A growing number of major retailers are lifting mask requirements for those who are fully inoculated after new federal guidance, largely moving to an honor system in which they trust that only vaccinated people will bare their faces.
The guidance lifts the masking requirement for fully vaccinated people in most settings — though not on transit, in health care facilities or in congregate settings — while affirming that local regulations should still be respected. Fully vaccinated, according to the guidance, means two weeks after receiving a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Moderna’s vaccine, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s.
Walmart announced on Friday that fully vaccinated customers would no longer need to wear masks, and that fully vaccinated employees would no longer need to as of Tuesday. Costco and Publix are also lifting mask requirements for vaccinated people. Starbucks will also make masks optional for vaccinated customers starting on Monday, unless local regulations require them.
Many retailers said they would not require proof of vaccination. Costco, for instance, said it would instead “ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy.”
Trader Joe’s will no longer make vaccinated customers wear masks, although face coverings are still required for employees, Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson, said in a statement.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board also issued updated mask guidance on Thursday that follows the new federal guidelines, noting that it would not require casinos to confirm the vaccination status of patrons but would also not prevent them from doing so.
Some retailers like Target and CVS, though, plan to continue mandating face coverings for shoppers for now.
“CVS Health is currently re-evaluating its position on masks given the C.D.C.’s new guidance,” Joe Goode, a spokesman, said in a statement. “Until that evaluation is complete, the existing company policies on face coverings and maintaining social distance in stores and clinics remain in effect.”
The new guidance, released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came as a surprise to many Americans. For months, federal officials warned that wearing masks and social distancing were necessary to control the spread of the virus. The guidance raised some disquiet, because there is no obvious way for retailers, their employees or their patrons to determine who has been vaccinated and who has not.
Some public health experts expressed concerns that unvaccinated people may also choose to shed their masks.
“CDC is betting that by giving wide freedom to vaccinated people it’ll encourage the hesitant,” Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “But there’s no behavioral evidence for that. What’s more likely to happen is that both vaccinated AND unvaccinated people will take off their masks.”
Union leaders have also pointed to the health risks that workers could face.
“Today’s C.D.C. guidance is confusing and fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said in a statement on Thursday.
“Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local Covid safety measures,” he added.
There are alternatives to an honor system, in the form of documentation of vaccination. However, vaccine cards can be forged, and “vaccine passports” have become a contentious topic, with many Republican governors pushing back on them. Although the passports could help businesses operate more safely, critics argue that they raise privacy and equity concerns. Still, hundreds of airlines, governments and other organizations are experimenting with new, electronic versions.
On the question of a possible federal vaccine passport, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing on Friday that the Biden administration remained focused on the vaccination campaign and was “not currently considering federal mandates.” But she left open the possibility that private-sector companies might want to require some kind of vaccine documentation, citing those “running a stadium, if you are a sports team or something like that.”
More than 70 percent of Americans who are 65 or older are fully vaccinated, and 84 percent have received at least one dose, a much higher proportion than for younger Americans, according to federal data. The numbers have surpassed President Biden’s goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of the nation’s adults by July 4.
Some counties have blown far past that threshold, getting shots into more than 90 percent of residents 65 and older and offering an example for other areas where vaccine campaigns have lagged.
Two of the most populous 90-percent-plus counties are Jo Daviess County, Ill., across the Mississippi River from Dubuque, Iowa, and Dane County, Wis., which includes Madison, the state capital.
Elected and health officials in both counties suggested that some of the measures that they have adopted locally, such as expanding access and relying on trusted medical figures to share information about vaccines, were also reflected in the federal government’s strategy to reach those who have not received shots yet after the pace of vaccination has lagged in recent weeks.
President Biden has pushed for tens of thousands of pharmacies to allow people to walk in for their vaccinations, and ordered up pop-up and mobile clinics, especially in rural areas. The administration is also enlisting the help of family doctors and other trusted messengers to build up confidence in the vaccines.
On Thursday, Mr. Biden praised another incentive: The recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people who have been fully vaccinated can go without masks in most situations.
In Dane County, Joe Parisi, the county executive, said this week that a number of efforts contributed to his county’s success in at least partly vaccinating most of the nearly 78,000 people 65 or over who live in the county. Over 90 percent of that group had been completely vaccinated as of Friday, according to local and federal data.
Officials strove to maximize access to the vaccine. They set up a mass vaccination site in December at the Alliant Energy Center, an arena and exhibition complex in Madison, and have distributed vaccines at health centers, pharmacies and mobile vaccination clinics, according to Morgan Finke, a spokeswoman for the county public health department.
Mr. Parisi said that the county worked with local hospital systems, health care providers, senior care centers and nursing homes to locate homebound people and help them get shots.
They did not encounter much hesitancy. “People wanted the vaccine,” Mr. Parisi said, “that certainly wasn’t the problem with that age group.”
Even so, he said, fostering trust and answering people’s questions are very important, especially now that the most eager recipients are already done. Mr. Parisi said the county partnered with trusted local doctors to spread the word about the vaccines through local news media outlets.
“We tried to share as much information as possible,” Mr. Parisi said, by “providing those voices that are nonjudgmental and can answer questions.”
In Jo Daviess County in the northwestern corner of Illinois, communication and community partnerships also played a major role, Lori Stangl, the county’s director of clinical services, wrote in an email.
Of the roughly 6,000 seniors in the county, 96.7 percent are fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to the C.D.C. Ms. Stangl credited extensive collaboration both within the county and with neighboring counties and states.
“Since Jo Daviess County borders Iowa and Wisconsin, many of our residents were able to receive vaccines there as well,” Ms. Stangl wrote, “especially early on, when our allocations were low.”
Though county leaders celebrate their success with seniors, she wrote, they are mindful that they still have many younger people left to reach. As of Friday, 54.9 percent of the county’s total population had been fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C.
Advice from federal health officials that fully vaccinated people could drop their masks in most settings came as a surprise to Americans, from state officials to scientific experts. Even the White House got less than a day’s notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the press secretary, Jen Psaki, said at a news briefing on Friday.
“The C.D.C., the doctors and medical experts there, are the ones who determined what this guidance would be based on their own data, and what the timeline would be,” Ms. Psaki said. “That was not a decision directed by or made by the White House.”
For months, federal officials have vigorously warned that wearing masks and social distancing were necessary to contain the pandemic. So what changed?
Introducing the new recommendations on Thursday, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, cited two recent scientific findings as significant factors: Few vaccinated people become infected with the virus, and transmission seems rarer still; and the vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.
There is no doubt at this point that the vaccines are powerful. On Friday, the C.D.C. released results from another large study showing that the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are 94 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness in those who were fully vaccinated, and 82 percent effective even in those only partly vaccinated.
“The science is quite clear on this,” said Zoë McLaren, a health policy expert at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Mounting evidence indicates that people who are vaccinated are highly unlikely to catch or transmit the virus, she noted.
The risk “is definitely not zero, but it’s clear that it’s very low,” she said.
One of the lingering concerns among scientists had been that even a vaccinated person might carry the virus — perhaps briefly, without symptoms — and spread it to others. But C.D.C. research, including the new study, has consistently found few infections among those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
“This study, added to the many studies that preceded it, was pivotal to C.D.C. changing its recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” Dr. Walensky said in a statement on Friday.
Other recent studies confirm that people who are infected after vaccination carry too little virus to infect others, said Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“It’s really hard to even sequence the virus sometimes because there’s very little virus, and it’s there for a short period of time,” he said.
Still, most of the data has been gathered on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, Dr. Krammer cautioned. Because Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was authorized later, there are fewer studies assessing its effectiveness.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — A prominent mountaineering company abandoned its expedition to Mount Everest, dismantling its tents at base camp on Saturday after members of its team tested positive for the coronavirus.
An American climber and three Sherpa guides from a 51-person expedition were evacuated from base camp and hospitalized in Kathmandu, according to Ang Tendi Sherpa, managing director of the local agency that obtained the permit for the expedition.
“Rest of the climbers felt insecure,” Mr. Sherpa said. “That’s why the expedition was canceled.”
A second wave of the coronavirus is ravaging Nepal, overwhelming its feeble health care system. On Saturday, the authorities reported 8,167 new cases and 187 deaths.
On the peaks, the spread of the virus is unclear, but signs of trouble are growing.
Starting this month, hundreds of foreign climbers, Sherpas and other support staff have lived at Everest’s high-altitude base camp, preparing for an ascent to the world’s tallest peak. More and more of them are presenting with Covid symptoms, and testing positive with rapid antigen tests undertaken by three doctors Nepal’s government posted to base camp, according to Lukas Furtenbach, the managing director of Furtenbach Adventures, which organized the canceled expedition.
Mr. Furtenbach estimated that as many as 150 people at base camp had tested positive, though the number was impossible to verify since no central authority was keeping track.
Anyone who becomes infected “at high altitude, then develops symptoms and becomes ill, is very difficult to help,” Mr. Furtenbach said. “We do not take this risk, which is why our expedition is stopped immediately.”
Furtenbach Adventures’ expedition is the first to be canceled on Everest, though other climbers have independently left base camp, he said. Several climbers were earlier airlifted to hospitals in Kathmandu, according to accounts they gave on social media and hospitals where some were treated.
Everest’s peak can be reached from Nepal or from China. On Friday, China canceled all of its Everest expeditions out of concern for the spread of the virus in Nepal.
Nepal’s tourism department has repeatedly said that no one has tested positive at the Everest base camp on their side. They insist that virus safeguards imposed before the climbing season have worked.
Mr. Furtenbach said, however, that in some cases, social distancing norms were all but ignored.
“Elementary precautionary measures were simply not observed,” he said. “There were meetings between the teams, there were celebrations, parties were held.”
On Saturday, a tourism official, Mira Acharya, again disputed climbers’ accounts of infection, saying that she had recently returned from base camp, and that none of her 35-member team had contracted the virus. She said that Nepal’s government had no intention of canceling expeditions.
“Some climbers who cannot climb Everest are now canceling the expeditions in pretext of Covid,” she said.
After losing an entire season — and millions in revenue — to the closure of Everest during Nepal’s first wave of the pandemic last spring, the country issued a record number of climbing permits this year. More than 400 people were hoping to reach the peak in the narrow window in the spring when the weather is usually calm enough to try a summit.
The first successful summit of the season was made on May 7. This week, two climbers, one Swiss-Pakistani and one American, died in the thin air close to Everest’s peak. Officials immediately ruled out Covid. Because of the remote location of the bodies, no autopsies were planned.
The first signs of the tourism season creeping back to life were visible at Greece’s ports and airports on Saturday as the country officially opened its doors to international visitors.
After lifting quarantine requirements for dozens of countries last month, the Greek authorities expanded the eligibility to more nations on Friday and relaxed some restrictions. Travelers must present a certificate of vaccination, proof of recovery from Covid or a negative PCR test.
The first flights arriving at Athens International Airport came from France, Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia and Switzerland, with most visitors heading for the Greek islands. Hundreds lined up for ferries at the country’s main port of Piraeus, near the capital, joining Greeks taking advantage of the ending of a ban on travel between the country’s regions.
Heraklion Airport on Crete was buzzing for the first time in months, with Germans, French and Israelis among the first arrivals, and the authorities said they expected 10,000 arrivals on the island over the next three days. Mykonos and Santorini, two of the country’s most popular summer destinations, welcomed just a handful of flights, as hotel occupancy remains set at around 30 percent for May. But hopes are high for the summer, with bookings for July close to 90 percent.
On Mykonos, Greek television showed islanders painting cobblestone streets with whitewash in anticipation of the first arrivals. Two fire engines sprayed celebratory jets of water over aircraft arriving from Qatar on Friday while sounding their sirens. Boats similarly greeted the arrival of cruise ships to Crete.
The mood was upbeat on many islands, where a vaccination drive has been ramped up with the aim of inoculating hundreds of thousands of permanent residents by the end of June, in time for peak tourism season.
The country, having suffered heavy economic losses last year because of the pandemic, is determined to save its summer tourist season. Last month, when some restrictions were lifted, a third wave of coronavirus infections was in full force, and hospitals were facing high pressure.
About 14 percent of people in the country have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. The virus has sickened more than 373,000 people in Greece, and more than 11,300 have died.
Humanity has a miraculous chance at liberation from the worst pandemic in a century, but wealthy countries have captured an overwhelming share of the benefit: Only 0.3 percent of the vaccine doses administered globally have been given in the 29 poorest countries, home to about 9 percent of the world’s population.
Vaccine manufacturers say they’re aggressively expanding production. But the world is nowhere close to having enough.
About 11 billion shots are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population, the rough threshold needed for herd immunity, researchers at Duke University estimate. So far, only a fraction of that has been produced.
Many raw materials and key equipment are in short supply. And the global need might prove far greater than estimated, given that the coronavirus presents a moving target: dangerous new variants could emerge, requiring booster shots and reformulated vaccines, and countries could feel it necessary to lock up supply for their own people.
The only way around the zero-sum competition is to greatly expand the global vaccine supply. On that point, nearly everyone agrees.
But what is the fastest way to make that happen? On that question, divisions remain stark.
One approach would be to force drug giants to relax their grip on their secrets and enlist many more manufacturers in making vaccines. World leaders could compel or persuade the industry to cooperate with more companies to yield additional doses at rates affordable to poor countries.
The World Trade Organization, the de facto referee in international trade disputes, is the venue for negotiations on how to proceed. But it operates by consensus, and so far, there is none.
So some experts, and European leaders, say the only short-term fix is for wealthy countries — especially the United States — to donate and export more of their stock.
However, wealthy countries have monopolized most of the vaccine supply not through happenstance, but as a result of economic and political realities. Changing that calculus may depend on persuading them that allowing the pandemic to rage on in much of the world poses universal risks by allowing variants to take hold, forcing the world into an endless cycle of pharmaceutical catch-up.
“It needs to be global leaders functioning as a unit, to say that vaccine is a form of global security,” said Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, a global health expert at Harvard Medical School.
Many wealthy cities are making dramatic progress slowing Covid-19. As they vaccinate more people, cases have started to drop.
Tel Aviv, one of the most vaccinated cities in the world, counted just two cases on Wednesday. Los Angeles turned a corner this spring, and is now vaccinating those as young as 12. But outbreaks are devastating India and much of South America, and there aren’t nearly enough vaccines available to stop them.
Much of the world’s vaccine supply continues to be used or stockpiled by countries that have already made steady progress, even as outbreaks in the developing world are raging. With almost half of residents vaccinated, New York City and London are preparing to welcome tourists this summer, while Cape Town waits to administer its first vaccine doses to non-medical workers.
Vaccines are not the only tool to control the spread of infection, and some areas — particularly those across Asia and Oceania — have kept cases low without them. But this year, no factor has determined a nation’s path out of the pandemic more than the vaccines it can buy.
It wasn’t always this way. A few months ago, outbreaks were exploding across major European and North American cities, and fledgling inoculation campaigns were no match for the spread of new variants. India’s leaders, meanwhile, boasted that they had triumphed over the virus.
But an analysis of vaccination campaigns and case trajectories across 22 global cities shows how the picture has changed over the last few months. Cases remain an imperfect measure — rates of testing vary widely and many infections are missed. But the broad outlines are unmistakable: The pandemic is splitting into haves and have-nots.
The senior military commander who was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada last fall to oversee the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in the country has quit that post and is now the subject of a military investigation, officials said late Friday.
In a brief, joint statement, the Department of National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces announced Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin’s resignation but offered no details about the nature of the investigation. The department declined to comment.
Before General Fortin became Canada’s vaccine coordinator, he led military missions to help workers in long-term care homes that were overwhelmed by Covid infections. He is a former commander of the NATO mission in Iraq.
General Fortin is now the third senior leader in the Canadian Armed Forces under scrutiny. Adm. Art McDonald stepped aside as chief of the defense staff, the country’s top military job, in February after the military police opened an investigation into unspecified accusations against him. The same month, the military police also began investigating the previous chief of the defense staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, who held the post until his retirement from the army in January.
General Vance has been accused publicly of inappropriate behavior toward female subordinates. He has denied wrongdoing.
In other news, compiled with the help of wire services:
Japan said that as of Sunday, three more prefectures — Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima — would be included in a state of emergency declaration that was already in force in Tokyo and five other prefectures, and which is scheduled to last until at least the end of May. The designation, under which people are asked to stay home except to run essential errands, was put in effect to control a fourth wave of coronavirus infections and has cast further doubt on Japan’s ability to safely host the Tokyo Summer Olympics in July.
China’s sports administration is putting an end to attempts to climb Mount Everest from its north face this spring, citing concern about the coronavirus, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday. The agency said there was a need to “ensure absolutely no missteps,” apparently reflecting worries that climbers in Nepal, where infections are surging, could bring the virus to the top of the world’s highest mountain from the other side. The announcement came a few days after the authorities in Tibet, a region of China, said they would enforce a “zero contact strategy” to ensure there were no transmissions from climbers on the Nepal side of the mountain.
Portugal’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday that the country would allow tourist flights from European Union countries with low infection rates and from Britain, but passengers must present a negative virus test on arrival. A day earlier, the country also gave British tourists approval to enter Portugal beginning Monday.
Venezuela has approved the use of Russia’s single-dose Sputnik Light Covid vaccine, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund after using the two-dose version successfully. Sputnik Light was authorized for emergency use in Russia, with an announced efficacy of 79.4 percent.
Restaurants, bars and pubs reopened for the first time in seven months in Poland, and masks are no longer required outside. The reopening is limited to outdoor consumption of food and drinks, but indoor dining is expected to be allowed by the end of the month.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on the Triple Crown schedule in 2020. The Belmont Stakes, normally the final leg of the Triple Crown, was held in New York in June, the Derby in September, and the Preakness, usually the second of the three races, came in October. None of them admitted spectators. This year, all have returned to their regular spots on the calendar.
Attendance for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on Friday and at the Preakness on Saturday was capped at 10,000 fans each, a figure that includes those in the normally raucous infield. That is a little less than 10 percent of the track’s usual capacity. (The announced crowd for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs last week was 41,472, and for the Derby the next day it was 51,838, close to a third of the venue’s usual capacity.)
The Pimlico grounds are divided into distinct spectator sections, and no crossover is allowed. Temperature checks and questionnaires to assess coronavirus exposure are being administered at the gates, and social distancing signage, plexiglass barriers and hand sanitizing stations will be placed around the track. Despite the latest C.D.C. guidance, masks are required when not eating and drinking, and “Covid compliance officers” are reminding guests to adhere to the policies. Signs along the track promoted Maryland’s vaccine program.
The weather, as it was on Friday, was in the mid-70s and sunny. Vendors passed through the stands selling $15 Black-Eyed Susans that were “guaranteed to improve your luck at the betting window, according to one.
Ellen Charles, a granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, and daughter of Adelaide Close Riggs, a breeder and owner described as “one of the grand dames of Maryland racing,” has been coming to the Preakness since she was a young child. On Saturday, she sat in an owner’s box at the finish line with friends and co-owners.
She said she usually leaves before the Preakness is even run, to avoid the traffic on the way back to Washington, where she lives. But with the limited amount of fans this year, she was considering staying put for the marquee race.
“This is heaven,” she said.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective during pregnancy, according to preliminary results from two continuing studies.
Both vaccines produce robust immune responses in pregnant and lactating women, and are likely to provide at least some protection against two dangerous coronavirus variants, B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, according to a study published in JAMA on Thursday. Vaccinated women can also pass protective antibodies to their fetuses through the bloodstream and to their infants through breast milk, the research suggests.
In a second study, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology on Tuesday, researchers found no evidence that either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines damaged the placenta during pregnancy.
Covid presents serious risks during pregnancy. Research has shown that pregnant women with coronavirus symptoms are more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, to require mechanical ventilation and to die from the virus than are symptomatic women of a similar age who are not pregnant.
Because of these risks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that the vaccines at least be made available to pregnant people, many of whom have opted to receive the shots.
“We can shift our framework from, ‘Let’s protect pregnant people from the vaccine,’ to ‘Let’s protect pregnant people and their infants through the vaccine,’” said Dr. Emily S. Miller, an expert in maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern University and co-author of the placenta study. “I think that’s really powerful.”
Taiwan, which has had remarkable success in containing the coronavirus, raised restrictions for its main city to their highest level since the start of the pandemic on Saturday, after reporting a daily record of 180 new locally transmitted infections.
Taiwan’s current outbreak — its worst yet by far — began in late April with a cluster in airline workers. Saturday’s caseload represented more than half of the 344 locally transmitted cases that the self-governing island has recorded during the entire pandemic.
The Taiwanese premier, Su Tseng-chang, and other officials told reporters on Saturday that masks and other medical supplies to fight the outbreak were plentiful. Mr. Su urged Taiwanese to be “obedient, helpful and protect yourselves, your families, all of society and our country.”
The government raised the restrictions in the city of Taipei to Level 3 out of 4, still short of a full lockdown. Even so, the announcements sent a shiver of anxiety through Taipei, and some residents filed into supermarkets to stock up on food, toilet paper and other essentials.
“I felt a bit panicky in recent days because of the surge of cases,” said Chen Mei-ling, 58, a retired high school teacher who stood in a long line at a Taipei supermarket. “It seems that the pandemic will last for a while and we can’t expect a virus-free environment in the near future.”
The restrictions in Taipei and adjoining New Taipei include a ban on indoor gatherings of more than five people and require the use of protective masks outdoors. Many public venues across the island will be closed, except for essential facilities like hospitals and police stations.
Taiwan has for decades been at loggerheads with China, which considers the island democracy to be a breakaway region that must accept eventual reunification. The Taiwanese government took swift measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from China early last year, even before the Chinese authorities confirmed that it was highly infectious.
As of the second weekend in May, New York City had recorded 505 shooting victims, the most through that point of any year in the last decade.
The rise began in 2020, and experts say the economic and physical strain of the virus, which disproportionately took lives and jobs from neighborhoods already struggling with such violence, most likely drove the increase.
Those factors are not likely to subside soon, criminologists warn. Fears are growing that gun violence will slow the city’s ability to bounce back from its long lockdown.
Restaurants, stores, offices and theaters will be allowed to open fully May 19. But the cycles of violent retaliation fueled by individual shootings in recent months will be hard to break, said Jeffrey Butts, the director of the research and evaluation center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“This could be a generation that we have screwed up for some time,” Dr. Butts said.
Other large cities, including Los Angeles and Philadelphia, also reported jumps in gun violence during the pandemic. Chicago, with about a third of the population of New York City, saw 865 shootings by the first weekend of this month, compared with about 550 in 2019 and 650 in 2020.