entirely.

First their Wi-Fi was spotty. Then Ms. Parish’s mother got Covid-19. Then the car broke and a plan to move to Bakersfield fizzled. By February, a local nonprofit that helped them find housing could find no record of school enrollment for her sons, 17 and 6, or her daughter, 15.

“We tried,” said Ms. Parish, 38, who was camped under a bridge near Disneyland at one point. “But it just got too hard.”

Education officials say it is too soon to know how many students fell through the cracks of the public school system. Before the pandemic, enrollment had been declining overall in California, a function of high housing costs, lower birthrates and restricted immigration. But this year’s decline was tens of thousands of students larger than could be explained by demographic trends, relocations or defections to home-schooling or private schools.

The virus sapped many districts of the personnel to reliably track students who were truant or absent, and the state enrollment census was taken early in the year, during a surge in infections that may have distorted the numbers.

Social service agencies throughout the state, however, say they have seen increasing demand from families whose children arrive for services unsure of their enrollment status.

“We’re seeing a huge influx of people who’ve lost housing,” said Cyndee Albertson, executive director of Family Promise of Orange County, which helped place Ms. Parish and her children in an extended-stay hotel room and enrolled them in nearby schools.


“The parents are afraid if they seek services the protective services will take away their children and the children don’t want to go to school when they can’t wash their clothes or shower,” Ms. Albertson said. “These situations are nothing new, but since the pandemic, they’ve gotten a lot more frequent and a lot worse.”

State education officials have appointed a task force to investigate the decline and to try to determine the whereabouts of unaccounted-for students and their reasons for leaving the public school system. The drop defies a significant infusion of money and manpower to keep students in classrooms, including mass coronavirus testing and outreach for chronically absent students.

Policymakers are straining to avoid further losses. Some districts have resisted reinstating face masks, even amid a resurgence of Covid-19, because of the suspicion that mandates are turning off families. California lawmakers recently postponed the addition of Covid-19 inoculations to the list of required school vaccinations in part because some school superintendents worried about the potential hit on enrollment.

At the Capistrano Unified School District in the suburbs of Orange County, where home buyers have long paid a premium for the public school system, more than 3,000 parents said in a survey last month that they would withdraw their children next school year if Covid-19 vaccines become mandatory for school attendance without at least a “personal belief” exemption.

“We love our school,” Lisa Rogers, 38, a district mother of two, said. “But if my children are forced to wear masks again, or if I’m forced to vaccinate them against my will, I’m going to pull them out and home-school.”


A district spokesman said Capistrano Unified had already lost more than 2,800 students since the pandemic started; the withdrawals suggested by the polls would remove about one student in 15 from classrooms and about $38 million from the district’s roughly $500 million budget next year, if they were to happen.

In some California cities, the situation is already urgent. Oakland’s school system is contemplating the shutdown or merger of nearly a dozen schools over the next two years, an exercise that has unleashed protests, vandalism, a one-day teacher strike and a recent school board resignation. In Southern California, where home prices have been soaring, parents have been fighting the closure of a longstanding neighborhood school in Inglewood.

“It was little by little,” said Mahtab Thorson, an Orange County mother of three, estimating that her middle son has lost some 30 classmates since he entered kindergarten in 2020. “A kid would drop off, a kid would drop off, another kid would drop off. I’d mention a name and he’d say, ‘Oh, they’re not there anymore.’”



How often can you be infected with the coronavirus?


By Apoorva Mandavilli

A virus that shows no signs of disappearing, variants that are adept at dodging the body’s defenses, and waves of infections two, maybe three times a year — this may be the future of Covid-19, some scientists now fear.

The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.

“It seems likely to me that that’s going to sort of be a long-term pattern,” said Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

“The virus is going to keep evolving,” she added. “And there are probably going to be a lot of people getting many, many reinfections throughout their lives.”

It’s difficult to quantify how frequently people are reinfected, in part because many infections are now going unreported. Dr. Pulliam and her colleagues have collected enough data in South Africa to say that the rate is higher with Omicron than seen with previous variants.

This is not how it was supposed to be. Earlier in the pandemic, experts thought that immunity from vaccination or previous infection would forestall most reinfections.

The Omicron variant dashed those hopes. Unlike previous variants, Omicron and its many descendants seem to have evolved to partially dodge immunity. That leaves everyone — even those who have been vaccinated multiple times — vulnerable to multiple infections.

“If we manage it the way that we manage it now, then most people will get infected with it at least a couple of times a year,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. “I would be very surprised if that’s not how it’s going to play out.”

The new variants have not altered the fundamental usefulness of the Covid vaccines. Most people who have received three or even just two doses will not become sick enough to need medical care if they test positive for the coronavirus. And a booster dose, like a previous bout with the virus, does seem to decrease the chance of reinfection — but not by much.

At the pandemic’s outset, many experts based their expectations of the coronavirus on influenza, the viral foe most familiar to them. They predicted that, as with the flu, there might be one big outbreak each year, most likely in the fall. The way to minimize its spread would be to vaccinate people before its arrival.

Instead, the coronavirus is behaving more like four of its closely related cousins, which circulate and cause colds year round. While studying common-cold coronaviruses, “we saw people with multiple infections within the space of a year,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York.


If reinfection turns out to be the norm, the coronavirus is “not going to simply be this wintertime once-a-year thing,” he said, “and it’s not going to be a mild nuisance in terms of the amount of morbidity and mortality it causes.”

Reinfections with earlier variants, including Delta, did occur but were relatively infrequent. But in September, the pace of reinfections in South Africa seemed to pick up and was markedly high by November, when the Omicron variant was identified, Dr. Pulliam said.

Reinfections in South Africa, as in the United States, may seem even more noticeable because so many have been immunized or infected at least once by now.

“The perception magnifies what’s actually going on biologically,” Dr. Pulliam said. “It’s just that there are more people who are eligible for reinfection.”

The Omicron variant was different enough from Delta, and Delta from earlier versions of the virus, that some reinfections were to be expected. But now, Omicron seems to be evolving new forms that penetrate immune defenses with relatively few changes to its genetic code.

“This is actually for me a bit of a surprise,” said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute. “I thought we’ll need a kind of brand-new variant to escape from this one. But in fact, it seems like you don’t.”

An infection with Omicron produces a weaker immune response, which seems to wane quickly, compared with infections with previous variants. Although the newer versions of the variant are closely related, they vary enough from an immune perspective that infection with one doesn’t leave much protection against the others — and certainly not after three or four months.

Still, the good news is that most people who are reinfected with new versions of Omicron will not become seriously ill. At least at the moment, the virus has not hit upon a way to fully sidestep the immune system.

“That’s probably as good as it gets for now,” Dr. Sigal said. “The big danger might come when the variant will be completely different.”

Each infection may bring with it the possibility of long Covid, the constellation of symptoms that can persist for months or years. It’s too early to know how often an Omicron infection leads to long Covid, especially in vaccinated people.

To keep up with the evolving virus, other experts said, the Covid vaccines should be updated more quickly, even more quickly than flu vaccines are each year. Even an imperfect match to a new form of the coronavirus will still broaden immunity and offer some protection, they said.

“Every single time we think we’re through this, every single time we think we have the upper hand, the virus pulls a trick on us,” Dr. Andersen said. “The way to get it under control is not, ‘Let’s all get infected a few times a year and then hope for the best.’”

Pennsylvania’s attorney general, a candidate for governor, is isolating after his positive coronavirus test.


By Richard Fausset

Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for governor, announced on Twitter early Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was experiencing mild symptoms.

Mr. Shapiro, 48, wrote that he was isolating at home, but planned to be back on the campaign trail next week. He said he would kick off his general election campaign in the city of Johnstown, Pa., about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“Please get out there and vote today — and after these few days at home, I’m going to go win this race for Pennsylvania,” Mr. Shapiro tweeted.

Last night, after taking a precautionary test before heading to Johnstown and Pittsburgh, I tested positive for COVID-19.

I’m experiencing some mild symptoms and will continue serving the people of Pennsylvania as I isolate at home.

— Josh Shapiro (@JoshShapiroPA) May 17, 2022

Mr. Shapiro is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center who once worked as a legislative aide for Senator Robert Torricelli, a Democrat from New Jersey who is now retired from politics.

If he is elected governor, Mr. Shapiro has said, he would veto any new abortion bans that the Republican-dominated legislature were to pass if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination for governor all support stricter abortion laws.

New York City Coronavirus Cases Reach ‘High’ Alert Level (Published 2022) (2024)


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