Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Restaurants are in dire straits, and there’s no sign of federal relief anytime soon.

Amelia Nierenberg


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.

Diners were already hesitant to eat out, but indoor bans have dealt another blow. And temperatures have dropped, shortchanging outdoor options.

“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.

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.

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.”

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.

  • There are almost no beds available in California’s intensive care units, and deaths are skyrocketing. In Los Angeles County, an average of two people are dying every hour.

  • 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.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

  • 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.

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.

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Adam Pasick contributed to today’s newsletter.

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Amelia Nierenberg