Covid News: Cases on U.S. College Campuses Are Slowing Down

University of Missouri students earlier this month.
Credit…Jacob Moscovitch for The New York Times

As spring classes draw to a close and more people in the United States get vaccinated, coronavirus infections, which plagued college campuses across the country and seeped into the community at large, appear to be slowing among students and employees.

The New York Times has been tracking virus cases at U.S. colleges and universities for nearly a year and has identified about 700,000 infections involving students and employees. Of those, more than 260,000 cases have occurred since Jan. 1.

The Times has regularly surveyed more than 1,900 colleges and universities for coronavirus information for nearly a year. Altogether, the colleges reported about 60,000 cases each month between January and late April. From late April to late May, however, they reported fewer than 30,000 cases. Some of the newly identified cases may be from earlier in the pandemic and cases may be slowing in some places because spring semesters ended in early May, but the decline suggests that the overall outlook might be improving.

Many students experienced an unusual academic year. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who visit campus frequently were required to be tested twice a week for the coronavirus. The class of 2021 is set to graduate virtually, much like graduates from the previous year, but both classes anticipate an on-campus celebration in 2022.

The college has announced that all enrolled students must be fully vaccinated before the start of the fall semester, with certain exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

“I think most students really, really, really want to get back onto campus, be able to socialize with their friends again,” said Danielle Geathers, student body president. “If that’s what it takes, everyone is willing to do that.”

People in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 represent about 8 percent of those with at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 200 schools have said they will require students to be vaccinated before the fall semester. Many dozens more, including large public university systems in California and New York, have said they will mandate shots if the Food and Drug Administration fully approves one or more vaccines, according to a Times survey. And hundreds are currently requiring masks indoors on campus, regardless of vaccination status.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this article misstated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 represent about 8 percent of those who have received at least one shot. It is not the case that 8 percent of people in the United States in that age group have received at least one shot. 

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Ohio Announces Winners of Vaccination Lottery

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio announced the winner of the state’s $1 million Vax-a-Million lottery and the winner of a full college scholarship on Wednesday. Over 2.7 million Ohioans entered to win and additional drawings will take place in the coming weeks.

“When you walked in, what did you, what was the reaction your parents had?” “Well, I was screaming enough that my parents thought that I was crying and that something was wrong. And when I started yelling that I won a $1 million and I was going to be a millionaire, they told me to calm down and make sure it wasn’t a prank before I really started freaking out. I could see notifications coming up on my phone that people were starting to follow me on Instagram and Facebook, and message me. And I think that was it for me. I knew that my name had actually been announced. And I had actually won the Vax-a-Million.” “People from the governor’s office, I guess, told me that I had won the lottery scholarship.” “And Colleen, when I called you, you were, I think you were just leaving work.” “Yes.” “And what was your first reaction?” “Well, my first reaction was I thought maybe I was listening to your voice, and it was a taped message. And the more we talked, the more I realized it was really you, live. And I was really thankful at that moment that there was a bench nearby because I needed to sit down, and sort of, like Abby said, ground myself a little to absorb the information you were sharing.”

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Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio announced the winner of the state’s $1 million Vax-a-Million lottery and the winner of a full college scholarship on Wednesday. Over 2.7 million Ohioans entered to win and additional drawings will take place in the coming weeks.CreditCredit…Office of the Ohio Governor, via Associated Press

Abbigail Bugenske, 22, had all but forgotten about her long-shot bid to become Ohio’s next millionaire.

As the clock inched toward 7:29 p.m. on Wednesday night, the state was preparing to announce the winner of its first lottery drawing for vaccinated Ohioans live on television. Ms. Bugenske was driving from Cincinnati to her parents’ house near Cleveland when she got a call that left her in hysterics. The governor was on the line. She had just won $1 million.

“I thought it was a prank call initially,” said Ms. Bugenske, who soon saw an explosion of messages on her phone that confirmed the news. She walked into her parents’ house in disbelief.

“I was screaming enough that my parents thought that I was crying and that something was wrong,” she recalled on Thursday. “I started yelling that I won a million dollars and I was going to be a millionaire.”

Ms. Bugenske, who graduated from college last year and recently moved to the Cincinnati area to take a job as an engineer, won the money through Ohio’s new lottery offering $1 million to people who have gotten at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. The idea, which has drawn both enthusiasm and scrutiny, is gaining traction across the country, as states like Colorado, Maryland and Oregon offer similar incentives in an effort to boost waning vaccinations.

On Thursday, California joined the bandwagon. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would fund a $116.5 million vaccine incentive program to motivate Californians: $100 million in $50 prepaid cards for the next two million newly vaccinated people and $16.5 million in cash prizes for all vaccinated Californians. Thirty winners in total will be selected for $50,000 cash prize drawings on Fridays, and on June 15, 10 Californians will be randomly selected for $1.5 million awards each.

One criticism of such programs is that they may do little to change the minds of people who are against the vaccines. Ms. Bugenske, for example, said she got her shot as soon as she became eligible, before the lottery was announced, and later entered her name for the drawing. (Ohio residents who have gotten at least one shot are eligible to enter the lottery, no matter when they got vaccinated.)

“I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine,” she said. “If winning a million dollars isn’t incentive enough, I don’t really know what would be.”

More than 2.7 million Ohioans entered to win $1 million in the lottery, and additional drawings will take place in the coming weeks. The lottery also offers a full-ride scholarship to college for children ages 12 to 17.

Joseph Costello, a 14-year-old from Englewood, near Dayton, won the first scholarship out of more than 104,000 entries. On Thursday morning, he wore a polo shirt for a series of television interviews and sat sheepishly on his couch, in between his beaming parents.

His mother, Colleen Costello, who entered her family into the lottery, recalled how she had joked with her colleagues over lunch on Wednesday that her life could dramatically change if she or a family member won. Ms. Costello, a chemical engineer, soon forgot about the drawing and was leaving the office when she got a call from Gov. Mike DeWine.

“My first reaction was, I thought maybe I was listening to your voice and it was a taped message,” she told the governor at a news conference on Thursday. “The more we talked, the more we realized, it was really you, live. I was really thankful at that moment that there was a bench nearby because I needed to sit down.”

Her husband, Rich Costello, who works as a teacher, was at a coffee shop doing school work when his wife called and asked if he was sitting down. He hurried to pick up his son from youth group, but kept the news a secret until they got home, where the governor, his wife and members of the governor’s staff planned to visit.

“We were riding home, and I said, ‘Joe, it’s good news, but no questions,’” Mr. Costello said. “Just look out the window.”

A member of the governor’s office broke the news to Joseph in the family’s driveway, his parents recalled, and later, they visited with the governor, their family and neighbors in their front lawn in the Dayton suburbs.

Ms. Costello said that she and her husband had intended to have their children get a Covid-19 vaccine, but the lottery accelerated their plans. Joseph, who became eligible for a vaccine in the 12 to 15-year-old age group earlier this month, got his shot on Saturday, and Ms. Costello entered the family on Sunday, before a midnight deadline.

Joseph, who just finished the eighth grade and is enjoying the first days of his summer vacation, said he is still deciding what he might study. On his list of potential colleges: Ohio State University.

As for Ms. Bugenske, she said she had no plans to quit her day job. She hopes to donate some of the money and invest the rest. But there is one thing she might like to buy. When she got the call from the governor, she was on her way to Northeast Ohio, with the hopes of looking at a used car.

“I think buying a used car is still in my future,” she said.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology. Officials say the central goal of the new intelligence push is to improve preparations for future pandemics.
Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

President Biden’s call for a 90-day sprint to understand the origins of the coronavirus pandemic came after intelligence officials told the White House that they had a raft of still-unexamined evidence that required additional computer analysis that might shed light on the mystery, according to senior administration officials.

The officials declined to describe the new evidence. But the revelation that they are hoping to apply an extraordinary amount of computer power to the question of whether the virus accidentally leaked from a Chinese laboratory suggests that the government may not have exhausted its databases of Chinese communications, the movement of lab workers and the pattern of the outbreak of the disease around the city of Wuhan.

In addition to marshaling scientific resources, Mr. Biden’s push is intended to prod American allies and intelligence agencies to mine existing information — like intercepts, witnesses or biological evidence — as well as hunt for new intelligence to determine whether the Chinese government covered up an accidental leak.

Mr. Biden committed on Thursday to making the results of the review public, but added a caveat: “unless there’s something I’m unaware of.”

The effort to uncover the origins of the coronavirus began more than a year ago, during the Trump administration. But some officials were wary of President Donald J. Trump’s motives, arguing that his interest was either to deflect blame from his administration’s handling of it or to punish China.

Current officials say the central goal of the new intelligence push is to improve preparations for future pandemics. As a result, Mr. Biden’s message this week was calibrated to leave open the possibility of future cooperation with China.

Vaccination centers in Mexico City now come with a slate of entertainment options to counter a glacial start. Freestyle dancers perform for people recently vaccinated with the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in April.
Credit…Alejandro Cegarra for The New York Times

Mexico gave emergency authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, paving the way for the country to start using the doses of the vaccine, according to the country’s drug regulators.

The Mexican government has previously authorized vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Russia’s Sputnik V, as well as China’s Sinovac and CanSino.

The pandemic has taken a brutal toll on Mexico. The government resisted imposing strict lockdowns, fearing damage to the economy, and has not tested widely, arguing it is a waste of money. Mexico now has the fourth highest coronavirus death toll worldwide. (An earlier version of this item reported incorrectly that it was the third.)

The country began its coronavirus vaccination campaign in December. According to a New York Times database, nine percent of the country is fully vaccinated and 15 percent has received at least one dose. Virus cases have been slowly dropping in Mexico. Over the past week, the country has averaged 2,173 cases per day, a decrease of 1 percent from the average two weeks ago. Deaths have decreased by 13 percent.

In March, the White House announced its plans to send millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada.

After the vaccine campaign got off to a glacial start, the pace began to pick up nationally by mid-April. In a bid to improve their customer service, vaccination centers in Mexico’s capital now come with a slate of entertainment options, including dancing, yoga, live operatic performances and the chance to watch large, bare-chested Lucha Libre wrestlers do the limbo.

Signs offering Covid-19 vaccinations this month outside a CVS pharmacy in Washington, D.C.
Credit…Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Facing a national decline in Covid-19 vaccination rates and an underwhelming response to vaccines in its own stores, the U.S. pharmacy chain CVS will offer a chance at money, vacations and a Super Bowl trip to persuade the unvaccinated to start going in for their shots.

CVS said in April that it could administer 25 million shots each month, but as of this week it had only administered about 17 million doses in total as mass vaccination sites ended up playing a bigger role in the nation’s early vaccination campaign.

The CVS incentives could not only help get more people vaccinated, but provide a boost to the company: The Medicare payment to administer each dose is $40.

Nationally, the average number of doses administered daily has slowed to 1.7 million, down from a peak of more than 3.3 million in April.

CVS said in a statement that in an effort to “provide a positive reminder of the activities that are possible once vaccinated,” it had joined with other companies to offer prizes to people who get a shot at one of its pharmacies.

Among the incentives: Weeklong Norwegian Cruises, $100 dates sponsored by the dating app Hinge and a trip to Super Bowl LVI next year.

CVS will give 125 people $500 and five people $5,000 to host family reunions.

People 18 and older who “received a vaccination or certify that they’ve registered to receive a vaccination from CVS Health” are eligible for the sweepstakes, which runs from June 1 to July 10, the statement said.

CVS isn’t the first to offer inducements to the unvaccinated. Ohio, Colorado and Oregon are offering residents a chance at $1 million for getting vaccinated, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York on Wednesday said that residents ages 12 to 17 who get vaccinated would be entered to win a full-ride scholarship to a public university in the state. (Other incentives include free beer in New Jersey and $50 gift cards in Detroit for driving someone to a vaccination site.)

More than 165 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, only 40 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, leaving a significant portion of the country vulnerable to infection.

With the Memorial Day holiday looming, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, warned unvaccinated Americans on Tuesday that they “remain at risk of infection” and should still take precautions like distancing and wearing a mask.

Members of a World Heath Organization team arriving at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, in February.
Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On the heels of President Biden’s abrupt order to U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, many scientists reacted positively, reflecting their push in recent weeks for more information about the work of a virus lab in Wuhan, China. But they cautioned against expecting an answer in the three-month time frame of the president’s request.

After long steering clear of the debate, some influential scientists have lately become more open to expressing uncertainties about the origins of the virus. If the two most vocal poles of the argument are natural spillover vs. laboratory leak, these new voices have added a third point of view: a resounding undecided.

“In the beginning, there was a lot of pressure against speaking up, because it was tied to conspiracies and Trump supporters,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University. “There was very little rational discussion going on in the beginning.”

Virologists still largely lean toward the theory that infected animals — perhaps a bat, or another animal raised for food — spread the virus to humans outside of a lab. There is no direct evidence for the “lab leak” theory that Chinese researchers isolated the virus, which then infected a lab worker.

But China’s integral role in a joint inquiry with the World Health Organization made its dismissal of the lab leak theory difficult to accept, Dr. Iwasaki and 17 other scientists argued in the journal Science this month.

On Wednesday, two weeks after that letter was published, President Biden called on intelligence agencies to “redouble their efforts” and deliver a report to him within 90 days. On Thursday Mr. Biden said he expected to release the report to the public.

While researchers generally welcome a sustained search for answers, some warn that those answers may not arrive any time soon — if ever.

China’s lack of cooperation with the W.H.O. has long fueled suspicions about how the coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, had emerged seemingly from nowhere to seize the world.

Administering a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a center in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, near Paris, in April.
Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

The mysterious London public relations agency sent its pitch simultaneously to social media influencers in France and Germany: Claim that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is deadly and that regulators and the mainstream media are covering it up, the message read, and earn thousands of euros in easy money in exchange.

The claim is false. The purported agency, Fazze, has a website and describes itself as an “influencer marketing platform” connecting bloggers and advertisers. But when some of the influencers tried to find out who was running Fazze, the ephemeral trail appeared to lead to Russia.

“Unbelievable. The address of the London agency that contacted me is bogus,” Léo Grasset, a popular French health and science YouTuber with more than one million followers, wrote on Twitter on Monday. “All the employees have weird LinkedIn profiles … which have been missing since this morning. Everyone has worked in Russia before.”

Mirko Drotschmann, a German health commentator with 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, said in a tweet that the P.R. agency had asked if he wanted to be part of an “information campaign” about Pfizer deaths in exchange for money. After doing some research, he concluded: “Agency headquarters: London. Residence of the C.E.O.: Moscow.”

Their responses prompted two other social media influencers to come forward and say that they, too, were approached last week with the offer of a “partnership” to criticize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. One was offered 2,000 euros, about $2,400. It’s uncertain how many influencers received the solicitations, or if any acted on them.

And it’s not at all clear that there ever was a Fazze agency. Within hours of the questions on social media, the employee profiles on the agency’s LinkedIn account had disappeared, and someone scrubbed its Facebook page blank. Its Instagram account was made private. Its website offers no way to contact the company.

The French health minister, Olivier Véran, denounced the operation on Tuesday, calling it “pathetic and dangerous.” He did not elaborate on whether the government was investigating the matter.

People gathered in front of the El Campin stadium to protest holding the Copa America in Bogota, Colombia, earlier this month. 
Credit…Carlos Ortega/EPA, via Shutterstock

South America’s largest soccer tournament is scheduled to start in just over two weeks, but with one of the planned host countries, Colombia, removed because of ongoing political protests, and the remaining host, Argentina, mired in its worst coronavirus surge to date, it is unclear where the competition will take place.

Argentines and their government officials are torn over the wisdom of hosting the championship, Copa América, in a discussion that mirrors the one in Japan over holding the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Last week, President Alberto Fernández called this Argentina’s “worst moment in the pandemic” and announced stringent lockdown measures. The country now ranks third in the world, after neighboring Uruguay and Paraguay, in the number of deaths as a proportion of the population over the past week, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

Last Wednesday night, Mr. Fernández met with Alejandro Domínguez, the head of the South American soccer federation, Conmebol, and presented a “strict protocol” that would have to be followed in order for the tournament to be held in the country.

Argentina’s Health Ministry will analyze the plans and come to a determination of whether the games, set to start June 13, and to feature stars like Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Neymar of Brazil, can go ahead.

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