The Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Moderna’s vaccine for emergency use tonight.
This week, the United States surpassed 17 million known cases. It also recorded more than 3,600 deaths on Wednesday, shattering the previous record, and set a national case record, with more than 245,000 new infections.
Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, says Covid-19 symptoms have slowed him down.
No matter how you slice it, the restaurant industry is in trouble. By some estimates, nearly 110,000 restaurants have permanently closed.
“People in the industry I’ve talked to seem to be in despair,” Pete Wells, a New York Times restaurant critic, told me.
Everyone has struggled, small and large. Independent restaurants have closed and reopened (and then closed again), built outdoor dining areas and bolstered takeout menus, along with other creative solutions.
Dine-in chains have a different set of problems. Outposts in cities with more relaxed regulations can tide over those that are under lockdown. But large restaurant companies have struggled to develop a coordinated approach. Several dining chains — including Chuck E. Cheese, California Pizza Kitchen and some Il Mulino restaurants — were compelled to file for bankruptcy.
The pressure is on now that we’ve officially entered the holiday season, usually the industry’s busiest time of year. But big company dinners and intimate family meals will be largely absent in 2020.
“It’s just so brutal right now,” Pete said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, finally. All of these vaccines are flooding in. And at the same time, things in restaurants are worse than they’ve been at anytime since April.”
The government could still take steps to bail out restaurants, as has happened in many other countries. And the CARES Act did keep many unemployed restaurant workers afloat. But Pete says that within the industry, “no one really expects to see a bill that specifically addresses the industry’s needs, at least not until after the inauguration.”
If you want to help, or if you’re tired of cooking, it’s always good to order in from a favorite spot. Pete suggested focusing on one or two neighborhood places that you really want to support. And please, if you can, tip as if you had remarkable in-person service all meal long.
Taking a shot in public
Vice President Mike Pence got the coronavirus vaccine today on live television. He sat in front of a giant blue poster declaring in white block letters: “SAFE and EFFECTIVE.”
“I didn’t feel a thing,” he said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, quickly followed. President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. and Dr. Anthony Fauci will soon join them as part of a crucial effort to build confidence and trust in the vaccines.
Even more than shortages and supply chain glitches, mistrust could hold up the effort to vaccinate enough people to create herd immunity in the United States. (Experts say that would require participation from about 60 to 70 percent of the population.)
Some of the skepticism comes from unfounded conspiracy theories about vaccines. But many communities in the United States have good reason to mistrust the government — including a well-documented history of unethical medical research carried out on African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
With distribution of a coronavirus vaccine beginning in the U.S., here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the U.S., when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.
- If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. Here’s why. The coronavirus vaccines are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be enough protection to keep the vaccinated person from getting ill. But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose — and be sneezed or breathed out to infect others — even as antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick. The vaccine clinical trials were designed to determine whether vaccinated people are protected from illness — not to find out whether they could still spread the coronavirus. Based on studies of flu vaccine and even patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to be hopeful that vaccinated people won’t spread the virus, but more research is needed. In the meantime, everyone — even vaccinated people — will need to think of themselves as possible silent spreaders and keep wearing a mask. Read more here.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection into your arm won’t feel different than any other vaccine, but the rate of short-lived side effects does appear higher than a flu shot. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. The side effects, which can resemble the symptoms of Covid-19, last about a day and appear more likely after the second dose. Early reports from vaccine trials suggest some people might need to take a day off from work because they feel lousy after receiving the second dose. In the Pfizer study, about half developed fatigue. Other side effects occurred in at least 25 to 33 percent of patients, sometimes more, including headaches, chills and muscle pain. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign that your own immune system is mounting a potent response to the vaccine that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.
Now people of color have to reconcile memories of medical abuse with the threat of a virus that’s disproportionately affecting their communities.
Despite the slew of mostly older, white men rolling up their sleeves, some prominent upper-arms are missing from the cable news vaccine roster. Some governors plan to wait — in part because they don’t want to seem like they’re cutting the line.
But vaccine hesitancy has also become deeply partisan. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Republicans were the group most likely to express uncertainty about the coronavirus vaccine.
One possible reason: President Trump hasn’t scheduled his own shot yet. And his repeated denigration of scientists and insistence that the pandemic is not a threat have contributed to a sense among some of his followers that the vaccine is either not safe or not worth taking.
“We need him taking a proactive role,” said Matthew Motta, a political scientist at Oklahoma State University who studies politics and vaccine views. “The single best person to convince you to change your mind about something is somebody who agrees with you, somebody who you trust on other issues.”
A looming wave of evictions
Even with the pandemic worse than ever, America’s vast eviction machine is gradually getting back into gear.
On Dec. 31, the federal eviction moratorium will expire. In a matter of days, landlords will be able to force nonpaying tenants to leave. After a summer of catastrophic job loss, 6.7 million adults are likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Why now — especially since displacing people was considered unsafe in September, when contagion rates were far lower? Won’t the virus just spread faster if evicted tenants end up in shelters?
Our colleague Ellen Barry crisscrossed Massachusetts, talking to people facing eviction and law enforcement officers uneasy with the grim task they had to carry out.
“I really don’t think people should be displaced, certainly during a pandemic,” said Lt. Michael Goldberg, in the midst of removing two tenants from their residence in Chicopee, Mass. “Five months ago we stopped evictions because of what was going on in the world, and now we’re moving forward with evictions, when it’s still going on, if not worse.”
“OK, I can remove them,” said Nicholas Cocchi, a sheriff in Massachusetts, who tries to ease the transition for people losing their homes. “But to what detriment? Is it better for public safety? No. Is it better for public health? No. What’s the benefit here?”
A further listen: On today’s episode of “The Daily,” our colleague Stella Tan spoke to Yolanda Jackson, a single mother in Georgia who has battled housing insecurity through the pandemic.
New York State broke its own record for the most positive tests reported in a single day, with 12,606 new cases on Friday. The previous peak was in early April, when testing was less widely available and significantly fewer tests were being conducted.
A federal prison in Indiana is suffering an outbreak, with two men scheduled for execution among the 177 who had active cases as of Friday afternoon. Their lawyers are calling for the executions to be postponed until the outbreak is under control.
Scientists in South Africa have discovered a new variant of the coronavirus that has quickly come to dominate samples of virus tested in the country.
What else we’re following
Lawmakers are scrambling to pull together a two-day temporary spending bill and stave off a weekend government shutdown so they continue to negotiate a stimulus package.
Wealthy countries have snapped up available vaccines, leaving developing countries in a lurch. But leaders of a public health group have secured about a billion doses of candidate vaccines that may soon be delivered to low- and middle-income countries.
Benny Napoleon, the well-known sheriff of Wayne County, Mich., died from the coronavirus on Thursday. The 65-year-old is one of the most prominent members of law enforcement to die, underscoring concerns that they, as first responders, are especially vulnerable.
Penn State, one of the largest universities in the United States, will delay bringing students back to campus for the spring semester by at least four weeks after advice from state officials.
A handful of people have had severe allergic reactions to the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Our colleague Katherine J. Wu looked into what people with allergies need to know about the vaccine’s safety.
The World Health Organization urged Europeans to stay home over the end of year holidays as deaths across the continent passed 500,000.
What you’re doing
My 96-year-old grandmother passed away last week in the Czech Republic. She was a fairy-tale grandmother, always smiling and loving even though her life had not always been easy. She survived the Second World War only to live for the next 45 years under the restrictions of the Communist regime until our country became free in 1989.
Because of the pandemic, I was not able to travel to the Czech Republic to be with my family but the church in my hometown (population 5,000) actually streamed the funeral service online. Even though I was thousands of miles away, I was able to say goodbye to my grandmother for the last time.
— Lenka Horakova, Little Rock, Ark.
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
Adam Pasick contributed to today’s newsletter.