Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
As the Delta variant tears across the U.S., vaccine and mask mandates gain momentum.
Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on foreign pilgrims to Mecca.
Despite rising cases, New York City plans to reopen classrooms full-time, without a remote option.
The Delta misinformation loop
As coronavirus cases soar, so too are online lies about Covid-19 and the vaccines designed to stop it.
Misinformation experts told our colleague Davey Alba, who covers technology, that people who peddle in untruths have seized on the spike in cases from the Delta variant to spread new and rehashed false narratives.
Some of the most prevalent pandemic falsehoods, according to a company that tracks misinformation: vaccines don’t work (up 437 percent); they contain microchips (up 156 percent); and that people should rely on their “natural immunity” instead of getting vaccinated (up 111 percent). Some of the most prominent purveyors of misinformation include Andrew Torba, the chief executive of the alternative social network Gab, and Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician.
“We’ve seen the same names over and over in the past year,” Davey said. “A lot of them shifted from virus misinformation to election misinformation, and then to virus misinformation again. They often seize on news events to elevate themselves and get their names in the conversation.”
The more savvy spreaders know blatant lies could get them banned on social media platforms, Davey said, “so they frame a lot of their posts as just asking questions, or they cherry pick certain outlier cases.”
Conspiracy theories also spread on fringe platforms before moving into more mainstream sites like Facebook, which has struggled to eradicate health misinformation during the pandemic.
Our colleague Nicole Hong recently encountered a woman in New York City who rebuffed her employer’s request that she get vaccinated. To explain her decision, she said the film “I Am Legend” shows how a vaccine could cause millions of people to turn into zombies — a meme that people opposed to vaccines have circulated widely on social media. (The movie’s screenwriter recently weighed in on Twitter: “Oh. My. God. It’s a movie. I made that up. It’s. Not. Real.”)
Even for those who follow the news closely, it can be confusing to follow the ever-evolving virus and the attempts to defeat it. It’s in those gaps of understanding that misinformation can flourish — and for as long as the pandemic lasts, that dynamic is sure to continue.
“The new wave of misinformation is obviously caused by the Delta variant,” Davey added. “But you can expect that there will be another surge when there’s another variant.”
Facebook removed a network of accounts based in Russia that spread misinformation about coronavirus vaccines, targeting audiences in India, Latin America and the United States.
Twitter suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, for seven days after she posted that the F.D.A. should not approve the coronavirus vaccines and that the vaccines were “failing.”
The mask mandate melee
New laws or executive orders in a number of Republican-led states across the United States ban mask mandates. But as the fall semester gets underway, some school districts plan to require masks anyway.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has threatened to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who violate his order. “Better a loss of funding than a loss of lives,” Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, wrote in an opinion in The Washington Post.
Three other Florida school systems — in Broward, Leon and Duval Counties — have also said they may retain or seek to impose mask mandates.
On Monday, the top elected official in Dallas County sued Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, arguing that the governor’s ban on mask mandates violates state law. But the Dallas public school district, in contravention of the ban, will require everyone on school property, including students, employees and visitors, to wear masks.
“If we can save one student, one teacher, from going through this awful pain it’ll get them more prepared to learn,” said Michael Hinojosa, the Dallas superintendent. “And I think that if you do this together you have a better chance for success.”
As vaccinations lag, infections are surging in Mexico.
Thousands of people flocked to inoculation sites in Manila, the Philippine capital, as reports emerged that unvaccinated people could miss out on welfare payments or be barred from leaving their homes.
Moderna announced plans to build vaccine factories around the world, starting in Canada.
Some judges in Ohio have made vaccination a condition for probation.
What else we’re following
A surge of coronavirus cases in Martinique and Guadeloupe, two French territories in the Caribbean, threatens to overwhelm hospital capacity.
Rick Rojas, a Times national correspondent, got a look inside a hospital in Louisiana that has been overwhelmed by a surge in Covid cases.
Europe has reopened to American visitors, but the U.S. has not reciprocated.
Big banks are raising salaries for their youngest staff members to counter burnout during the pandemic.
The Delta variant is delaying return to office plans, endangering the recovery of Midtown in New York City.
The San Diego Symphony spent big on an outdoor concert hall. As the Delta variant spreads, it’s opening just in time.
What you’re doing
Now that I’m vaccinated, I’m trying to be brave and break out of my shell to make new friends. I found a Facebook group for young women like myself who plan meet-ups together. There’s a new members brunch and I’m not sure what to do. I really want to attend, but it’s an indoor brunch with a dozen people I don’t know. The Delta variant has caused cases to spike in my area. Is it safe to participate in this activity? I’m vaccinated, but I don’t know the status of the other attendees. I don’t know the etiquette for asking about vaccination status. I want to branch out and make new friends after a year of lockdown, but I don’t want to jeopardize my health or the health of my family. It’s so frustrating!
— Halle Renfro, Redmond, Wash.
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