A New Jersey woman who used the Instagram handle @AntiVaxMomma was charged in Manhattan on Tuesday with a conspiracy to sell hundreds of fake coronavirus vaccination cards over the social media platform.
The woman, Jasmine Clifford, 31, was charged in Manhattan criminal court with having sold about 250 forged cards over Instagram. She worked with another woman, Nadayza Barkley, 27, who is employed at a medical clinic in Patchogue, N.Y., to fraudulently enter at least 10 people into New York’s immunization database, prosecutors said. Ms. Barkley was also charged in the conspiracy.
Fifteen people were charged in the scheme in all, including 13 people who purchased the cards — some of whom worked in hospitals and nursing homes — and were each charged with a felony.
Ms. Clifford was expected to be charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, and Ms. Barkley was expected to be charged with a felony and a misdemeanor. Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
With only about 52 percent of the country fully vaccinated and a significant minority of Americans skeptical of the vaccines, forged cards are offered up on messaging services like Telegram and WhatsApp, as well as social media platforms like Instagram. Counterfeits have been spotted for sale on Amazon and Etsy.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said this month that its officers in Memphis had seized more than 3,000 forged cards in 2021 so far. Earlier this year, the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to the heads of Twitter, Shopify and eBay asking that they take immediate action to halt the sale of the fake cards on their websites.
Beginning in May, prosecutors said, Ms. Clifford, who described herself online as an entrepreneur and the operator of multiple businesses, began advertising forged vaccination cards through her Instagram account.
She charged $200 for the falsified cards, prosecutors said. For $250 more, Ms. Barkley would enter a customer’s name into New York’s official immunization database, enabling him or her to obtain the state’s Excelsior Pass, a digital certificate of vaccination.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, released a statement that called on Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, to crack down on fraud.
“We will continue to safeguard public health in New York with proactive investigations like these, but the stakes are too high to tackle fake vaccination cards with whack-a-mole prosecutions,” Mr. Vance said. “Making, selling, and purchasing forged vaccination cards are serious crimes with serious public safety consequences.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A popular TikTok user whose handle is @Tizzyent highlighted Ms. Clifford’s scheme in a viral video this month. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said that the video had not led to the charges against Ms. Clifford and the others, and court documents indicated that Ms. Clifford had been under investigation since June.
The charges against Ms. Clifford and her collaborators underscore a black-market industry for counterfeit vaccination cards that has come roaring into existence this year.
Earlier this month, New York City announced that it would begin to require that workers and customers at indoor restaurants, gyms and performances have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.
Around 70 percent of adults in the European Union have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, E.U. officials said on Tuesday, a milestone that puts the bloc among the world’s leaders in vaccinations despite a sluggish start earlier this year and worrying discrepancies among member states.
After a fumbling start, the European Union overtook the United States in vaccinations last month, as campaigns taken together across the bloc’s 27 countries grew at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world. Tuesday’s announcement marked the meeting of a self-set deadline that once seemed far out of reach.
While the vaccination rate has slowed this month, it has yet to reach a ceiling that some experts and officials feared it would hit over the summer. Taking children and teenagers into account, more than 55 percent of the overall E.U. population has been fully vaccinated, compared with 52 percent in the United States, 61 percent in Israel, and 64 percent in Britain.
Those figures, however, mask wide differences between E.U. countries — ones that the authorities in Brussels may struggle to address, because each member country runs its own vaccination campaign.
While more than 80 percent of adults have been fully inoculated in Belgium, Denmark and Portugal, and more than 75 percent in countries like Spain and the Netherlands, the figure falls to 45 percent in Latvia, 31 percent in Romania and 20 percent in Bulgaria.
“The pandemic is not over,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, as she celebrated the milestone on Tuesday. “We need more. I call on everyone who can to get vaccinated.”
Some countries, like France and Italy, have implemented strong incentives for people to get vaccinated by requiring Covid passes to dine in restaurants or access cultural venues. (The pass can also be obtained with a proof of a negative test.) Significant parts of the population got vaccinated after the passes came into force, and opposition has remained limited.
But it is another story in Eastern European countries that could threaten the bloc’s handling of the pandemic in the fall and winter. In Bulgaria, disinformation about the virus, poor trust in institutions and a lack of a communication strategy to counter vaccine hesitancy have plagued vaccination efforts, including among older people. Romania, despite low vaccination rates, has sold doses to another E.U. country, Ireland, to avoid wasting them, and donated others to neighboring countries.
On Tuesday, Ms. von der Leyen said the European Union needed to “help the rest of the world vaccinate,” but vaccine diplomacy efforts have so far proved limited because of a lack of a coordinated approach from the bloc’s 27 countries to sell or donate doses.
Many countries in the European Union’s immediate neighborhood, such as Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Tunisia, are in need of doses and have among the world’s highest death tolls by size of population.
In a sign of renewed concern about the pandemic, the European Union on Tuesday recommended its member states reintroduce travel restrictions for visitors from the United States, Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
The continuing fight over masks in schools, already a political tinderbox, has heated up even more: Federal officials announced that the Education Department had started investigations into five states.
The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights notified education leaders on Monday in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah that their prohibitions against mask mandates may be restricting access for students who are protected under federal law from discrimination based on their disabilities.
In letters to state leaders, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights said the department would explore whether the prohibitions “may be preventing schools from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from Covid-19.”
The battle has also escalated in Florida, where the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, made good on Monday on a threat to withhold funding from local school boards that required students to wear masks. Mr. DeSantis had banned mask mandates in schools.
Florida is experiencing the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the nation: Over the last seven days, an average of more than 16,000 people have been hospitalized each day, more than during any other period in the pandemic.
Richard Corcoran, the state education commissioner, said in a statement that his department would fight to protect the rights of parents to make health care decisions. “They know what is best for their children,” he wrote.
The penalty applies to two school districts — Alachua County and Broward County — that went ahead with mask mandates in defiance of the governor’s order. It remains unclear just how much the school boards will be affected, because the Biden administration has advised that any school district that is stripped of state funding over a backlash to pandemic precautions could use federal stimulus funds to make up the difference.
The investigations on the federal level follow the Biden administration’s promise to use the government’s muscle — including civil rights investigations and legal action — to intervene in states where governors and other policymakers have come out against mask mandates in public schools.
Miguel A. Cardona, Mr. Biden’s education secretary, has said he was particularly disturbed by prohibitions in places where the Delta variant is surging. He said that he has heard from desperate parents who fear sending their medically vulnerable children into schools that do not have universal masking.
In South Carolina, one of the targets of the federal investigation, the office of Gov. Henry McMaster, responded that the investigation was “another attempt by the Biden administration to force a radical liberal agenda on states and people who disagree with them.”
But there as in Florida, deep divisions exist within the state — not just between the state and the federal government. The South Carolina Department of Education said that the state superintendent “has repeatedly implored the legislature to reconsider” a recently passed proviso on mask mandates, which it said was being challenged in court.
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this item included Florida among the states that the federal Education Department is investigating over their mask mandate bans. Florida is not one of the five.
Join Dr. Anthony Fauci and Times journalists (who are parents themselves) for a vital Q&A session for parents, educators and students everywhere.
After Hurricane Ida lashed Louisiana on Sunday, hospitals in the storm’s path were assessing building damage, bracing for storm-related injuries and determining how to continue Covid-19 care this week, all while being forced to run on generators for at least several days.
“Our hospital is at capacity,” said Ryan Cross, a spokesman for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which was busy treating its estimated 150 coronavirus patients Monday night, as well as people with storm-related injuries. “But we were very blessed that the storm did not deliver the impacts that we feared.”
The good fortune did not extend to several hospitals across the state, where a surge of Covid cases fueled by the Delta variant and low vaccination rates led to more than 2,400 people being hospitalized with coronavirus on Sunday, when Ida spurred evacuations in some health centers.
After a partial generator failure at Thibodaux Regional Health System in Lafourche Parish, staff had to manually push air in and out of patients’ lungs to keep them breathing while they were transferred to another floor in the hospital, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
Oxygen supplies were also running critically low in several hospitals, with some having only one or two days of supply left as of Monday.
Ochsner Health, which operates Louisiana’s most extensive hospital network, evacuated 165 patients on Monday from three hospitals where roofs were damaged and water came down the walls, said Warner Thomas, the hospitals’ president and C.E.O.
“We have 10 days of fuel on site,” Mr. Thomas said, referring to the hospital generators. “More fuel is on its way. Water is on its way.”
Dr. Joseph Kanter, the chief health officer in Louisiana, said on Monday that major hospitals appeared to have suffered minor damage and a few smaller hospitals “suffered significant damage” and were evacuating on Monday.
“Hospitals will be busy next few days,” Dr. Kanter said on Twitter. “Avoid them if possible.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Sunday that a significant number of residents who had not evacuated included hospitalized coronavirus patients.
“Evacuating these large hospitals is just not an option because there’s not any other hospitals with the capacity to take them,” he said.
And though the cleanup and repairs will stretch for weeks and months, as the state scrambles to restore power and water, the situation could have been much worse. At Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Lafourche Parish, the staff worked “tirelessly under extreme conditions” to care for patients said Karen Collins, the chief executive of the hospital. “Because of their efforts, all of our patients came through this event safely.”
Amanda Morris and Giulia Heyward contributed reporting.
Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York announced new measures on Tuesday designed to beat back the Delta variant of the coronavirus, including the allocation of $65 million to local health departments for the rollout of booster shots, assuming federal regulators clear them, and a plan to broaden vaccine requirements in schools and state regulated facilities.
“We’ll want to have the infrastructure in place to make sure that everybody gets a booster,” she said to a crowd in Buffalo.
Ms. Hochul, who was sworn in as governor last Tuesday, has made clear that fighting the Delta variant is her top priority, immediately announcing a universal mask mandate inside public and private schools in the state.
And in a move she previewed last week, she said on Tuesday that she was seeking the legal clearance to impose weekly testing requirements on school staff members who are unvaccinated.
The state will also be exploring vaccine requirements for staff members in state-regulated and congregate facilities, such as homeless shelters and correctional facilities, the governor said. Earlier this month, Ms. Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, said all health care workers in the state would be required to receive a first vaccine dose by Sept. 27, including staff at hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities. .
Ms. Hochul reiterated her desire to avoid shutdowns, and said that the vaccine is “the best weapon available to us.”
“We will get through this together, my friends,” she told a crowd at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine. “We know the recipe. We know how to get this done.”
The governor did not provide specifics on the distribution of the $65 million but made clear that local health authorities will be leading the charge, in a change from the top-down approach of the previous administration. “You tell me what you need and we’ll make sure there is funding available,” she said.
The new school rules, announced shortly before students return for classes, would amount to a mandate for teachers and other school staff, with a weekly test-out option.
Washington State and Oregon have recently announced full vaccine mandates for teachers, but New York will join California in requiring all of its public and private school staff to provide proof of vaccination or test weekly. Hawaii requires all state and county employees to be vaccinated or tested, including teachers. And last week New Jersey’s governor said that all teachers in that state would have to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
The police in New Zealand are establishing checkpoints south of Auckland, the country’s largest city, to prevent people from moving illegally between regions with different levels of virus restrictions.
“The checkpoints on the outskirts of Auckland will be stopping vehicles and questioning drivers, ensuring there is no nonessential movement through the region,” said Andrew Coster, the country’s police commissioner, in a statement.
New Zealand has been in a strict national lockdown since Aug. 17, after a single case of the more contagious Delta variant was identified in the community. The country has since reported more than 600 cases, with 33 hospitalizations. Beginning Wednesday, most of New Zealand will move to a less severe Level 3 lockdown, while Auckland will remain under the heaviest level of restrictions for another two weeks.
Crossing the border between regions is permitted only under very limited circumstances, including for freight deliveries, to receive a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine or to take care of an ill person.
The lockdowns are another example of the challenges that the Delta variant has posed to countries that have followed a “Covid Zero” approach, aiming to eliminate the virus entirely in their territories and then keep it out with tight border rules. New Zealand committed to that plan early, and its success has allowed residents to live almost without restrictions for most of the pandemic. In total, the country has reported fewer than 3,600 cases and only 26 deaths.
North of Auckland, Maori tribes have been in consultation with the police about setting up community-run roadblocks to prevent Aucklanders from traveling into the Northland region after it relaxes restrictions later this week.
The community-run group Tai Tokerau Border Control, which uses the Maori name for the region, ran checkpoints alongside the police during last year’s lockdown. The group has been discouraged from doing so under the current restrictions because of the more contagious nature of the Delta variant, the police said.
“We’re being forced into the situation, because checking with our marae” — the Maori word for a community house — “and elders, they’re very concerned,” Reuben Taipari, a coordinator for the group, told the New Zealand news outlet Stuff, of the group’s desire to run their own roadblocks. “They’re almost demanding that we have to stand.”
Who wins and who loses when companies can hire from anywhere?
Some employees and freelancers who can work remotely will have vastly expanded opportunities and the possibility of significant increases in pay, but remote workers in general figure to face more competition.
One thing that seems unavoidable, research suggests, is an intensification of inequality.
A 1981 paper, “The Economics of Superstars,” described the impact of recording and broadcasting on the incomes of athletes and entertainers. As technology enabled individuals with specialized skills to reach a giant market, fewer stars captured more of the rewards.
Over time, the paper posited, many other professions would follow a similar pattern. A teacher’s income, for example, was traditionally limited by the number of students who could fit into one classroom.
But today on Udemy, an online learning platform, teachers like Chris Haroun have earned millions from courses they created, especially after Covid-19 lockdown pushed enrollments up. The vast majority of teachers on Udemy don’t come close to Mr. Haroun’s earnings, however.
A meaningful shift in the distribution of income can also be seen in platforms where remote instruction is more similar to traditional teaching. On Outschool, an online marketplace for virtual classes for children, hundreds of teachers earn more than $100,000 a year, and dozens earn over $230,000. Most Outschool teachers earn far less.
Remote work is also affecting more traditional institutions. Scott Galloway, a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, has said that “because all my classes are remote now, the school asked me, ‘Can you go from 160 — dictated by the size of Stern’s largest classroom — to 280?’ That’s 120 fewer seats for the other marketing professors to fight over.”
Similar dynamics can be seen in professions that were assumed to be inherently “in-person.” During the lockdowns, most fitness instructors were out of work. But a handful were thriving. By the end of 2020, Peloton had about four million members — equal to the number of gym patrons in New York State.
The company’s members were served by several dozen instructors who could live anywhere they liked. While most fitness instructors could not work at all, some Peloton instructors earned more than $500,000.
After entering training camp as New England’s starting quarterback, Cam Newton didn’t just lose that job on Tuesday — he lost his roster spot, too.
The Patriots cut Newton, the N.F.L.’s most valuable player in 2015, as they began paring their roster to the league-mandated 53 players before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. The move allows the rookie Mac Jones, who excelled in camp and the preseason, to start in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 12. Newton’s release was first reported by The Boston Globe.
Newton, 32, started all three of New England’s preseason games, including Sunday’s preseason finale at the Giants, in which he played two series. But he missed three days of practice last week because of what the team said was a “misunderstanding” related to Covid-19 protocols after a team-approved medical appointment out of the area. His absence enabled Jones to take more first-team snaps.
“I feel like everybody’s way ahead of where they were last year,” Coach Bill Belichick said of Newton on Tuesday, hours before news of his release surfaced. “Certainly, he started at a much higher point than what he did last year, so definitely moving in the right direction.”
Not long after he was released, Newton thanked his fans in a statement posted on his Instagram account.
“I really appreciate all the love and support during this time but I must say … please don’t feel sorry for me!! I’m good,” Newton wrote.
In training camp this season, Newton declined to confirm whether he received a vaccine against the virus, saying only that the issue was too personal to discuss. But after his medical appointment last week, he went through a five-day process to rejoin the team that applies only to unvaccinated players.
Under N.F.L. rules, unvaccinated players must be tested every day for the virus, as opposed to once a week for vaccinated players, and they cannot move around the team facility or mix with teammates as freely as vaccinated players.
As a new coronavirus wave accelerated by the Delta variant spreads across the United States, many Republican governors have taken sweeping action to combat what they see as an even more urgent danger posed by the pandemic: the threat to personal freedom.
In Florida, Ron DeSantis has prevented local governments and school districts from enacting mask mandates and battled in court over compliance. In Texas, Greg Abbott has followed a similar playbook, renewing an order last week to ban vaccine mandates.
And in South Dakota, Kristi Noem, who like Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Abbott is a potential 2024 candidate for president, has made her blanket opposition to lockdowns and mandates a key selling point. Arriving by horseback and carrying the American flag, she advertised the state’s recent Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew half a million people, as a beacon of liberty.
Ms. Noem brushed aside criticism from Democrats and public health experts about the gathering, which was followed by a local Covid spike, saying on Fox News that the left was “accusing us of embracing death when we’re just allowing people to make personal choices.”
The actions of Republican governors, some of the leading stewards of the country’s response to the virus, reveal how the politics of the party’s base have hardened when it comes to curbing Covid. As some Republican-led states, including Florida, confront their most serious outbreaks yet, even rising death totals are being treated as less politically damaging than imposing coronavirus mandates of almost any stripe.
WASHINGTON — President Biden is considering using his clemency powers to commute the sentences of certain federal drug offenders released to home confinement during the pandemic rather than forcing them to return to prison after the pandemic emergency ends, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.
The legal and policy discussions about a mass clemency program are focused on nonviolent drug offenders with less than four years remaining in their sentences, the officials said. The contemplated intervention would not apply to those now in home confinement with longer sentences left, or those who committed other types of crimes.
The notion of clemency for some inmates is just one of several ideas being examined in the executive branch and Congress. Others include a broader use of a law that permits the “compassionate release” of sick or elderly inmates, and Congress enacting a law to allow some inmates to stay in home confinement after the pandemic.
Interviews with officials in both the executive branch and Congress, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations, suggest there is broad support for letting nonviolent inmates who have obeyed the rules stay at home — reducing incarceration and its cost to taxpayers. But officials in each branch also foresee major challenges and have hoped the other would solve the problem.
The issue traces back to 2020, when Congress included a provision in a Covid-19 relief law that empowered the Bureau of Prisons to release thousands of nonviolent federal inmates to home confinement. The idea was to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus in crowded settings. Since then, advocates for the inmates have denounced the prospect of eventually sending them back.
But a Trump-era memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said that after the pandemic emergency period ends, the bureau’s legal authority to keep such inmates in home confinement would “evaporate” if they were not by then close enough to the end of their sentences to be eligible for such treatment in normal times.
That will not be soon: With the Delta variant spurring a surge in cases, the public health emergency is not expected to end before next year at the earliest. But under normal circumstances, the law permits the authorities to allow home confinement only for inmates in the final six months or 10 percent of their sentence.
New data presented to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee provided more evidence that the Covid-19 vaccines provided robust protection against severe disease through July, after the Delta variant of the coronavirus had spread widely through the United States.
Scientists also confirmed that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots confer a small risk of heart problems in younger men, but that the benefits still outweighed the risks.
At the committee’s meeting on Monday, Dr. Sara Oliver, a C.D.C. scientist, presented unpublished data from Covid-Net, a hospital surveillance system. All three vaccines used in the United States remained highly effective at preventing hospitalizations from April through July, when Delta became dominant, the data suggested.
For adults under the age of 75, the shots were at least 94 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations, a rate that has remained steady for months, Dr. Oliver said. Protection against hospitalization did decline in July for adults 75 or older, but still remained above 80 percent.
“Covid vaccines continue to maintain high protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Dr. Oliver said.
Protection against infection or mild disease does appear to have declined somewhat in recent months, however. “These reasons for lower effectiveness likely include both waning over time and the Delta variant,” she said.
The data comes in the midst of an ongoing debate about the necessity and timing of booster doses. On Aug. 18, health officials recommended that adults who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines get a third shot eight months after their second dose. If the F.D.A. clears the booster shots, they will be available beginning Sept. 20, top federal health officials have said.
The recommendation was based on data suggesting that the vaccines may become less effective at protecting against infection and mild disease over time. But the shots still work well against severe disease and death, and many scientists have criticized the plan for booster shots, saying that it’s not yet clear that they’re needed.
The C.D.C. advisory committee will review additional data on the safety, effectiveness and potential need for booster doses at a meeting in September.
However, getting shots to unvaccinated people should continue to be the top priority, Dr. Oliver said: “Planning for delivery of booster doses to vaccinated individuals should not deter outreach for delivery of primary series to unvaccinated individuals.”
The committee unanimously voted to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week, for Americans 16 or older.
Scientists also presented to the committee new data on the risks of two heart conditions following vaccination: myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart.
The side effects tend to be mild, temporary, and uncommon, the data confirmed. For every million doses of the second shot given to 12- to 39-year-olds, there were 14 to 20 extra cases of the heart problems, according to the new data, which was presented Monday at a meeting of an independent advisory committee to the C.D.C.
“The data suggest an association of myocarditis with mRNA vaccination in adolescents and young adults,” Dr. Grace Lee, a pediatrician at Stanford and chair of the committee, said at the meeting on Monday. “Further data are being compiled to understand potential risk factors, optimal management strategies and long-term outcomes.”
But the benefits of the vaccines are substantial, even for those in the highest risk groups. According to an analysis presented by a C.D.C. scientist on Monday, every million doses of the Pfizer vaccine administered to 16- and 17-year-old boys would be expected to cause 73 cases of the heart problems, while preventing more than 56,000 Covid-19 cases and 500 related hospitalizations.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week reported that the risk of myocarditis was substantially higher after infection with the virus than after vaccination.