Call it the Return of Fauci.
It’s not that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, ever actually went anywhere. It just often seemed that way as he fell out of favor with his boss, President Trump, and was sidelined even as the country grappled with a pandemic.
Now it is Mr. Trump who is leaving, and on Thursday, his successor had a message for Americans: Dr. Fauci will soon be back in the mix.
“I asked him to stay on in the exact same role he’s had for the past several presidents,” President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said, “and I asked him to be a chief medical adviser for me as well, and be part of the Covid team.”
Mr. Trump had at times been openly scornful of Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and appeared put off by his popularity. The president, who often dismissed the threat of the coronavirus, was also frustrated by Dr. Fauci’s endorsements of masks and restrictions on movement, preferring the counsel of advisers who backed his call to reopen the economy as soon as possible.
The announcement about Dr. Fauci’s role in the Biden administration came on a day when officials across the United States reported 216,422 new coronavirus cases, the highest single-day record since the start of the pandemic. Experts cautioned that the number may have been impacted by anomalies in states’ reporting, but it has been part of an overall rise in new infections. At least 2,857 deaths were reported, bringing the U.S. total to over 276,000.
More than a 100,000 Covid-19 patients were filling hospital beds — when they could find them. In Lubbock, Texas, on Thursday, they could not. The West Texas city of 250,000 has had a daily average of 382 new coronavirus cases in the past seven days, according to a New York Times database.
In California, officials announced their most aggressive steps since March to head off the virus, saying they will impose regional stay-at-home orders when hospitals become overburdened. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state needed to get through a difficult winter before vaccines arrive.
“This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic,” Mr. Newsom said at a news conference.
Even before Mr. Biden’s announcement Thursday, Dr. Fauci found himself in the news as American and British health officials skirmished over the U.K.’s announcement that it had beaten the U.S. in the race to approve a vaccine.
Gavin Williamson, Britain’s education secretary, appeared to be crowing.
“We’ve obviously got the best medical regulators,” he said. “Much better than the French have. Much better than the Belgians have. Much better than the Americans have.”
Dr. Fauci seemed more than a little skeptical.
The British authorities, he said, moved more quickly only because they had not scrutinized the vaccine test data as carefully as their American counterparts. “We have the gold standard of a regulatory approach,” he said.
Later, a chagrined-looking Dr. Fauci, who is ordinarily averse to public conflict, appeared on British television saying that he wanted to apologize.
“We do things a bit more differently, that’s all — not better, not worse, just differently,” he told the BBC.
By early June, scarred and battered, Europe was emerging from the depths of its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Strict lockdowns in most countries had lifted healthcare systems off their knees. The weather was warming up, the European Union was encouraging borders to reopen and Europeans were desperate for a break.
They paid dearly for it.
A devastating second wave, more deadly than the first, has forced reluctant governments back into lockdowns or restrictions and inflicted new scars on European economies. The optimism of the summer is gone, replaced with the realization that loosening precautions led to thousands of deaths just months before vaccines may arrive.
Nearly 105,000 people died of Covid-19 in November in 31 countries monitored closely by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, surpassing April’s total, official data shows. About as many people are dying in Italy each day as when Bergamo was the center of the world’s attention.
Most dramatically, nearly every country in central and Eastern Europe — which largely skirted the first outbreak — is now seeing alarming spikes in cases and deaths.
How did Europe, the world’s richest club of nations, find itself back in the claws of a disastrous second wave of the pandemic, after having wrestled back the first?
First, there was the rush to reopen.
In April, the Commission, the European Union’s executive branch that tries to coordinate policy for the 27 members, unveiled its “roadmap to reopening,” suggesting to governments how to cautiously resuscitate social and economic life. On paper it looked measured, but most governments moved much faster than the Commission recommended.
Desperate for summer holidays, more than four million people visited Spain in July and August, often with no requirements to test or isolate when they arrived or returned home. Now research indicates that a prominent variant of the virus seems to have originated or gained a foothold there. People took it back to their home countries in their thousands, and it spread from there.
In central and Eastern Europe, mixed messages, misinformation and a relaxed attitude was spreading throughout the summer, experts say.
“I am glad we are less and less afraid of this virus, of this epidemic. You don’t have to be afraid of it anymore,” Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland, said as he urged voters to July polls.
Now Poland faces a severe second wave that is straining its hospitals to the breaking point.
And experts fear that the makings of a third wave are already lurking in some European societies as they prepare for the holiday season.
“Unless we see massive behavioral change, we are going to see January and February lockdowns,” said Prof. Devi Sridhar of the Edinburgh University Medical School. “The virus doesn’t care it’s Christmas.”
A new study in monkeys suggests that a blood test could predict the effectiveness of a Covid-19 vaccine — and perhaps speed up the clinical trials needed to get a working vaccine to billions of people around the world.
The study, published on Friday in Nature, reveals telltale blood markers that predict whether a monkey’s immune system is prepared to wipe out incoming coronaviruses.
The finding raises hope that researchers will be able to look for the same markers in people who get vaccines in clinical trials. If the markers are strong enough, they could reveal if the vaccines protect against Covid-19. And researchers would no longer have to wait for some trial volunteers to get the disease, as they do now.
“It will pave the way for a much more rapid advancement of the Covid vaccine field,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, a vaccine expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and one of the researchers behind the new study.
The new monkey study offers a ray of hope for these next-generation vaccines, suggesting that they could be tested not against older vaccines, but using a measurement known as a “correlate of protection.”
“That’s the holy grail of vaccine research,” Dr. Michael said.
Influenza vaccines are already tested this way. Every new flu season requires the design of a new flu shot, but researchers don’t have to run clinical trials comparing it with old versions. Instead, they just check whether the new vaccine triggers a person’s immune system to make enough of a certain kind of antibody against the flu. If it does, then researchers know the vaccine is adequately stimulating the immune system.
If scientists could discover a correlate of protection against the coronavirus, they could follow the example of the flu. “That is an entirely plausible and feasible scenario,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
In their study, Dr. Barouch and his colleagues found a correlate of protection in monkeys. They built the experiment on their previous research showing that once monkeys recover from Covid-19, they can resist a second infection. The scientists drew blood from these exposed animals and isolated an array of protective antibodies called IgG.
Until now, scientists relied on circumstantial evidence that suggested IgG antibodies were crucial to clearing coronavirus infections. The new study puts that idea to the test — and determines the threshold of IgG antibodies required to ward off an infection.
“This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that we’ve actually proven that antibodies protect,” Dr. Barouch said. “Everything else has been a statistical association.”
Even with coronavirus vaccines on the way, many epidemiologists do not expect their lives to return to pre-pandemic normal until most Americans are vaccinated. In the meantime, most have eased up on some precautions — now going to the grocery store or seeing friends outdoors, for example — but are as cautious as ever about many activities of daily life.
In a new informal survey of 700 epidemiologists by The New York Times, half said they would not change their personal behavior until at least 70 percent of the population was vaccinated. Thirty percent said they would make some changes once they were vaccinated themselves.
A minority of the epidemiologists said that if highly effective vaccines were widely distributed, it would be safe for Americans to begin living more freely this summer. But most said that even with vaccines, it would probably take a year or more for many activities to safely restart, and that some parts of their lives may never return to the way they were.
Karin Michels, professor of epidemiology at U.C.L.A., said it would probably be many years until it was safe enough to “return to approximately the lifestyle we had.” She said, “We have to settle to live with the virus.”
Epidemiologists are worried about many unknowns, including how long immunity lasts; how the virus may mutate; the challenges of vaccine distribution; and the possible reluctance to accept the vaccine among some groups.
On the eve of the Covid winter, the epidemiologists are living with stringent precautions and new workarounds in place, far stricter than those of many ordinary Americans. Yet those precautions have evolved since last spring, as scientists have learned more about how the coronavirus spreads and what prevents it.
Of 23 activities of daily life that the survey asked about, there were only three that the majority of respondents had done in the last month: gathering outdoors with friends; bringing in mail without precautions; and running errands, like going to the grocery store or pharmacy.
Activities that they have personally done or would have done if needed in the last 30 days.
Note: Assumes individuals wear masks and socially distance as needed unless otherwise specified.
The epidemiologists have almost entirely avoided other parts of pre-pandemic life — including activities that many Americans are doing now. Almost none said they had attended a sporting event, play or concert; met up with someone they didn’t know well; or attended a wedding or funeral.
“Being in close proximity to people I don’t know will always feel less safe than it used to,” said Ellicott Matthay, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco.
Movement between Italian regions will be all but barred between Dec. 21 and Jan. 6, with people allowed to travel only for work, health reasons or emergencies, the Italian government announced on Thursday.
And the restrictions will be even tighter on Christmas, Dec. 26 and New Year’s Day, when Italians won’t be allowed to leave their towns.
“The Christmas festivities are coming,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said during a news conference on Thursday. “We have to ward off the risk of a third wave.”
New cases in Italy have dropped in recent weeks, with 23,219 reported on Thursday according to a New York Times database, but the numbers remain well above the previous peak in March. And the country recorded 993 deaths, a new daily high, on Thursday, surpassing the deadliest day in March.
The government said it needed to prevent a rebound of the contagion during extended family gatherings and large parties. Mr. Conte pleaded with Italians to avoid organizing dinners or lunches with anyone they do not live with, especially during the holidays when, he said, “the celebrations become more intense.”
Other measures announced Thursday include a ban on New Year’s Eve dinners in hotels, allowing room service only that night. Ski slopes will be closed from the Alps to the Apennines, a coordinated decision by Italy, France and Germany.
The new decree also imposed quarantines on travelers from abroad during the holidays.
“It’s going to be a Christmas different from all the others,” Mr. Conte said.
In other developments around the world:
China plans to approve 600 million coronavirus vaccines for sale by the end of the year, Wang Junzhi, a biological products quality control expert with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said on Friday. The government has already made unproven candidates widely available in an effort to demonstrate their safety and effectiveness. But it has not announced any efficacy data yet, and a spate of quality scandals in recent years has made the Chinese public skeptical of vaccines.
Most establishments in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, will be required to close by 9 p.m. starting on Saturday, the city’s mayor said. The country reported more than 600 new cases on Friday, its highest tally in nearly nine months.
Japan is facing a new coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said during a Friday news conference, noting a rise in the number of severely ill patients had begun to put a strain on hospitals. Japan is experiencing a third outbreak wave, which has brought some of the country’s highest single-day tallies of new infections and deaths since the pandemic began, driven largely by clusters in the Tokyo metropolitan area. While the prime minister fell short of declaring a state of emergency, he urged the public to take precautions.
If you’re looking for the Grinch, look no farther than to our neighbors in the North.
“I’m the guy who’s stealing Christmas to keep you safe — because you need to do this now,” Brian Pallister, the premier of the Canadian province of Manitoba, said at a news conference Thursday at which he implored Manitobans not to gather this holiday season.
He also offered some choice words for any coronavirus skeptics out there: “If you don’t think that Covid is real right now, you’re an idiot.”
Manitoba, population 1.38 million, has averaged 354 daily new cases in the last week, according to a New York Times database. The provincial government reported a 13.1 percent positivity rate as of Thursday.
Mr. Pallister’s comments mirrored remarks two weeks ago by Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who told his countrymen that “a normal Christmas is quite frankly out of the question.”
In the weeks following Canada’s Thanksgiving, held in October, outbreaks began to grow. Since then, new restrictions have been imposed in parts of the country, including Manitoba. But Thanksgiving is nowhere near as big for Canadians as Christmas, and they generally wait until then to travel for family get-togethers.
Mr. Pallister had one main piece of advice for citizens: Wait. If Manitobans get it right now, he said, there will be “lots to celebrate” next year.
The premier choked up as he urged people to forgo their usual family gatherings.
“You don’t need to like me,” he said. “I hope in years to come you might respect me for having the guts to tell you the right thing. And here’s the right thing: stay safe, protect each other, love each other, care for each other, you’ve got so many ways to show that, but don’t get together this Christmas.”
The Rose Bowl, the most famous postseason game in college football, will be played without spectators on Jan. 1.
Organizers said Thursday that the game, which will host one of the College Football Playoff’s national semifinal matchups for this season, would proceed but without fans in the stadium near Los Angeles.
“We continue to work closely with health department officials and the Rose Bowl Stadium to provide the safest possible environment for our game participants,” David Eads, the executive director and chief executive of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, said in a statement on Thursday.
Rose Bowl officials said they had asked the authorities in California to permit limited attendance — last season’s game drew more than 90,000 people — but that “the request was denied based on state and county guidelines.”
Thursday’s announcement came as little surprise to college football officials and fans, particularly as virus cases have been swelling in recent weeks in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a new round of regional stay-at-home orders on Thursday, limiting store capacity and allowing restaurants to serve only delivery or takeout.
The Tournament of Roses announced in July that the Rose Parade, a New Year’s Day ritual ahead of the game, would be cancelled.