An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.
- The E.U. recommended opening travel to foreigners.
- India’s oxygen shortage killed 12 people, and a high court said it would punish government officials.
- New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will let many businesses fully reopen in May. New York City’s subway will also resume 24-hour service.
- Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.
Is herd immunity unreachable?
Our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli has been asking scientists and public health experts when the U.S. might reach herd immunity — the threshold when enough people would be protected from the coronavirus, via vaccines or antibodies, that we could effectively be rid of it.
What she heard back was stark: Herd immunity is not attainable, at least not in the near future, and perhaps not ever.
“It was kind of shocking,” Apoorva told us. “Because nobody seemed to have communicated that to the public. We’re all still talking about herd immunity, but the thinking had changed.”
Experts now think the virus will most likely become a manageable but persistent threat that will circulate in the U.S. for years to come, hospitalizing and killing at least a small number of people.
There are two main developments that led experts to this growing consensus. The coronavirus is changing rapidly, giving rise to new variants that are much more contagious. And vaccinations are not moving fast enough.
Early on in the pandemic, the target herd immunity threshold was thought to be 60 to 70 percent of the population. But the more contagious variants pushed that number up to at least 80 percent — and polls show that about 30 percent of Americans are hesitant to get vaccinated. And that does not even begin to address the fact that only a tiny proportion of the world has been vaccinated thus far.
“Even if the vast majority of Americans are vaccinated, it may not matter if, elsewhere in the world, a variant emerges that can evade the immune system,” Apoorva said. “We are all in this together, so we will never be truly be rid of this virus till the whole world is protected.”
But reaching herd immunity may not matter in the end. Previously scientists thought that the only way to get rid of the virus or to make it more manageable was to reach that lofty number, until we found out just how “amazingly good the vaccines are,” Apporva said. “They changed the calculus completely.”
Over the long term — a generation or two — the goal would be to protect the vulnerable and transition the virus to become more like its cousins that cause common colds.
“Really the writing was on the wall the entire time,” Apoorva said. “Some scientists have been saying that the long-term outcome of the virus is going to be an annoying common cold, which basically means that we won’t get to herd immunity. So it’s really just a shift in thinking, but it doesn’t mean we should despair.”
It also shouldn’t change our behavior, Apoorva added: “Our goal is still to vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Remember clubs? Loud music, sticky floors and a loaded glance across a dance floor? Remember not thinking twice about breathing the same indoor air as strangers?
One day, perhaps soon, clubs will legally reopen for maskless, indoor parties. On Friday night as part of a scientific trial, around 3,000 people crammed together in a warehouse in Liverpool, England, for a test run.
The organizers did not entirely throw caution to the wind: Revelers had to show proof of a negative test, linked to their ticket. But once they passed security, there were no requirements to wear a mask, socially distance or even use hand sanitizer.
“This is down and dirty public health research,” said Iain Buchan of the University of Liverpool, the scientist leading the trial, which also included a pop concert for 5,000 fans in a circus tent and a business conference.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to remove all restrictions on social life in England on June 21, including on nightclubs, and organizers wanted to see if people were happy to be tested beforehand and link their status to their tickets.
In March, Dutch researchers ran a similar trial involving 1,300 partygoers.
“They found the masks lasted five minutes,” Buchan said. “People just threw them off.”
Unorthodox college graduations
When the University of Tampa announced it would host commencement online, graduating students started a GoFundMe for an in-person ceremony.
Vanderbilt and Northeastern are staggering arrival times for their ceremonies so students enter the venues in shifts. Rhodes College is seating participants in pods of eight and issuing each person a ticket for the purpose of contact tracing. Brown and Yale will only allow students to the ceremony, while parents can watch a livestreamed version.
Our colleague Rukmini Callimachi looked into dozens of different ways colleges will celebrate the class of 2021.
- In Canada, where 33 percent of people have received one dose but only three percent are fully vaccinated, residents have to wait in long lines.
- Moderna said that it would supply up to 500 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Covax, the international vaccine-sharing initiative.
- Denmark will not use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, citing concerns over rare blood clots.
- In Mexico City, dancers and Lucha Libre wrestlers fill vaccination centers, encouraging cautious older people to roll up their sleeves.
What else we’re following
- South America’s raging outbreak could seed dangerous new variants, worsening the pandemic well beyond the region’s borders.
- Indians, desperate for care, have found relief through social media connections.
- The Atlantic looked at how early stumbles in testing and imposing lockdowns in the U.S. were amplified through “the butterfly effect.”
- Few of the 78,000 volunteers at the Tokyo Olympics will be vaccinated. Most are being offered little more than a couple of masks and some hand sanitizer.
What you’re doing
Ask any person who was chronically ill or disabled before the pandemic how life changed for them during the pandemic and we can’t say it changed as much as the average “healthy” person’s life did. We were already used to being at home. We were already painfully adjusted to missing events. Eventually, you stop missing certain things and accept the home life because you have to adapt to your new normal or you will go insane with grief from your life’s lost possibilities. My husband and I had hoped that healthy, mobile Americans would look beyond themselves and protect others while protecting themselves. There was also the vague hope that they would better understand the limited lives of their fellow ill or disabled Americans. Instead, we realized a new cold, hard truth: Most Americans wouldn’t know how to survive being hindered by illness or disability. They can’t adapt to inconvenience.
— Christine Skirbunt-Kozabo, Virginia