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Gregory Matthews

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Coronavirus Briefing

February 28, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times
An elementary school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last month.Natalie Keyssar for The New York Times

New York City’s next chapter

Mayor Eric Adams said today that he was preparing to eliminate school mask mandates and indoor proof-of-vaccine requirements by March 7 if new coronavirus cases in the city remain low.

The move is a step toward restoring a sense of normalcy in the city and boosting its economic recovery, which has been unequal and slower than in other large cities.

For a look at where the city is headed, I spoke to my colleague Emma Fitzsimmons, the City Hall bureau chief.

What have the last few months been like in the city?

We had a really tough few months with the Omicron variant. But the situation has improved over the last month. At the height of Omicron, we were seeing around 43,000 cases a day, and now we are down to about 400 cases a day. At the peak of Omicron, there were about 1,000 hospitalizations a day, and now we are down to roughly 30.

Which precautions is the mayor targeting?

The first is masks in schools. The second precaution is proof of vaccination to enter some venues. Everyone has had to show proof of vaccination when you enter indoor dining or gyms or movie theaters, and now you won’t have to do that anymore. But businesses can still decide to ask people for proof of vaccination if they want. I’m actually seeing my first Broadway show in two years on Friday — “Six” — and I will be wearing my mask since they’re still required.

Adams is saying he’ll end more pandemic restrictions in the future, but for now, he’s comfortable relaxing those two mandates.

What mandates are still in place?

The big ones are the employer mandates. So city workers — police officers, teachers, sanitation workers — they all must be vaccinated. And then there’s the vaccine mandate for private employers. It applies only to people who are working in person, for example, at a grocery store or a tech company. So that’s the approach that they’re using to try and make sure that all adults in New York City are vaccinated — and it has worked. More than 95 percent of adults in New York City have received at least one dose of the vaccine at this point.

How are New Yorkers feeling these days?

Eric Adams has kind of become the city’s psychologist. He keeps telling us, it’s time to get back out there; New York is open for business; it’s time to get out of your pajamas. To be honest with you, I’m wearing my pajamas right now while I’m working from home, and a lot of us still are. Still, New Yorkers are feeling a lot better than they were over the holidays and in January, where everybody knew someone who was sick and it just felt like Covid was everywhere.

What does New York City’s next chapter look like?

If there isn’t another serious variant and if cases remain low, then there’s a lot of hope that New York City’s recovery is on the horizon. Companies are going back to the office now. There’s going to be more activity in Manhattan, and that’s really what Eric Adams is pushing for. He’s saying this is the time for our recovery. He’s saying we can get back to normalcy in a lot of ways.

I’ve been going to City Hall more since January when Mayor Adams took office. He has a really crazy schedule. He’s up at 6 a.m. doing TV hits and he stays out visiting Broadway shows until late at night so I’ve been chasing him around the city. But life has not returned to normal for a lot of New Yorkers. There are groups of people who are concerned about the next chapter. Obviously people who are immunocompromised, and I have two kids under five and they can’t get vaccinated yet. I still wear my mask at the grocery store and on the train.

While a lot of people are ready to put the pandemic behind us, New York City was also the epicenter of the pandemic. We’ve lost so many people, and some people aren’t ready to return to life as it was before.

People waited for trains leaving the main train station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, shortly after Russia invaded.Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

A pandemic war

While Ukraine is under attack by Russia, Ukraine’s civilian population is also under siege from the coronavirus, a situation that will likely only get worse.

About 500,000 people have fled Ukraine in recent days, according to the U.N., a mass migration to the west that is crowding mass transit centers and jamming roads. Video images show understandably few signs of face coverings among the migrants, even as the country is just getting past a record high point in its infection rate. Just 35 percent of Ukrainians have received at least one vaccine dose.

Daily coronavirus cases in Ukraine, seven-day average.The New York Times

The coronavirus outlook for those fleeing is grim, said Dr. Eric S. Toner, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“They’re quite vulnerable, and as people huddle together, either sheltering or evacuating in crowded buses, trains and cars, maybe in hotels and refugee camps, it’s going to cause a reversal of the progress,” he said.

Dr. Toner said that he expects a rise in Covid case numbers in countries neighboring Ukraine and to see additional stress on their health care systems, but that those problems would be worse inside Ukraine.

“They’re going to be caring for Covid patients, along with war victims,” he said. “They’re going to be understaffed because of the war, and it’s going to harm their chances of keeping patients in isolation or have social distancing. It’s going to be a mess.”


How do you feel about lifting school mask mandates?

School mask mandates are a hot topic. Some public health experts and parent activists say that the mandates can hurt children academically and socially. On the other hand, masks are an effective tool in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and they can help keep vulnerable students safer.

If you’re a parent, a student or an educator, we’d like to know how you feel about the ending of mask requirements in many schools across the country. If you’d like to share your thoughts, you can fill out this form here. We may use your response in an upcoming newsletter.

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Coronavirus Briefing

March 1, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times
President Biden during an address to Congress in April.Doug Mills/The New York Times

Biden’s state of the virus

President Biden will address the nation tonight in his first State of the Union address. It comes during a period that some of his closest advisers have called the most consequential moment of his presidency.

Biden is expected to use the speech to rally the nation behind his domestic agenda and to address immediate priorities, like his Supreme Court nomination and the geopolitical confrontation with Russia. But when talking about the coronavirus, he will be walking a delicate line.

“He can’t proclaim the pandemic over because we don’t know that,” said my colleague Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a Washington correspondent who covers health policy. At the same time, the president is heading into a year of midterm elections, and some Americans are tired of hearing about the coronavirus. Biden may need to turn his attention to other matters, like the high price of gasoline, supply chain issues and war in Ukraine.

“So he wants to get the nation to a place where Americans view the coronavirus as a manageable problem, not something that’s going to be eliminated but something that we’re all going to learn how to live with,” Sheryl said.

The White House has been working on a detailed strategy to transition the nation to what some are calling a “new normal,” to be unveiled Wednesday. Biden will not lay out details of the plan in his speech tonight, Sheryl added.

Instead, he’s likely to talk in broad strokes. He may also talk about how his administration is laying the groundwork for local communities to monitor the virus on their own and make their own decisions on reimposing emergency measures.

“There’s not going to be any mission-accomplished banner,” Sheryl said. “He’s not going to declare independence from the virus. He tried that once last July 4. It did not work out well for him.” (The Delta wave arrived soon after.)

“I also think his remarks have to acknowledge where Americans already are,” Sheryl said. Many Americans are ready to put the pandemic behind them. “Biden’s C.D.C. just issued guidelines that suggest 70 percent of Americans can pretty much do that by taking off their masks and no longer having to rely on Covid restrictions like social distancing.”

At the same time, large segments of the American population remain at risk. Children under 5 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and new data released yesterday showed that Pfizer’s vaccine was much less effective in preventing infection in children ages 5 to 11 than in adolescents or adults. And an estimated seven million Americans have weak immune systems, illnesses or disabilities that make them vulnerable to severe Covid.

“The task before Biden is to acknowledge the current climate, keep in the back of his mind that he wants Democrats to be re-elected — and Democrats don’t want to be seen as the party of ‘no,’ or the party of Covid restrictions,” Sheryl said. “While at the same time, it’s his job to keep the country safe and make sure we’re prepared. And to know that another variant could be just around the corner.”

More from the speech: Biden is expected to announce steps to protect nursing home residents and outline plans to hold providers accountable for unsafe and substandard care.

Masking, or not, in Manhattan yesterday.Brendan McDermid/Reuters

How are Americans feeling?

A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research looked at Americans’ perceptions of the pandemic and found that their fears were waning.

In December, when Omicron emerged and rapidly became the dominant variant globally, 36 percent of the nearly 1,300 adults surveyed said they were “extremely or very worried” that they or a family member would test positive for the virus.

In mid-February, 24 percent of respondents expressed this fear. Case numbers are now slightly lower than in late October, before Omicron took hold. About 50,000 people with Covid are hospitalized in the U.S., less than a third of the January peak.

The poll also found that support for mask mandates was fading. In August, 55 percent of respondents said they approved of required masking, compared with roughly 50 percent who support it now.

Another new survey, by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, found that while Americans are eager to move past the pandemic, there is also trepidation.

Overall, about half of Americans expect it will be safe for most people to “resume normal prepandemic activities” by late spring, including a third who say it is already safe to do so, the survey found. But a majority of Americans, 61 percent, also worry that lifting restrictions would put immunocompromised people at risk.

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Hong Kong starts vaccine requirement for restaurants, stores

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong launched a vaccination requirement to enter shopping malls, restaurants and a host of other places on Thursday as it battles an expanding omicron outbreak and tries to overcome vaccine hesitancy in parts of its population.


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We look at Benjamin Franklin’s lessons about vaccine persuasion.

The Ben Franklin Film Project/Florentine Films

‘The accumulated loss’

Nearly 60 million American adults — or about one of out every four — remain unvaccinated against Covid-19. They have made an irrational choice that exposes them to severe illness. But they have also made a choice with a long historical tradition.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden declared, “We will never give up on vaccinating more Americans.” And Biden is right that a continued vaccination campaign can do a lot of good, given that a large majority of Covid deaths and hospitalizations are still occurring among the unvaccinated and unboosted. The question, of course, is what arguments might win over any vaccine skeptics at this point.

Based on data from 14 U.S. jurisdictions. | Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Today, I want to use history — with some help from the filmmaker Ken Burns — to answer that question.

A West African pioneer

The original American advocate for inoculation against severe disease was arguably an enslaved man named Onesimus. Before being forcibly brought to Boston, Onesimus seems to have lived in West Africa, where inoculation was a common practice. There, he had been deliberately infected with a small amount of smallpox to make him immune from a more severe version.

In Boston, Onesimus told his owner, Cotton Mather, about the practice. Mather was among the colonies’ most prominent religious leaders in the 1720s. He was also keenly interested in science, as Burns told me when we spoke recently. Today, science and religion are often considered antithetical, Burns noted, but past religious leaders were scientific pioneers.

When smallpox began spreading in Boston in the 1720s, Mather campaigned for residents to be inoculated — and was met with fierce criticism and even an attempt to bomb his home. Some Bostonians argued that inoculation violated God’s will. Others, including doctors, argued that it was folklore that would do more harm than good.

These arguments were powerful because inoculation was so counterintuitive. Mather was claiming that people could avoid getting sick … by getting sick.

Modern vaccination is somewhat less counterintuitive, because drugs can now teach the immune system to respond to a deadly virus, without having to use small amounts of an actual virus. But vaccination is still a strange notion. It involves the injection of a mysterious cocktail of foreign substances into the human body.

That’s why nearly every new vaccine — even the life-changing polio vaccine — has had its skeptics. The skepticism has increased in recent decades, as Americans have become less trusting of institutions and experts, as Elena Conis, a medical historian, has written.

Historically, the two most effective responses to vaccine skepticism have been government mandates and relentless, calm persuasion. But broad Covid-vaccine mandates are probably unrealistic in the U.S. today, thanks to a combination of a Supreme Court ruling and widescale public opposition. Persuasion will probably have to do most of the work.

Persuasion tends to require taking seriously the concerns of skeptics and creating opportunities for doctors, nurses, relatives, friends and other trusted people to explain why vaccination can be counterintuitive and yet lifesaving. “As a doctor, I was always trained you never give up on people — you show up,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, told me yesterday. “You build trust by listening to people, helping them feel they’re respected and valued.”

Getting a shot in Los Angeles in January.Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Franky Franklin

In Mather’s time, one such evangelist for inoculation was Benjamin Franklin. Along with several other founders — including George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — Franklin himself was persuaded. Yet he still had a tragic relationship with smallpox inoculation.

As the disease was sweeping through Philadelphia in 1736, he and his wife, Deborah, initially decided not to inoculate their 4-year-old son Francis, known as Franky. The boy was sick with a cold and the Franklins worried that his body would not be able to handle the side effects of inoculation. Soon, though, Franky contracted smallpox and died.

“This is the great tragedy of Franklin’s life,” Burns told me. “Deborah and Benjamin Franklin were just beset by this mistake they made even though it was completely understandable.” (Burns has just posted a six-minute “extra” film clip about Franky and inoculation, and it’s powerful. Next month, PBS will air Burns’s new documentary, “Benjamin Franklin.”)

When rumors spread in Philadelphia that Franky had died from the inoculation rather than the disease itself, Franklin took the painful step of writing the true story in his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. In the years that followed, he tried to persuade others to avoid his family’s fate.

“Surely parents will no longer refuse to accept and thankfully use a discovery God in his mercy has been pleased to bless mankind with,” Franklin wrote, in a pro-inoculation pamphlet. “For the loss of one in 10 thereby is not merely the loss of so many persons, but the accumulated loss of all the children and children’s children the deceased might have had, multiplied by successive generations.”

In the U.S. today, the death toll from Covid has exceeded 950,000, and many of those deaths occurred after vaccines were available. It is a tragic pattern that’s consistent with history: Vaccination tends to be both counterintuitive and highly effective.

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Coronavirus Briefing

March 3, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times
Health workers handing out rapid tests in Auckland, New Zealand, last month.Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

From “zero” to surge

For much of the pandemic, Hong Kong and New Zealand were models of success in the war against the coronavirus. Their cautious “zero Covid” approaches kept cases and deaths low, and daily life has continued in a relatively normal way.

Now, with the Omicron variant walloping much of Asia, both places are experiencing frightening surges — but in strikingly divergent ways. The main difference, according to my colleague Alexandra Stevenson, is that Hong Kong didn’t see Omicron coming.

Alexandra, who is based there, told me that until a few weeks ago, she knew just one person in the city who had contracted Covid. “It would have been remarkable to come across someone here who had Covid,” she said. “It was so rare.” The same could be said for New Zealand, an island nation that instituted strict travel restrictions and lockdowns.

In Hong Kong, bodies are now piling up in hospital hallways because officials can’t move the dead fast enough, and the autonomous city-state has one of the highest Covid death rates in the world.

Daily virus cases in Hong Kong, seven-day average.The New York Times

Part of the reason is low vaccination rates — particularly among older adults, who in many cases have fallen prey to misinformation. Among people above 80, for example, only 30 percent are vaccinated.

“There’s this idea here that you need to be healthy enough to be vaccinated, so if you have chronic health problems you should talk to your doctor first,” Alexandra said.

In New Zealand, by contrast, the explosion of cases came after the government carried out an extremely effective vaccination campaign. By the time Omicron arrived, the country was well protected, even after the government loosened restrictions. Ninety-five percent of New Zealanders over 12 have been vaccinated, and 57 percent have received a booster shot.

Daily virus cases in New Zealand, seven-day average.The New York Times

Still, the country is experiencing a jolt after spending most of the pandemic isolated from the virus: Covid is spreading there at what may be the fastest rate in the world, and experts believe that half the population could be infected within three months.

The government is trying to prepare the public for the psychological shift. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last week that “very soon we will all know people who have Covid-19 or we will potentially get it ourselves.”

It’s a similar shift that will be required across the region, Alexandra said.

“A number of Asian countries spent the pandemic being very cautious, trying to trying to keep outbreaks at bay,” she said. “Whereas now a lot of Asian countries are getting much more comfortable with the idea that this is endemic — it’s going to be here for a long time and we have to loosen up.”

A male rhesus macaque monkey.Jean-Francois Monier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Erectile dysfunction, anosmia and long Covid

A pair of studies conducted on animals infected with the coronavirus are giving us new insights into two symptoms of long Covid: anosmia, or the loss of smell, and erectile dysfunction.

Let’s start with anosmia. A new study examined golden hamsters that had been infected with the coronavirus and tracked the damage to their olfactory systems over time.

(How could you know if golden hamsters could smell? Researchers didn’t feed them for several hours and then buried Cocoa Puffs in their bedding to see if they could find the cereal.)

The research, which also examined tissue specimens from infected humans, seems to have settled the debate over whether the coronavirus infects the nerve cells that detect odors: It does not.

But the researchers found that the virus did attack other supporting cells that line the nasal cavity. Immune cells then flood the region to fight the virus. The subsequent inflammation wreaks havoc on smell receptors, essentially short-circuiting them, the researchers reported.

The paper significantly advances the understanding of how cells critical to the sense of smell are affected by the virus, despite the fact that they are not directly infected.

And now onto genitals: A group of researchers in Louisiana who were scanning the bodies of three infected rhesus macaque monkeys were surprised to find the virus within the male genital tract.

The researchers discovered that the virus infected the prostate, penis, testicles and surrounding blood vessels in the monkeys. The finding suggests that symptoms like erectile dysfunction — reported by about 10 to 20 percent of men with Covid — may be caused directly by the virus, not by inflammation or fever.

Men infected with the virus are three to six times as likely as others to develop erectile dysfunction, which is believed to be an indicator of long Covid. Patients have also reported symptoms such as testicular pain, reduced sperm counts and decreased fertility.

The paper’s senior author said he next planned to determine whether the testicles were a reservoir for the coronavirus, as had been hypothesized by some scientists. He will also look at whether the virus infects tissue in the female reproductive system.


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Coronavirus Briefing

March 4, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the U.S., seven-day average.The New York Times
First-grade students in Port Washington, N.Y., the first day after the state lifted its school mask mandate.Johnny Milano for The New York Times

The great school unmasking

As cases across the country plummet, more states are lifting mask mandates — and schools are following suit.

New York City officially announced the end of its school mask mandate for children over 5 years old today. In the last week, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York State and Connecticut ended mask requirements, and by mid-March, they will also be gone in California, Oregon, Washington State and New Jersey.

“This past week was an inflection point,” said my colleague Amelia Nierenberg, who writes the Education Briefing. Today, almost 60 percent of major school districts no longer require masks, according to the school tracking site Burbio.

I caught up with Amelia for more on the great school unmasking.

Why are some schools lifting their mask mandates now?

It’s politics, but it’s science, too. Throughout the pandemic, many Republican-led states, like Texas and Florida, have fought to ban mask mandates. That’s led to lawsuits to keep masking in place — many of which have been successful.

Now, as the national mood shifts and cases fall, Democratic governors are letting mandates expire. Those announcements, a loosely coordinated effort, are the result of months of public health planning, back-channel discussions and political focus groups that look toward the upcoming midterms.

Why has there been so much controversy around school masking?

The easiest answer here is the most obvious: No one really likes being told what to do, and there’s nothing that matters more to people than their kids.

If you are pro-mask mandate in schools, you think other people are willingly risking the life of your child to make a political statement. If you are anti-mask mandate in schools, you think other people are forcing your child to do something that may cause long-term academic and emotional disruptions — also to make a political statement.

That’s the simple answer. Repeated, systemic failures of public health messaging have also frightened and confused parents, making it hard for them to understand the real — and often changing — risks their children face at schools.

What does the science say?

Although public health experts agree that school mask mandates should not last forever, they differ on whether the time has come to remove them.

But scientists are largely reassured by the fact that kids almost never suffer severe symptoms, whether or not they’re vaccinated. Many students have gone to school without masks during the pandemic — including in Britain, parts of Europe and many U.S. states — and very few children have gotten seriously sick.

Experts also pointed out that while the risk Covid poses to children is real, it’s about the same as the risk of the flu. And many prominent doctors cite the mental health strain that children have faced during the pandemic and the educational value of seeing full faces.

What will classrooms look like this spring?

That depends on where you live. Your district may opt to keep a mask mandate in place, which means kids will still be wearing masks. Your individual school might, too.

Case rates will also play a role. Omicron may be the last major surge, or it may not. If some terrifying new variant comes along, who knows what could happen. But we’re edging ever closer to 2019 — and ever more responsibly so. Few people are expecting size limits on graduations or canceled proms this year. Maybe, just maybe, the tensions will ease, too.

Kamika Cosey helps her daughter Zurie put on a face mask in Washington, in January.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

How you feel about masking

We asked our readers how they feel about the lifting of school mandates. and more than 1,000 of you wrote in. Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts.


“I’m feeling incredible angst and stress over it. Our county cases are still in the medium orange level. I realize that masks should go away at some point but to lift them prematurely doesn’t make sense. If I make my kids wear them, the social pressure from other kids will be very tough (my kids are 12 and 8 years old). I feel for my kids — no one likes feeling like an outcast. It’s such a terrible dilemma for a parent!” — Robin Ostrov, Buffalo, N.Y.

“I cannot wait until they are lifted in our area. I had a conversation with another parent — she had to discuss with her child the importance of smiling when making new friends. The child didn’t think anyone could see her mouth and so it didn’t matter. I have seen my child attempt to make comments in class then give up when no one could hear them through the mask. Children are treating one another in certain ways because there is a degree of anonymity that a mask provides (much like an internet pseudonym does). I am less worried about Covid than the very real social development and behavioral issues I am seeing in schools.” — Amanda B., San Rafael, Calif.

“My son’s preschool recently dropped the mask mandate. I was scared, as my son is considered high risk, and both of my kids are too young to be vaccinated. I emailed the parents in the class and explained that my son and three other kids in the class have high risk or immunosuppressed siblings at home — and kindly asked that they still send their kids to school in masks. Today was the first day without the mandate and all 12 students wore masks! There is still good in this world.” — Kate Ackers, Dexter, Mich.


“I don’t want the mask mandates to be lifted at this time. I’m a first-grade teacher and I feel that people who are talking about how harmful masks are to children don’t understand what a classroom environment is like. My students hardly notice the masks. Even for my students who are just learning English, the masks have not been a problem. And socially, I cannot see a difference between when they are masked and when they were unmasked. What I do notice is that there has been a huge reduction in all kinds of transmissible disease in school for me and my students.” — Kellie Hall, Montgomery County, Md.

“Masks are now optional in our schools, and it really hasn’t made that much of a difference. The kids and teachers who aren’t wearing them now are the ones who always had them down on their chins before, and the ones who wore them properly are still wearing them. The only change is that I no longer have to tell kids to pull up their masks 50 times a day. So I just make sure I have my KN95 and hope for the best.” — Lauren, Dayton, Ohio


“I am very happy that the mask mandates were lifted at my high school. I was wearing a mask from freshman year until junior year and all of my classmates are unrecognizable — some have even grown beards. My teachers look way different than I imagined and I feel like I have to get to know them all over again. It is a relief things are starting to get back to normal, and that we can see each other fully again.” — Missy Lecciso, Littleton, Colo.

“I personally can say I like my mask. I feel uncomfortable without it in public settings. Though Covid has put the world on lockdown for almost two years now, I feel like we’re moving too fast.” — Ruby Sheridan, Ridgewood, N.J.

“I feel uneasy about the lifting of mask mandates. My school has lifted its mask mandate as of Feb. 28. It is a strange feeling to see the naked faces of my classmates. I personally still wear a mask in school, as do about a third of my classmates and most, but not all, of the teachers. There does seem to be a division in who wears a mask and who forgoes it. It’s almost as if people are signaling their political stances (or from my viewpoint, their academic achievement). For me, wearing a mask is about protecting myself from illness and, more important, ensuring that I don’t bring back anything to my ailing grandparents. ” — Leah Tucker, Upper Arlington, Ohio

“I think it is absolutely not the right move. I am a Type 1 diabetic student so I consider myself higher risk than most of my peers. Universal mask wearing fosters a culture of caring for one another, which in itself can be a valuable lesson to kids. Lifting mask mandates sends a message that we are done caring about each other’s health because some people are too tired to bother, somehow outweighing the right and ability of their peers to feel safe.” — Jayanti, New York City

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Coronavirus Briefing

March 7, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times

Covid’s risks to the brain

Covid-19 may cause greater loss of gray matter and tissue damage in the brain than naturally occurs in people who have not been infected with the virus, a large new study finds.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature, involved 785 people aged 51 to 81 and was believed to be the first involving people who underwent brain scans both before they contracted Covid and then several months after. It found shrinkage and tissue damage primarily in brain areas related to the sense of smell; some of those areas are also involved in other functions.

With normal aging, people lose a tiny fraction of gray matter each year. For example, in regions related to memory, the typical annual loss is between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent. But Covid patients in the study, most of whom did not become sick enough to require hospitalization, experienced between 0.2 percent and 2 percent additional gray-matter loss in different brain regions over the three years between scans.

“To me, this is pretty convincing evidence that something changes in brains of this overall group of people with Covid,” said Dr. Serena Spudich, the chief of neurological infections and global neurology at the Yale School of Medicine.

Other scientists can now build on these findings, she and others said. But, she cautioned: “To make a conclusion that this has some long-term clinical implications for the patients, I think, is a stretch. We don’t want to scare the public and have them think, ‘Oh, this is proof that everyone’s going to have brain damage and not be able to function.’”


Building a career remotely

Even as cases decline and more Americans are called back to the office, remote work will be an integral part of many people’s lives in the future — at least some of the time.

Some employees welcome hybrid work as a chance to rebalance their priorities. But working in isolation, especially for those who are new to an organization, can also make career advancement more difficult.

“For remote workers who want to get ahead, they can no longer rely on their boss seeing them sitting at their desk working, so they have to put their hands up in other ways,” said Corinne Purtill, a contributor to The Times who covers science and human behavior. “And that requires more effort, which is challenging at a time when everyone is burned out.”

I spoke with Corinne about advancing your career in the age of remote work.

What are the challenges of building your career while working remote?

Proximity bias is a real thing. The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed managers about remote work last year, and 42 percent admit they’ve overlooked remote workers for assignments or projects because they just plain forget about them. People forget what’s not right in front of them, particularly when they’re stressed out, which everyone has been for two years.

Even if you have a lot of motivation and desire to make connections and establish yourself, it can be really hard to know how to do that practically if you haven’t been able to observe workplace dynamics the way you can in a physical office. When you’re sitting at a desk, you can watch the way people talk to each other and get a sense of the relationships around you in a way that’s just tougher to do on Slack.

What can companies do to help?

Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who focuses on the changing geography of work, has studied this. He told me about three common practices at companies that have managed remote work successfully. They took the time to compile information and practices in handbooks that employees could consult. They paired remote workers with mentors outside their department so that they could speak frankly without worrying about how it affects team dynamics. And they created what he called the “virtual water cooler.”

What’s that?

Essentially, it’s scheduling short, informal video chats. Choudhury’s study looked at a firm that scheduled some interns to video chat with senior managers, others with other interns and others with no chats at all. The ones who got to have some informal face time with bosses got higher performance evaluations at the end of their internship and were more likely to get job offers afterward.

What is your best advice for remote workers who are trying to advance their careers?

Ask for people’s time. Just because your manager hasn’t set aside time with you doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk. Everyone is distracted these days. It’s OK to ask. Kyle Elliott, a career coach in California, put it like this: When you work remotely, and you want to be recognized, you have to make a conscious effort to remind the bosses that you exist.

If you have the option to go into the office sometimes, and you can get there, take it. It’s really helpful to see how things work behind the scenes and to understand people’s real-life personalities. It also offers useful information on how well your company does at managing remote workers. If way more decisions seem to get made by people who are meeting regularly in person, that’s a sign that this organization may not be fully committed to developing its remote talent.


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Coronavirus Briefing

March 8, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times
The pandemic has affected language and reading development in elementary students.Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

A U.S. reading crisis

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dana Goldstein, who covers education for The Times, has been hearing from parents concerned that their young children’s language development might have been hindered by masks in the classroom.

After the Omicron variant wave, when some epidemiologists suggested that it was time to start unmasking in schools, concern from parents “reached a fever pitch,” Dana said.

“But when I got on the phone with speech pathologists and phonics experts, they cast a lot of doubts on the correlation,” Dana said. “There’s not rigorous data at this point that would suggest that masks are the cause of the issue.”

“However, I continued down the road of talking to speech and reading experts and heard about a lot of other really big deficits,” she said.

Perhaps most concerning: About a third of children in the youngest grades are missing reading benchmarks, up significantly from before the pandemic, according to a cluster of recent studies. In Virginia, one study found that early reading skills were at a 20-year low this fall, data that the researchers called “alarming.”

Children in every demographic group have been affected, but Black and Hispanic children, as well as those from low-income families, those with disabilities and those who are not fluent in English, have fallen the furthest behind.

“Reading is the building block of human knowledge,” Dana said, “and it’s the all-consuming purpose of elementary academic education in many ways.” Children who read poorly are more likely to drop out of high school, earn less money as adults and become involved in the criminal justice system.

The reasons for the crisis are many. School closures, remote learning and limited social interactions have all played a role.

Those issues are exacerbated by “the larger economic story of the Great Resignation, where you have about half of schools reporting that they have vacancies in core teaching jobs — and the largest category of causes for that is resignation, not retirements,” Dana said.

Teaching reading via remote learning was exceedingly difficult, even if students had access to the necessary tools, like an internet connection (many did not). It was tedious for teachers, and students needed supervision at home from an adult who could walk them through online instruction.

There’s also a common misconception that simply reading to children will teach them how to read. “Reading at home is really important for building interest and motivation to read, but many children need a lot more explicit instruction to learn to read — more than parents are able to provide just by reading to them,” Dana said.

And that’s what was largely missing during the pandemic: explicit, hands-on instruction.

“There was a lot of good work happening across the country on improving reading instruction previous to the pandemic, so ideally the future would look like picking that back up and expanding that movement using the federal stimulus dollars,” Dana said.

“But it is very challenging because you can have great intention to improve early literacy at your school, and you can have money, but if you cannot find college-educated workers to hire — or can’t find enough — it’s going to be hard,” she said.

People waited outside the main train station in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, on Feb. 24.Emile Ducke for The New York Times

Covid in Ukraine

Ukraine is still grappling with the pandemic, even as it is battered by a military conflict that has strained health care resources. Yet the country has — so far — “remarkably” managed to maintain some response to the virus, said Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Europe.

The organization said that last week Ukraine reported 731 Covid deaths, a figure that probably underestimates the true scale as most people in the country have turned their focus to war and evacuation efforts since Russia began its invasion last month. “Sadly, this number will increase as oxygen shortages continue,” Kluge said.

Only one-third of people over 60 in Ukraine are fully vaccinated, according to the W.H.O. The country had been reporting more than 30,000 daily cases in mid-February, with the rate declining to around 25,000 in the days before the invasion, according to agency data. Since the military invasion began, the country has been reporting zero cases per day, as shown in the graph below. Deaths were reaching as high as around 300 per day in the days before the invasion.

Daily new coronavirus cases in Ukraine, seven-day average.The New York Times

Catherine Smallwood, a W.H.O. senior emergencies officer, said that Covid hospitalizations in Ukraine had decreased in the past couple of weeks. She said the drop could be attributed to people being discharged from the hospital early or not being able to seek care because of the war.

“We would encourage all of our colleagues inside Ukraine to keep all of the systems in place to manage Covid-19,” she said.


What opportunities did Covid steal from you?

The pandemic upended the global economy, shut down capitals and statehouses, and devastated businesses. But along with these major disruptions came smaller, more personal derailments.

A college student’s semester abroad was canceled. A job opportunity was lost to a pandemic freeze on hiring. A long-distance romance puttered out without the lifeblood of the occasional visit.

For the people who experienced such singular missed opportunities, the sense of loss felt no less devastating.

But as the Omicron variant fades and we being to think about the next phase of the pandemic — and of our lives — we’d like to know how you’re trying to get these opportunities back.

If you’d like to participate, you can fill out the form here. We may use your response in an upcoming newsletter.


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What you’re doing

After our area’s mask mandate was lifted, I found myself a bit lost without one … and inspired to write about it.

I miss my mask
the thing that fogged my glasses
dried my mouth
stunted my joy of singing

I miss my mask
The thing that absorbed my tears
Silently falling
while I watched my mom
walk slower, eat slower
sit down sooner in her pew
all because of the mask.

— Maureen Maingi, Raleigh, N.C.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Life in red America and blue America is quite different. What about Covid caseloads?

Teaching first-graders in Bridgeport, Conn.Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

A modest gap

Daily life in red and blue America has continued to be quite different over the past few months. It’s a reflection of the partisan divide over Covid-19. Consider:

  • In the country’s most liberal cities, many people are still avoiding restaurants. The number of seated diners last month was at least 40 percent below prepandemic levels in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Cambridge, Mass., according to OpenTable. By contrast, the number of diners has fully recovered in Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, Phoenix, Charlotte, N.C., and Austin, Texas, as well as in Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Hampshire.
  • Residents of liberal cities like New York, Washington and San Jose, Calif., are still spending significantly more time at home and less at the office than before the pandemic began, according to Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based research group. In more conservative places, the rhythms of daily life have returned nearly to normal.
  • During the Omicron wave, schools in heavily Democratic areas were more likely to close some classrooms or require that students stay home for extended periods.
  • Mask wearing remains far more common in liberal communities than conservative ones.

These stark differences have created a kind of natural experiment: Did Omicron spread less in the parts of the U.S. where social distancing and masking were more common?

The answer is surprisingly unclear.

Nationwide, the number of official Covid cases has recently been somewhat higher in heavily Democratic areas than Republican areas, according to The Times’s data. That comparison doesn’t fully answer the question, though, because Democratic areas were also conducting more tests, and the percentage of positive tests tended to be somewhat higher in Republican areas.

No single statistic offers a definitive answer. When I look at all the evidence, I emerge thinking that liberal areas probably had slightly lower Omicron infection rates than conservative areas. But it is difficult to be sure, as these state-level charts — by my colleague Ashley Wu — suggest:

Charts show 7-day averages. | Sources: New York Times database; Edison Research

The lack of a clear pattern is itself striking. Remember, not only have Democratic voters been avoiding restaurants and wearing masks; they are also much more likely to be vaccinated and boosted (and vaccines substantially reduce the chances of infection). Combined, these factors seem as if they should have caused large differences in case rates.

They have not. And that they haven’t offers some clarity about the relative effectiveness of different Covid interventions.

Vaccines, above all

The first lesson is that Covid vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe illness. Here are the same four states from the above charts, this time with death rates instead of case rates:

Sources: New York Times database; Edison Research

The messiness of the previous charts has given way to an obvious pattern: Covid death has been far more common in red America. Over the past three months, the death rate in counties that Donald Trump won in a landslide has been more than twice as high as the rate in counties that Joe Biden won in a landslide, according to Charles Gaba, a health care analyst.

The second lesson is that interventions other than vaccination — like masking and distancing — are less powerful than we might wish. How could this be, given that scientific evidence suggests that mask wearing and social distancing can reduce the spread of a virus?

Early in the Omicron wave, at least one expert accurately predicted this seeming paradox. Dr. Christopher Murray, the founder of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, wrote an article for The Lancet, a medical journal, arguing that interventions like masks would have “limited impact on the course of the Omicron wave.”

I followed up with him by email, and he offered a helpful explanation. Although masks reduce the chances of transmission in any individual encounter, Omicron is so contagious that it can overwhelm the individual effect, he said.

I’ve come to think of the point this way: Imagine that you carry around a six-sided die that determines whether you contract Covid, and you must roll it every time you enter an indoor space with other people. Without a mask, you will get Covid if you roll a one or a two. With a mask, you will get Covid only if you roll a one.

You can probably see the problem: Either way, you’ll almost certainly get Covid.

This analogy exaggerates your chances of getting infected, but it still highlights the basic reason that masks and distancing have had a limited effect. “It really is a function of the extreme intensity of Omicron transmission,” Murray told me.

Getting a shot in New Jersey.Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

A 95 percent drop

Together, these two lessons can point the way to a sensible approach to Covid in the coming months.

One, nothing matters nearly as much as vaccination. A continued push to persuade skeptics to get shots — and to make sure that people are receiving booster shots — will save lives.

Two, there is a strong argument for continuing to remove other restrictions, and returning to normal life, now that Omicron caseloads have fallen 95 percent from their peak. If those restrictions were costless, then their small benefits might still be worth it. But of course they do have costs.

Masks hamper people’s ability to communicate, verbally and otherwise. Social distancing leads to the isolation and disruption that have fed so many problems over the past two years — mental health troubles, elevated blood pressure, drug overdoses, violent crime, vehicle crashes and more.

If a new variant emerges, and hospitals are again at risk of being overwhelmed, then reinstating Covid restrictions may make sense again, despite their modest effects. But that’s not where the country is today.

Related: Hawaii became the final state to announce it would drop its indoor mask mandate. And my colleague Dana Goldstein looked at the “alarming” amount of pandemic learning loss, with the biggest effects on students who are Black, Latino, lower-income, disabled or not fluent in English.

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Coronavirus Briefing

March 9, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times
Kyijuan Hinton getting vaccinated in Los Angeles in January.Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

California’s move to endemicity

Last month California became the first state in the U.S. to officially move from a pandemic approach to the virus toward an endemic one.

The state unveiled a “next phase” playbook that will treat the virus as a manageable risk, with measures to promote vaccines, stockpile medical supplies and combat disinformation. It marked a new chapter for the state and the nation.

For more on the plan, I spoke to Shawn Hubler, who covers California for The Times.

What do we need to know about California’s move to endemicity?

There are multiple things happening at once. At the executive level, Gov. Gavin Newsom has lifted or dialed back a lot of the health restrictions that were put in place during the pandemic. Already, California has loosened indoor mask mandates, and on Friday, the state’s mask mandate for schoolchildren is going to be lifted. In the private sector, a lot of businesses have also eased their rules for masking and vaccinations.

At the same time, California is trying to build coronavirus protections into the state’s existing laws. The state health department has started the ball rolling to require schoolchildren to be vaccinated against Covid as they are with polio and measles. The Legislature is trying to close a loophole that at the moment allows for personal belief exemptions to school vaccinations for Covid. Another bill in the hopper would allow children 12 and older to get vaccinated without a parent’s permission.

Has there been any resistance?

Yes. California is not as blue as much of the nation assumes it is. A third of the state voted for Donald Trump, and there are more Trump voters here than in any other state in the country. And the people who are resistant are fairly determined not to build pandemic measures into the state’s legal infrastructure.

In Shasta County, for example, a group of far-right voters recently recalled a supervisor and took over a majority of the board that governs the county. The new board’s first act last week was to issue a proclamation saying it wasn’t going to enforce mask and vaccine mandates, which are virtually nonexistent or unenforced in the county anyway at this point. And other constituencies may push back on some of the proposed legislation.

What does this move to endemicity mean for the rest of the nation?

California tends to be a model for policy in a lot of other places and in Washington, especially for Democratic administrations. I can see some of what California is doing potentially ending up as a piece of the Biden administration’s approach.

In health terms, the state’s coronavirus policies seem to have paid off. As the governor constantly points out, California’s per capita death rate from Covid-19 has been significantly lower overall than big Republican states like Florida. And as a majority-minority state, California has put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that, say, Latino farmworkers have as much access to protection as coders in Silicon Valley, which fits with the administration’s priorities.

How do Californians feel about this moment of the pandemic?

Covid case rates are down to about what they were in the middle of last summer when people were elated — so, yeah, Californians are stoked. By and large, a majority of the state is ready to move on.

But the pandemic has been this terrible trauma. It’s brought out the best in us, but not all of us rose to the occasion. I think about my neighbors and friends who didn’t wear masks or who — to my astonishment — knowingly spread misinformation about vaccines or didn’t get vaccinated.

The pandemic has been like one of those scenes in a movie where everyone’s on a plane, and then it starts to nosedive. People are confessing things they never thought they would confess. Some people are helping others, while another person is smacking the guy next to him. But now, the plane is leveling off. We now know how our neighbors dealt with the pandemic, and we can’t unsee that. So how can we move on together from that?

The possibility of a lockdown in Hong Kong has set off a run on groceries and other supplies.Billy H.C. Kwok for The New York Times

Hong Kong’s Covid crackdown

Hong Kong is reporting tens of thousands of new cases a day, and its fatality rate is currently the highest in the world, according to Times data. The government is struggling to contain the outbreak and has been ambiguous about whether it will impose a lockdown.

The mixed messages have made some residents panic, my colleague Alexandra Stevenson reports, and they’ve been frantically emptying supermarket shelves or jumping on flights to leave the city.

Hong Kong is one of the last places in the world that is still trying to eradicate the coronavirus, rather than live with it. It has resolutely pursued a strategy of isolating every case found, regardless of severity, and has imposed quarantines on close contacts, despite a shortage of facilities and workers.

And, under pressure from Beijing to eliminate infections, the city has vowed to test all 7.4 million residents. It’s a gargantuan task, and residents have been particularly alarmed by the government’s approach to children who test positive.

The city erupted in an outcry recently after health workers took an infected 11-month-old girl from her parents and isolated her in a hospital. One parent is typically allowed to accompany a child, but the hospitals are too crowded. Officials later said they would organize video chats between hospitalized children and family members.

Foreign governments have also responded with concern. The U.S. Consulate last week warned Americans not to travel to Hong Kong, citing the risk of familial separation. The French consul general said that the latest measures would “profoundly affect everyone’s life, with a price to pay that has been steadily increasing for two years, especially for families with children.”


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Coronavirus Briefing

March 10, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

New daily cases in the U.S., seven-day averageThe New York Times
A public school in Manhattan prepared to administer vaccines for students last year.Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Child vaccine confusion

For American parents with young children, it’s been a frustrating and confusing couple of months.

In February, federal regulators said that they would evaluate Pfizer’s vaccine for the youngest children, only to reverse course 10 days later. Shortly thereafter, scientists reported that the vaccine was only weakly protective against an Omicron infection and appeared to offer little defense against moderate illness among adolescents ages 12 to 17.

The C.D.C. found that record numbers of children under 5 had been hospitalized during the Omicron surge, underscoring the need for vaccines. But it also said that 90 percent of Americans could safely stop wearing masks in public indoor spaces, even in schools with young children.

Confusing, right?

Experts worry that the most recent findings on protection have made it even more challenging to persuade some parents to immunize their children, even though vaccines are continuing to prevent severe disease and death. Fewer than one in four children ages 5 to 11 are now fully vaccinated.

To help add some clarity, my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli wrote about the recent string of head-scratching news. What the studies suggest, she wants parents to know, is that “the problem is not so much the vaccine as the dose.”

In adult trials in 2020, manufacturers made best guesses at the right dose and opted for short intervals between the shots to protect people as quickly as possible during the initial surge. Those guesses worked. But the trials in children were complicated by the arrival of the Delta and Omicron variants, and the vaccine appeared to be less protective in children ages 2 to 4.

In the Pfizer trials, adolescents ages 12 to 17 were given 30 micrograms, the same dose given to adults. But children ages 5 to 11 received 10 micrograms, and those 6 months to 5 years old received just three micrograms.

These doses may have been too low to rouse an adequate and lasting response. But federal officials who have seen the data told The New York Times that higher doses produced too many fevers in children.

Pfizer is now testing a third dose in children under 12 to determine whether it can deliver the level of protection that two doses could not. The F.D.A. is still evaluating the Moderna vaccine for use in children ages 6 to 11.

“Unfortunately, there is not much parents can do at this point beyond waiting for the results,” Apoorva told me. “I know that’s frustrating, but there simply is not enough information yet to say how effective the third dose will be in the youngest children.”

Fortunately, she said, clarity is on the horizon.

Both Pfizer and Moderna plan to report results from their vaccine trials in young children. If the results are positive, that should lead to a new round of regulatory review, and possibly vaccinations for tens of millions of youngsters.

“The good news,” Apoorva said, “is we should have some answers very soon — probably in about a month or less.”

A funeral at Park Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles last year.Isadora Kosofsky for The New York Times

Covid-19 funeral aid

The U.S. government will reimburse up to $9,000 in funeral expenses for deaths related to the coronavirus. There have been more than 960,000 Covid deaths in the U.S., but as of last month, fewer than half have been the subject of a claim. Roughly 273,000 applicants had been paid as of early February.

For details about the program, I spoke to my colleague Tara Siegel Bernard, a personal finance reporter.

Who qualifies for this program?

Basically, anybody who lost a loved one. There are no income limitations and there’s no deadline. You can even apply retroactively if you’re just learning about the program and you never applied. The only factors that would disqualify an applicant would be an existing contract that you already paid to a funeral home, or some sort of funeral or burial insurance. But, for example, if the policy only paid out $5,000 and the funeral costs $10,000, you could still apply for that $5,000 gap.

You must also be a U.S. citizen, a noncitizen national or a qualified alien. But the deceased person doesn’t need to meet those requirements, they just need to have died in the U.S. or one of its territories.

How do you do it?

You apply over the phone, and their website says it takes 20 minutes. There’s a really helpful F.A.Q. on FEMA’s website that goes through a lot of the common questions.

What’s your advice on applying?

It’s really hard to think about keeping good records when you are mourning, but that seems to be a key piece of advice here. Before you apply, you want to make sure that the death certificate clearly states that Covid was a direct or indirect cause.

Make sure all the names on the FEMA application match the names on the receipts and, when possible, make sure they’re legible and clear. I spoke with a woman who was just entangled in this endless loop of correspondence with FEMA because they couldn’t read the burial receipt. And even though there’s no deadline now, I wouldn’t wait too long if you do plan on filing an application, because then at least you have a record that it’s in the system.


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What you’re doing

My college, which is very liberal, just ended our campus mask mandate. I was uneasy about unmasking at first but made the decision to not wear a mask as I had Covid a few weeks ago and students are still getting tested every week. The first day I spent without a mask was surprisingly euphoric. I felt free and it was nice to see my classmates’ faces. I never realized how angsty I was when wearing a mask!

— Maddie, Colorado Springs

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Coronavirus Briefing

March 11, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times

A note to our readers

Two years ago today, the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic. A week before that, this newsletter was born. Since then, we’ve been on a journey together — braving waves of infections, experiencing sickness and loss, mastering the art of protecting ourselves, and continuously learning about a wily virus that seemed to surprise experts at every turn.

As the Omicron wave fades in the U.S. — and as the W.H.O. begins exploring how and when to call an end to the global pandemic — we’re making changes to this newsletter too.

Beginning next week, we will be switching to a less-frequent schedule, landing in your inbox Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We may pop in more frequently when there’s big virus news you need to know about, or even return to a daily schedule if needed. We’ll also be using this change to cover the most important topics in more depth, bringing you insights from the Times newsroom and beyond.

Before we dive into today’s newsletter, I want to say thank you to everyone who has followed along with us these last two years — and express special gratitude to those who have written in to share their experiences. I’m looking forward to navigating the next phase of the pandemic with you.

— Jonathan


Reclaiming time lost to Covid

Looking back on the last two years may trigger feelings of anguish about missed opportunities, derailed life paths and lost time. But what if there was a way to get some of that time back?

For some perspective on time lost during the pandemic, and what we can do about it, I spoke to Tim Urban, the author of the blog “Wait But Why.” Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.

How should we look at time lost during the pandemic?

People are more resigned to having lost the time to Covid than they should be. People underestimate not only the amount that they can make up, but they can also get into a habit that multiplies the amount of time they have left with people they love — and doing the things they love.

How so?

If you actually pick up a calculator and you calculate the amount of quality days or hours you spend with the people you love, it can look like a pretty depressing number.

So for example, I realized that living in a different city than my parents, I probably spend 10 quality days with them a year. Then I thought about the fact that my whole childhood, I was with them almost every day. So it hit me that 95 percent of the days I have with my parents in my life happened in my childhood. If I spend another 10 days a year with them, that adds up to about another year total — over many decades.

Tim Urban

There’s nothing I can do about human life spans, but the cool thing about that number — whether with time spent with friends, family or a relationship — is that you can change it, by huge multiples, just by changing the order of your priorities.

How does that work?

So, for example, if you see your parents 10 days a year, you can make it 20, whether it’s by coming home a few extra weekends or spending an extra week with them during the summer. You could also make 10 into 100 if you want to make a big change and move to the same city.

How should people think about missed opportunities during the pandemic?

When we look back on our life, we often see a branching tree of lives that we could have lived, paths that we could have gone down, things that we missed. And we often wallow in regret about these things. But you can also take that exact same reasoning and apply it to the future. What lies ahead of you is a lush tree of open life paths. They all belong to you at this moment and there’s nothing stopping you from going in one of those directions.

Tim Urban

So it’s so easy to look at the pandemic as a bunch of missed opportunities. But the further you go into the future, the less important these two years will become. If you can use the pandemic as a splash of cold water, or a slap in the face, and pick your life path and make better decisions going forward, you can look back and say, because of those two years, my life took a better course.

What’s something you lost over the pandemic and how have you tried to get it back?

My grandmother is 96, but she’s still with it. She’s great to talk to and she’s got great stories and a lot of wisdom. And during the pandemic, I wasn’t really able to see her because she was on lockdown and because of her age, it was too dangerous.

But those lost moments actually spurred me to do something I’ve wanted to for a long time. I took a recorder to her and recorded a bunch of stories from her. That’s exactly the kind of thing you want to do but just don’t. So in some ways, making up for lost time during the pandemic can actually spur you to make really important decisions that maybe you should have made a long time ago.

A group of friends who used to see a Broadway Show about once a month before the pandemic greet each other for their first outing last summer.Todd Heisler/The New York Times

What you missed, and how you’re trying to get it back

We asked readers about the opportunities they missed because of the pandemic. Your responses were particularly touching this week. Thank you to all who wrote in.

“I ended a relationship right before the pandemic and didn’t feel comfortable dating during, given health concerns. Covid effectively wiped two years off my dwindling fertility clock, so I’ve now started the process of pursuing single motherhood using donor sperm and artificial insemination. It’s not the vision I had for my future, but I can’t afford to wait. With supportive family and friends, I will make it work.” — Sarah, Boston

“My father died in October 2019. In February 2020, I made a plan to honor his love of France and my love for him by walking solo from Le Havre hundreds of miles southward to the Mediterranean. I bought the plane ticket in 2020, canceled and rebought it many times. I’ve kept my body ready for the journey for two years by running and doing several solo hikes. My French is much better than it was in 2020 as I’ve trained while listening to French language podcasts. Now, finally, I’m embarking on this journey. A ziplock of my father’s ashes are tucked in my backpack. I’ll scatter them on French soil when I arrive at just the right spot, somewhere he might have loved, if he could still share a picnic with me.” — Cree LeFavour, Provincetown, Mass.

“My husband and I had just started an immigration process to Canada when the pandemic began. The process kept on getting longer and longer. Now we have no idea what is going to happen and I even started seeing and feeling Canada farther from us a bit more every day. But I’ve been learning new things and preparing myself to have better job opportunities. I just started a software development boot camp a few weeks ago. I’ve used the pandemic as a great opportunity to go back to things I love that will also allow me to increase my chances of a better future in any country I finally end up living in.” — Eréndira CB, Mexico City

“The pandemic stole memories I could have made with my dad. For two years we skipped our annual visit and ski trip to keep him safe (he’s 78). This February we showed up with gloves, hats and masks. We strapped on skis and flew down the mountain together, leaving the years of pandemic worry behind.” — Susan H., San Jose, Calif.

“We were just forming a much needed friendship with another couple who are neighbors . Because of the pandemic, we had no contact for two years except occasional texts and brief greetings as we passed taking out trash or getting mail. We are trying to re-establish contact. I texted how much I had missed our interactions and asked if they were up to socializing yet in our pandemic world. In response, they invited us over for drinks — the first of what I hope will be many new contacts.” — Elaine Turner, Denver, Colo.

“I missed two years of my late 20s. I don’t know that I’ll ever quite ‘get them back.’ I’ll never be that age again, that time of life again. So instead of thinking about where I ‘should be,’ I’m focused on what I want to do with the time I have. Now I’m teaching English in Japan. Afterwards, I want to motorcycle Vietnam and learn to surf in Bali. I’ve decided I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over. I can’t wait for the world. I’m going to live my life while I still have the time.” — Luke, Okayama, Japan

“The love of my life had planned a wonderful trip for the two of us, working around some of his health issues, and then Covid hit. While we waited and waited for travel to be safe, his condition deteriorated and he passed away almost a year ago. We can’t ‘get our plans back,’ but I may try to take our trip by myself when and if life ever becomes normal again.” — Lynn R., Houston, Texas


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Researchers Identify Link Between COVID-19 and New Diabetes Cases

Healthcare  professionals and scientists are concerned that the coronavirus could be destroying key cells needed for the production of insulin. Find out what we know — and what still needs to be uncovered.


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Coronavirus Briefing

March 14, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.


U.S. Covid cases, seven-day average

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times
Police and workers at an area under lockdown in Shanghai on Monday.Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China’s worst surge since 2020

China is grappling with its worst spate of Covid-19 infections since the coronavirus first emerged more than two years ago in central China. Sustained outbreaks have erupted in two-thirds of the country’s provinces, prompting two of the country’s largest cities, Shenzhen and Shanghai, to impose stringent restrictions.

  • Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong that is the hub of China’s tech sector, announced a seven-day lockdown yesterday. All nonessential workers must stay home, and buses and subway trains are being halted.
  • Shanghai schools switched to online learning, and cinemas, theaters and museums have closed.
  • The northeastern province of Jilin today barred its 24 million residents from leaving the province or traveling between cities.
  • Several of China’s largest factory cities have ordered a lockdown, halting production of Toyota cars and Apple phones.

The latest wave is proving the toughest test yet of China’s “Covid zero” policy, my colleague Keith Bradsher reports from Beijing.

The seven-day average rate of new cases in mainland China, now at 1,584, has more than quintupled in recent days, and Chinese officials are enacting some of their strictest methods yet in hopes of halting the spread.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in China, seven-day average.The New York Times

The country has comparatively lower rates of vaccination among older adults and has far fewer intensive care hospital beds relative to its population than most industrialized countries. In China’s vast rural areas, hospitals and medical facilities are often basic, and a major outbreak could quickly overwhelm hospitals.

China has responded to the current surge in cases by mobilizing its vast Communist Party apparatus to deploy workers and resources. In Jilin Province, where many cases have been recorded, workers are building temporary facilities to house thousands of people who test positive. Across the country, workers are corralling and testing millions of citizens every day. But that testing program is starting to be overwhelmed.

China’s virus containment strategy is focused on moving quickly to lock down buildings or neighborhoods. In response to even a single case, officials may seal all the entrances to a store, an office building or even a convention center. Everyone inside must then stay there for up to several days as they are tested for the coronavirus and sent into isolation if their results are positive.

In recent days, many cases have been tied to the Omicron variant, and more than half of those infected have not had symptoms, according to data released by the government. But they are still infectious.

Particularly in southern China, many have reacted to the Omicron outbreak by blaming nearby Hong Kong, where a surge in cases has overwhelmed hospitals and morgues. The Hong Kong government said today that it did not have the testing capacity to carry out the strict strategy handed down by Beijing.

Dr. Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert in Shanghai, has been one of the few prominent advocates of easing “Covid zero” precautions, but even he said in an online posting today that now was not the time.

“It is very important for our country to continue to adopt the strategy of Covid zero in the society in the near future to suppress the fifth wave of the extremely fast-spreading Omicron epidemic to a completely controllable level,” he wrote. “But this does not mean that we will permanently adopt the strategy of citywide lockdown and full testing.”


The race for a Covid vaccine for children

For nearly a year, Moderna’s vaccine has been limited to adults, while tens of millions of children and teenagers received Pfizer shots.

But Moderna may now be poised for a comeback, as the company prepares to submit data this week on how well its vaccine works for children. The company is hoping it has found what some scientists are calling the “Goldilocks” dose: strong enough to offer lasting protection, but not so strong that it causes widespread worrisome side effects, such as high fevers.

Last month, an effort to approve Pfizer’s vaccine for children under 5 collapsed when the company’s data showed convincingly that two low doses failed to protect adequately against symptomatic infection.

Moderna is proposing substantially higher dosing than Pfizer in three pediatric age groups: 100 micrograms — the full adult dose — for those ages 12 to 17; 50 micrograms in children 6 to 11; and 25 micrograms in those under 6. Regulators are considered likely to review the firm’s data for all three age groups simultaneously.

Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Burton, told The Times in an interview that the dosage was safe.

“We have not seen anything untoward right now, so we feel confident in the safety profile,” he said, adding that initial results showed a 50-microgram Moderna dose prompted a “robust immune response” in children 6 to 11.

More than 22 million people in the U.S. under 18 are now fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, but uptake has been leveling off. Only roughly one in four children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated. But there is still a demand to protect the youngest children as more of the country unmasks, more parents return to workplaces and the summer travel season approaches.

Compared with adults, “there is no question that in children the benefit of an effective vaccine is less, because fewer get really sick,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, an infectious disease expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “But it will benefit some individuals,” he said. “It will save some lives.”

According to the C.D.C., 336 children in the U.S. under the age of 5 have died of Covid since the start of the pandemic.


Is your boss using carrots or sticks?

As Covid cases fall, companies are trying once more to bring employees back to the office. Some, like The Times, are dangling incentives like free pizza. Others are using more forceful nudges to disincentivize working from home.

How is your company approaching the push and pull? And how do you feel about it? If you’d like to share your story, click here. We may feature your response in an upcoming newsletter.


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What you’re doing

My 9-year-old son’s school lifted the mask mandate last week. On the same day it was lifted, I could see a big smile on his face upon his return home. When I asked him what the reason behind the big smile was, he replied back, “Best feeling ever with no mask on in the class.”

— Zaki Kababieh, Brooklyn

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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March 15, 2022


Good morning. Covid cases are rising in parts of both Asia and Europe.

Medical workers from China at the border with Hong Kong yesterday.Tyrone Siu/Reuters

The new hot spot

Even as Covid-19 cases and deaths have continued to decline in the United States, there are some worrisome developments around the world. Today, I’ll walk through them — and explain their implications for the U.S.

The Pacific region …

After more than two years of mostly fighting off Covid, Hong Kong has become the world’s worst hot spot. The main problem, as in so many other places, is vaccine skepticism.

Heading into the current outbreak, nearly 40 percent of Hong Kong’s population was not vaccinated, and more than half of people over 70 — the age group most vulnerable to severe Covid — were unvaccinated.

Why? Many Hong Kong residents do not trust the government, given the increasing repression by China. Others are dubious of Western medicine or have been influenced by misinformation, as my colleagues Alexandra Stevenson and Austin Ramzy have reported. “I worry that the side effects of vaccination will kill me,” Lam Suk-haa, who’s 80 years old, told The Times last month. “I won’t get vaccinated as long as I have a choice.”

Until recently, Hong Kong — like mainland China — had been largely successful in keeping out the virus, which meant that vaccine skepticism did not bring large costs. But the Omicron variant is so contagious that it overwhelmed Hong Kong’s “zero-Covid” strategy.

Adding to the problem, many residents have received Sinovac, a Chinese-made vaccine that is less effective than the vaccines designed in the U.S. and Europe — by Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Although the Pfizer vaccine is available in Hong Kong, many residents wrongly fear that it has dangerous side effects. Sinovac still provides meaningful protection against severe illness, but not as much as the Western vaccines.

The death rate in Hong Kong has soared this month, surpassing 25 per 100,000 residents in the past week. That’s not as high as New York’s peak death rate in the spring of 2020, but it is higher than in any country today. And Hong Kong’s rate will probably continue rising, because new case numbers did not start falling until about a week ago; death trends typically lag case trends by about three weeks.

Seven-day averages as of March 13. | Sources: New York Times database; Johns Hopkins University

“I’m not sure people appreciate quite how bad the Covid situation is in Hong Kong, nor what might be around the corner,” John Burn-Murdoch of The Financial Times wrote yesterday. “What’s driving this? Vaccines. Or more specifically: the elderly vaccination rate.”

Many elderly residents of mainland China are also unvaccinated, and it too could be on the verge of an increase in Covid deaths. Yesterday, outbreaks led to the closures of many theaters and restaurants in Shanghai, while several large factories — including a major maker of iPhones — suspended production. The shutdowns could ripple across the global economy, exacerbating goods shortages and inflation.

Covid is also spreading rapidly in New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and several other Pacific countries that had previously kept caseloads low. The death rates in those countries are far lower than in Hong Kong, because of higher vaccination rates. (You can look up any country’s data.)

… and Europe

Europe has often been a few weeks ahead of the U.S. with Covid trends — and cases are now rising in Britain, Germany, Italy and some other parts of Europe. The main cause appears to be an even more contagious version of Omicron, known as BA.2.

Seven-day averages as of March 13. | Sources: New York Times database; Johns Hopkins University

BA.2 has already begun to spread in the U.S., as well. It accounted for about 12 percent of newly diagnosed cases last week, according to the C.D.C. The variant may also be the reason that the amount of Covid virus detected in wastewater is rising in about one-third of American cities that track such data. Wastewater samples tend to be a leading indicator of case counts.

If that pattern repeats, BA.2 would be about to end two months of falling case counts in the U.S. Since mid-January, the number of new daily Covid cases has dropped more than 95 percent and is now at its lowest level since last summer, before the Delta surge.

The magnitude of any BA.2 increase may be limited by the fact that about 45 percent of Americans have already contracted Omicron. “That should be highly protective,” Andy Slavitt, a former Biden administration adviser, wrote yesterday. On the other hand, a 45 percent infection rate means that most Americans did not contract Omicron, leaving many of them susceptible to BA.2.

Even if cases rise, as seems likely, there are good reasons not to panic. Vaccination tends to turn Covid into a mild illness, especially for people who have received a booster. For the unvaccinated and unboosted, BA.2 is another reason to get a shot.

It’s also a reason for the federal government and states to expand access to both Evusheld — a drug that can help protect the immunocompromised — and Paxlovid — a post-infection treatment. Finding either is often difficult today. (If you’re looking for one of them, click on this link for Evusheld and this one for Paxlovid.)

The bottom line: Covid isn’t going away, but vaccination and other treatments can keep future increases manageable. The biggest problem remains the millions of people who remain unvaccinated, many of them by choice. That’s the case in the U.S., in Hong Kong and across much of Europe, Africa and the rest of the world.

Inducing more people to get shots — through persuasion or mandates — would probably save more lives than any other Covid policy.

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Coronavirus Briefing

March 16, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times
A cooler with Covid-19 vaccine vials in transit to the town of Kamakwie in northern Sierra Leone, last month.Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times

Africa’s vaccine challenge

Covid vaccination rates in Africa are still worryingly low — averaging about 14 percent across the continent — and public health experts expect Africa to experience a fifth wave of the virus in the coming months. That could potentially take the form of a new, more lethal variant that could endanger the entire world.

“Africa remains a real outlier globally in terms of how many people — including how many of the most at risk people — have been able to be vaccinated,” said my colleague, Stephanie Nolen, who reported from Sierra Leone. “Coverage is overall incredibly low in most countries except South Africa and Rwanda. It’s a problem for the unvaccinated countries and it’s a problem for the rest of the world.”

If there’s good news, it’s that vaccine supplies are more plentiful now than earlier in the pandemic. And the Delta and Omicron variants seem not to have wreaked as much havoc across the continent as they have in other places, although that could reflect a lack of reliable data on mortality.

Overall, however, the situation is worrisome. Health systems in much of sub-Saharan Africa are fragile (Sierra Leone has just three doctors for every 100,000 people), and countries with some of the least resources in the world are being asked to run complicated vaccination campaigns. In Sierra Leone, each vaccination site has three or four brands of vaccine — from Sinopharm, to Johnson and Johnson, to mRNA doses — each with different expiration dates and dosing requirements for different age groups.

“It’s a terribly stressful set of conditions in which to try to run a big public health program,” Stephanie said. “It would be a challenge for a country like Norway. It’s a huge issue for Sierra Leone.”

There are also more pressing issues than Covid. Hospitals in Sierra Leone are overflowing with malaria cases. Some people show up to Covid vaccination sites in Sierra Leone because they are looking for Ebola vaccines.

As some parts of the world look toward post-pandemic life, there is concern that attention to the pandemic in Africa may drop off. Stephanie said that some experts were now starting to wonder whether the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the continent was even realistic.

“I can see waning enthusiasm for this whole undertaking on the part of both countries and donors, and without another wave, does the effort decline?” Stephanie asked. “And if it does decline, does that guarantee that next wave is even more punishing?”

But because most African countries have fared comparatively well during the pandemic, and because there are so many more immediate and deadly health issues there, it’s no wonder that many African countries are diverting their precious health resources to issues other than Covid.

“Right now countries such as Sierra Leone are being asked to use their very limited health care resources to vaccinate people against a virus that is not killing people in those countries,” Stephanie said. “And you can understand why some people see it as being asked to invest staff and money in order to prevent the emergence of variants — so that they don’t kill Americans who are vulnerable because they won’t get vaccinated.”

San Tin Community Isolation Facility in Hong Kong, on Wednesday.Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

A mix of hope and caution

As spring arrives, Americans are feeling optimistic about the pandemic. About a third are resuming pre-Covid routines, a new poll shows, and twice as many support “government lifting all Covid-19 restrictions.”

But across the world, warning lights are blinking. The World Health Organization says there were 11 million new cases around the world in the week ending on March 13, up 8 percent over the previous week — the first rise since late January.

Daily new global cases, seven-day average. The New York Times

The Omicron wave is raging in Asia, with South Korea reporting a record 400,741 daily cases on Wednesday. China is suffering its worst outbreaks in two years.

In Europe, a second Omicron wave potentially looms. Per capita cases there were already the world’s highest and are inching up again. Germany is nearing record levels, and numbers are increasing in France, Britain, Italy and elsewhere.

Daily new cases in the U.K., seven-day average.The New York Times

Europe’s loosening pandemic restrictions may be fueling the spike, along with waning vaccine immunity and the spread of the BA.2 subvariant.

In the U.S., wastewater sampling could be an early indicator of a Covid resurgence. About 38 percent of U.S. sampling sites reported increased coronavirus levels from Feb. 24 to March 10.

One epidemiologist told The Times that Europe’s worst periods throughout the pandemic have been a harbinger of what was to come in the United States.

“Every time we followed suit within a matter of weeks,” he said.


What else we’re following


What you’re doing

In March of 2020, my girlfriends and I planned a mom’s mountain getaway at Big Bear. It was right when things started shutting down. We thought hard about canceling but at the last minute we decided to go, with the caveat that we would hole-up and eat dinners in. We made it home and the very next day, schools shut down. We were like, “What in the world were we thinking?” Fortunately, no one got sick. We started referring to that weekend as our “Crapaversary”— when life as we knew it went into the crapper. This year, as Covid numbers plummeted we planned another trip on the same weekend in March. Two days before the trip, I got a text from the host that she had gotten Covid from her husband. Our trip was canceled — perfect way to celebrate a Crapaversary, I guess.

— Stacey Fargnoli, Los Angeles

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Diabetes & COVID-19: Scientists explore potential connection

CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) — When their 11-year-old son started losing weight and drinking lots of water, Tabitha and Bryan Balcitis chalked it up to a growth spurt and advice from his health class. But unusual crankiness and lethargy raised their concern, and tests showed his blood sugar levels were off the charts.


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China weighs exit from ‘zero COVID’ and the risks involved

BEIJING (AP) — Even as authorities lock down cities in China’s worst outbreak in two years, they are looking for an exit from what has been a successful but onerous COVID-19 prevention strategy.



The AP Interview: Health chief warns of COVID funds shortage

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the nation yearning for a new normal after its long struggle with the coronavirus, U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra warned Thursday that vaccines, tests and treatments will be “stuck on the ground” unless Congress provides the additional funds the White House has demanded.


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March 18, 2022


Good morning. We have a new poll on Covid and political ideology.

A school after the mask mandate ended in New York City.Andres Kudacki for The New York Times

Very liberal vs. liberal

The left-right divide over Covid-19 — with blue America taking the virus more seriously than red America — has never been the pandemic’s only political divide. Each partisan tribe has also had its internal disagreements.

Republicans have long been split over vaccination, with many eagerly getting shots while many others refuse. Democrats have their own growing schism, between those who believe Covid precautions should continue to be paramount and those who favor moves toward normalcy.

The key dividing line appears to be ideology. Americans who identify as “very liberal” are much more worried about Covid than Americans who identify as “somewhat liberal” or “liberal.” Increasingly, the very liberal look like outliers on Covid: The merely liberal are sometimes closer to moderates than to the very liberal.

That is a central finding of a poll conducted last week by Morning Consult for this newsletter. The poll is a follow-up to one from January. This time, to go deeper than partisan identification, we asked respondents to choose one of seven labels: very liberal, liberal, slightly liberal, moderate, slightly conservative, conservative or very conservative.

Among the results:

  • Nearly 50 percent of very liberal Americans say that they believe Covid presents a “great risk” to their personal health. Other liberals, moderates and conservatives tend to be less worried.
From a survey of 2,210 adults in March 2022. | Source: Morning Consult
  • When parents were asked about the threat to their children, the pattern was similar.
From a subset of 571 parents. | Source: Morning Consult
  • More than 60 percent of very liberal Americans believe that mask mandates should continue for the foreseeable future. Most moderates and conservatives see mandates as a temporary strategy that should end this year.
From a survey of 2,210 adults in March 2022. | Source: Morning Consult

Personal safety

Why does political ideology so strongly shape Covid beliefs?

Donald Trump certainly plays a role. As president, he repeatedly made false statements downplaying Covid. Many Republican voters adopted his view, while many liberal Democrats went in the other direction. They came to equate any loosening of Covid restrictions with Trumpism, even after vaccines tamed the virus’s worst effects.

But I don’t think Trump is the only explanation. Every group of Democrats disdains him, yet Democrats disagree about Covid. Apart from Trump, the pandemic seems to be tapping into different views of risk perception.

Very liberal Americans make up almost 10 percent of adults, according to our poll and others. Many are younger than 50 and have a four-year college degree. They span all races but are disproportionately white, the Pew Research Center has found.

In recent years, these progressive professionals have tended to adopt a cautious approach to personal safety. You might even call it conservative.

It is especially notable in child rearing. Parents seek out the healthiest food, sturdiest car seats and safest playgrounds. They do not let their children play tackle football, and they worry about soccer concussions. The sociologist Annette Lareau has described the upper-middle-class parenting style as “concerted cultivation” and contrasted it with a working-class style of “natural growth.”

A cautious approach to personal safety has big benefits. It has helped popularize bicycle helmets, for example. In the case of Covid, very liberal Americans have been eloquent advocates for protecting the elderly and immunocompromised and for showing empathy toward the unvaccinated.

Yet the approach also has downsides. It can lead people to obsess over small, salient risks while ignoring bigger ones. A regimented childhood, with scheduled lessons replacing unstructured neighborhood play time, may lead to fewer broken bones, but it does not necessarily maximize creativity, independence or happiness.

When it comes to Covid, there is abundant evidence that the most liberal Americans are exaggerating the risks to the vaccinated and to children.

Consider that Democrats younger than 45 are more likely to say the virus poses a great risk to them than those older than 65 are — which is inconsistent with scientific reality but consistent with younger Democrats’ more intense liberalism. Or consider that many liberals (including Sonia Sotomayor) feel deep anxiety about Covid’s effects on children — even though the flu kills more children in a typical year and car crashes kill about five times as many. Long Covid, similarly, appears to be rare in both children and vaccinated people.

The truth is that the vast majority of severe Covid illness is occurring among those Americans who have chosen not to be vaccinated and boosted.

Some masks in a Los Angeles climbing gym.Mark Abramson for The New York Times

‘Public Health 101’

I know that this newsletter’s emphasis on liberals’ Covid fears has angered some people. And I understand why many Americans — including some moderates and conservatives, as our poll shows — remain so focused on the virus. It has dominated daily life for more than two years, and some risk remains. Shifting gears is hard.

But trying to eliminate Covid risk, and allowing the virus to distort daily life, has costs, too. That’s why much of Europe, which is hardly a bastion of Trumpism, has stopped trying to minimize caseloads.

The American focus on Covid’s dangers, by contrast, has caused disruption and isolation that feed educational losses, mental health troubles, drug overdoses, violent crime and vehicle crashes. These damages have fallen disproportionately on low-income, Black and Latino Americans, exacerbating inequality in ways that would seem to violate liberal values.

“Rather than eliminating the risk of Covid, you’ve got to manage the risk,” Elizabeth Howe Bradley, a public health expert and the president of Vassar College, told me recently. “If you really go for minimizing the risk, you’re going to have unintended consequences to people’s physical health, their mental health, their social health.”

She added: “It’s Public Health 101.”

Many Americans seem to have adopted this view. But there are still holdouts.

More on the virus:

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Coronavirus Briefing

March 18, 2022


An informed guide to the pandemic, with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.The New York Times

Dreading a return to office culture

For the last two years, 50 million Americans have been part of a live experiment in remote work.

The flexibility of working from home has been a game changer for many. But as more companies begin calling workers back, some people are dreading their return to the office.

We recently asked New York Times readers about returning to the office, and hundreds of you wrote in. We also spoke with our colleague Emma Goldberg, who covers the future of work for The Times and has interviewed dozens of workers:

What are workers feeling?

There are several categories of frustration and discomfort. One involves the microaggressions people of color have long confronted in the office. Another is the pressure on caregivers, who may be expected to revert to long and rigid hours in the office when they also have family obligations. And a lot of introverts — or just people who don’t connect with their co-workers — are anxious about returning to making small talk with people whom they don’t feel a lot in common with rather than just focusing on their work.

How are companies responding?

We’re seeing some interesting models from workplaces that have decided to commit to long-term flexibility.

Salesforce rolled out a “success from anywhere” model, in which a lot of employees can choose to be permanently remote. PricewaterhouseCoopers announced that about 40,000 of its employees won’t be required to return to the office. Last month, BNY Mellon told employees they would have more flexibility than a lot of their industry peers. Finance firms have been among the most enthusiastic about bringing workers back into the office.

What else can companies do to improve office culture?

The first thing many experts raised was the importance of ensuring that advances made on flexibility in recent years aren’t left