Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

A big test of vaccine mandates.

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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

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Daily reported coronavirus cases in the U.S., seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

President Biden received a booster shot on Monday.

The U.S. experienced its biggest one-year increase on record in murders in 2020, which roughly coincided with the pandemic.

Costco will limit sales of toilet paper and water because of “Delta-related demand.”

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

Stress testing vaccine mandates

In an early test of employer mandates in the U.S., tens of thousands of health care workers in New York are at risk of losing their jobs today if they don’t get vaccinated.

Roughly 90 percent of the state’s 600,000 health care workers have already received at least one shot. The remaining workers have until 11:59 p.m. to get a dose.

“It’s almost like a game of chicken,” said our colleague Sharon Otterman, who covers the pandemic in New York. “Health systems, in the middle of a nurse shortage, in the middle of a pandemic, are risking further staff shortages. And on the health care workers side, some are asking, ‘How strongly held are my fears about the vaccine, and am I willing to give up my job for it?'”

In some states, like California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Illinois, workers have the option to be tested regularly if they choose not to get inoculated. But in New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Oregon and the District of Columbia, health care workers must get vaccinated to remain employed, unless they have approved exemptions.

Experts have called vaccine mandates a straightforward way for health care workers to prevent new waves of infection, and to persuade doubters to get vaccinated. But a vocal minority of New York’s health care workers have resisted the order because they are worried about potential side effects, or because they say it violates their personal freedom.

Covid-19 vaccines have proven to be highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections, severe illness and death. Side effects of the vaccine, if any, tend to be minor and short-lived.

New York officials are now bracing for possible staffing disruptions at health care facilities. Gov. Kathy Hochul said last week that she might declare a state of emergency and deploy the National Guard. She also floated the idea of recruiting temporary workers from the Philippines or Ireland.

There are at least eight lawsuits against the state’s mandate, and another mandate — for adults working at New York City’s public schools — was delayed by a federal court last week.

Health care employers, however, are forging ahead, telling unvaccinated workers without approved exemptions not to report for duty tomorrow, or giving their employees unpaid leave to think about it.

“The question is, Are they going to bend?” Sharon said. “So far, it looks like a lot of people are coming in at the last minute. Health care systems all saw big upticks in their vaccination percentages over the last weekend, with thousands of people getting vaccinated.”

For some workers, it’s still 2020

In many workplaces, the conversation about Covid has begun to move away from alarm and toward a safe future.

But at fast food restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses, nursing homes and anywhere else frontline workers show up every day, it remains late 2020 in many ways. A deep schism has taken hold. Workers nervous about the virus find themselves at the mercy of customers who aren’t.

Conditions are especially tense in states with low vaccination rates, like Louisiana.

“Every day is frightening,” said Peter Naughton, a Walmart cashier and self-checkout host, who lives in Baton Rouge, La.

“If I ask people to wear a mask or socially distance at work, they get mad and tell the manager,” Naughton said, adding, “Then I have to get coached. If you get coached too many times, you lose your job,” he said, referring to the company’s system for managing worker infractions.

Covid appears to have been good for Walmart’s bottom line: During the 2020 fiscal year, the company generated $559 billion in revenue, up $35 billion from the previous year. But labor activists say too little of that money has gone toward work force protections, which in turn has prolonged the pandemic.

In a May 2020 survey of nontemporary employees at Walmart conducted by United for Respect, a nonprofit labor advocacy group, nearly half said they had come into work sick or would do so, out of fear of retaliation. In an April 2021 report, the group found that if Walmart had a more robust paid sick-time policy, the company could have prevented at least 7,618 Covid cases and saved 133 lives.

What else we’re following

The global economy looks solid for now, but big challenges lie ahead.

Schools across the U.S. are struggling to feed students amid labor shortages.

Sydney, Australia, may begin to lift restrictions in early October, three months after it locked down.

Norway lifted its pandemic restrictions after 561 days.

South Korea will soon start administering booster shots to medical workers and people in their 60s and older.

Morgues in Idaho are running out of room for bodies, The Washington Post reports.

The Crown Prince of Jordan has tested positive, Reuters reports.

Travel news

Nepal has reopened to tourists in a bid to revive its battered industry.

Like many small island nations, the Maldives are struggling to manage climate change and tourism shortages, The Associated Press reports.

U.S. travel rules appear to shut out recipients of Russia‘s Sputnik V vaccine, The Washington Post reports.

The Caribbean island of Montserrat is engaged in an audacious experiment to keep cash coming in and Covid away: long stays for high earners.

What you’re doing

Every day as I enter my school building, I give myself a pep talk. It will be OK, you are here for the students, the mask doesn’t matter, take things as they come, etc. It helps.

— Muriel Ventura, Long Island, N.Y.

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