Coronavirus Morning News Brief – May 16: 20% of U.S. Office Space Vacant As Workers Fail to Return, Tutors Help People Relearn the Art of Smiling

By Jonathan Spira on 16 May 2023
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A couple sitting for wedding photos in Kurashiki, Japan

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 1,161st day of the pandemic.

We begin once again with a note from our editor:

With the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control is modifying and rethinking what data it will release in the future and ending some datasets.  We are putting on hold some of our data updates while we assess the impact of these changes. –Basilio Alferow


While the World Health Organization and the U.S. government have both downgraded what was a public-health emergency for over three years, the pandemic is far from over.

If you believe the pandemic is actually over, you just have to look at recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, over 1,000 people die from SARS-CoV-2 virus each week. This continuous line of fatalities adds up to a surprisingly large number over the course of weeks and months. Based on the CDC’s figures, at least 42,924 Americans died from Covid-19 between December 28, 2022 and May 3, 2023.

The government’s messaging that the pandemic has ended is not helpful, especially to the elderly and immunocompromised who remain among the most vulnerable in the pandemic.

Keep in mind that we keep seeing new variants and several eminent epidemiologists and virologists believe that there’s at least a 20% to 40% likelihood of another omicron-like surge in the next 24 months.

As a Long Covid victim, I continue to don a mask when going out although I don’t wear one outdoors except in crowds.  We don’t really know what to expect when a Long Covid patient contracts SARS-CoV-2 so I need to be especially cautious.

In other news we cover today, tutors are helping people in Japan relearn how to smile after three years of hiding behind face masks and a high percentage of office space across the United States remains vacant as the predicted return-to-office movement stalls.


It isn’t only New York City that’s seeing high office building vacancies as workers fail to return to the office and it’s becoming a major risk to the economy and economic recovery. A new report from Cushman Wakefield, a major realtor,  sheds light on the topic.

At the present time, nearly 20% of office space across the country is empty.  It’s a figure that exceeds the vacancy rate during the 2008 global financial crisis for one, and it’s far worse in places like San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles, where the figure rises to 25%.

If occupancy rates don’t rise, the report indicates that there will be numerous defaults and foreclosures across the country.

In California, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling dismissing a suit challenging the San Francisco vaccine mandate.  The plaintiffs contend that their religious freedom as Christians would be violated by taking medications derived from fetal cells.  Fetal cells were used in early testing of both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines although they were never ingredients in the actual vaccines.


The fact that millions of people hid their smiles behind a face mask apparently resulted in many forgetting how to properly smile.

In Japan, some people are turning to specialist smile tutors to relearn the art of breaking into a proper grin without looking awkward.

“With mask wearing having become the norm, people have had fewer opportunities to smile, and more and more people have developed a complex about it,“ Keiko Kawano, a coach with the smile-education company Egaoiku, told the Asahi Shimbun.


Now here are the daily statistics for Tuesday, May 16.

As of Tuesday morning, the world has recorded 688.4 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.1 million from the previous day, and 6.87 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 660.8  million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of less than  0.1 million from the previous day.

The reader should note that infrequent reporting from some sources may appear as spikes in new case figures or death tolls.

Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Tuesday at press time is 20,689,922, a decrease of 122. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 20,650,917, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 39,005, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past eight months.

The United States reported 77,263 new cases in the period April 27 through May  3, a figure that is down 22% over the same period one week earlier, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The death toll for the same period is 1,109, a figure that is down 11%.  The average daily number of hospital admissions from Covid was 4,275 on May 12, a figure that is down 2% over the preceding 14 days.  Finally, the test positivity rate is 5.3%, up 3% over the 14 days preceding May 7.

Starting on March 25, 2023, the Morning News Brief began to update case data as well as death tolls on a weekly basis.  In addition, starting on May 15, the Morning News Brief has pressed pause on certain data sets as we assess the update of changes in reporting by U.S. health authorities at the CDC.

Since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Tuesday, recorded 106.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 1.16 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, just under 45 million, and a reported death toll of 531,778.

The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States.  Rosstat last reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July 2022, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.

Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 40 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with 38.4 million total cases.

Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 702,116, has recorded 37.5 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.

The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are Japan, with 33.8 million cases, South Korea, with 31.4 million cases, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with 25.8 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with over 24.5 million, and Russia, with 22.9 million.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of the past Thursday, 270.1 million people in the United States – or 81.4% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 69.5%, or 230.6 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 676.7 million. Breaking this down further, 92.23% of the population over the age of 18 – or 238.2 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 79.1% of the same group – or 204.3 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 20.5% of the same population, or just under 53 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine, while 23.9 million people over the age of 65, or 43.3% of that population have also received the bivalent booster.

Starting on June 13, 2022, the CDC began to update vaccine data on a weekly basis and publish the updated information on Thursdays by 8 p.m. EDT, a statement on the agency’s website said.

Some 70% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Tuesday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 13.38 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 117,952 doses are now administered each day.

Meanwhile, only 29.9% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.

In addition, with the start of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.

Anna Breuer contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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