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ImageCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Lauren Hirsch and
A federal appeals panel on Saturday temporarily blocked a new vaccine mandate for large businesses, in a sign that the Biden administration may face an uphill battle in its biggest effort yet to combat the virus among the American work force.
The stay, issued by a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana, doesn’t have an immediate impact. The first major deadline in the new rule is Dec. 5, when companies with at least 100 employees must require unvaccinated employees to wear masks indoors. Businesses have until Jan. 4 to mandate Covid vaccinations or start weekly testing of their workers.
But Saturday’s move provided momentum for a wide coalition of opponents of the rule, who have argued that it is unconstitutional. A group of businesses, religious groups, advocacy organizations and several states, including Louisiana and Texas, had filed a petition on Friday with the court, arguing that the administration had overstepped its authority.
It was unclear whether the stay would be a procedural blip for the Biden administration or the first step in the unwinding of the mandate.
At the core of the legal challenge is the question of whether OSHA exceeded its authority in issuing the rule and whether such a mandate would need to be passed by Congress. A similar issue was in play when a Texas court in late 2016 halted an Obama-era Labor Department rule that would have made millions more Americans eligible for overtime pay. The Trump administration, which took office the next year, said it would not defend the overtime rule.
The suit against the mandate stated that President Biden “set the legislative policy” of substantially increasing the number of Americans covered by vaccination requirements, and “then set binding rules enforced with the threat of large fines.”
“That is a quintessential legislative act — and one wholly unrelated to the purpose of OSHA itself, which is protecting workplace safety,” the suit said. “Nowhere in OSHA’s enabling legislation does Congress confer upon it the power to end pandemics.”
A separate lawsuit against the new rule was also filed on Friday in the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis by 11 Republican-led states, among them Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah.
The Fifth Circuit panel said in a brief order, signed by a deputy clerk, that the judges were blocking the regulation “because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate.” It said the rule was suspended “pending further action by this court.”
The two-page order directed the Biden administration to respond by 5 p.m. Monday to the group’s request for a permanent injunction.
Seema Nanda, the chief legal officer for the Department of Labor, said in a statement that the government was confident in its legal authority to issue the mandate on vaccinations and testing.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Act explicitly gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,” Ms. Nanda said.
“We are fully prepared to defend this standard in court,” she added.
After both sides have filed briefs, the court will decide whether to lift the temporary injunction, allowing the rule to proceed as planned, or whether to grant a permanent injunction. OSHA could then take the case to the Supreme Court.
“The side that is asking for the injunction has to prove that this rule violates the Constitution,” said Mark F. Kluger, founding partner at the employment law firm Kluger Healey. “That’s a really tough burden to meet,” he added, noting that “federal agencies over the years have become increasingly aggressive about passing or creating rules.”
As an example, he cited the National Labor Relations Board’s rules for union elections. But not all such efforts have been upheld up by the courts.
“The fight is not over and I will never stop resisting this Admin’s unconstitutional overreach!” Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, who had challenged the mandate, said in a tweet on Saturday.
Mr. Paxton has previously called the Biden administration’s mandate a “breathtaking abuse of federal power” and is one of the attorneys general who has sued the administration over federal worker vaccine mandates.
The Louisiana attorney general, Jeff Landry, said in a tweet that the court’s decision was a “major win for the liberty of job creators and their employees.” Attorney General Alan Wilson of South Carolina also applauded the court’s decision on Twitter. “The Constitution will prevail,” he wrote. “The President is not above the law.”
But David Michaels, a leader of OSHA during the Obama administration, described the court’s move on Saturday as a faulty ruling with political motivations. “The same activist court that refused to stay Texas’ law that permits bounty hunters to sue anyone who aids an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy has stayed an OSHA rule that is clearly within OSHA’s authority, will save lives and make workplaces safe.”
Read moreCredit…Associated Press
Hari Kumar and
NEW DELHI — Eleven people died after a fire broke out in a coronavirus intensive care unit in the western state of Maharashtra, the latest in a series of fatal disasters in Covid-19 wards in India.
Hospital staff tried to douse the fire that started Saturday morning with fire extinguishers, but the flames spread quickly in the airtight room, cutting the power out and forcing people to flee to safety, said Shankar Misal, the fire chief in the Ahmednagar district.
“It created huge, black smoke inside. It was completely dark,” he said.
Within minutes, firefighters had shattered windowpanes and lifted out 15 patients from the 17-bed facility. Most of the 11 patients who died suffocated from smoke, Mr. Misal said. The survivors’ medical condition was not immediately known.
The fire department is investigating whether an electrical short circuit caused the blaze. The Covid-19 ward was among many built hastily across India to accommodate a deluge of patients through the pandemic.
India’s infection curve is down sharply from the peak of its second wave in June, but the country is still reporting about 13,000 new cases daily.
Maharashtra’s top elected official, the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, wrote on Twitter to express his “deep anguish over the incident.”
India’s health system — fragile and underfunded even in normal times — has experienced enormous strain during waves of the pandemic. In June, hospitals in the capital, New Delhi, and the state capital of Maharashtra, Mumbai, ran out of beds, medical oxygen and staff, and turned away patients who died outside the gates.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up the country’s health care infrastructure, but health is managed at a state level in India, and the standard of care and conditions at hospitals vary greatly from one region to the next.
Read moreCredit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
A Rhode Island man who federal prosecutors said used stolen identities to obtain more than $450,000 in pandemic-related unemployment assistance was arrested in Michigan, the authorities said.
Dquintz Alexander, 34, of Cranston, R.I., was indicted and charged in federal court in Boston on five counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
As the coronavirus pandemic devastated the economy in March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which among other things created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The program granted unemployment insurance benefits to people who lost their jobs or were unable to work because of the coronavirus.
The pandemic unemployment program, which is administered by each state, lowered the barriers to collecting benefits, and the usual security methods intended to prevent fraud were not able to keep up with security breaches. Last year in California, an underground internet bazaar that specialized in selling stolen accounts and data had for-sale ads for filched unemployment insurance claims in the state that had been approved and offered benefits worth $17,550.
The U.S. Labor Department says thousands of people have become victims of unemployment-related identity fraud. Last year, the department made fraud detection a priority, dedicating $100 million to combat the problem. In August, it updated the unemployment insurance system to help counter fraudulent claims.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Alexander and another man, Norman Higgs, made 85 fraudulent claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance between April and June 2020, using the personal information of at least five other people. They hid their own identities by using a series of virtual private networks, overseas email accounts and voice-over-internet phone numbers, prosecutors said.
The victims were from Arizona, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan and Kansas, the authorities said.
Mr. Higgs pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud on Sept. 17, and is scheduled to be sentenced in December.
Mr. Alexander, who faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the six counts in the indictment, was released after an initial appearance in federal court in Michigan on Thursday afternoon and will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.
Mr. Alexander could not be immediately reached for comment and it was unclear if a defense attorney was representing him.
Read moreCredit…Marcus Yam/The New York Times
Republican Bruce Blakeman, who was elected as the Nassau County executive this week, said that he will not impose Covid-19 vaccine mandates on police and other county workers.
“I’m not going to follow the New York City model,” Mr. Blakeman said in an interview with Newsday on Friday after his win over the incumbent, Laura Curran. He added that police officers and firefighters “will not be fired if they choose, with their physician, not to get a vaccination.”
Vaccine mandates have been a point of contention between police departments and cities across the United States, with officers walking off the job instead of receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
John Catanzara, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, has urged police officers there to ignore requirements by the mayor, Lori Lightfoot, that city employees report their vaccination status.
The largest police union in New York City has also protested the vaccine mandate for city workers and has tried unsuccessfully to persuade the courts to strike it down or to let unvaccinated police officers continue working.
“I’m vaccinated. That’s a choice I made,” Mr. Blakeman said. “I am not for mandatory vaccinations of county employees. I think it’s a mistake. I think basically people have to make their own health care choices.”
In Nassau County, which never issued a vaccine mandate, 72 percent of residents are fully vaccinated according to a New York Times database.
During the interview, Mr. Blakeman said he would not require a mandate for a few reasons, but pointed to skepticism among women wanting to get pregnant as one of the main ones.
“I don’t think we should tell a woman who’s 22, 23 years old that she has to do something that she fundamentally feels is wrong for her body,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that there is no evidence that shows that any vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.
Read moreCredit…Kieran Dodds for The New York Times
Jenny Gross and
GLASGOW — In a gathering with more than 20,000 people from nearly every country in the world, one of the biggest major international summits since the pandemic began, a Covid outbreak was always going to be a danger.
So far, organizers have not revealed the number of positive Covid-19 test results. But on Saturday, the State Department confirmed that a member of the United States delegation had tested positive. Earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles tested positive days after arriving in Scotland.
The State Department statement on Saturday declined to identify the person but said the official had been fully vaccinated and was quarantining. The statement also said John Kerry, the U.S. presidential envoy for climate change who is leading the negotiations at the summit, had received several negative Covid-19 results, including daily lateral flow tests and a PCR test, since the delegate tested positive.
Asked this week about the number of positive tests at the conference, Alok Sharma, the British president of the talks, said the numbers were lower than in the rest of Scotland. “At this point, we’re comfortable where we are,” he said.
Still, delegates expressed concern.
“You are being exposed to more Covid than you would want,” said Marcelo Mena Carrasco, a scientist and former environment minister of Chile.
At the venue, the percentage of people wearing high-quality, certified masks indoors is low, he said. Air circulation in the meetings rooms was so poor that when he measured it with an air quality monitor, levels were much higher than is recommended for indoor settings.
“This is supposed to be the COP based on science, and we’re supposed to be the ones who are basing decisions on science,” he said, “and this has shown that even the most basic things we’ve been hearing over the past two years haven’t really come through.”
The conference comes at a time when coronavirus cases in Britain are high. When asked about incidences of Covid-19 at COP26, a spokesman for Police Scotland also said the force would not be making numbers public.
On Tuesday, a National Security Council aide who had traveled abroad with Mr. Biden’s delegation tested positive in Scotland and entered quarantine, a White House official said. The aide, who had not been in close contact with Mr. Biden, tested positive on Tuesday with a rapid test but later tested negative through a PCR test, and was no longer in quarantine as of Saturday, the official added.
The United Nations has put in place rules to limit the virus’s spread. All attendees are required to take a coronavirus test, although the system is based on the honor code, since results are self-reported. Masks are required almost everywhere, and there are limits on the numbers of people allowed to gather in meeting rooms.
But inside the venue, social distancing is limited or nonexistent, and many attendees have their masks lowered. There are lines for food, bathrooms and crowds of people in the conference venue halls.
John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, said this week that a rise in cases in Scotland was “very unsettling” and warned of a possible increase as a result of the climate summit.
Read moreCredit…Mayela Lopez/Reuters
Costa Rican officials said on Friday that they would require Covid-19 vaccinations for people under 18 “to safeguard the best interests” of children, becoming one of the first countries to implement such a mandate.
Costa Rica, which has authorized Covid shots for those 12 and over since Oct. 25, will procure vaccines for children under 12 by next year, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Friday. The statement did not mention a minimum age for vaccination and the ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request seeking comment.
Fifty-five percent of Costa Rica’s population has been fully vaccinated, higher than the global average of 40 percent, according to a University of Oxford data set. Its vaccination rate also exceeds those of several of its neighbors in Latin America, where vaccine access has been unequal. About 73 percent of Costa Ricans between 12 and 19 were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, the government’s statement said, following the start of that vaccination effort since Oct. 25.
Since a surge of cases in September, when Costa Rican officials recorded 17,667 cases in one week, weekly cases have dropped steadily, reaching 3,411 last week, according to government data. Officials reported 291 new hospitalizations last week, a decrease of 21 percent from the week prior.
This is not the first time Costa Rica has required a large number of its residents to get vaccinated. In February, health care workers were ordered to get shots. Two months ago, Costa Rica mandated them for all public sector workers. It has also empowered private companies to require their employees to get vaccinated.
Starting Jan. 8, the country will require proof of vaccination to enter places like hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, museums and gyms, according to President Carlos Alvarado Quesada’s office. Currently, those establishments can either operate at 50 percent capacity without a vaccination requirement for customers, or operate at full capacity with one.
Costa Rica, whose economy relies on tourism, has opened its borders to visitors regardless of vaccination status, according to the government’s official tourism website. Unvaccinated tourists must purchase insurance that covers medical expenses and lodging expenses for quarantine in case of a Covid infection.
The health ministry said Covid vaccines were joining a list of other shots that were already mandatory for children in Costa Rica, including vaccines against chickenpox, polio and the human papillomavirus.
The country has acquired about nine million doses of Covid vaccines, according to the Costa Rican National Emergency Commission. About 998,000 of those came through donations from the United States, Canada, Spain, Austria and the Dominican Republic, the commission said. An additional 259,000 are from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program backed by the United Nations, it said.
Parents or legal guardians, as well as the public education system and children’s advocacy agencies, are responsible for making sure children get vaccinated, health officials said. But children over 15 can receive a Covid-19 shot without being accompanied by an adult, they added.
Read moreCredit…Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images
Austria is tightening the rules of a national vaccine pass program starting Monday as it attempts to stem a coronavirus surge that has brought cases to levels unseen in almost a year.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced the changes Friday night, telling reporters after a meeting with state governors: “It is simply our responsibility to protect the people of our country.”
Austrians will need proof of vaccination or a past infection to be seated at a restaurant, enter a bar, visit a hairdresser or join any gathering of more than 25 people. Up until now, documentation of a negative test was also accepted.
The new federal rules match ones that the capital, Vienna, had planned to introduce a few days later, when it will also begin offering the Pfizer vaccine for children of ages 5 to 11, pre-empting a decision by the European medical regulator.
The country’s national health agency reports 522 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past week — a rate not seen since November of last year, when Austria was forced to go into a full lockdown. Hospitalizations remain below what they were then, however, with about half as many Covid patients in intensive care as during the peak in November 2020, according to health agency figures.
Around 63 percent of people in Austria are fully vaccinated — more than in the United States, but less than in most European Union countries, according to government figures collated by the Our World in Data project.
At the news conference in Vienna on Friday evening, Mr. Schallenberg tried once more to convince Austrians to take the shot.
“With a vaccination we protect not only ourselves, but also our friends, family and colleagues,” he said.
Read moreCredit…Holly Pickett for The New York Times
During the pandemic, New York City permitted bars and restaurants to set up on sidewalks and in the streets as an emergency measure to save a devastated industry vital to the economy.
But it is the nature of things in a place where space is so scarce that a munificent policy gesture over here so quickly comes to seem like a shaft over there.
Ellen Koenigsberg has owned a vintage clothing store on the Lower East Side for 20 years.
“Does this look like Paris?” Ms. Koenigsberg asked one recent morning, as we were standing outside her shop on Ludlow Street, which was flanked on both sides by plywood dining sheds extending deep into the street, one of them with graffiti that skewed on the side of aimless vandalism over any attempt at art.
Shopping was once an animating pastime on the Lower East Side, but at some point a frat-boy style of barhopping superseded it as the reigning recreation. “It was really bad before Covid, but this has made things unlivable,” Ms. Koenigsberg told me, the “this” being a party that has poured into the streets with no apparent closing hour. Often she will arrive at her store in the morning to find greasy napkins, cockroaches, stamped out cigarettes and evidence that last night’s celebrants elected to relieve themselves at the most convenient point possible.
The garbage, the indifferent foot traffic, the music pumped into the streets all led Ms. Koenigsberg to join 21 other plaintiffs in a suit filed against the city in New York State Supreme Court last month, demanding that a serious impact study be conducted before the outdoor dining program is made permanent and expanded.