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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

In President Biden’s latest push to get Americans vaccinated, he called today on all of the nation’s employers to give their workers paid time off to get inoculated and recover from any aftereffects. The White House also offered tax credits to offset the costs for companies with fewer than 500 employees.

“No working American should lose a single dollar from their paycheck because they chose to fill their patriotic duty to get vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said.

The announcement came during a presidential address to mark 200 million shots in the arms of Americans, with a week to go before his 100th day in office.

But with every American adult now eligible for a vaccine, health officials across the country say they are hitting a soft ceiling. More than half of the population has received at least one dose, and persuading the rest is going to take hard work.

“If you think of this as a war,” said Michael Carney, the senior vice president for emerging issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, “we’re about to enter the hand-to-hand combat phase of the war.”

Leaders in business, government and health are struggling to find the right messaging and tactics to convince these unwilling, or indifferent, Americans. The White House has said it does not want to impose a mandate and would instead leave it up to employers to require vaccination. Some companies are contemplating running their own vaccine clinics and trying to educate their workers about the benefits. About 30 percent of unvaccinated employees said they were more likely to get a shot with an incentive like paid time off, officials told The Times.

Most experts estimate that herd immunity is reached when 70 to 90 percent of the population has immunity to the virus. And while about 40 percent of the total population has received at least one dose, the distribution is uneven. New Hampshire, for example, has given at least one shot to 59 percent of its citizens (a percentage that includes children, who are not yet eligible), while Mississippi and Alabama have given doses to only 30 percent.

Judging by the vaccination rates so far, herd immunity will be difficult to reach, particularly in red states and in the South. The risk is clear: If some regions remain unvaccinated and harbor coronavirus infections, they could become a petri dish for more dangerous variants that could evade the vaccine.

India shattered its single-day records for new coronavirus infections and deaths, reporting 293,018 cases and 2,023 deaths in 24 hours. The country was averaging roughly 11,000 cases per day in early February, but it may soon become the only country aside from the United States to surpass 300,000 daily cases, and its health care system is showing signs of buckling.

At a hospital for coronavirus patients in the state of Maharashtra, a leak in the main oxygen tank stopped the flow of oxygen to dozens of critically ill patients, killing more than 20 people. All week, hospitals across India have been warning about an acute oxygen shortage, one of the most alarming aspects of the country’s second wave. Many hospital officials said they were just a few hours away from running out.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Tuesday that lockdowns were a last resort, but states and cities are increasingly going into lockdown on their own, and critics say the government’s mixed messages are making matters worse. Many blame politicians for holding political rallies, or allowing an enormous Hindu festival that has brought more than 10 million people to the banks of the Ganges river since January.

What happened? In the Times Opinion section, an epidemiologist argues that complacency and lack of preparation by the government pushed India into its unprecedented crisis.

I read the “What you’re doing” section of The New York Times coronavirus newsletter and I connect with so many of the feelings. Oftentimes the little blurb makes me cry, I think out of relief and connection and sadness. But mostly because I want to hug every single one of you.

— Valerie Micol, Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Correction: Yesterday’s newsletter misstated the number of doses for the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is a two-dose regimen, not one.

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