As New York City begins to open, some businesses take tentative steps to return.
The lights are back on in neighborhood stores, the lines are longer at dollar-coffee carts, and the steady hum of construction is returning to the background noise.
Exactly 100 days since its first case of coronavirus was confirmed, New York City, where more than 205,000 have been infected and nearly 22,000 have died, took the first tentative steps toward reopening on Monday.
As many as 400,000 workers could begin returning to construction jobs, manufacturing sites and retail stores for curbside and in-store pickup in the city’s first phase of reopening — a surge of normalcy that seemed almost inconceivable several weeks ago, when the city’s hospitals were at a breaking point and as many as 800 people were dying from Covid-19 on a single day.
“We’ve been home for two months, going a little stir crazy,” said Anthony Gianfrancesco, 45, a construction shop steward, as he waited to have his temperature checked before he could get back to work.
Officials said they were optimistic that the city would begin to spring back to life, but the road back will be challenging. More than 885,000 jobs vanished during the outbreak, and strong gains are not expected for the city until 2022. The city budget hemorrhaged tax revenue and now faces a $9 billion shortfall over the next year.
The beginning of the reopening process also provides the first major test for New York City’s public transit system, which was all but abandoned when the pandemic swept across the region. Transit officials predict that as many as 15 percent of usual riders — or 825,000 people — are likely to ride the system during the first phase of the recovery. But the social-distancing practices New Yorkers have adopted in recent weeks may be impossible on subways and buses.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo rode the subway’s 7 line on Monday morning, and sounded an optimistic note at a news conference afterward.
“We’re not out of the woods, but we are on the other side, certainly,” he said. “If the subway isn’t safe for me, then I wouldn’t ask anyone else go on the subway.”
With concerns about crowding on public transit, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that the city would add more bus lanes and close some streets to cars, to allow buses to move more quickly, though it was not as many miles as the transit agency had requested.
The mayor and other officials warned that the virus still lingered, and that residents would need to continue being cautious. “We’re still in what I would say is a moderate transmission phase,” said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner. “Meaning that there are still on a daily basis, hundreds of people that are newly diagnosed.”
The reopening has also been complicated by the vast, mostly peaceful protests for racial justice that have swept the city, and the country, for more than a week, forcing government officials and business owners to unexpectedly adjust their plans because of looting and other damage. The governor reiterated his message to protesters to get tested and to consider themselves exposed to the virus until they did so. He also urged police officers to wear masks after photos of protests showed that many were not.
“I think New York City needs a week or two of healing before a week or two of selling,” said Ken Giddon, a co-owner with his brother of Rothmans, a small clothing chain with a flagship near Union Square.
As some of the wealthiest health care companies in the United States received billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to help them cope with lost revenue from the pandemic, they laid off or cut the pay of tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and lower-paid workers, while continuing to pay their top executives millions.
The New York Times analyzed tax and securities filings by 60 of the country’s largest hospital chains, which have received a total of more than $15 billion in emergency funds through the economic stimulus package in the federal CARES Act.
The hospitals — including publicly traded juggernauts like HCA and Tenet Healthcare, elite nonprofits like the Mayo Clinic, and regional chains with thousands of beds and billions in cash — are collectively sitting on tens of billions of dollars of cash reserves that are supposed to help them weather an unanticipated storm. They awarded their five highest-paid officials about $874 million in the most recent year for which they have disclosed their finances.
At least 36 of those hospital chains have laid off, furloughed or reduced the pay of employees as they try to save money during the pandemic.
More than a dozen workers at the wealthy hospitals said in interviews that their employers had put the heaviest financial burdens on front-line staff, including low-paid cafeteria workers, janitors and nursing assistants. They said pay cuts and furloughs made it even harder for members of the medical staff to do their jobs, forcing them to treat more patients in less time.
The bailout money, which hospitals received from the Health and Human Services Department without having to apply for it, came with few strings attached.
Katherine McKeogh, a department spokeswoman, said it “encourages providers to use these funds to maintain delivery capacity by paying and protecting doctors, nurses and other health care workers.” The legislation restricts hospitals’ ability to use the bailout funds to pay top executives, although it doesn’t stop recipients from continuing to award large bonuses.
Thirty-nine of the 40 largest known coronavirus clusters in the United States are in food processing or correctional facilities, according to a New York Times database. As the number of new cases in the country has plateaued at around 20,000 each day, major clusters have continued to emerge in prisons, jails and meatpacking plants.
Around Austin, Minn., where cases have grown to 504 from 36 a month ago, at least 186 cases have been tied to a local pork processing facility. In Kings County, Calif., at least 918 people have been infected at three state prisons, accounting for more than half the county’s total cases. And in northern Utah, the site of an outbreak at a meat processing plant, case numbers have exploded over the past week.
“The health department staff is making every effort to get ahead of this outbreak and reduce the spread of Covid-19, but resources are strained,” the Bear River Health Department said in a statement about the Utah outbreak. Lloyd Berentzen, the agency’s health director, added that “we plead with you to maintain physical distancing when possible.”
In Dodge County, Wis., where there are 400 total cases, at least 245 people have tested positive at Waupun Correctional Institution. And in the county that includes Storm Lake, Iowa, case numbers have grown to 1,142 from 18 over the course of a month. At least 591 employees of a Tyson plant in that city have tested positive.
Here are other developments from around the United States:
There are some hopeful signs in the data. In most of the Northeast, infection numbers continue to fall. Parts of the Midwest, including Illinois and Ohio, have seen new case reports trend steadily downward. And some of the counties with the most cases per capita — including Cass County, Ind., the site of a large meatpacking outbreak, and Trousdale County, Tenn., where more than 1,300 people at a prison became ill — have reported fewer than 10 new cases in June.
Casinos along the Las Vegas Strip reopened their doors last week to a flood of visitors, masked and unmasked but equally eager to test their luck after a 78-day hiatus. Gov. Steve Sisolak says he is confident that “every precaution possible” has been taken to protect public health. But figuring out when and where people contract the virus and then quickly tracing their contacts poses a particular challenge in Las Vegas, where guests outnumbered residents by 20 to 1 last year.
Travelers to Britain must now quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
A 14-day quarantine period for all travelers arriving in Britain came into force on Monday, to the anger of the country’s travel industry and amid doubts over the practicality of the new rules.
Under the system, those entering Britain by air, ferry or train will have to provide an address at which they will isolate for 14 days, with a fine of up to 1,000 pounds, or about $1,200, for violations.
During the early stages of the pandemic the British government rejected the idea of quarantine, but the home secretary, Priti Patel, argued that the rules are now needed to stop the risk of importing a second wave of infections.
However, the restrictions begin at a time when some other European nations are starting to relax theirs. And quarantine will apply to those arriving from countries with much lower infection rates — including people from New Zealand, which has declared itself virus-free.
Several groups of travelers are exempt, including truck drivers, medical workers, fruit pickers and anyone arriving from Ireland. But some critics doubt that the government has the resources to enforce the restrictions.
“I think people in the U.K. know that the quarantine is useless, it is a political stunt,” Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair told Sky News. Ryanair is one of three airlines that have sent a letter to the government disputing the legality of the plans.
“These measures are disproportionate and unfair on British citizens as well as international visitors arriving in the U.K.,” British Airways, easyJet, and Ryanair said in a statement.
Ministers are also under political pressure and the government says it is holding negotiations over the creation of “travel corridors” that might allow Britons to travel to and from continental Europe without the need for quarantine.
Disease specialists have their own timelines for returning to normal life.
Many epidemiologists are already comfortable going to the doctor, socializing with small groups outside or bringing in mail, despite the virus. But unless there’s an effective vaccine or treatment first, it will be more than a year before many say they will be willing to go to concerts, sporting events or religious services. And some may never greet people with hugs or handshakes again.
These are the personal opinions of a group of 511 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists who were asked by The New York Times when they expect to resume 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the pandemic and the public health response unfold as they expect.
Their answers are not guidelines for the public, and incorporate respondents’ individual life circumstances, risk tolerance and expectations about when there will be widespread testing, contact tracing, treatment and vaccination for Covid-19. They said it’s these things that will determine their actions, because the virus sets the timeline.
“The answers have nothing to do with calendar time,” said Kristi McClamroch of the University at Albany.
Crowds will gather again in New Zealand’s restaurants. Weddings will include as many hugs and guests as the happy couple wants — and even social distancing will not be needed.
New Zealand has no active virus cases and no new cases, officials announced Monday, declaring that life could now return to a form of pre-pandemic normal.
“While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, adding: “Thank you, New Zealand.”
The country of five million people is one of only a few nations that appear to have eradicated the virus, at least for now. Iceland is another.
Ms. Ardern, who led an approach she described as “go hard go early” — with a severe lockdown that began in late March — said the country could now focus on economic recovery and boosting local businesses.
“Retail is back without limitation,” she said. “Hospitality is back without limitation; public transport and travel across the country is fully open.”
The return to freedom of movement, however, is not quite complete. With the pandemic continuing to rage elsewhere, the country’s borders are still locked down. Plans for a travel bubble with Australia are in the works, but moving slowly.
Ms. Ardern also announced that QR codes would be appearing wherever people gather. She asked businesses to remind people to scan the codes into the government’s contact tracing app to make any future outbreak easier to track and isolate.
“This is a key new habit we’re asking all New Zealanders to adopt,” she said.
Here are other developments from around the world.
The chief minister of New Delhi, India’s capital, is isolating himself after developing symptoms of the virus, prompting concern that it could be spreading among the country’s top-ranking officials. Arvind Kejriwal, initially complained of mild fever on Saturday. Officials of the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man Party, which Mr. Kejrawal heads, said he is also diabetic, and that doctors had advised him to self-isolate before he undergoes a Covid-19 test on Tuesday.
The Polish Health Ministry reported 1,151 new cases over the weekend, a record for the country. More than half came from the Silesia region in southwest Poland, an area famous for its coal mines, and many were linked to the Zofiowka mine. Nearly 1,150 workers there were infected, out of a crew of 3,470, the mine said. The minister of state assets, Jacek Sasin, said at a news conference on Monday that 12 of 20 Silesian coal mines will close for three weeks.
Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended sweeping changes to American offices, companies are preparing elaborate new routines intended to keep employees healthy.
In many cases, the changes will transform workaday offices into fortified sites resembling biohazard labs.
At Cisco, for example, employees will have to log into an app every day and answer several questions about their health. Those cleared by the app can head to the office, where they will face a temperature check. Anyone with a fever will be sent home.
Simply complying with the C.D.C. suggestions will present major hurdles for many companies, especially those in skyscrapers and dense urban centers.
For example, the agency recommends limiting elevator use to maintain social distancing. Some companies lease space in crowded office buildings, sharing elevators with many other tenants.
Even for companies that occupy entire buildings, elevators are a vexing problem.
“It can’t be two people per elevator in a high rise. That’s not just feasible,” said Rob Falzon, a vice chairman at Prudential, which occupies several large buildings in Newark. “It would take us two to three hours just to get everyone in.”
One possible solution? Prudential is considering putting ultraviolet lighting in elevators so surfaces are continuously disinfected.
In April, for the second time in a month, top business leaders sat down with Mexico’s president to implore him to do more to save the economy.
People were losing jobs by the tens of thousands, they warned. Small and medium-size companies, which employ more than 70 percent of the Mexican work force, were running out of cash. The government needed to intervene, they argued. The data was irrefutable.
“I have other data,” shrugged the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, according to two businesspeople with direct knowledge of that conversation. “You do whatever you think you need to do, and I’ll do what I need to do.”
Across the globe, governments have rushed to pump cash into flailing economies, hoping to stave off the pandemic’s worst financial fallout.
In Mexico, no such rescue effort has come. The pandemic could lead to an economic reckoning worse than anything Mexico has seen in perhaps a century. More jobs were lost in April than were created in all of 2019. A recent report by a government agency said as many as 10 million people could fall into poverty this year.
Hostile toward bailouts, loath to take on public debt and deeply mistrustful of most business leaders, Mexico’s president has opted largely to sit tight despite what is expected to be widespread pain up and down the economic ladder.
Even though the number of new deaths from the virus has been decreasing, the legacy of the pandemic in the United States is already bound up in nursing homes. More than 40 percent of the fatalities in the country have been tied to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Burlington Health & Rehab Center, ranked by regulators last year as one of Vermont’s worst nursing homes, is part of Genesis HealthCare, a for-profit chain with a spotty record and almost 400 nursing homes and long-term care facilities in 25 states.
The New York Times tracked an outbreak at Burlington, following who lived and who died, interviewing family members and listening to their conference calls with the facility’s administrators. What emerged is an intimate account of how the virus moved through a nursing home, how operators struggled to subdue it, and how residents’ families split over their performance and the outcome.
During a pandemic, a technological lifeline.
The pandemic has caused the way we communicate to evolve, and our relationship with technology is being pushed into new territory. Although states are slowly reopening, much of our professional and personal lives will continue to be lived almost entirely online for the foreseeable future.
Reporting was contributed by Azam Ahmed, Kim Barker, Jo Becker, Quoctrung Bui, Stephen Castle, Damien Cave, Jesse Drucker, David Enrich, David Gelles, J. David Goodman, Michael Gold, Anatol Magdziarz, Claire Cain Miller, Margot Sanger-Katz, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Sameer Yasir, Karen Zraick.