Greg Abbott Speculates Texas Has Herd Immunity

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas may have been overly optimistic on Sunday when he said on Fox News that his state could be “very close” to herd immunity — the point where so much of the population is immune to Covid-19, either from being vaccinated or previously infected, that the virus can no longer spread.

“When you look at the senior population, for example, more than 70 percent of our seniors have received a vaccine shot, more than 50 percent of those who are 50 to 65 have received a vaccine shot,” Mr. Abbott, a Republican, told Chris Wallace. Mr. Wallace had asked why statewide infection, hospitalization and death rates were more under control than in other states, in spite of Texas reopening many activities and eliminating mask mandates.

The governor added, “I don’t know what herd immunity is, but when you add that to the people who have immunity, it looks like it could be very close to herd immunity.”

Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said, “There is no way on God’s green earth that Texas is anywhere even close to herd immunity.”

Michigan has 22 percent and Minnesota has 24 percent.

Estimates of what it would take to reach herd immunity have edged up since the pandemic began, ranging from requiring immunity in 60 percent to more than 90 percent of the population to halt transmission.

What the level really is, “We don’t know,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Anybody who will tell you exactly what the level of herd immunity is, is also likely to want to sell you a bridge.”

He predicted that within a few weeks or a month, Texas and other parts of the U.S. south and west would see rising case rates like the levels now occurring in the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

the coronavirus variant first identified in Britain and known as B.1.1.7, which is more contagious than the form of the virus that first emerged.

That variant “surely resets the meter” and makes herd immunity harder to achieve, Dr. Osterholm said. Additional variants could further complicate the forecast.

“These variants are game changers,” he said. “They really are. It’s really remarkable.”

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New Hampshire and Oklahoma Move to Open Covid Vaccines to Nonresidents

New Hampshire and Oklahoma announced plans this week to open up vaccine eligibility to outside residents as supply starts to grow and more states expand eligibility.

Gov. Chris Sununu, Republican of New Hampshire, said officials were confident that there would be enough shots to vaccinate outside residents by April 19, the same day that President Biden has called for every state to make all adults eligible for a shot. Mr. Sununu said New Hampshire was “well ahead” of that deadline after making all adults ages 16 or older in the state eligible for a vaccine on April 2.

“We’re going to have a lot of vaccine here,” he said at a news briefing on Thursday, “so we want to get it out to anyone who might actually be here in the state.”

The change came after Mr. Sununu faced criticism from students and Democratic lawmakers for not allowing out-of-state college students to get vaccinated in New Hampshire. He said last week that residents had to “come first” and that college students were at lower risk compared with other age groups.

New York Times vaccine tracker. New Hampshire is behind some other states, though, in fully vaccinating residents, with about 22 percent completely inoculated.

Oklahoma began allowing outside residents to get vaccinated in the state on Thursday, nearly two weeks after the state made all adults ages 16 or older eligible.

“We have always known there would be a point at which supply and increasing capacity would allow us to welcome residents from neighboring states into Oklahoma to get vaccinated,” Keith Reed, a deputy commissioner at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said in a statement. “We are now reaching that point.”

About 35 percent of Oklahoma’s population has received at least one shot, and 22 percent are fully vaccinated.

Indiana also ended its residency requirement late last month. Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said officials made the change to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination site rules. The state also wanted to accommodate college students and residents who live with multiple people but may not have proof of residency. More than half of the states and the District of Columbia have residency requirements for vaccination, although most allow exceptions for out-of-state workers, according to a vaccine tracker from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on national health issues.

about three million shots a day, an increase from roughly two million in early March. Although millions of Americans are getting vaccinated, the country is reporting a sharp rise in new cases, with an average of 67,923 new reported cases a day over the past week, according to a New York Times database.

Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said more states are likely to follow New Hampshire and Oklahoma’s path as vaccine production ramps up.

“If a state does feel more secure in its supply and is not feeling a crunch,” Dr. Kates said, “then the ability to help the national effort to vaccinate more people and remove barriers becomes important.”

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Most U.S. infections are now caused by a contagious new virus variant, the C.D.C. says.

Scientists have been predicting another rise in infections, as states relax their public health restrictions and restive Americans go back to school and work. But they are hoping that vaccination will blunt any potential fourth surge.

On Tuesday, President Biden moved up his vaccination timetable by two weeks, calling on states to make every American adult eligible for coronavirus vaccination by April 19, a goal nearly all states have already met or expect to beat after he initially asked they do so by May 1.

“It is in our power to minimize death, disease, and misery,” Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said Wednesday. “If all of us do our part, we can help save lives in April, May, and June. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”

In February, a study that analyzed half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes predicted that in a month this variant could become predominant in the United States. At that time, the C.D.C. was struggling to sequence the new variants, which made it difficult to track them.

But those efforts have substantially improved in recent weeks and will continue to grow, in large part because of $1.75 billion in funds for genomic sequencing in the stimulus package that President Biden signed into law last month. By contrast, Britain, with a more centralized health care system, began a highly touted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.

“We knew this was going to happen, this variant is a lot more transmissible, much more infectious than the parent strain and that obviously has implications,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and infectious disease expert at Emory University. In addition to spreading more efficiently, he said, the B.1.1.7 strain appears to cause more severe disease, “so that gives you a double whammy.”

The White House also announced an expansion to its vaccination program at community health centers, bringing the total to nearly 1,400 community centers across the country where people can get vaccinated. Mr. Slavitt said most of these community centers are in underserved neighborhoods with many uninsured patients. Last week, Mr. Biden promised that 90 percent of adults in the country will have a vaccine site within five miles of their home.

Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

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The ‘Joy and Envy’ of Vaccine FOMO

At the start of the year, Shay Fan felt relief: Vaccinations were on their way. Her relief turned to joy when her parents and in-laws got their shots.

Three months later, Ms. Fan, a 36-year-old freelance marketer and writer in Los Angeles, is still waiting for hers, and that joy is gone.

“I want to be patient,” she said.

But scrolling through Instagram and seeing photos of people, she said, “in Miami with no masks spraying Champagne into another person’s mouth,” while she sits in her apartment, having not had a haircut or been to a restaurant in more than a year, has made patience hard to practice. “It’s like when every friend is getting engaged before you, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m happy for them, but when is it my turn?’”

For much of the pandemic, the same rules applied: Stay at home, wear a mask, wash your hands.

But now, with vaccine distribution ramping up in some areas while others face a shortage, amid a third wave of coronavirus cases, or even warnings of a fourth, the rules are diverging around the world, and even within the same country.

and 47 percent of the population has had at least one vaccine dose. In New York, where at least 34 percent of people in the state have had at least one vaccine dose, there is talk about life feeling almost normal.

However, France, where only 14 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, just entered its third lockdown. And Brazil, which has given at least one dose to 8 percent of the population, is reporting some of the world’s highest numbers of new cases and deaths per day. There are dozens of countries — including Japan, Afghanistan, Kenya, the Philippines — that have given only a single dose to less than 2 percent of their populations.

or racial lines. Older people, who make up the majority of those vaccinated, have been dining indoors, hugging grandchildren and throwing parties, while many younger people are still ineligible or repeatedly finding the “no appointments” message when they have tried to book.

Dr. Lynn Bufka, a psychologist and senior director at the American Psychological Association, said the pandemic has weighed heavily on teenagers, and a long wait for vaccines to be distributed to them could add to the stress.

“Children are in many ways those individuals whose lives have been disrupted as much as anyone but with less life experience on how to adapt to these kinds of disruptions,” Dr. Bufka said.

For American adults, at least, the fear of missing out should not last for much longer. President Biden has promised enough doses by the end of next month to immunize all of the nation’s roughly 260 million adults. In fact, the pace of vaccinations is quickening to such an extent that Biden administration officials anticipate the supply of coronavirus vaccines to outstrip demand by the middle of next month if not sooner.

Ms. Fan, the freelance writer and marketer in Los Angeles, will be eligible to book a vaccine appointment in mid-April. She does not plan to do anything wild — the basics are what she is looking forward to most. “I just need a haircut,” she said.

Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

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Biden Plan Spurs Fight Over What ‘Infrastructure’ Really Means

“Many people in the states would be surprised to hear that broadband for rural areas no longer counts,” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden in the White House. “We think that the people in Jackson, Miss., might be surprised to hear that fixing that water system doesn’t count as infrastructure. We think the people of Texas might disagree with the idea that the electric grid isn’t infrastructure that needs to be built with resilience for the 21st century.”

White House officials said that much of Mr. Biden’s plan reflected the reality that infrastructure had taken on a broader meaning as the nature of work changes, focusing less on factories and shipping goods and more on creating and selling services.

Other economists back the idea that the definition has changed.

Dan Sichel, an economics professor at Wellesley College and a former Federal Reserve research official, said it could be helpful to think of what comprises infrastructure as a series of concentric circles: a basic inner band made up of roads and bridges, a larger social ring of schools and hospitals, then a digital layer including things like cloud computing. There could also be an intangible layer, like open-source software or weather data.

“It is definitely an amorphous concept,” he said, but basically “we mean key economic assets that support and enable economic activity.”

The economy has evolved since the 1950s: Manufacturers used to employ about a third of the work force but now count for just 8.5 percent of jobs in the United States. Because the economy has changed, it is important that our definitions are updated, Mr. Sichel said.

The debate over the meaning of infrastructure is not new. In the days of the New Deal-era Tennessee Valley Authority, academics and policymakers sparred over whether universal access to electricity was necessary public infrastructure, said Shane M. Greenstein, an economist at Harvard Business School whose recent research focuses on broadband.

“Washington has an attention span of several weeks, and this debate is a century old,” he said. These days, he added, it is about digital access instead of clean water and power.

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Wyoming, New Mexico and South Dakota Move to Open Vaccine Eligibility

Wyoming announced on Wednesday that residents 16 years or older were now eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccine in the state. New Mexico and South Dakota said that they would make all residents 16 years or older eligible on April 5, and Pennsylvania said it would do the same for all adults on April 19.

In all, 43 states have now sped up their vaccination efforts at a time when health officials are warning of a possible fourth surge of coronavirus cases.

The pace of vaccinations has been picking up across the country as more states changed their eligibility timelines. As of Tuesday, an average of 2.7 million shots a day are being administered across the country, about 10 percent more than the average a week earlier, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I want to take this opportunity and invite you to choose to get your free Covid-19 shot as soon as possible,” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota said in announcing her state’s eligibility expansion.

Times analysis of C.D.C. data. South Dakota ranks third with 34 percent.

President Biden called earlier this month for states to open eligibility to all adults by May 1. On Monday, he directed his coronavirus response team to ensure that by April 19, there would be a vaccination site within five miles of 90 percent of Americans’ homes.

The number of Americans, and especially Black Americans, who have been vaccinated or want to be vaccinated has risen significantly since January, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey also found that Republicans and white evangelical Christians continue to be skeptical of getting a virus vaccine.

Ms. Noem, a Republican who leads a Republican-majority state, acknowledged those concerns on Wednesday.

“There will never be the heavy hand of government mandating that you get the vaccine,” she said. “We will trust our people to do the right thing.”

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Six States Open Vaccines to All Adults on Monday

Chris Adams, 36, has spent the past year of the pandemic living with his grandparents in Wichita, Kan., and being “extremely strict” about social distancing. “I never went out,” he said.

But starting Monday, when all adults in Kansas become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Adams plans to find a vaccination site where there is an available appointment. “What I’m looking forward to is seeing my friends again,” he said.

Kansas is one of six states — Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas are the others — that are expanding eligibility for the vaccine to all adults on Monday. Minnesota will follow on Tuesday, and Indiana on Wednesday.

Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas urged residents last week to seek out appointments, saying, “With the anticipated increase in supply from the federal government, we must get every dose of vaccine into arms quickly.”

according to a New York Times database. In New Jersey over the past week, there have been an average of 4,249 new cases reported daily, a 21 percent increase from the average two weeks earlier. And on Friday, Vermont set a single-day case record with 283 new infections; it is the first state to set a case record since Jan. 18.

For many, the vaccine cannot come soon enough.

Nicole Drum, 42, a writer in the Kansas City, Kan., metro area, cried on Friday when she found out that she would be eligible to get the vaccine as early as Monday. She started calling pharmacies and looking online for available appointments “within minutes of the news breaking,” she said.

Ms. Drum called about 10 places without success. She had more luck on a county website, and booked an appointment for Wednesday.

She said she planned to wear a special T-shirt saying “I believe in science” to her appointment. “I got myself a fun I’m-getting-the-vaccine outfit,” she said, laughing.

She also plans to take her 4-year-old son with her, because she wants him to see “how research and science and people coming together can really help stem these kinds of things,” she said.

“I want him to know that there’s no need to be afraid all the time of big scary things, because there are always helpers trying to figure this out,” Ms. Drum said. “While the solution might be something that’s a jab in the arm that hurts a little bit, it’s worth it.”

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State Lawmakers Try to Curb Governors’ Coronavirus Powers

When the pandemic began, the nation’s governors suited up for a new role as state bodyguards, issuing emergency orders to shutter schools, close cinemas and ban indoor dining in an effort to curb a mushrooming threat.

But not everyone likes killjoys, no matter how well-intentioned.

Now, state legislatures — saying the governors have gone too far — are churning out laws aimed at reining in the power of their executives to respond to the pandemic and emergencies like it.

A Kansas bill that this week became law requires Gov. Laura Kelly to suspend all emergency orders and give legislators the option to void any that she reissues. Mask mandates are likely to be among the first to fall. Ohio legislators overrode Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto this week, limiting his powers to make emergency declarations . Utah lawmakers voted for an April 10 end to mask requirements and to rein in powers of the governor and state health officials to deal with crises; the bill became law on Wednesday.

Those are but some of the 300-odd proposals to curb governors’ emergency powers that have won approval or are awaiting action in state House and Senate chambers — although most will, as usual, be winnowed out in committee and never come to a vote.

A list of bills by the National Conference of State Legislators shows that the gamut of the proposals is both broad and inventive. An Arkansas state senator wanted fines for violating coronavirus restrictions refunded to violators. Lawmakers in six states, including Georgia and Oregon want to stop governors from imposing limits on attendance at church services. A measure in Maine would circumvent restrictions on businesses by declaring all businesses to be essential in any emergency.

Most proposals, however, are more straightforward attempts to give lawmakers a say, often by limiting the duration of emergency declarations and requiring legislative approval to extend them. The nonpartisan Uniform Law Commission is reviewing state emergency statutes to see if they need updating in light of the coronavirus crisis. But the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative pro-business group that has spent years cultivating ties with state legislators, has beaten them to the punch, circulating a so-called model law that is the basis for many state proposals.

Some experts call that a mistake. “The time for legislatures to address emergency declarations isn’t in the middle an emergency, but before or after one,” said Jill Krueger, the director of the northern region of the Network for Public Health Law, in Edina, Minn.

Indeed, practically every state has at least one measure targeting a governor in a legislative committee or in the lawbooks.

The Republican governor of Indiana, Eric J. Holcomb, has backed more lenient coronavirus restrictions than have governors of some neighboring states, giving businesses more generous occupancy limits based on the severity of Covid-19 outbreaks in each county. That did not stop the Republican-controlled legislature from filing 21 bills aimed at loosening his emergency powers, the most of any state surveyed by the Conference of State Legislatures, including a resolution calling for the statewide emergency to be scrapped immediately.

The resolution appeared to be gathering serious momentum until Tuesday, when the governor sought to address critics by lifting a statewide mask mandate and turning business regulations over to local governments.

Both actions go well beyond the easing of restrictions taken in most other states that have relaxed regulations, although local governments retain the right to impose stiffer rules.

“His middle of the road approach has resonated with people,” said Andrew Downs, an associate professor and expert on Indiana politics at Purdue University-Fort Wayne. That said, he added, “people out on the extreme are upset with him, and they recognized the need to recapture some of the power the governor has been using.”

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Ford Can Be Sued in States Where Accidents Occurred, Supreme Court Rules

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday made it easier for consumers injured by products to sue their manufacturers, unanimously ruling that courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits filed in the consumers’ home states notwithstanding that the products were made and sold elsewhere so long as the manufacturers did substantial business in the states.

The case arose from two car accidents involving vehicles made by Ford Motor Company. In one, Markkaya Gullett was driving her 1996 Explorer near her Montana home when the tread separated from a tire. The vehicle spun into a ditch and flipped over, and Ms. Gullett died at the scene. Her estate sued Ford in state court in Montana.

In the other, Adam Bandemer was a passenger in a 1994 Crown Victoria, on his way to do some ice-fishing in Minnesota, when the driver rear-ended a snowplow. The passenger-side airbag failed, and Mr. Bandemer sustained serious brain damage. He sued in state court in Minnesota.

Ford argued that the courts lacked jurisdiction because the company did not have a relevant connection to those states. It had designed the vehicles in Michigan; it had manufactured the Explorer in Kentucky and sold it in Washington State; and it had manufactured the Crown Victoria in Canada and sold it in North Dakota. (The cars ended up in Montana and Minnesota after they were resold.)

quoting an earlier decision. “Their residents, while riding in vehicles purchased within their borders, were killed or injured in accidents on their roads. Can anyone seriously argue that requiring Ford to litigate these cases in Minnesota and Montana would be fundamentally unfair?”

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, also filed a concurring opinion in the case, Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, No. 19-368, saying the court’s jurisprudence in this area was muddled and out of step with the modern reality of “corporations with global reach.”

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