The European Union’s drug regulator said on Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe, a finding that officials hope will alleviate concerns about possible side effects and prompt more than a dozen countries to resume using it against the resurgent coronavirus.
The regulator, the European Medicines Agency, said a new warning label will be added to the shot so that people in the medical community can be on the lookout for a potential rare complication leading to bleeding in the brain.
Despite reports of a small number of cases of dangerous blood clots in people who had received the vaccine, a review of millions of cases found that it does not increase the overall risk of clots, though “there are still some uncertainties,” said Dr. Sabine Straus, who heads the agency’s risk assessment committee.
Last week and early this week, several European countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a pause that, however brief, threatens lingering consequences both on that continent, which is struggling to contain a new wave of infection, and around the world.
Europe is not inoculating people quickly enough to slow transmission of the virus, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, reporting that new infections had risen for three successive weeks and that more people in the region were dying from the disease than a year ago.
The AstraZeneca vaccine shot, more easily stored than Pfizer and Moderna, and sold for now without the goal of earning a profit, is a keystone of the W. H.O.’s effort to inoculate poor and middle-income countries.
“This is a safe and effective vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the head of the European regulator.
A fearful public may not be easily reassured.
“I haven’t decided yet whether I am going to get vaccinated or not,” said Giada Pietrolillo, a kindergarten teacher in Calabria, at the southern tip of Italy. “I am not sure I trust anyone any more.”
While the vast majority of the roughly 20 million people in Europe who have received the AstraZeneca shot suffered no serious side effects, Dr. Straus said, there were a handful of troubling cases of cerebral venous thrombosis, blood clots in the brain that lead to hemorrhages, in patients who also had low platelet counts. The evidence, she said, is not conclusive as to whether it is related to the vaccine
The officials said they hoped a clear statement on the safety of the vaccine would calm anxious governments and their populations at a particularly precarious moment in the pandemic.
Manuela Perozzi, a teacher for handicapped pupils at a middle school in Campobasso, in southern Italy, said she was sick with fever and aches for two days after her first dose of the AstraZeneca shot earlier this month, and then grew worried as fears about it spread.
“We can only try to hold on to science,” she said. “But surely I will be even less serene when they call me for the second shot.”
The leaders of the nations, mostly in Europe, that paused its use earlier this week framed their decision as a move intended to reassure the public that all concerns were being treated seriously, adding that they would await guidance from the regulator. Most of the countries had signaled that they were likely to restart using the vaccine once the agency issued clearance.
The Italian government on Thursday welcomed the drug regulator’s findings and said it would end its suspension “as of tomorrow.” France also announced it would return to giving out the vaccine, and the prime minister, Jean Castex, said he himself would get a shot.
Norway’s health authority said it would continue to study the issue before deciding whether to lift its suspension.
Despite their differences, all the vaccines approved by Western regulators have shown themselves to be remarkably effective at reducing severe illness and death. And though the AstraZeneca vaccine accounts for less than 20 percent of the hundreds of millions of doses ordered by the European Union, it was a critical part of early rollout plans.
With infections again on the rise in many European countries, the cost of delay may be measured in lives.
In just one week in January, at the height of the last wave, Europe recorded nearly 40,000 deaths.
This week, more people are on ventilators in hospitals in Poland than at any time in the pandemic, leading officials to reimpose national restrictions, starting on Saturday. Italy has reimposed lockdowns in the hopes of limiting outbreaks. Across the continent, there is rising concern about the spread of variants of the virus.
GENEVA — Europe’s level of vaccination against Covid-19 is too low to slow transmission of the coronavirus, the World Health Organization said on Thursday. The agency reported that infections have risen for three consecutive weeks and that more people in the region are dying from the disease than a year ago.
Europe recorded more than 1.2 million new coronavirus infections last week, and more than 20,000 people a week are dying of the virus, Dr. Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Europe, told reporters.
In Central Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic States, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are now among the highest in the world, he said.
The trends showed that vaccinations have not reached the level at which they can effectively slow transmission of the disease, underscoring the need to maintain public health and social distancing controls.
His warning coincides with a slowdown in Europe’s vaccination rollout after several countries suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine over fears concerning blood clots that were reported among a small number of people.
Dr. Kluge, echoing earlier statements by W.H.O. officials, said that based on current evidence, the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine far outweighed any risk. “Its use should continue to save lives,” he said.
Some countries have eased their lockdown measures and social controls on the assumption that rolling out vaccines would help curb transmission immediately.
Despite promising results in countries like Israel and Britain, where vaccinations have reached a significant percentage of the population, “such assumptions are too early to make,” Dr. Kluge said.
“Let there be no doubt about it,” he added, “vaccination by itself, particularly given the varied uptake in countries, does not replace public health and social measures.”
President Biden said Thursday that the United States would on Friday reach his goal of administering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in 100 days, with six weeks to spare before his self-imposed deadline.
And though he insisted on Thursday that the initial goal — 100 million shots in 100 days — was ambitious, even he had conceded in January that the administration should aim higher. Five days after he was inaugurated, Mr. Biden had said the United States would aim to administer 1.5 million vaccine doses a day, a target that was reached a few weeks later. As of Wednesday, the seven-day average was about 2.5 million doses a day, according to a New York Times analysis of data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, it was a day for crowing at the White House, as the pace of coronavirus vaccination steps up markedly, though the new administration expanded and bulked up a vaccine production effort whose key elements were in place before the change in administration.
“We’re way ahead of schedule,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks from the White House, “but we have a long way to go.”
Mr. Biden’s comments continued his pattern of claiming unexpectedly fast progress in meeting his initial vaccine goal, even though public health officials have criticized that goal as less ambitious and easier to achieve than the president has portrayed. On Thursday, he said the 100 million-shot goal was “just the floor” and that he would announce a new vaccination goal next week.
“This is a time for optimism,” Mr. Biden said, “but it’s not a time for relaxation.”
Since Jan. 20, the day Mr. Biden was sworn in as president, 99.2 million shots have been administered across the country as reported by the C.D.C. Give the current pace of reported data, Mr. Biden is likely to surpass his 100 million shots goal on Friday, ahead of schedule. Since the U.S. vaccination campaign began in mid-December, more than 115 million doses have been administered across the country as reported by the C.D.C.
As more states expand eligibility for vaccinations, the pace of shots administered has steadily increased to a current pace that is a 12 percent rise over the average number of daily doses a week ago.
Illinois on Thursday joined a growing list of states to announce expansions to its pool of residents eligible to receive the vaccine, opening appointments to all residents 16 years and older on April 12. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the city of Chicago would continue to set its own timeline for vaccinations. (The city is set to open eligibility on March 29 for city residents with certain health conditions who are between 16 and 64 and currently has a goal for all residents 16 and older to be eligible by the end of May.)
“The light that we can see at end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” Mr. Pritzker said during a news conference. He added that it was important for residents to continue to wear masks until guidance from Washington changes.
Mr. Biden last week set a deadline of May 1 for states to make vaccines available to all adult residents. At least Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., plan to meet that goal. And others, including Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, hope to make vaccines available to all of their adult residents in March and April.
Other states have also pushed up their eligibility dates: Utah will open up vaccines to adults beginning March 24; Nevada will make vaccines available to all adults on April 5; Missouri will allow any adult to get a vaccine on April 9; Maryland will open vaccines up in waves with all adult residents eligible as of April 27; and Rhode Island will allow all adults to get vaccinated starting April 19.
States have been able to open vaccinations up to more people as supply has steadily increased. The Biden administration is sending another 22 million doses of vaccine in total to states, jurisdictions and pharmacies this week.
Across the country, more than 75 million people have received at least one shot of the vaccine, and about 12 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated, according to C.D.C. data analyzed by the Times. And some 31 states are leading the national pace by at least 1 percentage point. So far, Alaska is in the lead with 19 percent of its adult residents fully vaccinated. Currently everyone who lives or works in the state who are 16 years and older are eligible for the shots.
Amy Schoenfeld Walker and Remy Tumin contributed reporting.
The United States is sending millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada, officials from both countries announced Thursday, just as the Biden administration has been quietly pressing Mexico to curb the stream of migrants coming to the border.
Tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been sitting in American manufacturing sites. But while their use has already been authorized in dozens of countries, the vaccine has not yet been approved by American regulators.
The White House plans to send 2.5 million doses of the vaccine to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada, according to a White House official, who said logistics on the plan were still being discussed.
The announcement came at a critical time in negotiations with Mexico. President Biden has moved quickly to dismantle some of former President Trump’s signature immigration policies, halting construction of a border wall, stopping the swift expulsion of children at the border and proposing a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the United States.
But he is clinging to a central element of Mr. Trump’s agenda: relying on Mexico to restrain a wave of people making their way to the United States.
Anticipating a surge of migrants and the most encounters by American agents at the border in two decades, Mr. Biden asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico in a video call this month whether more could be done to help solve the problem, according to Mexican officials and another person briefed on the conversation.
Mexican officials contend that the efforts to secure vaccines are separate from the negotiations over migration. But they acknowledge that relations between the United States and Mexico, which has suffered one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus epidemics, would be buoyed by a shipment of doses south.
“Both governments cooperate on the basis of an orderly, safe and regular migration system,” Roberto Velasco, director general for the North America region at Mexico’s foreign ministry, said in a statement, referring to the engagement between the two countries on migration and vaccines.
But he said there was no quid pro quo for vaccines: “These are two separate issues, as we look for a more humane migratory system and enhanced cooperation against Covid-19, for the benefit of our two countries and the region.”
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Thursday that the discussions over vaccines and border security between the United States and Mexico were “unrelated,” but also called them “overlapping.”
Asked by a reporter if the United States had “strings attached” to its offer to lend vaccines to Mexico, Ms. Psaki replied that there were “several diplomatic conversations — parallel conversations — many layers of conversations” at play in the discussions.
“There’s rarely just one issue you’re discussing with any country at onetime,” Ms. Psaki said. “Certainly that’s not the case with Mexico. It’s not the case with any country around the world. And so I wouldn’t read into it more than our ability to provide — to lend — vaccine doses of a vaccine that we have some available supply on, to a neighboring country where there is a lot of traffic that goes back and forth between the two countries.”
Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, the most populous Canadian province, heaped praise on the move at a news conference on Thursday.
“God bless America, they’re coming to our rescue,” Mr. Ford said. “That’s what true neighbors do. You help each other out in a crisis.”
Mr. Ford, a Conservative, has also been criticized by critics for, in their view, being too slow to set up his province’s vaccination network. While the federal government under Mr. Trudeau buys Canada’s vaccines, the provinces administer shots.
The premier, who appeared to learn of the Biden administration’s offer from a reporter’s question, said that he had no details about when doses might be shipped.
“I’ll drive down there in my pickup and pick them up if we have to,” Mr. Ford said. “We’re ready. We can take all the vaccines you can give us.”
President Biden and Democrats in Congress included more than $31 billion in federal aid for Native American governments and programs to help Indigenous people, who have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.
The $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Mr. Biden signed into law last week contains billions in aid, a record level of assistance intended to help bolster health care and other services in some of the nation’s poorest communities.
The money, a crucial plank of Mr. Biden’s vow to address racial and economic inequities, is a potentially transformative lifeline for Native Americans. It is also a high-profile step toward more equitable treatment after centuries of treaty violations and failures by the U.S. government to live up to its obligations.
Mr. Biden signed the law last week, and on Monday the Senate confirmed Deb Haaland, who had been representing New Mexico in the House, as interior secretary, the first Native American woman to serve in the cabinet.
The new legislation, passed with no Republican votes, allocates $20 billion to Native governments. It also includes more than $6 billion for the Indian Health Service and other Native American health systems, including a $20 million fund for Native Hawaiians, as well as $1.2 billion for housing and more than $1.1 billion for primary, secondary and higher education programs.
The money comes on top of $8 billion allocated to Native governments by Congress last March in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, and additional funding for health and education services in other relief legislation passed last year.
“Our promise to them has always been — on any of these issues — they will have a seat at the table,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in an interview. “It’s essential that we’re listening to the specific issues.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, said during a floor speech that the legislation “takes us a giant step closer to fulfilling our trust responsibilities to all Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.”
The aid comes after a year that devastated Native people across the country, as poverty, multigenerational housing and underlying health conditions contributed to the deadly spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in August that Native Americans were disproportionately affected by the virus compared with their white counterparts in nearly half of states.
“There’s nothing more unjust than the way we currently treat Native people in the United States with whom we have treaty interest, and this was an opportunity for us to put our money where our mouth is,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. “This is quite literally the biggest down payment in American history in the right direction, in the direction of justice.”
The authorities in Seoul, the South Korean capital, issued mixed messages on Thursday about a contentious plan to test all foreign workers in the city for the coronavirus, leading to criticisms that the proposal was xenophobic and discriminatory.
On Wednesday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said that hundreds of thousands of foreigners in the city would be required to undergo testing after a spike in infections among foreign workers.
Officials said that all companies that employ at least one foreigner had 15 days from Wednesday to send their workers for testing or face fines of up to 2 million won, about $1,700.
The announcement was met with anger, and diplomats and Korean politicians called for the order to be revoked.
“The administrative order of the Seoul city government is an unfair racist act against foreigners, and it is so ridiculous,” Lee Sang-min, a lawmaker from the governing Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook. “It is a human rights violation that would disgrace South Korea internationally.”
But as some city officials insisted that the tests were mandatory, others indicated that they were recommended but not required.
An official in the city’s foreign-labor department said that although the city could not force foreign workers to take a test, those who did not get tested before the deadline could face financial penalties if they were later found to be infected. The penalties include paying for treatment for anyone they made sick.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government later walked back those claims and said all foreign workers in Seoul would be required to get a test, including unregistered foreign workers.
The mixed messages led to confusion, even as hundreds of workers flocked to designated testing sites across the city. The government said it could test up to 3,600 foreigners a day over the next two weeks.
Park Yoo-mi, a city quarantine officer, told reporters that a recent cluster among foreign workers had prompted the city to order the testing.
“The coronavirus cases of foreigners count 6.3 percent of entire cases in Seoul from January to March this year, and the number keeps increasing,” she said.
Last week, the authorities in Gyeonggi, the province that surrounds the capital, issued a similar order for foreign workers to undergo testing.
Graham Nelson, a political counselor at the British Embassy in Seoul, criticized the plan, likening discrimination to a disease.
“Both coronavirus and discrimination are fatal diseases,” he wrote on Twitter. “Many foreigners are expressing concerns on the movement of regions, including Gyeonggi province, Seoul city and South Jeolla province, requiring only foreigners for testing.”
In other developments around the world:
The World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa on Thursday urged countries on the continent to continue with their inoculation campaigns, even as several European countries have paused the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. The Democratic Republic of Congo followed suit this week, but Angola, Ethiopia and Ghana said they would go ahead with administering it. Several African public health experts said at a briefing on Thursday that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweighed the risks.
The number of new daily coronavirus cases in Turkey reached a new high of nearly 19,000 on Wednesday. The rise comes about two weeks after the government reopened restaurants and allowed more students to resume in-person classes. The spread of new variants has fueled the increase, with the variant that first originated in Britain the most prevalent, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
The pandemic is not just making many of us sick. It is also making virtually all of us lonelier, according to a Harvard report based on a national survey of 950 Americans issued in February.
The loneliest people, as a group, are young adults. And the second loneliest demographic appears to be older people, said the report’s lead researcher, Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Plus, the coronavirus has largely kept these generations apart, weakening a bond that researchers say is critical for the well-being of both.
On top of age-exclusive institutions like schools and retirement communities, and social media that often divides people into silos of their own peers, to a large extent “the generational twain stopped meeting,” said Marc Freedman, the founder of Encore.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that is engaged in projects that bring the generations together.
But lately he has seen signs that this is changing.
“There’s been a blossoming of creativity in bringing young and old together since the onset of the pandemic,” Mr. Freedman said. “The young themselves have initiated efforts to check in on elders, and deliver food and prescriptions.”
One such young adult is Ella Gardner, age 18, a student at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. Moved by the isolation of older people who have become housebound during the pandemic, she volunteered with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Mon Ami to shop and do chores for them.
She also extensively interviewed her grandfather on Zoom for an anthropology paper. “I asked him if he was going to get the vaccine,” she said, “and he chuckled and said, ‘I remember back when I was growing up and we had to get the polio vaccine — and look at me now, I’m still here.’”
Dr. Weissbourd believes that people in these two groups would feel a lot less isolated if they had more contact with one another.
“The elderly have so much to share with young people — wisdom about love, work, friendship, mortality and many other things,” he said. “And young people have so much to share with the elderly about a rapidly changing world — not just technology, but new and important ways of thinking about race and racism, justice, sexuality and gender and other critical issues.”
The U.S. government says it will reimburse families of Covid-19 victims for funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, best known for responding to hurricanes, floods and wildfires, said on Wednesday that it aimed to ease some of the financial stress caused by the coronavirus and that it would start reimbursing people next month.
“We are working with stakeholder groups to get their input on ways we can best provide this assistance, and to enlist their help with outreach to families and communities,” FEMA said in a statement. “In the meantime, people who have Covid-19 funeral expenses are encouraged to keep and gather documentation.”
To be eligible, the death must have occurred in the United States, including U.S. territories, and the death certificate must indicate that the death was attributed to Covid-19.
More than 537,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States. And the pandemic has disproportionately affected the poorest in society, with those in the lower economic strata more likely not only to catch the virus, but also to die from it.
New York will allow sports and performing arts venues that seat more than 2,500 people outdoors to open at limited capacity starting on April 1, just in time for the Yankees’ first home game of the season, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Thursday.
The state will also allow indoor venues that seat more than 1,500 people to open at 10 percent capacity.
The governor’s announcement, which he made with Yankees and Mets officials in attendance, is the latest in a slate of recent reopening steps he has taken, even as the virus remains persistent in the state.
On Monday, the state will allow indoor fitness classes to resume statewide, including in New York City, where local officials have raised objections. Movie theaters in the city were also allowed to reopen earlier this month after being closed for nearly a year. And on Friday, the city’s restaurants will be allowed to serve at half their maximum capacity indoors while outside New York City, indoor dining can increase to 75 percent capacity.
“Spring is a new season,” Mr. Cuomo said on Thursday. “And it is a new attitude.”
The governor has pointed to falling rates of positive test results, virus-related deaths and hospitalizations to explain the reopenings.
All three measures are dramatically lower than they were last spring, when the first wave of virus cases swept into the state and devastated New York City in particular.
But according to a New York Times database, New York State is adding new virus cases at the second-highest rate in the country. As of Wednesday, the state was reporting an average of 36 new virus cases a day for every 100,000 residents over the last week, trailing only New Jersey, at 41 cases per 100,000. (The nation as a whole was averaging 17 new cases per 100,000 people.)
New York City, home to the state’s two Major League Baseball teams, is adding new cases at 44 cases per 100,000 — a per capita rate more than five times higher than that of Los Angeles County — though average hospitalizations have dropped by nearly half in the last month.
According to the city’s health data, the weekly average positive test rate has hovered near 6.5 percent for the last several days and has not dropped below 6 percent in more than three months. City officials have said new virus variants have likely kept the positivity rate from falling further, and on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said questions about the variants were a reason to delay the state’s reopening plans.
Though New York State’s number of virus-related hospitalizations remains lower than it was at the start of the year, when the state was experiencing a surge linked to holiday gatherings, it remains significantly higher than it was last summer, when the state had more stringent restrictions in place.
As of Wednesday, 4,582 people were hospitalized, down from a recent peak of 8,991 on Jan. 21, according to the state’s data. On Aug. 30, the state recorded just 418 hospitalizations.
Virus-related deaths have followed a similar trend. As of Wednesday, the state averaged 89 deaths a day over the past seven days, according to the Times database, compared to 198 on Jan. 20.
Mr. Cuomo pointed to the sustained decline over recent months as a cause for optimism.
“Covid’s coming down. Vaccine rates are going up,” Mr. Cuomo said Thursday. “Start to look to the future aggressively, and let’s get back to life and living. And get that economy running, because it is safe.”
He has also left the state’s mask mandate in place and has required businesses that reopen to meet significant capacity limits, safety requirements and social distancing protocol.
At sporting events, attendees will be required to provide a negative coronavirus test result or proof that they have been vaccinated, similar to requirements the state put in place for a Buffalo Bills playoff game in January, Mr. Cuomo said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its guidance for people in the United States who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, which is two weeks after the second dose in the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It allows for the resumption of some activities in private settings between fully vaccinated people in small groups or a fully vaccinated household with one other unvaccinated household. It emphasized how fully vaccinated people should keep following health and safety precautions in public, including wearing a mask.
Most people who recover from Covid-19 remain shielded from the virus for at least six months, researchers reported on Wednesday in a large study from Denmark.
Prior infection reduced the chances of a second bout by about 80 percent in people under 65 and by about half in those older than 65. But those results, published in the journal Lancet, were tempered by many caveats.
The number of infected older people in the study was small. The researchers did not have any information beyond the test results, so it’s possible that only people who were mildly ill the first time became infected again and that the second infections were largely symptom-free.
Scientists have said that reinfections are likely to be asymptomatic or mild, because the immune system will suppress the virus before it can do much damage. The researchers also did not assess the possibility of reinfection with newer variants of the virus.
Still, the study suggests that immunity to a natural infection is unpredictable and uneven, and it underscores the importance of vaccinating everyone — especially older people, experts said.
“You can certainly not rely on a past infection as protecting you from being ill again, and possibly quite ill if you are in the elderly segment,” said Steen Ethelberg, an epidemiologist at Denmark’s public health agency.
For some writers stuck at home during the pandemic, online meet-ups have been a way to hold themselves accountable with their craft — a variation on the traditional writing group that includes not just discussions and feedback, but also focused quiet time.
Such informal gatherings have flourished as people who once shied away from writing groups — because of the time commitment, commute or intimidation factor of a room full of aspiring authors — are finding that the pandemic has lowered the barriers to entry.
“The idea of a writing community in New York is very scary,” said Hannah Pasternak, 25, an editor at Self magazine who started a group last March, around the time that many offices in New York City were closing because of the pandemic. “You feel like everybody is better than you, or everybody has a book deal and you don’t, or everybody is published in X magazine or Y magazine.”
The number of writing groups and people involved with them are difficult to count, because formats and membership vary so widely, but participants said the groups had been thriving over the past year.
Some are led by one or a few people, while some are organized by the group. Many are free, though some teachers lead groups and charge for them. Some are focused on “accountability” and keeping members writing, while others are more reflective and conversational.
Groups offering silent writing time are common, and sometimes tied to institutions. London Writers’ Salon and Gotham Writers Workshop charge $100 to more than $400 for some of their classes, and also run free hourlong writing sessions.
For some, joining a group isn’t about trying to write a book or pursue a career in writing. Hannah Zweig, 26, a client solutions manager at Nielsen, minored in creative writing in college but didn’t keep up with it until the pandemic gave her a freer schedule. She joined Ms Pasternak’s group in April and initially used the sessions to journal about her feelings and experiences around the pandemic. Now, she mostly uses the time to write poetry.
“I honestly hadn’t done a lot of writing since college, and it made me kind of sad,” Ms. Zweig said. “I had no reason to write and to stretch myself in that way, so I think it’s reignited my ability to write and my appreciation for good writing.”
An annual nationwide survey of the homeless that was completed before the pandemic and released Thursday showed a rise for the fourth straight year, with about 580,000 individuals living on the streets or in temporary shelter at the start of 2020.
But the report almost certainly underestimates the spread, depth and urgency of the crisis, and not by a little, federal officials warned.
The report does not reflect the displacement and hardship encountered by families who lost work as a result of the sharp downturn caused when the coronavirus struck the country soon after the census was conducted, said Marcia Fudge, who was confirmed as President Biden’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development last week.
“What makes these findings even more devastating is that they are based on data from before Covid-19, and we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis even worse,” Ms. Fudge, a former Democratic congresswoman from Ohio, said in a video accompanying the release.
“We have a moral responsibility to end homelessness — and we know how to do it,” she added.
HUD officials say the pandemic’s impact on homelessness will not be known for a while. But two nationwide moratoriums on evictions implemented since last spring have slowed the pace of displacement, although a Government Accountability Office report released this week showed the programs were not universally effective.
More help is on the way. The administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package includes $21.55 billion for emergency rental assistance, $5 billion in emergency housing vouchers for families displaced by the pandemic’s economic fallout, $5 billion for homelessness assistance and $850 million for tribal and rural housing.
Even before the crisis, homelessness was re-emerging as a major problem, especially in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, with the nation’s two biggest cities accounting for a quarter of homeless people.
The annual snapshot count, taken on a single night in January 2020, showed a 2 percent year-to-year increase in homelessness, and signaled worrying trends: For the first time in years, homelessness among veterans and families — two groups targeted by recent federal housing efforts — did not improve.
Homelessness impacts Black and Latino communities with disproportionate force. About 40 percent of people counted were Black, compared to their 13 percent representation in the population, and a quarter of the homeless self-identified as Latino, a group that makes up about 18 percent of all Americans.
The number of people living on the street, the most visible reminder of a crisis that also plays out in shelters and among “couch people” forced to move in with family or friends, is also rising. For the first time since the Annual Homeless Assessment Report was released in February 2007, the number of single adults living on the street, 209,000, was greater than the number of people counted in shelters, which was around 199,500.
One out of every six homeless people, about 106,000, were children under the age of 18. The majority live in shelters. But 11,000 live at least part of the time outside, without shelter, the report found.
France’s prime minister announced that several regions, including the Paris area, will go under a new lockdown on Friday for at least a month, effectively curbing social life for about a third of the French population.
“The situation is worsening,” Primer Minister Jean Castex said Thursday at a news conference. “Our responsibility now is that it not get out of control.”
The new restrictions will apply to the Paris region, the country’s northern tip and the area surrounding the southern city of Nice.
Businesses considered nonessential will be forced to close; outdoor activities will be limited to within a six-mile radius of one’s home; and inter-regional travel will be banned. But schools will remain open, Mr. Castex said.
The new restrictions are a last-ditch effort to stop a rise in coronavirus infections that has been threatening to spiral out of control. A slow vaccination campaign hasn’t helped.
On Wednesday, France reported nearly 40,000 cases, according to a New York Times database — the highest number since November, when a second wave of infection forced the entire country into lockdown.
The new restrictions, Mr. Castex said, will be less sweeping.
Unlike the national lockdowns imposed in the spring and fall of last year, the new measures amount to closing parts of the country “without locking up,” he said.
Coronavirus infections in France are up 24 percent over the previous week. The rampant spread of the variant first identified in Britain now represents three-quarters of new cases.
Mr. Castex said the situation “looks more and more like a third wave, even as we approach the terrible figure of 100,000 dead.”
The Paris region has borne the brunt of it.
Last week, health officials in Paris ordered area hospitals to cancel many of their procedures to make room for Covid-19 patients. And this week, and some patients were transferred to other regions in an attempt to ease the pressure on hospitals.
France has been under a nighttime curfew since mid-January, with restaurants, cafes and museums remaining closed. Making a calculated gamble, the government tried to tighten restrictions just enough to stave off a third wave of infections without taking more severe steps that might hurt the economy.
But as infections started to increase in late February, the government imposed new lockdowns on weekends in the French Riviera, the famed strip along the Mediterranean coast, and in the area surrounding the northern port of Dunkirk. Officials made clear that more lockdowns might follow in other regions.
The new restrictions announced Thursday will affect about a third of the population, though they don’t go as far as those imposed a year ago, at the start of the epidemic.
Primary schools and secondary schools will remain open and the rules for high schools and universities will remain much the same, with attendance limited to prevent infections. People will also be allowed to take walks and exercise within a six-mile radius, with no time limit.
Though nonessential shops will close, the definition of essential has been expanded to include bookshops and music shops.
Bruno Riou, the head of the crisis center for Paris public hospitals, said earlier this week that a lockdown was the only remaining option to prevent more deaths, given that less than nine percent of the population has received at least a first vaccination.
“I hear a lot of people saying that a week without a lockdown is a week that’s gained,” Mr. Riou said. “For me, it’s a week that’s lost.”