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Superspreader Sunday?

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Coronavirus cases in the United States have increased after nearly every major vacation last year, including Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. This weekend brings another major celebration, albeit unofficial: Super Bowl Sunday. And there is cause for concern that he turns into a Superspreader on Sunday.

Polls show that a significant number of people plan to attend parties. Two separate surveys – one from Seton Hall University and one from the National Retail Federation – found that nearly 30% of adults said they would attend a meeting at someone’s house or watch the game in a restaurant or bar.

On the contrary, this weekend can be more dangerous than most holidays. Super Bowl parties are usually held indoors and can involve more households than a holiday meal. This year’s game is also set when contagious new variants of the virus have started to spread.

There is precedent for sporting events leading to outbreaks. Health officials in Los Angeles believe rallies to watch last fall’s playoff games involving the Lakers (who won the NBA title) and Dodgers (who won the World Series) have accelerated the rise of the virus in southern California.

“Crowds of fans crammed into outdoor dining terraces,” the Los Angeles Times explained last week, noting that the rallies often included unmasked people “singing, singing or shouting.” The same story quotes Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County director of public health: “Don’t have a house party. Don’t go to a Super Bowl party.

The coming weeks are particularly important. Cases have fallen sharply and the pace of vaccination – although still extremely slow – is accelerating. We have reached a potential turning point, when Covid-19 deaths may start to decline and never again reach their previous highs.

But variants present a huge risk. Low-risk behavior a few months ago may no longer be. Already risky behavior, like attending an indoor party, can be even more risky.

“We have to double down,” Dr. Rebecca Wurtz of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health told me. “This is our chance to turn the corner, and we really have to seize it.”

(My colleague Tara Parker-Pope has detailed advice on what is safe.)

I have heard from many readers who want this newsletter to continue paying attention to vaccine news. So there you have it: there have been more encouraging developments.

  • AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford published data showing that none of the 12,408 people who had received a vaccine injection died of symptoms of Covid or were hospitalized with them. This is consistent with previous results from this vaccine, as well as initial results from four other vaccines – from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer.

  • The researchers found that the AstraZeneca vaccine also slows the transmission of the virus, highlighting the importance of mass vaccination as a way out of the pandemic.

  • A peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, found that the Russian vaccine, known as Sputnik V, also offered complete protection against serious illnesses from Covid. Dr Angela Rasmussen from Georgetown University called it “good news” and added, “We need more vaccines in the world.” (Related: The New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa and The Times’ Andrew Kramer, both based in Moscow, wrote about why they received the Sputnik vaccine.)

  • An important caveat: vaccine protection does not come immediately. It often takes at least two weeks.

  • The UK government has said that a variant of the virus first seen there has the potential to make vaccines less effective. But it is less alarming than it seems. For now, the concern is hypothetical: no data shows that the vaccines are ineffective on the British variant. Even if they are Less effective, other evidence suggests that modest levels of vaccine protection can almost always be sufficient to downgrade Covid to regular flu.

  • “Lately when I talk to reporters they expect me to be very concerned about the Covid variants. But I am not,” Dr Ellie Murray from Boston University’s School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter. “Why? Because we know what works to control Covid.” She is more concerned about the “lack of action” to promote social distancing, encourage mask wear and speed up vaccination, she added.

  • The Senate has voted along party lines on a procedural step that will allow Democrats to avoid a systematic obstruction of President Biden’s coronavirus relief plan and pass it with a right-wing majority.

  • Biden has signed three immigration decrees, including one aimed at reuniting migrant families that the Trump administration has separated. Immigration officials and advocates have warned the changes will not happen immediately.

  • The Biden administration announced new efforts to speed up vaccinations, including sending doses to retail pharmacies.

  • A Russian court has sentenced Aleksei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s loudest critic, to more than two years in prison on politicized charges.

  • New York prosecutors are investigating Steve Bannon, weeks after Trump pardoned him. Bannon could be accused of defrauding donors against the border wall.

  • A shootout in South Florida killed two FBI agents and injured three others. They were investigating violent crimes against children.

  • Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon and will become executive chairman. Andy Jassy, ​​who heads Amazon’s cloud computing division, will succeed him.

  • The GameStop share price is down 81% from its high last week, quickly wiping out the wealth of many investors.

A Morning Listen: Stricter border enforcement has led migrants overboard in dangerous attempts to reach California. Listen to the Times Magazine review.

From the review: “To my amazement, I support Brady” in the Super Bowl, writes Frank Bruni, a Times Opinion columnist. Here’s why.

Lives lived: Tom Moore, a British Army veteran nicknamed “Captain Tom”, became a symbol of determination at the start of the pandemic when he raised $ 45 million for hospitals by taking walks in his backyard. He died at age 100, having recently been hospitalized with Covid.

The Brooklyn Nets, who have long struggled to escape the shadow of the nearby Knicks, have put together a lineup so loaded with talent they look like a musical supergroup – basketball’s answer to the Three Tenors, the Traveling Wilburys or at Them Crooked Vultures.

Last month, the Nets made a successful trade to get NBA top scorer James Harden. He joined a team that already featured two stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The combo, Times basketball writer Marc Stein told us, is “the most ambitious blend of offensive talent in NBA history.”

Two years ago, Harden averaged over 36 points per game; only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have passed him. Durant has been the NBA’s most successful player four times – a number that, again, only Jordan and Chamberlain have surpassed. Irving is a six-time star player who won a championship in Cleveland.

However, their success is not guaranteed. In trading for Harden, the Nets have given up a lot, including some of their best defensemen. “Defense and depth will ultimately matter,” noted Marc. “You can’t just mark your way to an NBA championship”

“But,” he added, “the Nets have never been more important in New York.”

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was impalpable. Today’s puzzle is above – or you can play it online.

Here are today’s mini crosswords and a hint: Light green (four letters).


Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. – David

PS A hidden haiku from The Times’ review of a new Mike Nichols biography, on the book’s many celebrity cameos: “Everybody who / was anyone is here / smoking glass.”

You can see the first printed page of the day here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about a mother who found her daughter’s kidnappers. On “The Argument,” Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg talk about what they’ve learned from an argument over the past two years.

Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can join the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

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What happens when a Superspreader event continues to propagate

WASHINGTON – When it was revealed last spring that the coronavirus had stealthily infected 99 people after pharmaceutical company Biogen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, held a two-day conference in February, it helped add the term ” super-broadcaster ”in the pandemic lexicon.

No one knew how great the spread would become.

New analysis of the Biogen event at a Boston hotel concluded that the coronavirus strains released at the meeting have since migrated around the world, infecting an estimated 245,000 Americans – and potentially up to 300,000 – by the end October.

The viral strains have spread to at least 29 states. They have been found in Australia, Sweden and Slovakia. They went from a room filled with biotech executives to Boston homeless shelters, where they also spread widely among the occupants.

These are just infections. The number of people killed by the viral strains cannot be reliably estimated. The figures also do not include infections among the six million Americans who have tested positive for the coronavirus since October, as infections have increased.

“It’s a cautionary tale,” said Bronwyn MacInnis, a genomic epidemiologist at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

A spokesperson for Biogen did not respond to requests for comment on the report.

The analysis, carried out by more than 50 health experts and researchers based primarily in the Boston area, was published Thursday in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is based on genetic analyzes of the coronavirus taken from 28 people who attended Biogen’s annual management conference, at a Marriott hotel on the Boston waterfront, on February 26 and 27.

At the time, only 30 coronavirus infections had been confirmed in the United States, according to data compiled by the New York Times. More than a month earlier, Chinese authorities quarantined the 11 million residents of Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first detected. But the epidemics that would ravage Europe were still on the horizon; Italy had recorded its first death a few days earlier.

Some other companies had canceled international meetings as a precaution, but Biogen continued, bringing in 175 executives, including officials from Italy, Switzerland and Germany, for its management meeting. Within days, some fell ill.

Analysis of 28 cases determined that each person had been infected with a strain of the coronavirus, named C2416T, which had not previously been seen in the United States. The only known cases of the strain that preceded the Biogen conference involved two French patients, aged 87 and 88.

“We believe the mutation appeared in early or mid-February,” said Dr. Jacob E. Lemieux, infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and researcher at the Broad Institute. “We believe there was only one import into Boston, and that one import was closely related to the spread that occurred at the conference.”

This discovery and a second marker – a C2416T mutation that appears to be linked only to certain infections at the conference – allowed researchers to follow the Cambridge strain across the country and even around the world, and make broad estimates that excluded cases unrelated to the meeting.

As of May, it was estimated that between 44,000 and 56,000 known cases of coronavirus were directly linked to the Biogen conference. About 40 percent were in Boston, but the C2416T strain was carried across the country, to Indiana, Florida, North Carolina and possibly elsewhere by people who had attended the meeting.

New data included in the current analysis brought the estimate to around 245,000 cases – as low as 205,000 and as high as 300,000 – in 29 states. Researchers estimated the Cambridge strain of the virus to be responsible for 1.9% of all known coronavirus cases in the United States through October.

Massachusetts was no longer at the center of the outbreaks, although the viral strain remained widespread there. Instead, the researchers estimated that about 29% of all cases related to the Boston reunion occurred in Florida. Dr Lemieux said scientists had no explanation as to why the Cambridge strain of the virus grew so vigorously there.

One of the most striking findings from the study was that within a month of the Biogen conference, the strain of virus introduced there had made its way to homeless shelters in the Boston area. Tests at shelters, affiliated with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, found 14 strains of the coronavirus, four of which appeared to have become super-prevalent. The researchers found that two clusters of cases that looked like mass-market events were associated with the conference virus.

Dr Lemieux said this offered a lesson for those who take a laid back attitude towards the coronavirus. “It’s just the interconnectivity of society,” he said. “Our intuition on how we can be disconnected is unreliable. We are so connected that we don’t appreciate the connections and interactions we have. “

He said it was impossible to say how the coronavirus was introduced in the management meeting.

“We don’t know if this came in with someone who was there for the conference, or if it came in before the conference and was amplified by it,” Dr. Lemieux said. “All we know is that we are unable to detect a spread of cases until the conference.”

But in the months following the Biogen outbreak, the company came under fire for hosting an international conference at a time when the likelihood of a pandemic was becoming clearer.

The company previously said it decided to hold the conference using the best information it had at the time. But the study released this week only underscores concerns about the ruling, said John Carroll, editor of Endpoints News, which covers the biotech industry.

“The irony, of course, is that a large pharmaceutical company was responsible for triggering all of the mass-market events that played a major role in the endemic virus in the United States, killing over 3,000 Americans per day, ”he said. “Senior Biogen executives accidentally triggered a massive wreck on a healthcare train and watched it unfold on the sidelines.”

Michael Wines reported from Washington, and Amy Harmon from New York. Kim barker contributed reporting from New York.

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Swearing by Barrett, Trump defiantly mimics ‘Superspreader’ rose garden ceremony

Judge Barrett, 48, who has seven children, will be the youngest member of the current court, his third wife, his sixth Catholic and his only lawyer outside the Ivy League. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School, where she later taught, she has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since Mr. Trump appointed her in 2017 and became one of the preferred by curators. His Supreme Court appointment was Mr. Trump’s third, the largest any president has had in a single term since Richard M. Nixon, and significant credibility for Republican voters who care about justice.

In her own remarks Monday, Judge Barrett, whose black short-sleeved gown contrasted with the president’s heavy black overcoat on a crisp 55-degree evening, called the Senate’s swift approval a “rigorous confirmation process.” , a Democrats characterization. bitterly fought.

But she seemed determined to send the message that she wouldn’t just bid Mr. Trump, using the words “independent” or “independence” three times, even though he said explicitly that he wanted that. she is seated before the elections so that she can vote in the event of a legal dispute over the ballot.

“A judge declares her independence not only from Congress and the President, but also from private beliefs that might otherwise displace her,” Justice Barrett said after taking the oath. “The oath that I have solemnly taken this evening,” she added, “means to her heart that I will do my job without any fear or favor and that I will do it independently of the two political branches and of my own. preferences.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans seemed to believe this, instead praising or condemning its confirmation as a victory for the Conservatives and a defeat for the Liberals. His replacement from Justice Ginsburg means the Conservative wing now controls the Supreme Court 6-3, heralding a new era of case law not just on the upcoming election, but on topical issues like abortion, gay rights and Healthcare.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Mr. Trump’s outspoken allies, taunted Hillary Clinton, who lost to Mr. Trump in 2016, after the evening vote in the Senate.