As Americans anxiously watch the spread of coronavirus variants that were first identified in Britain and South Africa, scientists are finding a number of new variants that seem to have originated in the United States — and many of them may pose the same kind of extra-contagious threat.
In a study posted on Sunday, a team of researchers reported seven growing lineages of the coronavirus, spotted in states across the country. All have gained a mutation at the exact same spot in their genes.
“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and a co-author of the new study.
It’s not clear yet whether this shared mutation makes the variants more contagious, but because it appears in a gene that influences how the virus enters human cells, the scientists are highly suspicious.
“I think there’s a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit,” Dr. Kamil said.
It’s not unusual for different genetic lineages to independently evolve in the same direction. Charles Darwin recognized convergent evolution in animals. Virologists have found that it happens with viruses, too. As the coronavirus branches into new variants, researchers are observing Darwin’s theory of evolution in action every day.
It’s difficult to answer even basic questions about how prevalent the new variants are in the United States because the country sequences genomes from less than 1 percent of coronavirus test samples. The researchers found examples scattered across much of the country, but they can’t tell where they first arose.
It’s also hard to say whether the variants are spreading now because they are more contagious, or for some other reason, like holiday travel or superspreader events.
Scientists say the mutation could plausibly affect how easily the virus gets into human cells. But Jason McLellan, a structural biologist at the University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the study, cautioned that the way that the coronavirus unleashes its harpoons was still fairly mysterious.
“It’s tough to know what these substitutions are doing,” he said of the mutations. “It really needs to be followed up with some additional experimental data.”
Vaccinations are picking up pace. The spread of the coronavirus in the United States has slowed drastically. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging K-12 schools to reopen safely and as soon as possible.
But just as states are again lifting mask-wearing mandates and loosening restrictions, experts fear that more contagious variants could undo all that progress.
That threat seems only to grow as researchers learn more. British government scientists now believe the more contagious variant that is ravaging Britain is also “likely” to be deadlier than earlier versions of the virus, according to a document posted on a government website on Friday. An earlier assessment on a smaller scale warned last month that there was a “realistic possibility” the variant was more lethal.
The variant, also known as B.1.1.7, is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, another recent study found.
In line with an earlier warning from the C.D.C., the study predicted that by March the variant could become the dominant source of coronavirus infection in the United States, potentially bringing a surge of new cases and increased risk of death.
Beyond that, scientists reported on Sunday that they have begun to spot more new variants that seem to have emerged in the U.S. and are concerned that they may spread more readily than earlier versions.
Vaccine distribution is accelerating — the U.S. is now averaging about 1.66 million doses a day, well above the Biden administration’s target of 1.5 million — but B.1.1.7 has a worrisome mutation that could make it harder to control with vaccines, a Public Health England study found this month.
The variant has spread to at least 82 countries, and is being transmitted 35 percent to 45 percent more easily than other variants in the United States, scientists recently estimated. Most people who catch the virus in Britain these days are being infected by that variant.
The British research on B.1.1.7’s lethality did come with caveats, and the reasons for the variant’s apparently elevated death rate are not entirely clear. Some evidence suggests that people infected with the variant may have higher viral loads, a feature that could not only make the virus more contagious but also potentially undermine the effectiveness of certain treatments.
But government scientists were relying on studies that examined a small proportion of overall deaths. They also struggled to account for the presence of underlying illnesses in people infected with the new variant, and for whether the cases originated in nursing homes.
Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said that although “we do need to have a degree of caution” in looking at the findings, “it’s perfectly reasonable to think that this is something serious — I am certainly taking it seriously.”
“It’s pretty clear we have something which is both more transmissible and is more worrying if people become infected,” he said.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University, said relaxing restrictions now would be “courting disaster.” She urged Americans to “be extra vigilant” about mask wearing, distancing and avoiding enclosed spaces.
“You don’t want to get any variant,” Dr. Rasmussen said, “but you really don’t want to get B.1.1.7.”
The United States confirmed its first case of the B.1.1.7 variant on Dec. 29. Unlike Britain, it has been conducting little of the genomic sequencing necessary to track the spread of new variants that have caused concern, though the Biden administration has vowed to do more.
On Friday, for the fifth time in six days, the number of new virus cases reported in the United States dipped below 100,000 — far less than the country’s peak of more than 300,000 reported on Jan. 8.
As the number of virus cases and hospitalizations has fallen, the Republican governors of Montana, Iowa, North Dakota and Mississippi have recently ended statewide mask-wearing mandates. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has allowed indoor dining to resume at 25 percent capacity, though experts have repeatedly warned that maskless activities, such as eating, in enclosed spaces are high-risk.
Although virus case numbers are moving in the right direction, the loosening of restrictions has unnerved experts like Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University in Virginia.
“Now more than ever, with novel variants, we need to be strategic with these reopening efforts and be slow and not rush things,” she said.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, tried on Sunday to build support for reopening schools, even in districts with high infection rates and before vaccinating teachers, political sticking points for the Biden administration.
In a round of appearances on the morning news shows, Dr. Walensky promoted her agency’s new guidelines for schools, seeking to build confidence that the Biden administration’s strategy could satisfy teachers and parents alike — and fulfill the new president’s promise to reopen schools by his 100th day in office.
“We hadn’t previously had the science in order to inform how to open safely,” Dr. Walensky said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We didn’t have the data, and prior — we didn’t have any guidance as to how to do it safely, so we are really anticipating with this guidance emerging, that schools will be able to start reopening.”
She reiterated her earlier, controversial statement at a news briefing that scientific data supported the idea of reopening schools before teachers were vaccinated — but she also noted that the C.D.C.’s advisory panel on vaccines recommended that states consider teachers to be essential workers, placing them high on the priority list.
The Biden administration is juggling demands to open schools as soon as possible with teachers’ concerns about safety. Earlier this month, teachers’ unions objected to Dr. Walensky’s comment about teachers not needing to be vaccinated before schools reopened. The comment also drew a rebuke from the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, who said Dr. Walensky’s remark was made in her “personal capacity.”
The guidelines issued on Friday offered a chance for a reset, by outlining strict — and expensive — safety measures, like cleaning, mask wearing, contact tracing, frequent testing and social distancing.
But on Sunday, Dr. Walensky acknowledged that few schools were currently up to the task, without a significant infusion of federal funds.
“Not all schools are able to do all of those things right now,” she said on CNN, “and many of those schools are in red zones,” referring to communities with high infection rates. “We need to do the work to get all of those mitigation strategies up and running in all of the schools.”
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon began vaccinating its citizens against Covid-19 on Sunday, offering a rare glimmer of hope in a country suffering badly from several overlapping crises, just one of which is the pandemic.
The first shot was administered to the director of the intensive care unit at the lead government hospital fighting the pandemic. The second was given to a famous 93-year-old comedian.
The vaccination drive began after Lebanon received its first batch of 28,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Using $34 million in financing from the World Bank, Lebanon is buying enough doses to vaccinate about two million people, roughly one-third of its population. Millions more doses are expected to arrive in the spring and summer through a United Nations program and commercial sources.
Lebanon’s worst coronavirus surge peaked in mid-January, when the country was averaging more than 4,800 newly reported cases a day, according to a New York Times database; the average has since fallen somewhat, to about 2,700 a day. Some 337,000 people in Lebanon — almost 5 percent of the population — are now known to have had the virus, and more than 3,900 have died.
To try to drive the numbers down, the government imposed a very strict lockdown in mid-January, with a 24-hour curfew and widespread shop closures. It eased the restrictions slightly last week, but the curfew largely remains in effect.
The suffering caused by the pandemic has been compounded by a political crisis that has left Lebanon without an effective government for six months, and a financial crisis that has drastically weakened the local currency, making imported medicines, food and other products more expensive.
A huge explosion in the port of Beirut last August also made matters worse, heavily damaging four hospitals, killing 200 people and leaving thousands more wounded.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Faced with the creeping threat of more infectious coronavirus variants, Australia and New Zealand have responded to a small number of cases with near-immediate regional lockdowns.
On Sunday night, as couples celebrating Valentine’s Day strolled arm-in-arm through central Auckland, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand announced that the city would begin a three-day lockdown at midnight because of three unexplained positive test results in a single family. The rest of New Zealand would be subject to increased physical distancing requirements over the same period, she said.
Ms. Ardern said Monday that all three cases were the variant first detected in Britain, and that its higher transmissibility meant the government had been “absolutely right” to order the lockdown. Australia has also suspended quarantine-free travel with New Zealand for at least 72 hours over the new cases.
Separately, both countries said Monday that they had received their first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.
New Zealand has had almost no virus-related restrictions since the fall, when it successfully eliminated the virus for a second time. Over all, the country has reported 2,330 coronavirus cases and 25 deaths, far fewer in proportion to its population than most other developed nations.
The Australian state of Victoria has also been placed in a short-term lockdown in response to a small outbreak, which began at a quarantine hotel and has grown to 16 cases. During the lockdown, which began at 11:59 p.m. Friday and is intended to last five days, most of Victoria’s six million people are not allowed to leave home except for limited periods of outdoor exercise or shopping. Professional tennis players who are in Melbourne, the state capital, for the Australian Open are considered “essential workers” and have been allowed to continue playing their matches, albeit without fans in attendance.
Like New Zealand, Australia has had relatively few infections and deaths, and acts aggressively at the first sign of new outbreaks. Similar snap lockdowns in the Australian cities of Perth and Brisbane were successful recently at quashing transmission.
Announcing the Auckland lockdown on Sunday, Ms. Ardern said, “Our view is, you’ll have less regret if you move early and hard than if you leave it and it gets out of control.”
In other news around the world:
The start of ski season in Italy is delayed, the health minister Roberto Speranza announced. Citing the spread of a coronavirus variant, Mr. Speranza said amateur skiing was forbidden through at least March 5, The Associated Press reported. Italy’s last ski season was halted as the country became a coronavirus epicenter last spring, and it hasn’t restarted since then. This year’s closure is another blow to an industry that generates 1.2 billion euros, or $1.5 billion, in annual revenues.
Portugal, which until the last few days had been enduring one of the world’s worst coronavirus surges, has prolonged its Covid-19 state of emergency. The extension, until at least March 1, comes as new daily cases fell over the weekend to their lowest level since late December, while the latest daily death toll, 138, is the lowest since Jan. 11. Still, Portugal’s Covid-19 death toll now stands at 15,321. By comparison, Greece, which has a roughly equal population of about 10 million, has recorded 6,126 deaths.
Japan issued its first approval for a vaccine against the coronavirus on Sunday, saying that it would use the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to begin inoculating frontline health care workers this week. Japan has been slower than the United States and Europe to authorize any coronavirus vaccines, but it has also had the luxury of time. Public health measures have successfully kept case rates low and the country’s economy has suffered less than others. It showed a sharp rebound, growing 3 percent, in the last three months of 2020. But the growth was fragile and could easily be disrupted, analysts cautioned.
New Yorkers with chronic health conditions that made them newly eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine flooded a state website and call center Sunday morning, leaving many unable to immediately schedule appointments at mass vaccination centers.
State officials said on Sunday that 73,000 appointments had been scheduled as of 11:30 a.m., while 500,000 people went through an online eligibility screening tool needed to make appointments. Thousands were in virtual waiting rooms that can hold up to 8,000 people per vaccination site. Once those waiting rooms are full, people attempting to schedule appointments are told to try again later.
Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said demand was high, but “our infrastructure has remained up and intact.” He said that the state’s ability to make appointments depended on the vaccine supply, which is steadily increasing.
Officials said the new criteria, which include chronic health conditions like obesity and hypertension, made four million more New Yorkers eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine. They join a growing number of people in the state who are eligible for the vaccine despite a shortage in supply.
Those who are now eligible include adults who have certain health conditions that may increase their risk of severe illness or death from the coronavirus. Aside from obesity and hypertension, other conditions that would qualify New Yorkers for the vaccine include pulmonary diseases and cancer, Mr. Cuomo announced this month. He also made pregnancy a qualifying condition.
Appointments for people who are in this group can be scheduled for as early as Monday, though most people will probably face a long wait because vaccine doses are scarce now. New Yorkers must provide proof of their condition with a doctor’s note, signed certification or medical documentation, Mr. Cuomo said.
“While this is a great step forward in ensuring the most vulnerable among us have access to this lifesaving vaccine, it’s no secret that any time you’re dealing with a resource this scarce, there are going to be attempts to commit fraud and game the systems,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.
In New York State, about 10 percent of the population has received its first dose, according to data gathered by The New York Times. With the new criteria, about 11 million people are now eligible in the state, including people ages 65 and older, health care workers and teachers — over half the state population.
New York City recently opened mass vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Citi Field in Queens to better reach communities hit hard by the virus. The state and federal government also announced last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would open vaccination sites at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens.
To check on eligibility and schedule an appointment, New Yorkers can complete a prescreening on the state’s website. They can also call the state’s vaccination hotline at 1-833-NYS-4VAX (1-833-697-4829) for more information about vaccine appointments.
Philaé Lachaux, a 22-year-old business student in France, dreamed of striking out on her own in the live music industry. But the pandemic led to the loss of her part-time job as a waitress, and sent her back to live at her family home.
Now, struggling to envision a future after months of restrictions, Ms. Lachaux says that loneliness and despair seep in at night. “I look at the ceiling, I feel a lump in my throat,” she said. “I’ve never had so many suicidal thoughts.”
With curfews, closures and lockdowns in Europe set to drag into the spring or even the summer, mental health professionals are growing increasingly alarmed about the deteriorating mental state of young people.
Last in line for vaccines and with schools and universities shuttered, young adults have borne many of the sacrifices made largely to protect older people, who are more at risk from severe infections.
“Many feel they’re paying the price not of the pandemic, but of the measures taken against the pandemic,” said Dr. Nicolas Franck, the head of a psychiatric network in Lyon, France. In a survey of 30,000 people that he conducted last spring, young people ranked the lowest in psychological well-being, he said.
In Italy and in the Netherlands, some youth psychiatric wards have filled to record capacity. In France, professionals have urged the authorities to consider reopening schools to fight loneliness. And in Britain, some therapists said that they had counseled patients to break lockdown guidelines to cope.
In the United States, a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds said they had seriously considered suicide, one report said. In Latin America and the Caribbean, a survey conducted by UNICEF of 8,000 young people found that more than a quarter had experienced anxiety and 15 percent depression.
“We are in the midst of a mental health pandemic, and I don’t think it’s treated with near enough respect,” said Arkadius Kyllendahl, a psychotherapist in London who has seen the number of younger clients double in recent months.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, the following organizations can help.
A team of experts selected by the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of the coronavirus returned last week from Wuhan, China, site of the world’s first outbreak. Having broken the ice with Chinese scientists, the team plans to produce a joint report on the possible origins of the virus.
The two groups of scientists agreed to pursue some ideas that the Chinese government has been promoting, like the possibility that the virus was transported on frozen food. But the W.H.O. team also became frustrated by China’s refusal to turn over raw data for analysis.
Peter Daszak, a member of the W.H.O. team and the president of EcoHealth Alliance in New York, is primarily concerned with the animal origins of the virus. A specialist in animal diseases and their spread to humans, Dr. Daszak has worked with the Wuhan Virology Institute, a collaboration that last year prompted the Trump administration to cancel a grant to his organization.
In an interview after his return to New York, he said that the visit had provided some new clues, which all of the scientists, Chinese and international, agreed most likely pointed to an animal origin within China or Southeast Asia. The scientists have largely discounted claims that the virus originated in a lab, saying that possibility was so unlikely that it was not worth further investigation.
He reflected on the atmosphere in Wuhan and his first glimpse of the seafood market where the initial outbreak occurred last year, although it was not the site of the first cases. He also said the path ahead would be straightforward scientifically, but not politically.
The W.H.O. investigation was the subject of a sharp exchange over the weekend between the U.S. and Chinese governments. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said Saturday that the Biden administration had “deep concerns” about its early findings and how they were communicated.
“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” he said in a statement.
In response, the Chinese government asked whether the United States could be considered a credible partner in the matter, having only recently rejoined the W.H.O. after withdrawing during the Trump administration.
“What the U.S. has done in recent years has severely undermined multilateral institutions, including the W.H.O., and gravely damaged international cooperation on Covid-19,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement.
“But the U.S., acting as if none of this had ever happened, is pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the W.H.O. and at the W.H.O. itself,” it continued. “With such a track record, how can it win the confidence of the whole world?”
Austin Ramzy contributed reporting.
WHEELING, W.Va. — After nearly a year in lockdown for the residents of Good Shepherd Nursing Home — eating meals in their rooms, playing bingo through their television sets and isolating themselves almost entirely from the outside world — their coronavirus vaccinations were finished and the hallways were slowly beginning to reawaken.
In a first, tentative glimpse at what the other side of the pandemic might look like, Betty Lou Leech, 97, arrived to the dining room early, a mask on her face, her hair freshly curled.
“I’m too excited to eat,” she said, sitting at her favorite table once again.
It has been a tragic year for nursing homes in America. More than 163,000 residents and employees of long-term care facilities have died from the coronavirus, about one-third of all virus deaths in the United States. Infections have swept through some 31,000 facilities, and nearly all have had to shut down in some way.
For more than a million residents of nursing homes, the lockdowns themselves have been devastating. Cut off from family and largely confined to their rooms, many residents lost weight and saw ailments worsen. Some grew increasingly confused. Others sank into depression and despair.
West Virginia has emerged as one of the first states to finish giving two doses of vaccines to the thousands of people inside its nursing homes, so Good Shepherd, a 192-bed Catholic home in Wheeling, was among the first facilities in the country to begin tiptoeing back toward normalcy last week.
Good Shepherd locked down in March, even before the virus was found in West Virginia. Residents went without visits with loved ones, outings to the movies, even fresh air. Twice, the nursing home tried loosening restrictions, only to lock down again.
An outbreak in November claimed the lives of five residents.Fifteen others got sick during the outbreak, including Ms. Leech. After recovering in the nursing home’s Covid-19 ward, she was feeling better, she said, and eager to return to some version of normal life.
But even with the vaccinations completed, everything has not gone back to normal. Residents are allowed to socialize together again, but they are also asked to continue wearing masks. They sit several feet apart. And most relatives and friends still cannot come to visit.
The continuing precautions offer insights into the complications of reopening, far beyond nursing homes. About 20 percent of people at Good Shepherd — mostly staff members and a few residents — declined to be vaccinated, reflecting a hesitance that has emerged across the country. Cases in the surrounding county remain high. More research is needed to understand whether vaccinated people might still be able to transmit the virus.
For Julie Zuckerman, an elementary school principal in Manhattan, the summer felt like one never-ending day filled with fear and confusion about New York City’s plan to resume in-person teaching. But in the months since classrooms opened in September, something has shifted.
Teachers at the school, Public School 513 in Washington Heights, appear more at ease, and some say they would like to be in their classrooms even when the building closes because of coronavirus cases. Parents, too, seem more confident: About half of the students are in the building most days, up from less than one-third in September.
Ms. Zuckerman expects that even more children will return this spring.
“People have made their peace; they’re not in crisis in the same way,” she said. “I feel there’s a huge night-and-day difference between what was going on last spring and what’s happened this year.”
New York’s push to reopen classrooms in the fall — it was the first big school district in the country to do so — was a risky, high-stakes experiment. The city has had its share of miscommunication, logistical stumbles and disruptions — especially when classrooms and school buildings have closed frequently because of virus cases.
The city requires a school to shutter for up to 10 days if two unrelated positive cases are confirmed there. Individual classrooms close when one or more positive cases are detected.
The number of closures has risen considerably over the past few weeks, as test positivity rates across the city have remained high and weekly in-school testing has increased. New Yorkers have struggled to cope with the frequent interruptions to learning — and to parents’ schedules.
Even so, parents, teachers, principals and union leaders are finding reasons for optimism at the midpoint of the academic year. In-school virus transmission has been very low, and there is broad agreement that children have benefited from being in classrooms.
“Having the kids here is so much better for them, for everyone,” Ms. Zuckerman said.
The strength of the plan will be tested again when about 62,000 middle school students return to classrooms for the first time since November.
New York offers a preview of what other big city districts in the U.S — most prominently Chicago, where more schools are set to open next month — can expect as they inch closer to reopening classrooms after almost a year of remote learning.
Two officials at the Food and Drug Administration said on Saturday that they had erred by allowing manufacturers to sell Covid-19 antibody tests that had not been proved accurate, flooding the United States with unreliable blood tests early in the pandemic.
The officials, Dr. Jeffrey Shuren and Dr. Timothy Stenzel, said in an essay published in The New England Journal of Medicine that the F.D.A.’s guidance on March 16, 2020, which allowed companies to sell tests without emergency use authorization, “was flawed.”
Within two weeks of that guidance, 37 manufacturers told the F.D.A. that they were introducing the tests in the United States, a number that swelled to 164 by the end of April, the officials said. Many of those tests turned out to be inaccurate, and by May the F.D.A. demanded that companies submit data that proved that their tests were reliable or they could be banned.
As of this month, the officials said, the F.D.A. had issued 15 warning letters regarding the tests, removed references to 225 tests from its website and issued “import alerts” regarding 88 companies, meaning their imported tests will receive additional scrutiny — and could be blocked — at the border.
“Our experience with serology tests underscores the importance of authorizing medical products independently, on the basis of sound science, and not permitting market entry of tests without authorization,” they wrote in the essay, referring to the blood tests. “Knowing what we know now, we would not have permitted serology tests to be marketed without F.D.A. review and authorization, even within the limits we initially imposed.”
Soon after the tests first appeared in the United States, scientists discovered that many were flawed, even as some government officials and employers were saying the tests could be crucial to easing restrictions imposed during the pandemic. One review, which was not peer-reviewed, found that of 14 tests on the market, only three gave consistently reliable results.
Many others gave false positive results, signaling that someone had already been infected with the coronavirus and had a heightened level of protection when that was not the case. Even some of the most effective tests did not detect antibodies in 10 percent of people who actually had them.
The F.D.A.’s website lists the antibody tests that have been given emergency authorization and provides information about the effectiveness of those tests.
In the essay, Dr. Shuren and Dr. Stenzel acknowledged that, although the F.D.A. had been operating with “limited and evolving information” and that other factors led to the prevalence of the faulty tests, the March 16 policy was what had “allowed it to happen.”
When the pandemic struck late last winter, it devastated a retail sector that had been battered for at least a decade. Vacancy mounted upon vacancy, bankruptcy upon bankruptcy. By May, with hundreds of thousands of people living in pajamas, staffing at clothing stores was down 40 percent from the previous year.
Yet a chicly homey stretch of stores along well-traveled Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn has maintained the vitality of an alternate world. These shops are an unlikely bright spot in a devastating year, when as many as one-third of businesses in New York City have failed or been severely constrained.
The monuments to corporate branding — the Guccis and Pradas — that line so many of the desolate retail corridors in Manhattan are essentially absent here. In the 1980s and ’90s, this part of Atlantic Avenue was given over to modest antiques stores serving a new population of first-time homeowners restoring brownstones in Boerum Hill.
The newcomers brought with them not only money, but also the locavore values of liberal affluence.
They were happy to shop in places that distinguished their tastes as artful. “Through all of this, the neighbors have been so aware of how important it is to support us,” said Michele Varian, who moved her interior design store from SoHo to Atlantic Avenue in January 2020.
The intimacy extends, crucially, to landlords, who in several cases have held these properties for decades.
“In March I called my landlord, freaking out,” Eva Dayton told me. Ms. Dayton, who owns Consignment Brooklyn, a vintage clothing store, has had the same landlord for 17 years. “He is like my dad,” she said. “His response when I called him was ‘I am here to help you be successful.’” He forgave three months of rent.
Just before the pandemic, she had started a text group for 12 like-minded women who own stores on the block.
“We went through all of Covid together, texting each other every day about 500 things — P.P.P. loans, snow shoveling,” Ms. Dayton said. “We talk about everything. ‘You guys are having a sale? Maybe we’ll have a sale.’”
In December, the Center for an Urban Future, a policy organization, issued its 13th annual study of national retailers in New York City. It found by far the biggest overall decline in the number of chain stores; more than 1,000 of them, or approximately one out of seven, had disappeared during the preceding 12 months.
The lessons would seem obvious — that neighborhoods do best when they evolve organically in sync with the people who live in them. They cannot be manufactured as if real life were Minecraft. And in the micro sense there are hopeful signs: landlords tying rents to percent of sales, banks slowly becoming more flexible in their financing.
Yes, I miss going out to restaurants and concerts, and traveling, but above all I miss going to a friend’s house and hanging out. I miss browsing through someone else’s cluttered bookshelf, or admiring their décor. Of all the layers of life that have been stripped away by this pandemic, the loss of casual intimacy — time with a friend that’s not masked and outdoors and crowded with worry — takes a toll.
Now that vaccines are rolling out, the prospect of a post-pandemic life has started to become worth imagining. When will we readily have house guests again without worrying about contributing to the spread of this disease? What might those visits look like?
Perhaps we will quickly return to our old habits. Or maybe a new normal will take shape, one influenced by the troubling new variants of the virus that threaten to undermine vaccination efforts.
I spoke with historians and health experts to learn when we might be able to safely spend a weekend with friends again, and what that get-together will look like.
“By the time we get into late spring, summer, I fully expect, with a large proportion of adults vaccinated, things will be dramatically better,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“We’re not done by a long shot, and if everything goes well, and I mean everything,” then we may see normalcy resume by the end of 2021, said Dr. Ingrid Katz, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an infectious-disease specialist. She sees the summer as more of a test case for the fall. She anticipates that gatherings will still happen mostly outside, but masks might come down more readily.
After the 1918 influenza pandemic, Americans went shopping, traveled, and attended sporting events, movies and concerts. Christopher Nichols, an associate professor of history at Oregon State University who studies that period, anticipates that Americans could go big after this pandemic, too.
Initially, our gatherings may be about “going small,” he said — a dinner party for four, a weekend trip with your best friend. “I suspect we’ll be taking baby steps” back to a normal social life.
Nearly a year of staying within four walls can wreak havoc on anyone’s mental health. But those living in the tiny homes that gained popularity about a decade ago — designed to erase debt, constraints and other limitations — have faced some significant burdens. They can’t store large amounts of food, toilet paper and other necessities; they live in very small spaces; and many who relied on showers at gyms lost access to those facilities because of lockdowns.
“When the pandemic began, our tiny home started to feel a whole lot smaller,” said Nicoll Davis, who had been living and traveling full time in her 7-foot-by-16-foot cargo trailer with her husband, Jake, enjoying all the luxuries that come along with tiny home life: a house that can travel anywhere and the financial freedom to do whatever she wanted.
Now, she added, “you feel trapped.”
In 2019, EcoSmart Builders, which is based in Southern California, had a 101 percent year-over-year increase in sales for their accessory dwelling units, the official name for their tiny homes. In 2020, the company ended the year with a 177 percent increase in sales.
“Whether they function as a guesthouse, entertainment room, home office — they’re a great option as families are spending more time together at home due to the pandemic,” said Freddie Zamani, the company’s chief executive.
But those who moved into tiny homes to live in exclusively are facing big challenges.
Initially, Ms. Davis said, she felt safe and protected within her small space. She and her husband were at Cosmic Campground in the Gila National Forest of western New Mexico when a ranger announced one day last March that the campgrounds were closing. They had 60 minutes to pack up and find a new place to stay.
Ms. Davis moved her cargo trailer to camp off the grid at a different location in the National Forest, but her problems didn’t dissipate. She was lucky, because while she had no access to water or power, she was able to switch to solar power and a generator.
But since she has only a mini-fridge and minimal storage space, Ms. Davis had to run to the supermarket often despite stay-at-home orders.
“Grocery stores were empty a lot of the time, and it was hard to get what we needed, including toilet paper,” she said. “It’s been a struggle.”
For many Americans, pizza has checked many boxes during these strange times, primarily because it travels well and can easily feed — sometimes fairly inexpensively — an entire family. Over the first nine months of 2020, the combined revenue of Domino’s and Papa John’s was up on the previous year’s figures by the equivalent of about 30 million large cheese pizzas.
Restaurants across the country have struggled to stay afloat, with many unable to cover rent and pay employees because of government-mandated shutdowns, but those that dished up pizza have generally fared better. Sales of pizza grew as much as 4 percent last year, according to Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. Pizza and chicken are the only food categories expected to have grown.
“The pizza category as a whole was a big winner,” said Sara Senatore, an analyst who covers restaurants at Bernstein. Ms. Senatore noted that it may have become a go-to meal for families that found themselves on a tight budget because of falling wages or lost jobs.
For large chains like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and the privately held Little Caesars, the pandemic proved to be a sales boon. The four controlled 43 percent of the $44 billion U.S. market heading into the pandemic, according to Technomic. Some analysts say the big chains, most of which have not reported fourth-quarter earnings yet, almost assuredly gained more market share than independent parlors because their size allowed them to better navigate issues like paying rising prices for cheese and other ingredients, hiring additional help or covering rent after particularly lean weeks.
For the first nine months of last year, combined revenues at Domino’s and Papa John’s increased almost 12 percent, or $434 million. Pizza Hut’s revenues for the same period were down a tad from 2019’s levels. The chain was in the middle of a turnaround plan when Covid-related closings and restrictions came in. Even frozen pizza performed well during the pandemic, with sales climbing nearly 21 percent to more than $6 billion, according to NielsenIQ.
As demand soared during the pandemic, Domino’s rushed to hire 30,000 people; ramped up its production of fresh dough; and faced occasional shortages of ingredients as meat producers shut down because of coronavirus outbreaks in their facilities. Television commercials, which normally take months to plan and shoot, were reshot in a matter of days to feature delivery drivers wearing masks.
NEW ORLEANS — Since the first Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1857, elaborate floats have paraded through the city on the last Tuesday before Lent. Thousands of people fill the streets, and marching bands and dance teams come from all over to perform. Artists and organizers spend months preparing, and the event typically brings the city millions of dollars in tourism and other revenue.
This year, bars are closed and parades are canceled. But the city was not ready to give up. Soon after the cancellation was announced in late November, one New Orleans resident, Megan Boudreaux, said on Twitter: “It’s decided. We’re doing this. Turn your house into a float and throw all the beads from your attic and your neighbors walking by.”
The idea took off, and float artists, carpenters and others began working on homes almost immediately.
Ms. Boudreaux said there were roughly 3,000 house floats in the greater New Orleans area.
“I think it just really speaks to how desperate people have been for something positive to look forward to,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if your budget is zero and you’re recycling cardboard boxes, or whether your budget is tens of thousands of dollars and you’ve got a mansion on St. Charles. We want everyone who wants to do this to participate.”
The floats won’t all be celebratory. Some will pay tribute to members of the Mardi Gras Indians, known for their elaborate hand-sewn suits, who have died. The community is Black, and its traditions are rooted in African culture. As it did in other parts of the country, the virus battered Black households in New Orleans.
For René Píerre, who has worked as a Mardi Gras float artist for 34 years, house floats brought hope for him and his wife, Inez, who had already lost her job as a mental health specialist when the parades were canceled. Mr. Píerre has worked on 60 house floats in greater New Orleans.
At a house with a float dedicated to the performer Dolly Parton, Inez Píerre leaned on the fence and watched as workers put large painted panels in place.
“Sometimes I have to sit and think about how easily tradition changes,” she said. “We’re a part of it; our names are down in the books. This is a dream come true.”
Annie Flanagan and
Those We’ve Lost
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
Dr. David Katzenstein may have been a dreamer, “with sometimes brilliant and sometimes slightly off-the-wall ideas,” one colleague said recently. But from the beginning, in a biosphere spawning new undetected and unconstrained killers, he was no ivory-tower researcher regarding the world through a microscope.
After medical school, he interned at the University of New Mexico, where his work with Indigenous peoples developed into an abiding commitment to help underserved populations prevent and deal with infectious diseases.
For 35 years, as a virologist and clinician, he not only helped advance the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of H.I.V. and AIDS; he also made those techniques available to middle- and low-income patients in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Katzenstein, who was professor emeritus of infectious diseases and global health at Stanford Medicine in California, died on Jan. 25 in Harare, Zimbabwe. He was 69. The cause was Covid-19, his stepdaughter, Melissa Sanders-Self, said.
“Imbued with a passionate belief in social justice, David Katzenstein had an outsized impact on the fight against H.I.V. in sub-Saharan Africa,” Dr. Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford University medical school, said in a statement.
While at the University of California, the International Antiviral Society-USA said, Dr. Katzenstein established a relationship with the medical microbiology department at the University of Zimbabwe’s medical school and became “one of the first U.S.-based H.I.V. researchers to commit to working in this region of the world.”
In 1989, he joined the Stanford faculty as a clinical assistant professor of infectious diseases and was named the associate medical director of Stanford’s AIDS Clinical Trial Unit, which conducted research, including clinical trials, into antiretroviral drugs that extended the lives of people with H.I.V.
He focused on the challenges posed by resistance to antiviral H.I.V. drugs and was among the first researchers to publicize the problem in Africa.
In Zimbabwe, he directed the Biomedical Research and Training Institute in Harare, where he trained clinical researchers and introduced modern diagnostic and monitoring techniques to community health programs.
When temperatures in Kansas City, Mo., plunged into the single digits a little more than a week ago and stayed there, the coldest arctic blast of the season, Jae Bennett looked into the eyes of people waiting outside his daytime shelter for the homeless because the squat, brown building was full.
“I said, ‘Screw it, just come in,’” said Mr. Bennett, who founded a nonprofit organization, Street Medicine Kansas City, six years ago. “What’s the option? Follow the health code for Covid, or put them in the cold and let them die?”
Cold weather and the nation’s homeless crisis have long been a fatal mix that community advocates and public officials have struggled to address. But this winter, the coronavirus has added a dangerous new complication as cities and community groups wrestle with how to shelter members of a vulnerable population from the elements while not exposing them to an airborne virus that spreads most easily indoors.
The calculation has taken on greater urgency in recent days as arctic weather freezes large areas in the middle of the country, from Minnesota to Texas, with wind chills expected to dip as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.
Officials in Ramsey County, Minn., which includes St. Paul, have set up shelters in a vacant hospital and a vacant seminary dormitory so that they can better distance homeless residents from one another. Chicago officials have used former school buildings as well as Salvation Army and Y.M.C.A. locations. New Life Center, a nonprofit rescue mission in Fargo, N.D., outfitted an abandoned warehouse. And in Kansas City, where the weather on Monday is forecast to be a low of minus 14 degrees, officials have converted the downtown convention center.
Kansas City typically spends $1.5 million a year on homeless services, according to a city spokesman. But this year, with the help of federal relief funds, it plans to spend $8.5 million on programs that include paying for hotel rooms to house families and providing financial assistance to prevent evictions.
At the urging of local activists, city officials opened a temporary shelter, with a capacity of 65 people, at a community center in mid-January. The number who showed up quickly exceeded that, and city leaders had a difficult call to make.
So they allowed the shelter to operate over capacity.