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Is Herd Immunity Ahead of Schedule?

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Today, we’re turning this section over to our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who has been covering the pandemic for The Times’s Science desk.

The pandemic will end only when enough people are protected against the coronavirus, whether by a vaccine or by already having been infected. Reaching this threshold, known as herd immunity, doesn’t mean the virus will disappear. But with fewer hosts to infect, it will make its way through a community much more slowly.

In the early days of the crisis, scientists estimated that perhaps 70 percent of the population would need to be immune in this way to be free from large outbreaks. But over the past few weeks, more than a dozen scientists told me they now felt comfortable saying that herd immunity probably lies from 45 percent to 50 percent.

If they’re right, then we may be a lot closer to turning back this virus than we initially thought.

It may also mean that pockets of New York City, London, Mumbai and other cities may already have reached the threshold, and may be spared a devastating second wave.

The initial calculations into herd immunity assumed that everyone in a community was equally susceptible to the virus and mixed randomly with everyone else.

The new estimates are the product of more sophisticated statistical modeling. When scientists factor in variations in density, demographics and socialization patterns, the estimated threshold for herd immunity falls.

In some clinics in hard-hit Brooklyn neighborhoods, up to 80 percent of people who were tested at the beginning of the summer had antibodies for the virus. Over the past eight weeks, fewer than 1 percent of people tested at those same neighborhood clinics have had the virus.

Likewise in Mumbai, a randomized household survey found that about 57 percent of people who live in the poorest areas and share toilets had antibodies, compared with just 11 percent elsewhere in the city.

It’s too early to say with certainty that those communities have reached herd immunity. We don’t know, for example, how long someone who was infected stays protected from the coronavirus. But the data suggests that the virus may move more slowly in those areas the next time around.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi will call the House of Representatives back into session this week to vote on legislation to block recent cost-cutting measures at the Postal Service amid growing concern that delivery delays are an attempt by President Trump to suppress voting by mail during the pandemic.

Democrats also called on the postmaster general and another top official to testify later this month. The moves come as the Postal Service has removed mail-sorting machines, cut overtime and informed states that it might not be able to meet their deadlines for delivering mail ballots.

Attorneys general from at least six states are mulling lawsuits to block the administration from reducing service, The Washington Post reported.

The Democratic National Convention, which starts today in Milwaukee, will be a largely virtual affair. Joe Biden won’t travel there to accept the nomination in person. Most speeches will be delivered remotely. No rowdy delegates will throng the convention floor.

How will going virtual affect the convention’s impact? For speakers, addressing an empty room will reduce fanfare and spectacle. For party members seeking to mobilize supporters, the remote format may depress grass-roots energy.

But barring glitches, the convention is likely to give voters a TV experience similar to what it offers every four years. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if more people tune in this year than in 2016,” said our colleague Lisa Lerer, who writes the On Politics newsletter. “I mean, we’re all stuck at home anyhow!”

The convention’s first of four nights will feature Michelle Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders as headline speakers. Here’s how to tune in.

Join our politics reporters tonight starting at 8:30 Eastern for live analysis.

In other election news:

The Trump administration is using major hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border, a practice that has ballooned in recent months under an aggressive border closure policy related to the pandemic.

Because the hotels exist outside the formal detention system, they are not subject to policies requiring that migrants be provided access to medical care and healthy food. For children who arrived at the border alone, parents and lawyers often have no way of finding them or monitoring their well-being.

“A transportation vendor should not be in charge of changing the diaper of a 1-year old, giving bottles to babies or dealing with the traumatic effects they might be dealing with,” said a former ICE employee.

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out in Minsk on Sunday to protest President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, who claimed victory in a fraudulent election last week. The gathering appeared to be the largest protest in the country’s history.

  • Under pressure from governments and investors to address climate-change concerns about their products, Europe’s oil companies are accelerating their production of cleaner energy.

  • The National Weather Service said it would investigate reports of fire tornadoes arising on Saturday from a 20,000-acre wildfire in Northern California.

  • Lives Lived: For years, Luchita Hurtado worked in the shadow of her artist husbands and more famous peers, painting at night when her children were asleep. Then a trove of the Venezuelan-born artist’s work was discovered, and she became an art world sensation in her 90s. She died at 99.

Dollar stores are some of the most ubiquitous retailers in the United States. According to the latest data from the National Retail Federation, the industry’s top two chains — Dollar General and Dollar Tree — each have more than 15,000 locations. That’s nearly three times as many stores as Walmart has.

But while deeply discounted prices might seem like a welcome arrival, those savings often come at a cost to the neighborhoods they move into.

Rising crime. An investigation by ProPublica and The New Yorker found that dollar stores have become magnets for crime and killing. Since the start of 2017, the report said, there have been more than 200 violent incidents involving guns at Family Dollar or Dollar General stores, nearly 50 of which resulted in deaths.

Poor nutrition. Dollar stores’ shelves are mostly stocked with frozen and packaged foods, and the chains often move into urban and rural areas where fresh produce is hard to find. Officials worry that the flight of fresh foods may increase already high rates of heart disease and obesity, The Times reported last year.

Fewer jobs. In many cities, dollar stores have forced local retailers out of business. But they operate on a “lean labor model,” according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, meaning the stores usually employ fewer people than the ones they replace.

Tostones, a staple dish throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, are crisp, golden, flower-shaped delights. Made of flattened green plantains that are fried twice, serve them as a savory app or a side dish. Learn how to make them here.

Beach reads are a state of mind, not dependent on a place. So even if the closest you get to a cool ocean breeze this summer is a fan, that doesn’t mean these books are off the table. Here’s a roundup of fresh picks to get you started, including the latest by Kevin Kwan, the author of the popular “Crazy Rich Asians” series.

“Everybody wants to feel like they matter. And in prison, most of us don’t,” said one enthusiast. With magic, he said, “I can practice, and make my mind go someplace else. I get taken away for a minute.”

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Titan condemned to hold up the heavens for eternity (five letters).

You can find all of our puzzles here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow.

P.S. The word “quaranteammate” appeared for the first time in The Times this weekend, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.

David Leonhardt, this newsletter’s usual writer, is on break until Monday, Aug. 24.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Operation Warp Speed and its aggressive timeline for developing a vaccine. On the Book Review podcast, A.O. Scott discusses Edward P. Jones, the novelist who made “the matter of Black life, of Black lives,” his subject.

You can reach the team at

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