Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Large swaths of the United States still refuse to follow simple advice from experts.

Jonathan WolfeAmelia Nierenberg


Credit…The New York Times

The next phase of the pandemic in the United States will most likely be determined by two factors: the new virus variants and the vaccine rollout.

Public health experts have likened the situation to a race. If the more contagious variants are able to spread faster than the country can distribute vaccines, experts fear the nation may see another powerful surge of the virus — as happened in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere.

And yet there are things Americans can do right now to help get the virus under control and save lives. Those measures include wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, and staying home as much as possible. Experts have been asking these things of the public for nearly a year. Tragically, large swaths of the country still refuse to follow this simple advice.

Our colleague David Leonhardt, who writes The Morning newsletter, recently took a road trip across the country to help his mother get vaccinated, and said that almost everywhere he stopped — including gas stations, rest stops and hotels in half a dozen states — people ignored mask restrictions.

“I came home from my trip shaken by what I had seen,” he wrote. “I feel like I just drove across a country that is losing a winnable fight.”

Nationally, only about half of Americans wear masks when in close contact with people outside their households, according to a new survey by the University of Southern California.

Throughout the pandemic, many communities have resisted virus restrictions, or have removed them quickly after they are put in place. No region has had a higher case rate during the pandemic than Yuma, Arizona, which is experiencing another surge of the virus. Cleavon Gilman, an emergency medicine doctor at Yuma Regional Medical Center, blames the state’s governor, Doug Ducey, for failing to enact stringent measures.

“Everything is open — restaurants, gyms, barbershops,” he said. “People are needlessly dying because there is no statewide mandate to prevent it.”

Not long ago in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged to largely lock down areas where positive test rates consistently topped 4 percent. But as rates rose above that threshold statewide, those plans were scrapped. Now, New York City has 54 ZIP codes showing a positive test rate over 10 percent, and records around 5,000 new cases a day.

Gareth Rhodes, an adviser to the governor, said that there was not much more the state could do get people to follow health guidelines, noting that restaurants were still shut down, and many office workers had not yet returned to their workplaces. “The reality is that personal behavior is what matters now,” he said.

Public health experts are beginning to wonder how much worse the data needs to get before officials consider new steps and restrictions. The country is still recording tens of thousands of cases a day and deaths are near record highs.

“I feel like people are numbed by the numbers; I worry about the complacency and fatigue,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “I worry about the focus on vaccines, rather than what’s happening with the virus.”


Credit…Gilles Sabrie for The NewYork Times

One year ago, when Wuhan shut down, it became the first city in the world to be devastated by the virus.


Credit…Maria Magdalena Arrellaga for The New York Times

There are many lessons from Wuhan, but one is particularly stark. The initial outbreak, and the government’s efforts to conceal it, put the Chinese Communist Party on the verge of its biggest crisis in decades. Some thought that perhaps this was the moment that the world’s largest and most powerful propaganda machine would crack. But it didn’t.

A year later, the party’s control of the narrative has become absolute. In Beijing’s telling, Wuhan and the government’s response stand not as a testament to China’s weaknesses but to its strengths.


Credit…Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

Inconsistency and disruption have been the only constants for the 13,000 school districts across the United States. The federal government provided little guidance or data, leaving superintendents to develop their own safety standards.

Seeking to understand whether American children were getting adequate schooling during the pandemic, our colleagues zeroed in on seven very different districts. Their stories, collected here, examine inequities and challenges across the country’s classrooms. Here are just three.

In Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest district, most students have not been in classrooms since March. Now, achievement gaps in the majority-Latino district are widening. Compared with last year, D’s and F’s increased 15 percent among high school students, and reading proficiency dropped 10 percent among elementary school students, the superintendent said.


Credit…Elissa Elder-Aga

In Wausau, Wis., a small, majority-white city, parents have harassed members of the school board over reopening plans. (After starting classes virtually, the board bowed to community pressure and opened schools in November — just as the pandemic was surging across the state.)

“I had to call the police,” one member of the school board said, after a parent harassed her.


Credit…Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times

And the Roosevelt Independent School District a tiny, rural, mostly Latino district in West Texas, decided to require in-person learning after 77 percent of high school students were failing at least one class after the first grading period.

Academic performance rose, but so did infections. About a third of staff have tested positive this school year.


Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times

  • In Iraq, health officials and some religious leaders are promoting the false idea that the country has acquired herd immunity. Scientists say Iraq could be in for a major new outbreak.

  • Nearly two million residents of Beijing were being tested for the coronavirus on Friday after three locally transmitted cases were confirmed there.

  • Germany has registered a total of 50,000 deaths from the virus, including 30,000 that have occurred since Dec. 9.

  • The prime minister of Mongolia resigned after protests over the government’s pandemic response.

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

My father died on Christmas Eve from coronavirus. He was 92, but still. When my 4-year-old granddaughter overheard her mother discussing his death, she said “Oh mom! He gets to have Christmas in heaven!” Those lovely words have gone so far in healing my grief.

— Sydney Youngerman, Boise, Idaho

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Jonathan Wolfe and Amelia Nierenberg