Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Narrowing the vaccine race gap.

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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

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Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

An F.D.A. panel recommended a Moderna booster for many Americans.

President Biden called on businesses to “step up” as he expressed optimism about the fight against the virus.

Six out of seven coronavirus cases in Africa are going undetected, the W.H.O. said.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

Why many Black Americans changed their minds

Black Americans were once less likely than any other racial group to be vaccinated. But a wave of pro-vaccine campaigns, employer mandates and a surge of virus deaths have helped narrowed that gap.

A roughly equal share of Black, white and Hispanic adult populations — 70 percent of Black adults, 71 percent of white adults and 73 percent of Hispanic adults — have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

My colleague Audra D.S. Burch, a national correspondent, said community groups played a crucial role in shifting opinions. Some of the most essential work involved solving basic logistical hurdles: providing internet access to make appointments, managing transportation to vaccine sites and sending familiar faces to knock on doors to dispel myths.

While the efforts paid off, there are still holdouts who cite several reasons for not getting a shot, ranging from safety concerns and health disparities to political identity and anti-government ideology.

“What we found is that some African Americans were going through their own journey, their own way of getting from no to yes,” Audra said. “And for some people, that meant reconciling a very painful history in which African Americans have been mistreated and abused and neglected over hundreds of years.”

Audra specifically talked with many residents of Tuskegee, Ala., where the U.S. Public Health Service ran a notorious syphilis experiment in which treatment was intentionally withheld from hundreds of Black men. It ran over the course of 40 years, ending in 1972 after it was exposed in a news story.

Experts say the syphilis experiment was part of a long history of medical exploitation and neglect experienced by Black Americans, eroding trust in the government and health care systems.

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Collecting blood from a participant in the secretive, U.S. Public Health Service study of men with syphilis in Alabama.Credit…National Archives

“You’re talking about scaling this mountain of history — though the experiment and the vaccines are very different — then making a decision about vaccination,” Audra said. “And it wasn’t that long ago. You’re talking about people’s fathers and grandfathers, uncles, brothers. And what’s important to understand is that people I spoke with said it wasn’t necessarily the study, as much as the study was a metaphor for distrust of the government, and distrust of medical institutions. The Tuskegee trial, in many ways, represented what our government was capable of.”

The legacy of the study isn’t the only factor in vaccine hesitancy among some groups of African Americans. Health care disparities can also play a role, Audra said. As for the vaccination campaigns in Macon County, which is home to many descendants of the Tuskegee trails, “the rates are improving,” Audra said, “so clearly some people there are reconciling the history.”

Hunting for Covid’s origins

Newly discovered coronaviruses found in Laotian bats are giving us a hint about the origins of Covid-19.

My colleague Carl Zimmer writes that in the summer of 2020, scientists collected samples of bat feces from the forests of northern Laos and found that they contained coronaviruses, including three with a molecular hook on their surface that was very similar to the one on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and that allows them to latch onto human cells.

The findings have significant implications for the charged debate over Covid’s origins. Some people have speculated that SARS-CoV-2’s impressive ability to infect human cells could not have evolved naturally. But the new findings seem to suggest otherwise.

“That really puts to bed any notion that this virus had to have been concocted, or somehow manipulated in a lab, to be so good at infecting humans,” said Michael Worobey, a University of Arizona virologist who was not involved in the work.

Experts suspect that these Covid-like viruses may already be infecting people from time to time, causing only mild and limited outbreaks. But under the right circumstances, the pathogens could give rise to a Covid-19-like pandemic.

In other developments, the W.H.O. named a new advisory group to study the origins of the pandemic.

What else we’re following

Nearly one in five American families has had care for serious illnesses delayed in the past few months because of crowded hospitals, NPR reports.

Here’s a snapshot of where things stand on booster shots for the three vaccines in use in the U.S.

Florida’s Department of Health is investigating businesses for enforcing Covid-safety rules, like requiring customers to show proof of vaccination, Axios reports.

Deaths from tuberculosis rose in 2020 for the first time in a decade, confirming W.H.O. warnings that the pandemic would reverse progress against other infectious diseases.

Applications to U.S. nursing schools are on the rise, as students see the pandemic as an opportunity and a challenge, The Associated Press reports.

Walgreen has dispensed more coronavirus vaccinations than it expected, which helped bolster its sales.

The Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving defended his refusal to be vaccinated, saying nobody should be “forced” to do it.

What you’re doing

My husband and I caught breakthrough infections last week, less than five days from his scheduled booster shot. The insensitivity of our fellow Oklahomans has put us, and our unvaccinated — and now also infected — children at severe risk. I’m working through a lot of anger towards our neighbors and coworkers right now, and I feel completely disconnected from my community. Unfortunately, I’m not speaking their language anymore because I trust the scientific method, and so many of us just don’t, because it doesn’t fit with our religious upbringing out here in farm country. Yes, distrust your government, absolutely. Nevertheless, science isn’t evil, and I’m pretty sure Jesus wanted people to use their brains.

— Heather Bowles, Tulsa

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