Robert Durst Tests Positive for Covid and Is Placed on Ventilator

Robert Durst, 78, in a Los Angeles courtroom on Thursday as he was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for a murder 21 years ago.
Pool photo by Myung J. Chun

The millionaire and former real estate mogul Robert A. Durst, 78, is on a ventilator in a Los Angeles hospital after testing positive for Covid-19, days after being sentenced to life in prison for the 2000 murder of his confidante.

“We were notified that he tested positive for Covid,” his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said on Saturday.

Mr. Durst was admitted Friday night to LAC+USC Medical Center, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s inmate locator. The district attorney’s office said it could not comment because of medical privacy laws.

At a sentencing hearing on Thursday, Mr. Durst sat slumped in a wheelchair. He wore a brown prison jumper and a mask. At times, his breathing appeared labored. He pulled down his mask, only to raise it again moments later.

“His health deteriorated over the weeks of the trial,” Mr. DeGuerin said. “On Thursday, he looked like death warmed over.”

Mr. Durst was frail and had numerous health problems but was alert during the four-month trial that ended on Sept. 17 with a first-degree murder conviction. Mr. Durst, whose life story inspired a Hollywood movie and an HBO documentary, will not be eligible for parole.

The jury that convicted him in Los Angeles found that the prosecution had proven special circumstances: Namely, that Mr. Durst shot Susan Berman, a journalist and screenwriter, because he feared she was about to tell investigators what she had learned as his spokewoman to the news media after the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathie McCormack Durst.

Mr. Durst faces a possible murder indictment in New York in connection with the disappearance of Kathie Durst. Miriam E. Rocah, the district attorney of Westchester County, N.Y., reopened the investigation earlier this year and planned to put numerous witnesses in front of a grand jury.

Mr. Durst acknowledged to filmmakers that before Ms. Durst disappeared, his marriage had a series of “half arguments, fighting, slapping, pushing” and “wrestling” but he insisted he did not kill her.

Grant Schulte/Associated Press

Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota said on Friday that he would call upon the state’s National Guard to help ease staffing shortages that have kept hospitals from transferring Covid-19 patients for stepped-down care at long-term care facilities.

Mr. Walz called the transfers a “very typical thing in our medical system” and said they had been bottlenecked by capacity at those facilities. He said the National Guard will be given the training necessary to provide long-term care. He did not say how many soldiers will provide that relief, but said it will be “a fairly large contingent.”

The governor traveled to North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, just outside Minneapolis, to announce the plan.

2,000 hospitalized

7–day average

1,091

About this data

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data. Currently hospitalized is the most recent number of patients with Covid-19 reported by hospitals in the state for the four days prior. Dips and spikes could be due to inconsistent reporting by hospitals. Hospitalization numbers early in the pandemic are undercounts due to incomplete reporting by hospitals to the federal government.

North Memorial’s chief executive, Dr. Kevin Croston, said his organization was struggling with staff shortages it did not have a year ago. “Our teams are now more stressed than they’ve ever been,” he said, adding that the “roller coaster” his employees are experiencing is happening all over Minnesota.

Last week, the state’s health commissioner, Jan Malcolm, said the staffing shortages among health care workers stemmed from “the extreme stress and burnout that they have faced for over 18 months now.”

The state is facing another surge of cases. Patients infected with coronavirus are nearing 1,000 in the state’s hospitals, according to state data. Cases in Minnesota are up 20 percent in the last two weeks, as are hospitalizations, according to a New York Times database.

Mr. Walz said that 400 of the patients currently hospitalized for Covid-19 should be transferred to lower-level care but beds at those facilities are not available — and those 400 hospital patients are taking up space needed for incoming patients.

LeadingAge Minnesota, the largest association of organizations caring for the state’s seniors, said in a statement that the governor’s plan will not solve the root causes of the staffing shortages. The trade group called on lawmakers to make immediate wage increases to support retention during a time when the industry is seeing record levels of burnout and turnover.

The state also announced that an emergency staffing pool would be reactivated, a measure used earlier in the pandemic.

State Representative Anne Neu Brindley, a Republican, issued a statement Friday saying Walz’s plan was “merely a band-aid that won’t outweigh destructive government policies,” according to the Star Tribune. She said policies like vaccine mandates are “driving health care worker resignations and layoffs.”

Andy Cochrane, chief hospital officer at North Memorial Health, said at the conference that 96 percent of intensive care patients at the system’s hospitals in Robbinsdale and Maple Grove who tested positive for coronavirus are unvaccinated.

Nearly 60 percent of Minnesotans are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and Mr. Walz is urging a push for more. “Don’t end up in the hospital if you can help it,” he said. “One of the ways you can do that is: Get vaccinated.”

David W. Cerny/Reuters

When an advisory panel to federal regulators endorsed boosters for Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose Covid-19 vaccine on Friday, the scientists on the committee discussed a question many people are asking: Is it a good idea to mix and match vaccines?

The question came up after the panel heard a presentation about a study showing that the mix-and-match approach gives patients who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a stronger antibody response.

Dr. Peter Marks, a top Food and Drug Administration official, told the panel that the agency might consider allowing Johnson & Johnson recipients to receive a booster shot of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. But Dr. Marks, who oversees the F.D.A.’s vaccine division, gave no timetable for that decision, saying only that authorization of a different vaccine as a booster for Johnson & Johnson recipients was “possible.”

The panel heard from Dr. Kirsten Lyke of the University of Maryland School of Medicine about the study, in which she and her colleagues found that Johnson & Johnson recipients may benefit more from a Moderna or Pfizer booster. The study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, examined different combinations of the three vaccines.

“It’s a real-world, practical question that people want to know — is it safe to do that?” she said at the meeting.

Preliminary data from the study showed that the antibody levels of those who had gotten a Johnson & Johnson shot followed by a Moderna booster rose 76-fold within 15 days, whereas the antibody levels of those who had received a Johnson & Johnson booster rose only fourfold in the same period. A Pfizer booster raised antibody levels 35-fold in Johnson & Johnson recipients.

While the research on mixing and matching doses is somewhat thin, the approach does have a track record in Europe. In January, Britain authorized mixing and matching in instances in which patients did not have access to doses of the first vaccine they had received.

Preliminary results from a British study released in June also showed promise. A dose of the Pfizer vaccine and an AstraZeneca shot produced a protective immune response. The study found that the side effects of mixing inoculations were stronger than those caused by two doses of the same vaccines, but they were short-lived.

During the spring, many people under 60 in Germany received one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a dose of the Pfizer vaccine or the one from Moderna. German authorities broadened their recommendation for vaccine mixing in July, out of concern over the Delta variant, to include all recipients.

Several panelists said on Friday that they felt comfortable with the amount of data the N.I.H. researchers had gathered to recommend F.D.A. authorization for mixing vaccines. Dr. Ofer Levy, director of the Precision Vaccines Program at the Boston Children’s Hospital at Harvard, said that many Americans had already taken the matter into their own hands, and he urged the F.D.A. to step in.

“In the real world, all these kinds of combinations or extra boosters are already happening, so I think it’s a matter of some urgency for F.D.A. to help sort out what is admittedly a complicated and challenging scenario,” he said. “We can’t hide from it. And I do think we need to give guidance to the public.”

Dr. Amanda Cohn, a C.D.C. official, said that the F.D.A. could perhaps include general language in its authorizations of the vaccines that would allow for combinations.

“From a public health perspective, there’s a clear need in some situations for individuals to receive a different vaccine,” she said.

The N.I.H. trial looked only at antibody levels, which on their own are an insufficient measure of how well different combinations would protect people. Dr. Lyke said studies on immune cell responses were underway.

Referring to the limited data on mixing and matching, Dr. Johan Van Hoof, a Johnson & Johnson executive, said a booster was preferable. “These findings are important,” he said of the study, “but only a piece of the puzzle, and they don’t give the complete picture.”

Even so, some experts said the evidence was still pointing to switching vaccine platforms.

“At the end of the day, folks having the Johnson & Johnson should probably get an mRNA booster,” said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s just a matter of how much data does the F.D.A. need before making that recommendation?

“I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes,” he added.

Todd Gregory contributed reporting.

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Since New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020, setting the stage for one of the world’s most successful Covid-19 responses, the wide-body jets that once ferried its citizens to every corner of the globe have mostly been redeployed for shipping freight.

On Saturday, some 300 residents of Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, boarded an Air New Zealand Boeing 787 at the city’s international airport to sit in a business-class seat and receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech.

The doses were kept cool with dry ice on the meal trolleys that typically carry a choice of chicken or beef.

“It’s one of a kind,” said Johan Rickus, 30, as he proffered his left arm for his second dose. After receiving the vaccine from a health care worker, he was ushered back to economy class by an uniformed member of the cabin crew to wait out his 15-minute post-vaccination period in a slightly less cushy seat.

The event was one of dozens of pop-ups held around the country for “Super Saturday,” a single-day vaccination effort organized by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health. The goal was to break the country’s record for the most doses delivered in 24 hours — previously 93,000. About 350,000 vaccinations slots were available, which could reach about 8.3 percent of New Zealand’s eligible population. The country had already given out nearly 120,000 doses by 4:30 p.m., with hours yet to go.

Entering Saturday, 83 percent of the population ages 12 and up had received a first dose of the vaccine, and 62 percent were fully vaccinated.

Tens of thousands of people were drawn to vaccination sites across New Zealand by promises of hot rotisserie chicken, live music and random prizes. On the country’s television channels, a flotilla of local celebrities appeared on live “vaxathon” programming, including the filmmaker Taika Waititi, who called in from Los Angeles.

“Get the vax — I’d like to come home, mainly selfishly,” Mr. Waititi said to his fellow New Zealanders.

Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

Anne Cotton had enjoyed her years at an assisted living facility in Corvallis, Ore. But at 89, her health problems began to mount: heart failure, weakness from post-polio syndrome, a 30-pound weight loss in a year.

“I’m in a wheelchair,” she said. “I’m getting weaker. I’m having trouble breathing.” On Sept. 30, Dr. Helen Kao, her palliative care doctor and a medical director at Lumina Hospice & Palliative Care, determined that she qualified for hospice services — in which a team of nurses, aides, social workers, a doctor and a chaplain help patients through their final weeks and months, usually at home.

Ms. Cotton, a retired accountant and real estate broker, embraced the idea. “I’ve lived a very full life,” she said. “I’m hoping I’m near the end. I need the help hospice gives.” Her sister died in Lumina’s care; she wants the same support. For older patients, Medicare pays the cost.

But Lumina and other hospices that serve Benton County, Ore., are grappling with pandemic-fueled staff shortages, which have forced them at times to turn away new patients or delay their enrollment — as it did with Ms. Cotton. “It’s devastating,” Dr. Kao said.

Another of her palliative care patients, Ruth Ann McCracken, 91, has declined physically and cognitively since suffering two strokes last year. Last month, her family made an appointment for hospice enrollment.

The day before the appointment, Dr. Kao made a difficult call to Ms. McCracken’s daughter, explaining that Lumina had lost several nurses and could not safely admit new patients, perhaps for several weeks.

Distressed and fearful of delay, the family followed her advice and made an appointment for enrollment with another local hospice, Samaritan Evergreen — only to have that meeting postponed, too, because of a nursing shortage.

Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Coronavirus vaccinations will soon be mandatory for public service and health care workers in the Yukon Territory, government authorities there announced on Friday, as the territory’s next-door neighbors grappled with a spike in cases.

The state of Alaska and the Northwest Territories, the province to the east of the Yukon, have “each dealt with widespread resurgence” of cases, the Yukon’s premier, Sandy Silver, said during a Covid-19 briefing on Friday. The Northwest Territories has the highest rate of active Covid-19 cases in Canada, according to national public health data.

In the Yukon, vaccination will also be mandatory for teachers and the staff of some nongovernmental organizations that receive government funding, such as those that serve prisons and other congregate living settings.

Workers must receive both doses by Nov. 30. Starting that day, the territory will also require residents to show proof of vaccination to attend public events like theater performances or to enter recreational facilities like gyms and community centers. However, access to grocery stores, banks and other places that provide essential services will not be dependent on vaccination status.

The Yukon had 109 active Covid cases per 100,000 residents as of Friday, which is above the provincial average of 92, according to national public health data. At least 72 percent of the territory’s population was fully vaccinated as of Oct. 2, the latest data available from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows.

Yukon’s vaccination rate is in line with the national trend. Seventy-six percent of Canadians were fully vaccinated as of Oct. 2, according to national data.

“Despite our high vaccination rate, we have seen Covid-19 spread quickly and ruthlessly through our unvaccinated population,” Mr. Silver said.

Ten people have died from Covid-19 in the Yukon, a territory of more than 35,800 people that is characterized by rugged terrain and remote communities.

The Yukon Territory was the latest government at the provincial level to announce a program requiring proof of vaccination. In September, Ontario did so, following the lead of British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec. Several provinces have experienced unruly anti-vaccine protests in areas around hospitals.

The deadline for federal employees to get vaccinated is Oct. 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this month.

That change approached as the United States announced on Friday that it would lift border restrictions for vaccinated travelers on Nov. 8.

Mike Stewart/Associated Press

Mask rules, vaccination mandates and business shutdowns have all landed in the courts during the Covid-19 outbreak, confronting judges with questions of science and government authority. Now they are increasingly being asked to weigh in on the deworming drug ivermectin.

At least two dozen lawsuits have been filed around the U.S., many in recent weeks, by people seeking to force hospitals to give their Covid-stricken loved ones ivermectin, a drug for parasites that has been promoted by conservative commentators as a treatment despite a lack of conclusive evidence that it helps people with the virus.

Interest in the drug started around the beginning of the year, after studies — some later withdrawn, in other countries — seemed to suggest ivermectin had some potential and it became a hot topic of conversation among conservatives on social media.

The lawsuits, several of them filed by the same western New York lawyer, Ralph Lorigo, cover similar ground. The families have gotten prescriptions for ivermectin, but hospitals have refused to use it on their loved ones, who are often on ventilators and facing death.

There has been a mix of results in state courts. Some judges have refused to order hospitals to give ivermectin. Others have ordered medical providers to give the medication, despite concerns it could be harmful. In some cases, an initial order to give the drug has been reversed.

In September, a New York State Supreme Court judge, Ralph Porzio, refused to order the use of ivermectin in a case where a man sued a Staten Island hospital on behalf of his ill father.

“This court will not require any doctor to be placed in a potentially unethical position wherein they could be committing medical malpractice by administering a medication for an unapproved, alleged off-label purpose,” the judge wrote.

Clinical studies of whether ivermectin is useful against Covid are underway. The drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat infections of roundworms, lice and other tiny parasites in humans, and it is used widely as a deworming drug for livestock and pets. The F.D.A. has tried to debunk claims that animal-strength versions of the drug can help fight Covid, warning that taking it in large doses can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, delirium and even death.

Hospitals say their standards of care do not allow them to give patients a drug that has not been approved for Covid and could potentially cause harm, and that allowing laypeople and judges to overrule medical professionals is a dangerous road to go down.

Going to a hospital is not like “going to a restaurant,” said Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “You don’t order your own treatments.”

“You can’t have a medical field that’s subjected to having to practice according to patient demand backed up by court orders. That is positively horrible medicine.”

James Beck, an attorney in Philadelphia who specializes in drug and medical device product liability and has written about the influx of ivermectin cases, calls them “astonishing.” While acknowledging that doctors have the power to prescribe drugs in situations the F.D.A. has not specifically approved, he said he had “never seen a case before this where the judge was asked to force someone to engage in an off label use.”

In case you missed it

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Over 100 million fully vaccinated people will be eligible for booster shots for Covid-19 if the latest recommendation from a federal panel of health experts is adopted by Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The committee voted unanimously Friday to recommend Johnson & Johnson booster shots, most likely clearing the way for the 15 million people who got the company’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine to receive a second shot. If the F.D.A. and C.D.C. accept the recommendation, as expected, boosters could be offered by late next week.

Many committee members made clear that they believed Johnson & Johnson recipients might benefit from the option of a booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, which were the findings in the preliminary data from a federal clinical trial published on Wednesday.

Separately, an advisory panel to the F.D.A. on Thursday unanimously recommended Moderna booster shots for many of those who had received the company’s coronavirus vaccine, paving the way to sharply expand the number of people eligible for an additional shot in the United States.

Those eligible for the extra Moderna shot would include people over 65 and other adults considered at high risk — the same groups now eligible for a Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

On Monday, a World Health Organization advisory committee also recommended that additional vaccine doses be offered to severely or moderately immunocompromised people. Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, that committee’s chair, said that people with compromised immune systems “need a third dose as an additional priming process so that they’re fully protected.”

But as more health officials approve booster shots, based on scientific research showing that it helps prevent serious effects of the virus, that trend is doing little to convince vaccine-hesitant people to reconsider their position. In the September vaccine monitor survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 71 percent of unvaccinated respondents said they believed the need for boosters indicated that the vaccines were not working.

Here’s what else happened this week:

  • Merck said on Monday that it had submitted an application to the F.D.A. to authorize an antiviral pill to treat Covid. Clearance for the drug would be a milestone in the fight against the coronavirus because a convenient and relatively inexpensive treatment could reach many more people than the cumbersome antibody treatments currently being used.

  • American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, citing federal requirements, said on Tuesday that they would not comply with an order from Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas barring private employers from mandating coronavirus vaccines in the state. The governor said inoculation against the coronavirus should “always be voluntary for Texans.”

  • President Biden on Thursday announced a donation of 17 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to a group of African countries during a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, which is contending with the pandemic and an unfolding humanitarian disaster in neighboring Ethiopia.

  • Italy on Friday set a new bar for major Western democracies that are seeking to move beyond the pandemic by enacting a sweeping law that requires the nation’s entire work force — public and private — to have government-issued health passes, essentially forcing Italians to choose between getting a pass and earning a living.

James Estrin/The New York Times

With a mixture of nervousness, resentment and, sometimes, relief, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers overcame their resistance and finally got a dose of coronavirus vaccine in recent weeks.

The New York Times interviewed 10 New Yorkers to find out why they waited so long. They cited a range of reasons for finally taking the shots, including employer mandates, a fear of the virus and a desire to help in the fight against the pandemic.

Some said they grew comfortable with the idea of getting the vaccinations after others got the shots, but they also were concerned about the effects of restrictions on those resisting vaccinations.

Several said they had been biding their time to quell their doubts.

“The feeling was that you’d be some sort of guinea pig in this experiment,” Emely Paez, director of government affairs and civic engagement at the Hispanic Federation nonprofit, said of her concerns. “It was the ‘We don’t know’” that bothered her.

On Oct. 1, she walked into a Rite Aid for a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after being reassured by her doctor, she said. She also wanted to continue enjoying access to an indoor exhibit at the Bronx Zoo and was worried that would not be possible amid growing restrictions for unvaccinated adults.

Mandates imposed on sectors of workers in the state have sought to increase vaccination rates in a push against the virus, while the Delta variant spread across the country. Government-imposed mandates on health care workers, teachers and home health care workers have been credited with spurring more vaccinations in recent weeks.

The uptick has contributed, experts say, to a flattening of the virus curve in New York City, where the numbers of new infections and hospitalizations have been falling — a trend across the United States as well.

Like Ms. Paez, others who spoke to The Times expressed relief after getting the shots, though some still resented the mandates.

“I would go to church with my kids, and I would hear someone cough and I would startle,” said Cilotte Lovinsky, a hospice nurse, who was vaccinated in September. “Now I feel comfortable.”

David Chang/EPA, via Shutterstock

Border restrictions that are part of the pandemic response in Japan have deterred most tourists from visiting the country. So one airline is taking an unusual approach to generate revenue by offering extreme discounts on domestic flights.

Peach Aviation said this week that it would sell 150 unlimited passes to passengers 12 and older with valid photo identification giving a month of access to the budget carrier’s 33 domestic flights. It said it was catering especially to digital nomads in Japan who are working remotely and looking for “workcations” in places they haven’t been after months of coronavirus restrictions on travel.

On Tuesday, the first 30 buyers would be able to buy a pass for as little as $173. (In comparison, a 21-day Japan Rail Pass costs $583.) For $87 more, they would get to reserve their seats and bring along a checked bag. Fares for the remaining 120 passes would cost $87 more.

The airline is hoping to tap into a demand for domestic flights after the restrictions grounded most airplanes.

“There have been signs of recovery in passenger demand, a trend that is expected to increase going forward as vaccinations progress,” the airline said in a statement in August.

Budget airlines in South Korea, which are also trying to drum up demand for domestic flights, have offered similarly steep discounted tickets. At least one airline there is selling something other than a seat on a plane.

T’way Air, a South Korean budget carrier, has sought new streams of revenue by selling its bacon tomato spaghetti, hamburger steak over rice and other in-flight meals to customers on the ground.

Its microwaveable meals are designed to “remind customers of the happiness and excitement they felt when traveling by plane,” said the listings on Coupang, the country’s largest online shopping site, where the meals are offered.

The travel industry in both countries is still far from returning to its prepandemic levels of business. Subsidiaries of ANA Holdings, including Peach Aviation and other airlines, said they flew 1.35 million passengers on domestic flights in July, about one-third of the number of passengers from the same month in 2019.

In South Korea, Incheon Airport reported serving 5.4 million passengers for domestic travel in September, just 40 percent of the number of domestic passengers who flew in September 2019.