The persistently rapid spread of the coronavirus in Texas, the second most populous state in the U.S., is threatening the gradual progress the country has been making toward flattening the curve of new cases.
Counties along the Mexican border in particular have seen steep spikes. The city of Laredo sent residents an emergency cellphone alert over the weekend — the second in three days — warning that local hospitals were near capacity.
“Our medical professionals and hospitals are overwhelmed with the surge in Covid-19 cases,” the message read. “The current situation is at its most critical level, and lives are at stake. We are asking you to stay home unless it is absolutely necessary.”
New cases in Texas were averaging more than 20,000 per day on Monday. The state has seen a steady increase in new cases since October, when there were approximately 4,000 a day on average, according to a New York Times database.
Since the start of the pandemic, Texas has reported more than 2.1 million cases, the second highest total in the country after California, which in recent weeks has been in the throes of a devastating flood of cases that has pushed hospitals to the brink.
Though California and Texas have fueled the nationwide surge — the United States has been averaging more than 200,000 new cases a day since Jan. 2. Arizona, Oklahoma and South Carolina have been swept by high numbers of cases for days, and New York now has the country’s fourth worst outbreak, though deaths per day in the state have not come close to the tragic levels seen in the spring.
On Monday, Texas reported 111 deaths, bringing the total number of people lost to the virus in the state to more than 32,000 — a sizable portion of the more than 400,000 total deaths reported in the United States.
For more than a month, Laredo has had 35 to 40 percent of its hospital beds filled with Covid-19 patients, a higher ratio than anywhere else in the state, a city spokeswoman said. On Tuesday, she added, the figure was nearing 50 percent.
In Del Rio, another border town, Dr. Laura Palau of the Val Verde County Health Authority said officials were still seeing cases emerge from maskless family gatherings and parties over the holidays. An alarming 30 percent of coronavirus tests performed in the city are coming back positive, she said. The sheriff’s office is issuing quarantine orders to people who test positive.
Dr. Palau said she was worried about the way deaths are rising.
“The people that were hospitalized in December or early January are starting to expire,” she said.
Texas has received more than 1.7 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, and administered 1.3 million, Gov. Greg Abbott said on Tuesday. More than 800,000 more doses were expected this week, he said.
But Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, warned that a new, more transmissible variant of the virus, which is circulating in the United States after forcing Britain to lock down again, could make any progress in taming the pandemic fleeting.
“January and February will be our toughest months here in North Texas,” he said. “Right now, we just need everyone to avoid crowds, wear their mask, forgo get-togethers. Really think about ways to make patriotic sacrifices to protect the community.”
David Montgomery contributed reporting.
As cases of the coronavirus surge across the United States, officials organizing Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential inauguration have been forced to favor smaller audiences and virtual celebrations — and, in some cases, cancel events altogether.
In an ordinary inauguration year, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies would distribute some 200,000 tickets to official events at the Capitol, while public attendance in Washington might easily outstrip one million. The day would feature luncheons and parades, and conclude with balls and galas, held indoors.
But this year’s inauguration promises to be a far more sober affair, with extremely limited attendance.
While some events will continue almost as normal, including Mr. Biden’s address from the West Front of the Capitol and the Pass in Reviews, a military tradition, others have been reimagined or axed entirely. A luncheon honoring the incoming president, held since the 1950s in the National Statuary Hall at the Capitol, was canceled in December over health and safety concerns, according to a Bloomberg report.
The Presidential Inauguration Committee has also asked the public not to gather for the ceremony. For 90 minutes on Monday, a section of the National Mall was flooded with 56 “pillars of light” and close to 200,000 flags in an art display representing those who had been unable to attend.
Tickets will go only to certain high-ranking officials and members of Congress, who may each bring one guest, for a live audience of about 1,000, according to the committee. Three former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — and their wives also plan to attend.
Instead of the parade before cheering spectators along Pennsylvania Avenue, the president, vice president and their families will be escorted from 15th Street to the White House by socially distanced representatives from the military. Home viewers will be offered what the committee has billed as a “virtual parade across America,” featuring music, poets and dancers “paying homage to America’s heroes on the front lines of the pandemic.”
A musical prime-time television event will follow at 8:30 p.m., hosted by Tom Hanks.
“We know that many Americans would have wanted to attend the inauguration in person,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who sits on the committee, in a statement. “At the same time, safety must be our top priority.”
The traditional scramble to move the president-elect and his family into the White House has also been complicated by health and safety measures, with additional deep-cleaning precautions.
India said on Wednesday that it was starting to supply its locally manufactured version of the AstraZeneca vaccine to nearby countries, even as the government continues its mammoth effort to inoculate hundreds of millions of people at home.
The first doses were expected to be delivered to Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and the Seychelles beginning on Wednesday, India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The vaccine, known as Covishield in India, has been approved for emergency use there. It was developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and is manufactured domestically by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
India’s Foreign Ministry said that the doses sent on Wednesday were being donated. Some of the countries receiving the vaccine also have separate commercial vaccine arrangements, or are in talks, with the Serum Institute.
Bangladesh said that it expected to receive a shipment of two million doses of Covishield on Thursday as “a gift of India,” in addition to 30 million doses that it has ordered from the Serum Institute. Bhutan is expected to receive about 150,000 doses in its initial shipment, and the Maldives 100,000.
India’s other domestically produced vaccine, Covaxin, has faced criticism for being approved for emergency use in the country even before final trials have concluded.
India’s capacity for mass vaccine production will be central to efforts to curb the coronavirus in poor countries. The Serum Institute aims to distribute a billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2021.
In other news from around the world:
In China, the authorities in Beijing ordered all kindergartens closed from Thursday and high schools closed from the end of the week, officials said on Wednesday. The capital reported seven new cases on Tuesday and imposed passenger limits on public transportation, the state-run news media reported. Two local cases were of the more transmissible variant found in Britain. New rules also require overseas arrivals in the Chinese capital to quarantine for three weeks, instead of two, and impose testing and quarantine requirements on anyone visiting rural regions of China.
Tokyo’s Olympic organizing committee on Wednesday reaffirmed its commitment to hosting the Games this summer, a day after the former deputy chairman of the London 2012 Olympics, Keith Mills, told the BBC that the event was “unlikely” to take place because of the pandemic. Seiko Hashimoto, a Japanese cabinet minister for the Olympics, also said in Parliament on Wednesday that the government would “decide by spring the number of spectators, or foreign spectators, based on the situations both inside and outside of Japan.”
In late December, scientists in California began searching coronavirus samples for a fast-spreading new variant that had just been identified in Britain.
They found it, though in relatively few samples. In the process, the scientists made another unwelcome discovery: California had produced a variant of its own.
That mutant, which belongs to a lineage known as CAL.20C, seemed to have popped up in July but lay low till November. Then it began to quickly spread.
CAL.20C accounted for more than half of the virus genome samples collected in Los Angeles laboratories on Jan. 13, according to a new study that has not yet been published.
“We had our own problem that didn’t cross over from Europe,” said Jasmine Plummer, a research scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who worked on the study. “It really originated here, and it had the chance to start to emerge and surge over the holiday.”
There’s no evidence that CAL.20C is more lethal than other variants. And scientists have to conduct more research to determine whether CAL.20C is in fact more contagious.
But Eric Vail, the director of molecular pathology at Cedars-Sinai, said it was possible that CAL.20C was playing a large part in the surge of cases that has overwhelmed Southern California’s hospitals. “I’m decently confident that this is a more infectious strain of the virus,” Dr. Vail said.
Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said that across the state, he and his colleagues were finding the variant in roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of samples being sequenced. “It just popped up under our noses, and now it’s rising in multiple counties,” he said. “On the whole, it’s safe to say it’s going to spread outside of California.”
Researchers are also looking in other states for CAL.20C, Dr. Plummer said, and have so far found it in Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia. It’s not clear yet how common it is outside California.
A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency was working with California to learn more about the new variant. “Currently, it’s not known whether this variant is any different from other SARS-CoV-2 viruses, whether those differences may have contributed to its emergence, or whether this emergence was merely a random event,” he said.
Outside scientists are concerned about the findings, but say it’s still unclear whether the California variant’s mutations are giving it an edge — or whether it’s showing up so much just by chance.
There might be a bias in the samples that scientists are looking at, for example. It’s also possible that CAL.C20 happened to become more common thanks to some big super-spreader events.
Dr. Chiu and his colleagues are now growing the variant in cells to see how quickly they multiply compared with other variants. The researchers are also going to observe how well antibodies produced by vaccines work against CAL.C20.
Other scientists are also looking more closely at the rise in frequency of the variant in California. They’re searching for evidence that could determine whether biology or chance is to blame.
“That’s the work that needs to be done,” said Dr. Vail. “We just don’t have that information.”
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s minister of foreign affairs and international trade, Sibusiso Busi Moyo, has died, the office of the president said on Wednesday. The cause was complications related to Covid-19. Mr. Moyo became the fourth high-ranking official in Zimbabwe to succumb to the virus since the start of the pandemic.
“The late minister succumbed to Covid-19 at a local hospital,” read a short statement from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, giving no further detail.
“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” Mr. Moyo said on state television, reading a statement after the military commandeered the national broadcaster. “What the Zimbabwean Defense Force is doing is to pacify a degenerating a political, social and economic situation.”
After the election of Mr. Mnangagwa in 2018, Mr. Moyo swapped military fatigues for a suit and a scarf in the colors of the Zimbabwean flag, retiring as a lieutenant general and joining Mr. Mnangagwa’s cabinet alongside other military leaders.
In this new role, much of his work centered on reviving Zimbabwe’s battered international image. Mr. Moyo often criticized sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe’s new elite by the international community. In one of his last tweets, Mr. Moyo took aim at the United States after the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill, which he described as “unprecedented scenes of chaos and politically-motivated violence in Washington’s ‘citadel of democracy.’”
“Perhaps the moralizing and prescriptive tone towards others might now change somewhat,” he tweeted on Jan. 9.
Within the ruling Zanu-PF, Mr. Moyo represented the influential military faction who cemented their political power in the new dispensation.
Mr. Moyo was born in 1960 in Mberengwa, a rural district in central Zimbabwe. He is survived by his wife, Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo, a judge on the High Court in Zimbabwe and the chair of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, and their two children.
Last week, Ellen Gwaradzimba, the minister of state for the country’s Manicaland Province, died from complications linked to Covid-19. In the same week, Morton Malianga, a member of the ruling party’s highest decision-making body and former deputy finance minister, also succumbed to Covid-19. In July, the minister of agriculture, Perrance Shiri, also died from Covid-19.
The southern African nation has seen a spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths since the start of this year, with the Health Ministry on Tuesday recording 52 deaths and 783 new infections in 24 hours, forcing officials to impose a new lockdown, shuttering businesses and imposing a curfew. Zimbabwe has recorded a total of 28,675 cases and 825 deaths and since the start of the pandemic.
Jeffrey Moyo reported from Harare and Lynsey Chutel from Johannesburg.
Jeffrey Moyo and
A new variant of the coronavirus has caused concern in the United States because it’s so contagious and spreading fast. To avoid it, you’ll need to double down on the pandemic precautions that have kept you safe so far.
The variant known as B.1.1.7., which was first identified in Britain, doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease, but it appears to latch onto our cells more efficiently and has the potential to infect an estimated 50 percent more people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that this variant could become the dominant source of infection in the United States by March.
Here’s a sample of what some of the leading virus and infectious disease experts had to say about avoiding it.
The same things that have protected you from the original strain should help protect you from the variant, although you may need to be more rigorous. Wear a two- or three-layer mask. Don’t spend time indoors with people not from your household. Avoid crowds, and keep your distance. Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face. “I think there is no room for error or sloppiness in following precautions, whereas before, we might have been able to get away with letting one slide,” said Linsey Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading aerosol scientists.
The right cloth mask, properly fitted, does a good job of filtering viral particles of the size most likely to cause infection, Dr. Marr’s lab found in a recent test of 11 mask materials. The best mask has three layers — two cloth layers with a filter sandwiched in between. If you don’t want to buy a new mask, a simple solution is to wear an additional mask when you find yourself closer to strangers.
Getting the vaccine is the ultimate way to reduce risk. But until then, look at your activities and try reducing the time and number of exposures to other people. For instance, if you now go to the store two or three times a week, cut back to once. If you’ve been spending 30 to 45 minutes there, cut your time down to 15 or 20 minutes. Try delivery or curbside pickup, if that’s an option for you.
New York City expects to exhaust its supply of coronavirus vaccine on Thursday, and will then have to cancel inoculation appointments at many city inoculation sites, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“We will literally have nothing left to give as of Friday,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference Tuesday.
New York City received 53,000 doses this week, the mayor said, and had a total of 116,000 doses in inventory Tuesday morning. But Mr. de Blasio said that was not nearly enough to keep up with the pace at which New Yorkers are being inoculated. The mayor, who raised concerns last week about a coronavirus vaccine shortage after an initially sluggish rollout, said the city is not currently scheduled to receive any more doses until next Tuesday.
Mr. de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have urged the federal government to send more vaccine to New York, now that the state’s eligibility pool has been expanded to include anyone 65 or older.
Statewide, more than 835,000 people have received the first of the two doses of a vaccine — both federally authorized vaccines are two-dose vaccines — and nearly 84,000 have received the second dose, Mr. Cuomo said in a statement on Tuesday. Even so, pressure is mounting to speed up vaccinations as hospitalizations across the state surpassed 9,000, according to Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday, for the first time since early May.
The supply issue threatens the success of the mass vaccination sites the city has been setting up in each of the five boroughs, Mr. de Blasio said. Sites at CitiField, the Mets’ home stadium in Queens, and at the Empire Outlets shopping center in Staten Island are scheduled to open next week. “This is not the way it should be,” the mayor said. “We have the ability to vaccinate a huge number of people. We need the vaccine to go with it.”
The city’s vaccination program has run into several obstacles since eligibility was expanded. Buggy websites and complex sign-up systems have made it difficult for many New Yorkers to schedule appointments. Mr. de Blasio said the city expects to have administered 500,000 doses by the end of Wednesday. The city had previously set a goal of one million doses by the end of January.
GENEVA — The global death toll from Covid-19 hit a record in the last week at the same time as the number of new cases declined, the World Health Organization reported on Wednesday.
The United Nations health agency said 93,000 people died in the week ending Jan. 17, a record and a 9 percent rise over the previous week, bringing the total global death toll from the pandemic to more than 2 million people.
Deaths rose in all of the W.H.O.’s six regional groups, it said in its latest weekly bulletin, but the Americas fared the worst, with a 15 percent rise in deaths in the past week. Led by the United States, where over 400,000 people have died, and Brazil, with more than 200,000 deaths, the Americas account for close to half the total number of people lost to the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Yet the number of new cases dropped slightly in the Americas in the last week and by 6 percent globally. The W.H.O. explained the diverging trends, noting that a high number of cases lead leads after a short time lag to increased hospitalizations and deaths.
Most of the decline in cases occurred in Europe, which registered a drop of 15 percent in the past week, according to the W.H.O. data. New cases dropped last week by 11 percent in the United States and 19 percent in Britain, two of the world’s worst affected countries. Britain is in lockdown, while the United States has a patchwork of state rules.
The decline occurred despite the emergence of new, more contagious variants of the virus. The W.H.O. said new variants had spread to 10 more countries in the past week, bringing the total affected countries to 60 across all regions. Too little was known about the latest variant, found in Brazil, to determine its impact on transmission of the disease, the agency said.
In a perfect world, the entrance to every office, restaurant and school would offer a coronavirus test — one with absolute accuracy that could instantly determine who was safe to admit and who should be turned away.
That reality does not exist. But some scientists think that a quick test involving a stinky strip of paper might at least get us close.
The test does not look for the virus, nor can it diagnose disease. Rather, it screens for one of Covid-19’s trademark signs: the loss of the sense of smell. Since last spring, researchers have come to recognize the symptom, also known as anosmia, as one of the best indicators of an ongoing coronavirus infection.
In a study that has not yet been published in a scientific journal, a mathematical model showed that sniff-based tests, if administered sufficiently widely and frequently, might detect enough cases to substantially drive transmission down.
Daniel Larremore, an epidemiologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the study’s lead author, stressed that his team’s work was still purely theoretical. In the context of the pandemic, there is not yet real-world data to support the effectiveness of smell tests as a frequent screen for the coronavirus.
But a reliable smell test offers potential benefits. It could catch far more cases than fever checks, which have largely flopped as screening tools for Covid-19. Studies have found that about 50 to 90 percent of people who test positive for the coronavirus experience some degree of measurable smell loss, a result of the virus wreaking havoc when it invades cells in the airway.
A smell test could also come with an appealingly low price tag, perhaps as low as 50 cents per card, said Derek Toomre, a cell biologist at Yale University and an author on Dr. Larremore’s paper. Dr. Toomre hopes that his version will fit the bill. The test, the U-Smell-It test, is a small smorgasbord of scratch-and-sniff scents arrayed on paper cards. People taking the test pick away at wells of smells, inhale and punch their answers into a smartphone app.
Dr. Toomre is seeking an emergency use authorization for U-Smell-It from the Food and Drug Administration, and has partnered with groups in Europe and elsewhere to trial the test under real-world conditions.
Sometimes Barbara Shelley was the victim. By the end of the movie “Blood of the Vampire” (1958), the Victorian character she played — her brocade bodice properly ripped —was in chains in a mad scientist’s basement laboratory.
She was at Christopher Lee’s mercy in “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” (1966), although before the end she had fangs of her own.
Sometimes she was an innocent bystander. In “The Village of the Damned” (1960), she was impregnated by mysterious extraterrestrial rays and had a son — a beautiful, emotion-free child whose glowing eyes could kill.
Sometimes she was the monster, although in “Cat Girl” (1957) it wasn’t her fault that a centuries-old family curse turned her into a man-eating leopard.
Ms. Shelley, the elegant queen of camp in British horror films for a decade, died on Jan. 4 in London. She was 88.
Her agent, Thomas Bowington, said in a statement that she had spent two weeks in December in a hospital, where she contracted Covid-19. It was successfully treated, but after going home she died of what he described as “underlying issues.”
Barbara Teresa Kowin was born on Feb. 13, 1932, in Harrow, England, now a part of Greater London. In 1955, she enjoyed a vacation in Italy so much that she stayed two years and made films there. When Italians had trouble pronouncing Kowin, she renamed herself Shelley.
Making “Cat Girl” back home in England led to her calling as a leading lady of horror. Most of her best-known pictures were for Hammer Films, the London studio responsible for horror classics including “The Mummy” and “The Curse of Frankenstein.”
But she also played almost a hundred other roles in movies and on television. She was Mrs. Gardiner, the Bennet sisters’ wise aunt, in a 1980 mini-series version of “Pride and Prejudice.” She appeared in “Doctor Who,” “The Saint,” “The Avengers” and “EastEnders.”
She made guest appearances on midcentury American series, including “Route 66” and “Bachelor Father.” And she had a stage career as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1970s. Her final screen role was in “Uncle Silas” (1989), a mini-series with Peter O’Toole.
But the horror movies were her legacy.
“They built me a fan base, and I’m very touched that people will come and ask for my autograph,” Ms. Shelley told Express magazine in 2009. “All the other things I did, nobody remembers.”
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will leave his post on Wednesday. An infectious-disease specialist with a focus on treatments for AIDS/H.I.V., Dr. Redfield led the public health agency during one of the most tumultuous periods in its history. He was frequently criticized for moving too slowly to protect the United States from the coronavirus, especially regarding the initial rollout of coronavirus tests, while being attacked by Mr. Trump and others within the administration for contradicting their overly optimistic scenarios of the likely course of the pandemic.
On the weekend before his departure, Dr. Redfield talked in an interview about his challenges and his disappointments. Here are two of his notable responses.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
What is it like to leave now, before the pandemic is over?
It’s hard to leave at a time when the pandemic still hasn’t reached its peak and the worst days haven’t come. It would have been more rewarding to leave when the pandemic is under control, but I do feel proud.
I encourage the president-elect to focus on his pledge to get people vaccinated in 100 days. I’m glad we gave him a foundation to build on. Last week, we had two days when we vaccinated one million people a day. We laid a foundation for vaccine administration. I find it unfortunate when some people suggest that the vaccine program delivering one million a day is somehow a disaster — but it will be a model when the Biden administration does it.
I’m not trying to criticize the Biden administration at all. But he’s pledged to do 100 million people in 100 days. We’re on the verge of delivering one million a day, and yet I heard his chief of staff on the Sunday talk shows saying that our vaccine program was a disaster and they inherited a mess. I’d rather they would be thankful. That’s better dialogue than political hyperbole.
What was your greatest disappointment?
My greatest disappointment was the lack of consistency of public health messaging and the inconsistency of civic leaders to reinforce the public health message. You can read between the lines what that means — “civic leaders.”
You can see that different parts of our society have different perspectives on what needed to be done. Controlling the pandemic was always, in my view, aligned effectively with maintaining the economic health of our nation. It wasn’t an either/or — we showed that in schools. You can still keep businesses, hospitals, et cetera, open and do it in a safe and responsible way. There are some parts of our economy that will need to have some restrictions. I would argue that having people in a crowded bar, drinking three or four beers without their masks, talking louder and louder so they spray their respiratory secretions further and further, is probably something that needs to be curtailed.
But the fact that we didn’t have an alignment meant we had the private sector and public sector all wrestling with how to put it together independently. So the reality is we are in for some very difficult times, and I think I would have loved to have been proved wrong. I still believe the worst is yet to come.