Research connects vaping to a higher chance of catching the virus — and suffering its worst effects.
Since the start of the pandemic, experts have warned that the coronavirus — a respiratory pathogen — most likely capitalizes on the scarred lungs of smokers and vapers. Doctors and researchers are now starting to pinpoint the ways in which smoking and vaping seem to enhance the virus’s ability to spread from person to person, infiltrate the lungs and spark some of Covid-19’s worst symptoms.
“I have no doubt in saying that smoking and vaping could put people at increased risk of poor outcomes from Covid-19,” said Dr. Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, a pediatric pulmonologist at Columbia University. “It is quite clear that smoking and vaping are bad for the lungs, and the predominant symptoms of Covid are respiratory. Those two things are going to be bad in combination.”
But while several studies have found that smoking can more than double a person’s risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms, the relationship between vaping and Covid-19 is only beginning to become clear. A team of researchers recently reported that young adults who vape are five times more likely to receive a coronavirus diagnosis.
“If I had caught Covid-19 within the week before I got really ill, I probably would have died,” said Janan Moein, 20, who was hospitalized in early December with a collapsed lung and a diagnosis of vaping-related lung illness.
Mr. Moein vaped his first pen a year ago, and by late fall he was blowing through several THC-laced cartridges a week.
Just months later he found himself in the emergency room of Sharp Grossmont Hospital in San Diego, where he was plunged into a medically induced coma and forced onto a breathing machine. He lost nearly 50 pounds in two weeks.
At one point, Mr. Moein said, his doctors gave him a 5 percent chance of survival. He resolved that the wax pen he had vaped before his hospitalization would be his last. When he contracted a mild case of Covid-19 during a family barbecue three months ago, he knew he had quit not a moment too soon.
About 34 million adults smoke cigarettes in the United States, many of them from communities of color and low socioeconomic status — groups already known to be more vulnerable to the virus. And more than 5 million middle and high school students recently reported using vapes, according to a 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Going into Labor Day weekend, the United States is averaging about 40,000 new cases per day, up from the rate ahead of Memorial Day weekend of about 22,000 per day.
The two holidays book-end a summer of lost opportunity. Though the country reined in a devastating surge of new infections that led to a peak of more than 66,000 new cases per day, America failed to stamp out the virus before the fall, which is expected to bring a dangerous combination with the start of school, flu season and cooler weather that will drive people indoors.
Fewer Americans are sick, hospitalized or dying from the coronavirus compared with earlier peaks this summer, promising signs that the worst surge of recent infections has waned.
But the United States is still averaging far more new cases each day than it was at the start of the summer, a stark reminder of the country’s failure to control the spread of the virus during a crucial time frame.
“We are at a very high baseline to begin with,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter.
The earlier spike was blamed in part on Memorial Day weekend gatherings, raising concerns that parties and travel over Labor Day — this time with more cases nationwide — could lead to a troubling surge.
This weekend is different in at least one respect, however: A number of states have rolled back reopenings or imposed mask mandates amid mounting infections. For example, a mask order and an order closing bars remain in effect in Texas, which had neither at the start of the summer.
In Huron, S.D., the annual state fair kicked off on Thursday. The fair, which is scheduled to run through Labor Day, comes weeks after South Dakota hosted the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of bikers from across the country and has been linked to hundreds of new cases in multiple states and one death.
The state fair drew more than 200,000 visitors last year.
The fair posted a disclaimer on its website, warning that the coronavirus is a risk in any public place”
Volunteers for vaccine tests in Russia produced a relatively modest amount of antibodies to the coronavirus, scientists there said in their first report on their controversial Covid-19 vaccine.
The report comes weeks after President Vladimir V. Putin announced with great fanfare that the vaccine — called Sputnik V — “works effectively enough” to be approved. He declared to be a “very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.”
Vaccine developers roundly criticized the announcement, observing that no data had been published on the vaccine. In addition, the Russian scientists had yet to run a large-scale trial to demonstrate that the vaccine was safe and effective.
The Russian vaccine produced mild symptoms in a number of subjects, the most common of which were fevers and headaches, the scientists reported in The Lancet, analogous to similar vaccines. Volunteers who got the full vaccine produced antibodies to the coronavirus as well as immune cells that could respond strongly to it.
In their paper, the researchers noted that the vaccine did not produce as many antibodies as a vaccine by AstraZeneca’s, or a gene-based vaccine made by Moderna.
It is not uncommon for reports on early clinical vaccine trials to pass through peer review and get published in scientific journals after advanced trials get underway. But Mr. Putin’s headline-making announcement raised questions about exactly what evidence had led to the vaccine’s approval.
The trial was relatively small. Only 40 volunteers received the full vaccine, and no one received a placebo for comparison.
Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study, judged that the vaccine produced “good antibody levels in all volunteers.” But she added that no one yet knows what level of antibodies or immune cells are required to protect people from getting sick. “It is hard to tell whether the vaccine will be efficacious,” she said.
That is true of all Covid-19 vaccines in testing. Determine whether a vaccine is efficacious requires a so-called Phase 3 trial, in which a large number of volunteers get either a vaccine or a placebo. In their paper, the Russian scientists wrote that they got approval last week to run a Phase 3 trial on 40,000 people.
The U.S. added 1.4 million jobs in August as unemployment fell to 8.4 percent.
Employers continued to bring back furloughed workers last month but at a far slower pace than in the spring, and millions of Americans remained out of work, new Labor Department figures showed.
But as companies reopen, many are discovering that with demand still weak, they don’t need — or cannot afford — as many workers as before the pandemic, and some furloughed employees are finding that layoffs are permanent.
Other companies aren’t reopening at all. The number of people reporting that their job losses were permanent rose to 3.4 million in August, from 2.9 million in July. And economists say the shift from temporary to permanent job losses is worrying because it suggests that companies don’t foresee a quick rebound.
The U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs in August as unemployment fell to 8.4 percent, the Labor Department said, down from 1.7 million new jobs in July and down sharply from the 4.8 million added in June. Economists attribute much of the new job figures to the temporary hiring of 2020 census workers, most of whom will be laid off when census canvassing ends later this month.
In other news around the U.S.:
A recent virus outbreak in a state prison in Wayne County, Tenn., accounted for an 80 percent rise in new cases reported over the past week in a rural part of the Tennessee River Valley. The area now has one of the highest infection rates in the nation for a rural county — about 899 cases per 10,000 people, according to a New York Times database. Two inmates at the prison, the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tenn., have died after testing positive for the virus. Prison officials found that nearly 80 percent of the 1,438 tested inmates in the facility had the virus but were asymptomatic, said a spokesman for the company that manages the prison. The outbreak prompted state prison officials to begin testing nearly 3,000 inmates at 13 centers across the state “out of an abundance of caution.”
In the past week, 846 University of Alabama students have tested positive, the school reported in a Friday press release. At least 1,889 students have tested positive since the campus reopened on August 19. About 40 percent of the university’s isolation space for infected people is occupied.
More than 370 people at Clemson University have tested positive in the past six days, the university reported, and the positivity rate has soared from 1.5 percent in mid-August to nearly 15 percent on Friday. The athletic department, which is planning to move forward with fall competitions, reported 14 new cases among student athletes across five sports.
The shift to remote work is causing a meltdown in the service sector that supported offices.
The pandemic risks becoming more than a short-term economic shock for service workers across urban America. When companies dispatched office staff to work from home, cut sales trips and canceled business lunches, they also eliminated the jobs cleaning their offices and hotel rooms, driving them around town and serving them meals.
If white-collar America doesn’t return to the office, many service workers will be left with nobody to serve.
Maria Valdez, a laid-off housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Antonio, is scraping by with three children on a $314 weekly unemployment check. Kimber Adams, who lost her job as a bartender at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is pinning hopes on her plan to become a phlebotomist. Waldo Cabrera, let go from his job cleaning planes at the Miami airport, hopes an offer to drive a tanker truck in Texas will wait until he can move there.
All of them are eager to return to work. But with 11.5 million jobs lost since February and the government’s monthly report on Friday showing a slowdown in hiring, fear is budding many jobs will disappear permanently.
“Some law firms are finding that it is more productive for their lawyers to stay at home,” said Kristinia Bellamy, a janitor who was laid off from her job cleaning offices in Midtown Manhattan. “This might be the beginning of the end for these commercial office buildings.”
Israel’s government has approved a plan to place dozens of its worst affected areas under full or partial lockdown starting Monday to combat a daily infection rate ranked among the highest in the world.
After taking speedy action to bring an outbreak under control earlier in the year, Israel’s infections soared over the summer, sometimes surpassing around 2,000 new cases a day, In the past seven days, it has recorded more than 14,000 cases, or 158 per 100,000 people — the seventh highest rate in the world, according to a Times database.
Though Israel’s mortality rate has been relatively low, that too has been rising, with coronavirus deaths now approaching 1,000 out of a population of nine million.
But some politicians and mayors have attacked a new plan by Israel’s national coronavirus project manager, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, that places 10 areas, including ultra-Orthodox and Arab localities, in full lockdown.
Shua Mansour Masarwa, the mayor of Taibe, an Arab city in central Israel set for lockdown, said Professor Gamzu had based his calculations on faulty population data. After nearly a dozen predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were also declared lockdown zones, Mayor Moshe Lion of Jerusalem said on Friday that he had still not been officially informed of any measures.
Professor Gamzu stressed that the designations were not meant to embarrass the communities but to offer the intervention and assistance they need.
In other news from around the world:
France reported nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday, a record daily increase since the beginning of the epidemic, just one week after millions around the country returned to work and school following the summer break. The health ministry said on Friday evening that there had been 8,975 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours — over 1,000 more cases than the last recorded peak in the spring, with 7,578 new cases on March 31st. France has closed 22 schools because of virus infections, its education minister said on Friday, less than a week after millions of students returned to classes around the country amid a surge in cases.
New Zealand on Friday reported its first death from the virus in more than three months, a man in his 50s who contracted the virus in Auckland. The country, which had previously come close to eliminating the virus, has recently seen a small spike in cases from an unknown source.
Doctors in South Korea agreed to end a two-week strike after the government agreed to hold off on pushing through medical system overhauls until after the virus subsided. Thousands of doctors, mostly interns and residents, had been on strike since Aug. 21, protesting the plan to increase the number of medical school students and open public medical schools. Some doctors criticized the government’s new commitment as insufficient and threatened to continue their walkout.
Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who tested positive this week, was admitted to a hospital Thursday night, his staff said. “There was the need for a small precautionary hospitalization,” Senator Licia Ronzulli, a close aide, said on the Italian TV show Agorà, “to monitor the development of Covid-19.” She added that Mr. Berlusconi, 83, was feeling good.
Just as Thailand reached 100 days without detecting a locally transmitted case of the virus, health officials announced on Thursday that a man jailed for drug use was found to be infected. The man, who worked as a D.J. in Bangkok nightclubs, tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, a week after being admitted to a jail in the city. The discovery prompted a lockdown of the detention facility and dozens of inmates and staff members were placed in isolation. So far, no one else has tested positive, officials said.
At the height of Britain’s outbreak in April, there were more than 400 deaths daily among nursing home residents, according to data analysis by the PA Media news agency.
An alarming reversal is underway in Latin America: Millions of university students are leaving their studies as the pandemic grips the region, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. The exodus threatens decades of achievement that helped move entire communities out of poverty.
NEW JERSEY AND NEW YORK ROUNDUP
As indoor dining resumes in New Jersey, there is ‘just a little more caution.’
Restaurants and bars in New Jersey reopened on Friday for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and movie theaters sold tickets for the first time since March.
At an IHOP in Edison, N.J., three indoor tables were filled at lunchtime. Everyone entered wearing masks and a manager took down diners’ telephone numbers for contact tracing before seating them.
“It felt like we rented out the whole place,” Joshua Naval, 21, said after a lunch of fried steak.
“Space and boundaries,” said his friend, Sayema Bhuiyan, 20. “It was similar to before — just a little more caution.”
Nearby, at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, indoor business was brisk. (The unshaded tables outside were largely empty at midday as the temperature reached 85 degrees.)
Wayne Martiak, of Point Pleasant, N.J., said his first indoor dining experience in six months was “very comfortable.”
“We’ve tried to be very careful,” said Mr. Martiak, who was eating with his daughter and granddaughter. He said he continued to avoid crowds, and places where few people are wearing masks. “If a place isn’t right, we’re not going there,” he said.
At a news conference on Friday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy warned that restaurants that violated the state’s restrictions would be punished. “The limits we have placed on capacities and the public health protocols we have put in place are not kind suggestions,” he said. “They are required.”
The state will also indefinitely extend a ban on smoking inside the state’s casinos during the pandemic, the governor said. When casinos were allowed to reopen for gambling in July, smoking, drinking and dining remained banned over concerns that people would not wear masks indoors.
Earlier this week, public health groups criticized language in an executive order that would have allowed indoor smoking to resume.
“We have looked closely at the science and agree with the experts who have concluded that allowing smoking is too big a risk to take,” Mr. Murphy said.
New Jersey’s casinos, all of which are in Atlantic City, were excluded from a 2006 law that prohibited smoking indoors in public buildings. Local laws restrict smoking to 25 percent of a casino’s gaming floor.
Elsewhere in the New York area:
New York will now allow salons, spas and tattoo and piercing parlors to begin offering services like facials and lip piercings under new state guidance released Thursday. Though personal-care businesses were allowed to resume operations in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, officials had continued to bar services that required customers to remove their face coverings. Under the new guidance, the employees administering those services must wear face shields and must test negative for the virus in order to perform them.
New York City, home to the nation’s largest school district, remains poised to be the only big city in the country to offer in-person education at the start of its school year. Yet many parents said they were exhausted from a summer of conflicting information and last-minute changes on school reopening, particularly the announcement earlier this week by Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay the start of the school year to Sept. 21, just 10 days before school buildings were scheduled to open.
Amid a resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe, the European Union’s executive arm recommended on Friday that the 27 member nations coordinate their approach to travel within the bloc, with the aim of simplifying movement within what used to be a borderless zone.
Although European borders have reopened this summer, travel has become increasingly complicated because of discrepancies between national measures regarding obligatory quarantine and testing, as well as different methods for classifying high-risk areas.
This week, Hungary became the first E.U. member to close its borders completely to all nonresidents, including other European citizens. Belgium, in an abrupt announcement, banned nonessential travel to a number of European regions, and imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on travelers returning from those areas, which include Paris, a one-hour train ride away. Poland, equally suddenly, banned flight connections with 44 countries, including Spain and Romania.
Meanwhile, German health authorities are considering shortening quarantine periods for those who have been in contact with patients testing positive for the coronavirus or those returning from high-risk countries to five days from 14 days currently.
The proposal made by the European Commission, which must be voted on by ministers from member nations, puts forward a coordinated system of color coding for low-, medium- and high-risk areas of the continent. The system is based on information to be provided weekly by national governments on the number of new confirmed infections, the number of tests carried out and percentage that were positive.
The European Commission also called on national governments to adopt a single set of measures for all travelers from high-risk areas, and to communicate new restrictions in advance.
“People deserve to know in which zone they are,” said Ylva Johansson, the E.U.’s home affairs commissioner. “Both citizens and businesses need to have a degree of certainty.”
Reporting was contributed by Geneva Abdul, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Emma Bubola, Aurelien Breeden, Ben Casselman, Joyce Cohen, Choe Sang-hun, Michael Gold, Rebecca Halleck, Isabel Kershner, Richard C. Paddock, Gaia Pianigiani, Eduardo Porter, Monika Pronczuk, Campbell Robertson, Eliza Shapiro, Christopher F. Schuetze, Tracey Tully, Julie Turkewitz, Katherine J. Wu and Carl Zimmer.