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By Jonathan Wolfe
Aid is coming to India, but its Covid catastrophe is likely to continue.
Brazil's health authority rejected importing Sputnik V, the vaccine made by Russia.
Moderate drinking is unlikely to impair the immune response to the Covid vaccine, but heavy drinking might.
Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and vaccines in development.
It's a picnic and you're vaccinated. Take off your mask.
President Biden and federal officials announced today that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outdoors in most situations. These include when walking, running, hiking or biking alone, or with members of their household; or if they attend small outdoor gatherings.
"Beginning today, gathering with a group of friends, in a park, going for a picnic," Biden said, addressing reporters outside the White House, "as long as you are vaccinated and outdoors, you can do it without wearing a mask."
The guidance, however, stopped short of saying Americans can shed their masks altogether. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were still reasons to be cautious because of high caseloads in some parts of the country and the risk of still transmitting the virus after vaccination.
The agency also maintained that adults should continue to wear masks and social distance:
In large public spaces, like outdoor performances or sports events, indoor shopping malls and movie theaters, or when the space is crowded.
Where the vaccination and health status of others are unknown, like a social gathering where you don't know everyone's status.
Adults should still avoid medium and large gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces. And everyone should still wear a mask when doing almost anything indoors that involves contact with people who are not members of your household.
If you're confused by the new advice — and when and where you should wear a mask — you're not alone. Some experts wondered whether the new directives were overly complicated, establishing different standards for those who are vaccinated and those who are not, even though it is impossible to know which category people are in.
"It's not like you can go up to someone in public and say, ‘You don't have a mask on — are you vaccinated?'" said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. "Those who aren't vaccinated will promptly take their mask off outdoors because no one can check."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A growing body of research indicates that the risk of spreading the virus is far lower outdoors than it is indoors. Viral particles disperse quickly outdoors, experts say, meaning brief encounters with a passing walker or jogger pose very little risk of transmission.
In her critic's notebook, Amanda Hess, who writes about the internet and pop culture for The New York Times, examines the vaccination campaign and how it has — ahem — gone viral.
Images of filled-out vaccine cards are status symbols. There are vaccine fan-fiction TikToks where the pharmaceutical brands are spun into whole personalities. And there is even a vaccine heartthrob: Huge Ma, the "Vaccine Daddy" behind the Twitter account @TurboVax, which surfaces available appointments in real time in New York.
"These vaccine performances are tinged with an edge of uber-capitalist sociopathy," Amanda writes. "It feels very American to convert our biggest brush with socialized medicine into a personal branding exercise rooted in the worship of pharmaceutical companies."
There's a downside to all of the fun, Amanda writes. "Vaccine content provides the inoculated with a sense of closure, even as infections continue to spread and herd immunity is out of reach. The vaccine rollout has also supplied content for an upside-down social media world, in which Covid skeptics, conspiracy theorists and antivax influencers run the show, and they are envisioning a very different kind of twist."
Read Amanda's full article here.
A school punishes the vaccinated
A co-founder of a school in Miami recently told employees "with a very heavy heart" that if they chose to get vaccinated, they would have to stay away from students.
Leila Centner, one of the co-founders of the private Centner Academy, claimed in the letter that "reports have surfaced recently of non-vaccinated people being negatively impacted by interacting with people who have been vaccinated."
"Even among our own population, we have at least three women with menstrual cycles impacted after having spent time with a vaccinated person," she wrote, repeating a false claim that vaccinated people can somehow pass the vaccine to others and affect their reproductive systems. (We should note: They can do neither.)
Centner's publicist said in a statement to The Times that the school's top priority was to keep students safe, but the statement also repeated false claims about vaccinations. The case is unusual, but it's a powerful example of how misinformation threatens the nation's efforts to vaccinate Americans and get the spread of the virus under control.
Read more about the school here.
In Moscow, the city government began a program to encourage turnout at vaccination sites with gift certificates. Residents over age 60 will receive a voucher for 1,000 rubles, or about $13, redeemable at stores and restaurants.
U.S. defense officials told Stars and Stripes that the Pentagon will lift its pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine later this week as demand among service members for vaccines has increased.
U.S. pharmacies were told by federal health officials to offer second vaccine doses to people who got first shots elsewhere.
A hospital system in Texas is requiring employees to get vaccinated, or face dismissal, CNN reports.
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What else we're following
Dr. Anthony Fauci said that if the vaccination pace holds, the U.S. should reach a turning point in the pandemic within a few weeks, CNBC reports.
The authorities in Portugal said they might lift a state of emergency as early as the end of this month after reporting zero deaths from the virus on Monday.
Thailand's prime minister was fined for not wearing a mask.
The Navajo Nation once had the highest per capita infection rate in the country, but it has inoculated more than half of its adult population, outpacing the U.S. nationally, NPR reports.
New York City's economic recovery depends partly on tourists, but a city plan aims to curb new hotel construction.
After a trial concert in Barcelona last month to test safety measures with 5,000 people, researchers have found no large outbreaks, DW reports.
What you're doing
I've read this bit every day for the past year. Now I read about people happily resuming pre-Covid activities, like meeting up with friends and family, socializing, or getting excited to attend concerts and dine out. I can't at all relate. Pandemic isolation and introspection have been my sanctuary and bliss. After 47 years of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and making lame excuses for missing social and work networking events, 2020 permitted me to lean into my true introvert. I felt braver and more creative than ever in my remote work. I relished the relief of masks, of not being judged for my appearance, of getting a break from scrutiny about not smiling enough. I loved attending Zoom programs hosted by public libraries and nonprofits nationwide. I mourn the loss of all of this. I dread having to feign sociability again to be accepted in life and at work, acting my way through re-acclimating to the majority's version of normal.
— Tara Chhabra, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
27th April 2021.