Covid Live Updates: Appeals Panel Ruling Limits Public-Health Expulsions of Migrant Families at U.S. Border
"New York became the latest city to drop major pandemic restrictions amid the waning of the U.S. Omicron surge. The variant remains a global problem, devastating Hong Kong among other places.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration can no longer use a public health rule to justify expelling migrant families who cross the border without documentation if doing so would subject them to persecution or torture, according to a federal appeals panel ruling issued on Friday.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Trump administration turned to the obscure provision of public health law, known as Title 42, issuing an order that gave border officials the authority to immediately turn migrants away at the southwest border, even if they were seeking asylum.
The Biden administration has kept the order in place for all migrants except children who arrive at the border without a parent or guardian. Officials have said it falls to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide when the rule can be lifted. The agency’s next review of the policy will be in April.
“For now, the Executive may expel the Plaintiffs, but only to places where they will not be persecuted or tortured,” said the ruling, issued by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. To convey that, immigration law experts say migrants need to tell officials that they are at risk of such an outcome. By law, that is done through a so-called credible fear hearing, a time-consuming, resource-intensive step that immigration officials have largely been able to avoid during the pandemic because of the public health rule.
Expulsions under Title 42 have proved an efficient way to expel undocumented immigrants at a time when a record number have crossed the southwest border. The Biden administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.
The ruling does not apply to single adult migrants — only to families arriving at the border together. But the court’s opinion could make it harder for the administration to justify that no migrant is entitled to express a fear of persecution or violence.
Since the order was put in place in March 2020, more than 181,000 migrant families have been expelled under it. But that is only 25 percent of the families who have been caught crossing the border since then. Many have been allowed into the country to face deportation proceedings for a variety of reasons, including humanitarian exceptions.
Critics of the rule, including a number of public health experts, have said there is no public health benefit to expelling migrants to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the United States. The appeals panel appeared to agree.
“To be sure, as with most things in life, no approach to Covid-19 can eliminate every risk,” the panel wrote. “But from a public-health perspective, based on the limited record before us, it’s far from clear that the C.D.C.’s order serves any purpose.”
The order, it added, “looks in certain respects like a relic from an era with no vaccines, scarce testing, few therapeutics, and little certainty.”
Mayor Eric Adams said on Friday that he was officially ending New York City’s mask mandate for public schools and a proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor dining, gyms and entertainment venues, a significant moment for a city that was once an epicenter of the pandemic.
Mr. Adams made the announcement in Times Square in Manhattan and said it was part of his efforts to reopen New York after a steep drop in coronavirus cases.
Starting on Monday, students will no longer have to wear masks indoors at public schools. Children under 5 must continue to wear masks because they are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Also as of Monday, people will not be required to show proof of vaccination to visit the city’s restaurants, gyms and other venues like movie theaters. Masks are still required on public transit and in some venues, including Broadway theaters.
“It’s time to reopen our city,” Mr. Adams said on Friday.
Coronavirus cases have dropped quickly over the last month after a surge caused by the Omicron variant. The city is logging about 500 daily cases now and 25 hospitalizations compared with more than 40,000 cases and 1,000 hospitalizations per day in January.
Still, some health experts have raised concerns that Mr. Adams is moving too quickly to remove pandemic restrictions and that the proof-of-vaccination requirement, known as the Key to NYC program, has helped keep New Yorkers safe, especially because the city has so many international visitors.
Dr. Jay Varma, a top health adviser to the previous mayor, Bill de Blasio, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Daily News on Thursday urging Mr. Adams to keep the program.
Mr. Adams has said that the proof-of-vaccination program worked by encouraging more New Yorkers to get vaccinated. He has decided to keep vaccine mandates for city workers and for employees at private companies who are working in person.
Nearly 87 percent of adult New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, according to city data. Rates are lower among children; only about 56 percent of those ages 5 to 17 are fully vaccinated.
President Biden quickly took credit on Friday for the latest evidence of a labor market recovery, saying that the gain of 678,000 in February “shows that my plan to build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out is working to get America back to work.”
In the statement, Mr. Biden hailed job increases across a broad range of industries, and he credited his administration’s efforts to combat Covid-19 for allowing people to get back to work.
He acknowledged the impact of inflation, promising to “tackle head on the challenge families are facing with rising costs.” But he cited the global nature of the price increases, and said the Labor Department report reflected a strong economic foundation.
“Today’s report underscores that the United States is uniquely well positioned to deal with the challenge that inflation has posed across the world as we recover from the pandemic,” he said.
Waiting for an ambulance in Hong Kong can take more than a day as the city reels from a surge in Omicron cases and its hospitals, doctors and nurses are stretched thin.
One-third of Hong Kong’s ambulance workers have tested positive for the coronavirus or are quarantining because they are close contacts of positive cases. That’s nearly 1,000 employees, said Saphine Yip at the Fire Services Department.
The longest wait time for an ambulance was a day and 15 hours, she said.
Officials are battling the city’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with 56,827 cases reported on Thursday. The city has recorded 1,153 deaths since the Omicron variant began to spread in January, and a majority of deaths have been among the older people who are not vaccinated.
For much of the pandemic, Hong Kong avoided huge outbreaks by employing tough border controls and social distancing rules. For the better part of the past two years, officials recorded single- or double-digit daily cases, and most of those were considered imported cases from travelers who had recently arrived in Hong Kong and were still in quarantine.
Once a model for how to control a pandemic, Hong Kong is becoming a cautionary tale, with scenes that recall the earliest — and most fearful — days of the pandemic. Hospitals have run out of beds in isolation wards and are operating at near full occupancy rate and dead bodies have piled up in hospital hallways because of limited manpower to move the dead to public morgues.
Health care workers and emergency responders have been faced with soaring demand for their services from the public, and officials have appealed to those with mild symptoms to stay home instead of using up precious government resources.
Los Angeles County is lifting nearly all of its indoor mask and vaccine verification requirements, local officials said.
The change, in effect on Friday, drops mask requirements in public settings like grocery stores, restaurants and bars. It also removes the need to show proof of vaccination or negative test results to enter indoor bars, wineries or most other businesses.
California state rules still require proof of vaccination or negative test results to enter large indoor events, as well as masks on transit and in other high-risk settings, including hospitals.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, cited new federal guidelines for measuring risk in communities in her office’s decision to remove restrictions sooner than expected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated measures, she said, Los Angeles County is in the low-risk category.
Still, Dr. Ferrer said that masks were strongly recommended, and that individual businesses could opt to keep in place requirements.
“Covid-19 is a deadly virus, and it’s still with us — it ebbs and flows,” she said. “We need to take advantage of the good times we’re about to be in, where we’re seeing much less risk across the board for so many, and be prepared, should we see a new variant.”
Although the city of Los Angeles will, for the time being, still require bars, restaurants and many other indoor businesses to check vaccine status, the moment is a major symbolic milestone for Angelenos who have weathered some of the nation’s deadliest surges and have lived under some of the nation’s most enduring restrictions.
Dr. Ferrer has been a particular voice of caution, even as her department has faced frustration from residents who believed stringent rules were unnecessary.
In recent weeks, though, Dr. Ferrer, along with other public health officials across the country, has shifted her focus toward measures to prevent surges, hospitalizations and deaths.
She said the county would continue to help residents get vaccinated, and that her department would continue to track case data closely to intervene before outbreaks at schools or businesses spiral out of control. Dr. Ferrer emphasized that the county would work to ensure that all communities have equitable access to therapeutics for people who get sick with Covid-19.
On Monday, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington jointly announced that on March 12, they would lift statewide mask requirements in schools, which were some of the last remaining statewide restrictions. And California officials lifted a mask mandate for unvaccinated people in indoor public spaces on Tuesday.
Top federal health officials said Thursday that they intended to begin offering low and middle-income nations access to the technology developed by government scientists that might be used to prevent or treat Covid-19. They did not specify which technologies might be included, but hinted that the policy could eventually apply to the Moderna vaccine if the Biden administration won a patent dispute with the company.
President Biden’s health secretary, Xavier Becerra, and his top medical adviser for the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, made the comments to reporters after a meeting with health ministers from around the world. Mr. Biden is preparing to convene his second global summit on Covid-19, expected sometime in the coming weeks.
Dr. Fauci said the National Institutes of Health had already “offered to license several N.I.H.-owned technologies” to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, known as C-TAP, which the health organization describes as a “global one-stop shop” for drug developers to share their intellectual property. The technologies would then be made available to the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed public health organization that works to increase access to medicines in poor and middle-income nations.
Mr. Biden has been under intense pressure from activists and W.H.O. officials to do more to press the pharmaceutical industry to share its technology with the world. The new policy, officials say, will enable poor nations to manufacture inexpensive vaccines and therapeutics that are developed in the United States.
But there is a big catch: Dr. Fauci would not be specific about which technologies would be licensed and could not say if Moderna’s powerful coronavirus vaccine — developed in partnership with N.I.H. scientists — would be among them, he said.
That is because the company and the government are locked in a bitter disputeover who deserves credit for inventing the central component of the vaccine, which grew out of a four-year collaboration between Moderna and the N.I.H., the government’s biomedical research agency. The N.I.H. has been in talks with Moderna for more than a year to try to resolve the disagreement, which has broad implications for the vaccine’s long-term distribution and billions of dollars in future profits.
Dr. Fauci said the negotiations were continuing, but both he and Mr. Becerra strongly suggested that if the government won that dispute and gained ownership of the crucial patent, it would work to include the Moderna technology in its offerings.
“President Biden has made it very clear that he wishes to assert all his authorities to make sure that we use everything at our disposal” to make medicines available to those who need them, Mr. Becerra said, adding that “it should be no surprise” that “we’re going to push the envelope where the law allows us.”
Dr. Fauci said: “I just would repeat, in principle — and you can take from it what you will — that in principle we have offered to license N.I.H.-owned technologies to the C-TAP for the purposes of the Medicines Patents Pool. So whatever it is that we can do, we will do.”
In 1919, after the 1918 flu pandemic ravaged much of the world, Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival celebration was filled with such debauchery that it is still known as perhaps the best party the city has ever seen.
That left expectations high for this year’s Carnival, the dayslong celebration of indulgence ahead of the Christian observance of Lent. Much like 1919, it was expected to serve as a pressure valve after pandemic restrictions. “We don’t party because life is quiet, because life is good,” said Luiz Antônio Simas, a Rio historian who has studied Carnival. “The party is restorative.”
Then Omicron brought a new wave of Covid cases to Brazil.
In January, Rio’s mayor postponed until April the official Carnival parade. Most other cities made similar moves.
Rio banned the roving bands known as “blocos” that fuel the free, impromptu street parties that make the city’s Carnival such a democratic revelry. City authorities had been scouring social media for planned blocos and vowed to break up any that violated the order.
Yet the city was allowing private, paid parties that could check for vaccinations. That left many Rio residents worried that Carnival — one of the few institutionswhere Rio’s social classes still mingle — was becoming more private and elite. Some of them wondered whether it would be much of a Carnival at all.
But on Friday, Carnival’s first official night, the resistance assembled. They were armed with glitter, fishnet and a full brass section.
The bloco had formed over the previous few days in a WhatsApp group of about 100 musicians from bands that had canceled their plans. After last year’s Carnival cancellation, these musicians wanted to play.
“Carnival is a cultural manifestation, not an event,” said Rafael Comote, 30, a trumpet player. “Carnival is not something you can forbid.”
Leonardo Coelho contributed reporting.
Black New Yorkers were hospitalized with Covid-19 at more than twice the rate of white New Yorkers during the recent Omicron wave, an indication that the health disparities that have marked the entire pandemic are in some respects deepening, according to a new report released Wednesday by New York City officials, which highlighted the figure.
“This inequity is worse than inequities seen in prior waves,” the report, from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, stated, referring to the difference in the age-adjusted hospitalization rates of Black and white New Yorkers.
Since the devastating first wave of Covid-19 cases in early 2020, Black and Latino New Yorkers have been hospitalized and died from the virus at higher rates than white and Asian New Yorkers. There have been many factors contributing to this, ranging from higher rates of underlying health conditions like diabetes and hypertension in some groups to varying exposure risk at work or in crowded, multigenerational homes, as well as access to top-tier hospitals, according to interviews with public health experts.
The latest health department report cites a new factor that may have contributed to the higher hospitalization rate among Black New Yorkers during the surge in December and January as hospitals across the city strained to care for the sudden influx of patients: a relatively low rate of booster shots.
For much of 2021, there was a significant vaccination gap. Black New Yorkers, particularly younger adults, were less likely to get vaccinated against Covid-19 than other groups, according to health department data. That gap narrowed considerably in the past six months, largely due to vaccine mandates.
But Black New Yorkers remained less likely than other groups to get booster shots, which offered significant protection against falling severely ill with Omicron. The health department report notes that many Black New Yorkers were not yet eligible for a booster shot in time as Omicron engulfed the city, because they had only recently received their initial doses.
A graph included in the health department’s report indicates that about 20 percent of Black New Yorkers overall had received a booster shot by early this year; it was not clear what percentage of eligible Black New Yorkers had received a booster dose. The rate among Hispanic New Yorkers overall was just a few percentage points higher. But more than a third of white New Yorkers overall and more than 50 percent of Asian New Yorkers overall had gotten a booster shot by then.
In accounting for the higher hospitalization rate, the report also notes that there was some evidence that Black New Yorkers often faced longer delays in getting diagnosed with Covid-19. “Diagnostic delays likely contribute to delays in seeking and accessing treatment, from primary care to help manage symptoms in the community to antiviral therapies to prevent progression of disease,” the report stated.
The health department said its report underscored the need to distribute more test kits and masks, raise the vaccination rate, and take steps to increase the use of monoclonal antibodies and antiviral medication among Black Covid-19 patients.
From burned-out health care workers to parents looking for flexible careers during remote schooling to laid-off sales executives taking their skills to cash in on a booming market, real estate has drawn an abundance of workers while nearly every other industry has struggled with hiring.
In 2021, there were a record number of real estate agents in the United States, according to the National Association of Realtors. More than 156,000 people joined their ranks in 2021 and 2020 combined — nearly 60 percent more than did in the two years prior.
“At a time when there’s a worker shortage everywhere it seems, there’s almost a surplus of people coming to real estate,” said Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the Realtors’ association. “What’s amazing is we keep hitting new high after new high.”
In a commission-based industry, record high prices are a powerful lure. The median home now sells for $408,000 — up 13.7 percent from a year ago. Agents aren’t typically salaried but get paid a 2 to 3 percent commission on the price of a home when they represent buyers or sellers.
“Even in the middle of the pandemic, you talk to almost any Realtor and they’ll tell you 2021 was their best year ever,” said Maggie Gwin, a Los Angeles-based agent with Sotheby’s.
Ms. Gwin is also an actress who says her biggest break yet was on the horizon in 2020 — a role in the Will Smith film “King Richard.” But Covid restrictions pushed shooting back multiple times and then, when filming finally resumed, her role was cut. Selling homes seemed like a job that could offer her the flexibility to continue auditioning and to support her family — even as the pandemic slowed other industries down. “Real estate made so much sense,” Ms. Gwin said.
The industry is drawing workers while nearly every other job sector has struggled with hiring, but by one estimate, as few as 10 percent of them will last long enough to make a full-time living selling homes."
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