Remote-Learning Issues Multiply for Disadvantaged American Students

Health care workers by a room where a Covid-19 patient needed to be put on a ventilator in Apple Valley, Calif., last week.
Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

The dark winter that American officials have warned about has arrived in Southern California.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, carols sung by members of the Los Angeles Opera have been replaced with a video by a street choir from Skid Row. So many patients are streaming into the hospital that gurneys have been placed in the gift shop, and the entire lobby is now a space to treat patients. The waiting room is a tent outside.

Health care workers at Providence St. Mary Medical Center are getting their first shots of a coronavirus vaccine to the sound of Christmas music. Yet the moment the needle leaves their arms, there is the next “code blue,” or the next FaceTime goodbye to arrange between a dying patient and a grieving family.

“Every day is scary,” said Lisa Thompson, an intensive care nurse at the hospital. “We can’t even keep up with the amount of patients coming into the hospital.”

In increasingly urgent tones this week, health officials and political leaders in Southern California have called on people to stay home for the holidays, desperately hoping to forestall another surge in infections, on top of the current crisis that came after Thanksgiving.

But so far very little has slowed the spread of the virus in the state, which became the first to reach two million recorded virus cases.

In Los Angeles County, a vast region whose population is roughly the size of Michigan’s, there are about 6,500 people hospitalized with Covid-19, a fourfold increase over the last month. The number of patients in intensive care units is close to 1,300, double what it was a month ago.

The county on Thursday reported 148 new deaths, the equivalent of about one every 10 minutes and its highest total during the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. Nearly every hospital has surged past its capacity.

But the availability of beds is not the most urgent concern. With so many employees falling sick or taking leave, hospitals are struggling to find enough workers.

Mindy Hickey, the quality director at St. Mary’s and a former nurse, has lately taken on shifts caring for patients in intensive care, on top of her administrative duties, sometimes working 23 hours in a day.

As the holiday season has collided with the height of the pandemic in the region, there is little joy for the health care workers on the front lines, who are bracing for the near certainty that things will only get worse.

“I can only imagine what is going to happen after Christmas and New Year’s if we don’t get the community educated on how to stay home and be safe,” said Ms. Thompson, the nurse at St. Mary’s.

Judging by what she sees in her community after another traumatizing day in the intensive care unit, she is not optimistic.

United States › United StatesOn Jan. 18 14-day change
New cases 142,588 –7%
New deaths 1,440 +21%

World › WorldOn Jan. 18 14-day change
New cases 521,539 +5%
New deaths 9,939 +21%

Where cases per capita are

Mya Janae, a fifth-grader, with the tablet she sometimes uses for distance learning in Covington, Wash.
Credit…Jovelle Tamayo for The New York Times

Disadvantaged students are much more likely than others to be engaged in remote schooling during the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the risk that less effective instruction will widen the achievement gap, according to the first comprehensive analysis of attendance patterns.

Using cellphone data to track movement to more than 100,000 schools, researchers at Columbia University found that classrooms that had closed were disproportionately composed of nonwhite students, as well as students with low math scores or limited English proficiency or who are poor enough to qualify for free meals.

About 58 percent of nonwhite students attend schools that rely heavily on remote learning, compared with 36 percent of white students. Remote learning is widely considered less successful than traditional classrooms, especially for younger children.

“Given the sheer magnitude of the students affected, this does not bode well,” said Zachary Parolin, the study’s lead author. “Inequality in learning outcomes is only more likely to grow.”

Others experts have warned that disadvantaged students often lack the support that remote learning requires, such as computer access, quiet study space and help from parents or tutors. The Columbia study shows how the students least equipped for virtual instruction are those most likely to have encountered it this year.

Consider the experience of Shereese Rhodes, a single mother in Kent, Wash., whose fifth grader, Mya Janae, has not returned to the classroom since the coronavirus closed her school in March.

Mya Janae, who had a long delay in learning to speak and suffers from impaired hearing, has never met the teachers on her screen, and her school-issued computers have not properly worked. Worried about lingering harm, Ms. Rhodes squeezed her budget to hire a tutor.

“She’s not designed for school like this,” Ms. Rhodes said. “There’s not time for her to ask questions. She has breakdowns and just cries about little things.”

While it remains unclear how much school closures will harm disadvantaged students, most experts are pessimistic.

NWEA, a nonprofit research group, warned in May that the spring school closures could cost students a third of their expected annual progress in reading and half of their expected progress in math. Data from Zearn, an online math program used by some schools, shows widening performance gaps, with progress among low-income students falling by 14 percent since January, even as it rose by 13 percent among high-income students.

A day before expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans, President Trump expressed more criticism on Friday of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill awaiting his signature that would extend them.

The sprawling economic relief package that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support would extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week on top of the usual state benefit.

If Mr. Trump signed the measure by sometime Saturday, states would still need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project, but unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits.

Further delays could prove more costly. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.

Duke guard Haley Gorecki is fouled on a shot by Texas A&M guard Shambria Washington during an N.C.A.A. women’s basketball game last season in College Station, Texas. 
Credit…Sam Craft/Associated Press

The women’s basketball program at Duke announced Friday that it would end its season early because of mounting coronavirus concerns.

“The student-athletes on the Duke women’s basketball team have made the difficult decision to conclude their current season due to safety concerns,” Michael Schoenfeld, the chief communications officer for the school, in Durham, N.C., said in the announcement.

Even before the announcement, Duke’s first-year head coach, Kara Lawson, previously said she did not think the team should be playing during the pandemic.

The team played only four games in the 2020-21 season, and had suspended operations on Dec. 16 after two members of the traveling party tested positive for the virus. The team was not scheduled to play again until next week.

A New York Times analysis published in early December showed that more than 6,600 college athletes, coaches and other personnel had tested positive for the coronavirus.

All other Duke sports, including men’s basketball, are expected to continue as usual.

The 2021 Division I women’s basketball tournament, which is expected to bring together 64 teams, is set to be held in March in one region.

Then & Now


CreditCredit…By Tamir Kalifa

As 2020 comes to a close, we are revisiting people whose lives were affected by the pandemic. When Edgar Sandoval first spoke with Johnny Salinas Jr. in July, the funeral home director was inundated with the bodies of coronavirus victims, including members of his own family.

ELSA, Texas — By late November, Johnny Salinas Jr., the owner of the Salinas Funeral Home, was physically and emotionally exhausted. He had spent the past several months burying hundreds of people who had died from complications of Covid-19. The numbers had finally begun to fall, he said, when the spouse of a relative stopped by his office to plan for yet another coronavirus-related funeral service.

The man assured him he had tested negative for the virus. Mr. Salinas took his mask off and shook the man’s hand.

“That’s all it took,” Mr. Salinas said on a recent day, while seated behind a plexiglass barrier on his desk. “The virus came into my home.”

Over the summer, virus cases overloaded hospitals and funeral homes in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. The death toll forced Mr. Salinas and other funeral home directors to bypass traditional services like velorios, viewings that sometimes last for days and are filled with sorrowful Spanish-language songs, prayers and physical affection.

Mr. Salinas had witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of the pandemic and yet, he said, “I let my guard down” that afternoon.

He tested positive in early December. Over the next few days, the virus spread to his wife, three young daughters, his mother and two brothers. He was most worried about his 57-year-old mother, he said, because she had been battling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other illnesses.

“Everybody got sick — it was crazy,” he said. “It was scary. When I first tested positive, I just started crying, like they had handed me a death sentence. I started thinking, I’m going to die, because of everything that we see here, so much death that we see from Covid.”

Mr. Salinas said he felt relieved when most members of his family overcame the virus by the third week of December. Most of them experienced mild to moderate symptoms, including sore throat, body chills and coughing, he said.

“I felt more guilty with my kids, because I said I could not live with myself if something was to happen to them,” he said of his daughters, ages 8, 4 and 3. “The lesson is, never let your guard down.”

Mr. Salinas said he began seeing a new spike in deaths after Thanksgiving. “People are gathering more, and that’s leading to more infections,” he said. “I was afraid I was going to see another surge, and it looks like it’s starting. It’s going to be a long and difficult winter.”

Experts at the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. noted that anaphylaxis seemed to be occurring at an unusual frequency so soon into the vaccine distribution.
Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

In the first reported case of a severe allergic reaction linked to Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, a Boston physician said his immune system went into revolt minutes after receiving one of the company’s shots on Thursday.

Dr. Hossein Sadrzadeh, a geriatric oncologist at Boston Medical Center, said he brought his EpiPen to his vaccine appointment because he has a severe shellfish allergy. Within minutes of the injection, he said, his heart rate spiked to 150 beats per minute, and his tongue prickled and went numb. Before long, he was drenched in a cold sweat and found himself feeling dizzy and faint. His blood pressure also plummeted dramatically, he said.

Dr. Sadrzadeh used his EpiPen and recovered at the hospital. But the serious reaction shook him.

“I don’t want anybody to go through that,” he said.

In a statement, David Kibbe, a spokesman for Boston Medical Center, confirmed that Dr. Sadrzadeh had received Moderna’s vaccine on Thursday. The statement said that Dr. Sadrzadeh “felt he was developing an allergic reaction and was allowed to self-administer his personal EpiPen. He was taken to the Emergency Department, evaluated, treated, observed and discharged. He is doing well today.”

Federal agencies are investigating at least six cases involving people who suffered anaphylaxis after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which contains similar ingredients, during the first few weeks of its distribution in the United States.

Officials with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had discussed the reactions involving some of the Pfizer cases, but have not determined whether an ingredient in the vaccine caused the allergic responses. A few health care workers in Britain also experienced anaphylaxis after receiving the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month.

Ray Jordan, a spokesman for Moderna, said on Friday that the company’s medical safety team would look into the episode, and he referred further questions to officials at Operation Warp Speed, the federal program overseeing vaccine distribution.

The allergic reactions linked to Pfizer’s very similar vaccine prompted heated discussions during advisory panel discussions held this month by the F.D.A. and the C.D.C., with experts noting that anaphylaxis seemed to be occurring at an unusual frequency so soon into distribution. (Under normal circumstances, allergic reactions to vaccines are thought to occur at a rate of about one in a million.)

With more than 1.1 million injections already delivered into arms across the country, severe allergic reactions remain a rarity, and should not prompt concern in most people, said Dr. Merin Kuruvilla, an allergist and immunologist at Emory University.

“This should not deter people who are not obviously at increased risk,” she said.

The efficacy rate announced by Turkey could not be immediately verified independently. Turkey, which has has among the worst infection rates in the world, has signed a deal for 50 million doses of the vaccine.
Credit…Emrah Gurel/Associated Press

Turkish officials announced on Thursday that a vaccine from the Chinese company Sinovac had an efficacy rate of 91.25 percent, but the finding was based on very preliminary results from a small Phase 3 trial and none of the data was published in a journal or posted online.

A total of 7,371 volunteers were involved in the trial, but the efficacy data was based only on 1,322 participants, of whom 752 got a real vaccine and 570 got a placebo.

Those are relatively small numbers, raising questions about the certainty of the Turkish officials’ conclusions. By contrast, Pfizer and BioNTech’s data was based on 36,523 participants and their vaccine showed an efficacy rate of 95 percent.

Serhat Unal, an infectious diseases expert who presented the Turkish data, said that 26 of the volunteers who received the placebo developed Covid-19, while only three of the vaccinated volunteers did. None of the data was shared in written form. Sinovac did not issue a public statement about the trial, nor did it comment on the trial in Brazil.

Turkey has signed a deal with Sinovac for 50 million doses of the vaccine, the first three million of which are scheduled to arrive on Monday, according to Fahrettin Koca, the country’s health minister. He said Turkey would also get 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of March, with around one million doses expected at the end of January.

The Sinovac vaccine, CoronaVac, is made from killed coronaviruses, a traditional method. Dead viruses cannot make people sick, but they can provoke the immune system to make antibodies that can provide long-term protection against live viruses.

Sinovac published encouraging results from clinical trials in November, and then moved on to Phase 3 trials in Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey, three countries with high virus rates.

Health officials in Brazil said on Wednesday that CoronaVac had passed safety and efficacy tests that would pave the way for its use in Brazil, but they put off releasing detailed data from the trials underlying those findings, citing a contractual agreement with Sinovac.

Dimas Covas, the director of Butantan Institute, which ran the trials, said a joint announcement could happen within two weeks.

Those We’ve Lost

Jose Garcia was hospitalized with Covid-19 and the only family member who could visit was one of his daughters — Carolina Garcia, a nurse at the hospital.
Credit…Nathan J Fish – USA TODAY NETWORK

Nearly 330,000 Americans have died in the coronavirus pandemic as new cases explode across the nation — a grim human toll that can feel lost in the numbers.

But a haunting photo showing a masked nurse caressing the face of an elderly man in a hospital bed with her blue-gloved hand has gone viral — because the patient, Jose Garcia, was the nurse’s father.

Mr. Garcia, 68, a longtime farmworker in New Mexico, died on Dec. 15. The cause was complications of Covid-19, said the daughter who tended him, Carolina Garcia, one of his nine children.

At 17, he immigrated to the United States from Mexico and immediately started working at Cervantes Enterprises, a chile plant in Vado, N.M. He worked there for more than 50 years, most recently as a tractor driver in the fields, until Nov. 2, the day he tested positive for the coronavirus, Ms. Garcia said.

Ms. Garcia, a nurse at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, N.M., for 12 years, was the only family member who was able to visit her father once he was hospitalized, on Nov. 6. She did so daily. Other members of his large clan often gathered outside his hospital room window to pray for his recovery and wait for news.

As weeks passed and Mr. Garcia’s condition worsened, Ms. Garcia said she felt compelled to tell her father, “If you’re tired and you feel that you just can’t anymore, it’s OK to let go.”

Tennessee has reported the country’s most cases per 100,000 people on average over the last seven days. Gov. Bill Lee has refused to enforce a mask mandate, but an employee at a Memphis grocery store wears a mask as he hauls shopping carts.
Credit…Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

As many Americans are winding down for the holidays, an explosion of coronavirus cases and deaths across the nation is hitting with perilous force, particularly in the South, which avoided much of the fall surge.

Six Southern states have seen sustained case increases in the last week: Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.

Tennessee reported the country’s most cases per 100,000 people on average over the last seven days, and Alabama set a single-day death record for the state on Wednesday, with 135, according to a New York Times database. In Florida, a virus surge in the past week means cases could soon surpass the state’s summer peak.

These increases are not just indicative of more testing. Florida’s more than 20 percent rise in cases over the last two weeks matches the growth in hospitalizations, although far fewer residents are hospitalized now than in the summer. In Texas, which has also had an upswing of more than 20 percent over the same time period, Dallas County has added more than 15,000 cases in the last week, a record.

A somber holiday season comes as the national death toll surpassed 326,000 on Thursday, more than any other country. More than 3,400 deaths were reported on Thursday, the second-highest daily total of the pandemic.

Credit…Julie Bennett/Associated Press

In Tennessee, home to six of the nation’s 20 metropolitan areas with the most recent cases per capita, frontline medical workers say hospitals are overwhelmed with virus patients.

Dr. Jason Martin, a critical care specialist outside Nashville, said the intensive care unit where he works has been at or near capacity for weeks, an unsustainable level compounded by lax state public health restrictions. Although Gov. Bill Lee recently placed some limitations on indoor public gatherings, he has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate. That has left many rural counties, where officials have resisted imposing mask requirements, more vulnerable to the virus.

But Dr. Martin said his patients have little doubt about the seriousness of the coronavirus. “The people who come in, they believe, by the time they’ve gotten to me,” he said. Many of his patients have expressed regret about their decisions, like going to a relative’s funeral or socializing with people who showed no symptoms.

“What makes this so maddening is that we know how to stop it,” Dr. Martin said, “and we choose not to.”

“I cannot place myself ahead of others, letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity,” Pope Francis said on Friday.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ROME — Pope Francis on Friday called on world leaders, businesses and international organizations to help ensure that the most vulnerable and needy have access to newly developed coronavirus vaccines.

In a year in which the pandemic plunged the world into economic and social uncertainty, the pope used his annual Christmas address to argue that widespread suffering should compel reflection on common humanity, including with how vaccine rollouts are handled.

“We cannot allow the various forms of nationalism closed in on themselves to prevent us from living as the truly human family that we are,” the pope said.

“Nor can we allow the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters,” he said. “I cannot place myself ahead of others, letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity.”

Nearly a quarter of the world’s population may not have access to a Covid-19 vaccine until at least 2022, according a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

Speaking from a hall inside the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican instead of to the tens of thousands usually gathered on St. Peter’s Square for the address, Francis said the world faced a “moment in history, marked by the ecological crisis and grave economic and social imbalances only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Throughout the past 10 months, Francis has said that the coronavirus offers humanity an opportunity to make sweeping changes and re-evaluate its priorities, remedying social injustice and the marginalization of the poor. In an encyclical — the most authoritative form of papal teaching — issued in October, he criticized the lack of global cooperation in response to the pandemic.

A theater in Le Havre, France, that was transformed into a coronavirus screening center. The country reported its first case of the new virus variant on Friday.
Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

France and Japan have reported their first cases of the coronavirus variant that prompted lockdowns in Britain and is feared to be more contagious than other strains.

France’s first reported case is a Frenchman who lives in England and returned to his home country on Dec. 19, The Associated Press reported. He tested positive for the variant on Christmas Day and is now isolating at home in the central city of Tours, without symptoms.

Also on Friday, Japan announced that five people tested positive for the new variant after arriving from Britain and being tested while under airport quarantine, the Kyodo news agency reported. They are all under 70, and all but one is asymptomatic.

The rapid spread of the virus variant — which may be more transmissible than others — led to the lockdown of London and southern England this week. Restrictions will expand further on Saturday, and a national lockdown has not been ruled out.

France and Japan are among dozens of countries around the world that have placed restrictions in recent days on travelers from Britain.

France on Wednesday lifted its 48-hour blockade of the English Channel, but a subsequent push to test thousands of travelers for the virus as a condition to enter the country has proved a logistical nightmare that the authorities are struggling to manage.

Japan on Thursday began barring certain travelers from the United Kingdom. Residents of Japan are still allowed to enter, but travelers on short-term business trips are no longer exempt from quarantine.

Hong Kong on Monday banned passenger flights from the United Kingdom, leaving thousands of students unable to return for the Christmas holiday. Health authorities in the Chinese territory say they are investigating what appear to be two cases of students who returned from Britain with the variant.

South Korea, which reported a record of 1,241 new coronavirus infections on Friday, banned flights from Britain from Wednesday until the end of the year.

A lift at  Squaw Valley, which has had only a trickle of skiers.
Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times

A trickle of skiers recently zigzagged down the slopes at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Couples and families wandered through the resort’s village, which was decorated with golden Christmas lights and frosted with snow.

It looked like the beginning of a merry season. But a closer inspection revealed it was anything but.

Restaurant patios were nearly empty as masked workers swept through with lime green disinfectant sprayers strapped to their backs, part of the $1 million that Squaw Valley has spent on sanitizing equipment and other safety measures. At ski lifts, sparse groups waited in socially distant lines. The resort felt “so dead,” said a skier, Sabrina Nottingham, partly because it was limiting ticket sales to fewer than 50 percent of the norm.

Squaw Valley, a marquee destination for winter sports enthusiasts, is one of many ski resorts across the country bracing for a highly unpredictable season. Forced to rethink how to operate in the coronavirus pandemic and with vaccines still rolling out, resorts have made a plethora of changes in places such as Aspen, Colo.; Park City, Utah; Taos Ski Valley, N.M.; and Killington, Vt. Many are setting visitor restrictions and requiring ticket reservations; New Mexico has limited resorts to 25 percent of capacity.

Resorts are also minimizing in-person interactions by installing kiosks for ticket pickups, adding space between people in line for ski lifts and gondolas, requiring masks, limiting the number of people on a lift at once and, in some places, shutting down indoor dining.

While the pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to the entire travel industry, ski resorts may feel a disproportionate impact this winter because of their short window of business. The ski industry already took a hit in the spring when the pandemic struck and many resorts had to close early, leading to $2 billion in losses and causing layoffs or furloughs of thousands of employees, according to the National Ski Areas Association, a trade group. The industry saw its lowest number of visits, 51 million, since the 2011-12 season, the association said.

Now resorts such as Squaw Valley are setting their expectations low for the new ski season.

“I don’t think that anybody in the business is looking to have this be their best year ever,” said Ron Cohen, the president of Squaw Valley and neighboring Alpine Meadows, which laid off 2,000 seasonal workers in the spring.

Others echoed that sentiment. Mike Pierce, a spokesman for Mount Rose Ski Tahoe, a resort in western Nevada, said the mind-set was “to just maintain status quo and survive.”

The Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on Christmas Eve.
Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

LONDON — It was one more reminder, delivered before dawn on Christmas morning, that Britain is not only an island nation, but one that finds itself increasingly alone.

A decision by the United States to require all airline passengers arriving from Britain to test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their departure, starting on Monday, was not so much a shock as it was another bitter pill in a somber holiday season.

There is the fast spread of a coronavirus variant feared to be more contagious, which government statistics indicate accounts for half of all cases currently in England. Dozens of nations have barred travelers from Britain from entering. Expanded lockdowns in the country will include 48 million people by Saturday. And thousands of trucks remain stranded along England’s coast even after France lifted a brief border blockade imposed over virus concerns.

Adding to the volatility was a last-minute Brexit deal with the European Union, which kept Britain from crashing out of the bloc without an agreement in place but was all the same a painful reminder of a decision that has divided the country.

Then there was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s holiday message, which warned against “snogging under the mistletoe.”

For an exhausted and exasperated British public, the usual amusements of the holiday season were hard to come by.

Even the queen’s annual Christmas speech became the subject of controversy when one national broadcaster, Channel 4, used the holiday to offer a “warning” about the dangers of “deep fake” videos by presenting a five-minute fake version of the address.

The real Queen Elizabeth II was separated from most of her family on Friday, spending Christmas at Windsor Castle with her husband, Prince Philip, rather than Sandringham, as is their usual tradition.

When she did address the nation, she offered some historical perspective, citing the example of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing born two centuries ago this year.

“Florence Nightingale shone a lamp of hope across the world,” the queen said. “Today, our frontline services still shine that lamp for us — supported by the amazing achievements of modern science — and we owe them a debt of gratitude. We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that even on the darkest nights, there is hope in the new dawn.”

Stockbridge, Mass. Governors throughout New England urged people to make safe choices during the holiday season.
Credit…Joseph Prezioso/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Lawmakers in Washington may be dueling over a stimulus bill, but governors across New England can all agree on one thing: Residents should reconsider their normal holiday gatherings.

“We know this about the virus — it doesn’t care who are you, where you are from, whether you are young or old, rich or poor, or a Democrat or Republican,” said Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts in a joint video with three other governors.

“It is a threat to all of us,” said Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont.

“No one wants Covid to be an uninvited guest during the holidays,” said Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.

Governors Baker, Scott and Sununu — all Republicans — along with Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, drew on the region’s hallmark Yankee attitude to urge residents to hold out a little longer in order to “be able to celebrate together next year.”

“Look, we’re all New Englanders,” said Mr. Baker.

“We are tough,” said Mr. Scott.

“We are resilient,” said Ms. Mills.

“Let’s prove it now more than ever,” Mr. Sununu said.

Coronavirus cases in the region have been largely trending downward since they hit an all-time high of 70,766 two weeks ago, the highest recorded number since the pandemic began. As of Thursday, there were 37,151 reported cases.

The one standout: Maine, which reported a record 748 new cases on Wednesday. Over the past week, there has been an average of 454 cases per day, an increase of 42 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, a Democrat, said that the state was over a spike in coronavirus cases caused by Thanksgiving gatherings and that “the most important thing you can do right now is stay close to home.”

“I’m scared maybe you’re going to go down to Fort Lauderdale and maybe have a little party on New Year’s Eve, then you fly back and pretty soon you’re going back to high school or something like that,” Mr. Lamont said. “That’s a real risk. So I’m urging with every bone in my body to be cautious a little bit longer. That’s how we get through this.”


Samanta Romanese, center, head of the “Books on the phone” initiative, assists a client in the Ubik Bookstore in Trieste, Italy, last week.
Credit…Francesca Volpi for The New York Times

Much as the pandemic has been a story of devastation and loss, it has also been one of resilience — of individual people, families and entire communities not only surviving a deadly threat but seeing in the moment a chance to serve others. We asked our correspondents around the world to share stories from this year that speak to the strength of the human spirit, and to how disruption can bring out the best in us.

When an Italian bookstore appealed for volunteers to read stories or poems to elderly and homebound people locked in by the virus, they figured a few bookworms might heed the call.

“We wanted to reach people who are isolated in this moment and might be feeling alone,” said Samanta Romanese, who works at the Ubik bookstore, a local institution in the northeastern seaport city of Trieste. She said she had been inspired by a story on social media about a Madrid librarian who was reading to the elderly during the pandemic.

The idea was that Ms. Romanese and her three co-workers — and with luck a few volunteers — would read to people for around 20 minutes over the phone during breaks, and on days off. “We were thinking small,” she said.

But the response was overwhelming.

After the bookstore issued its appeal late last month, more than 150 volunteers signed up. Some were Italians living as far away as the Netherlands and England. Some were members of a theater company that itself has been sidelined by the virus.

Ms. Romanese said she reached out to local health authorities, parishes, social services and the Red Cross to identify potential people to read to. Volunteers and listeners chat a little, read a little.

The initiative was timed to coincide with Christmas, but is now open-ended.

“In a world that is becoming increasingly inhumane and dehumanizing, in a moment made more difficult by this virus, I believe that it is fundamental to remain human, to reach out, to really look out for one another,” Ms. Romanese said.

Lynne Seymour, center, in Berkeley with her mother in 1954.
Credit…via Lynn Seymour

Lynne Seymour was 8 years old in 1955, when her mother, a nurse, let out a startling noise while listening to the radio at their home in Berkeley, Calif.

“She started jumping up and down, crying and laughing at the same time,” Ms. Seymour recalls. “It scared me a little because I didn’t know what was happening. So I said, ‘Mom, what is it?’”

Her mother explained that Dr. Jonas Salk, a medical researcher, had developed a vaccine for a dangerous virus.

“It meant we wouldn’t have to worry about polio anymore, and children wouldn’t be in iron lungs and we would go back to the swimming pool,” Ms. Seymour said. “It was like a dark cloud had lifted.”

For Americans of a certain generation, the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has evoked powerful memories of an earlier era — and of the moment when their childhood was rescued from fear and the sudden loss of classmates and siblings.

The first polio epidemic in the United States began in Vermont in 1894, an outbreak that killed 18 people and left at least 58 paralyzed. Waves of pernicious outbreaks, targeting children, would mar the next half-century.

In the country’s worst single year, 1952, nearly 60,000 children were infected and more than 3,000 died. Many were paralyzed, notably including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would become president and hide his disability. Others were consigned to life in an iron lung, a type of ventilator that encased a child’s body to ease breathing.

Dr. Salk made an ambitious bet that he could develop a vaccine for polio using inactivated virus. When his trial was successful in April 1955, church bells rang and households cheered.

This time around, the news of a vaccine was greeted with a scene of dancing health care workers quickly spreading on TikTok and triumphant post-injection selfies being widely shared.

Different era. Same sentiment.

Roland Le said interacting with volunteers reminded him of his humanity. “It warms your heart up,” he said. “They treat us as if we were like any other person.”
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

LONDON — Roland Le became homeless in London after he lost his job as a cleaner during the pandemic. On Wednesday, Mr. Le finally found himself at ease and in a hotel room of his own, with a bathroom and three meals delivered a day, all courtesy of Crisis U.K., a charity funding the stay.

“I don’t need to watch over my shoulder all the time,” he said on a phone call from his room, adding that interacting with volunteers reminded him of his humanity. “It warms your heart up. They treat us as if we were like any other person.”

Thousands of people sleeping in Britain’s streets have found homes during the pandemic, with the government offering 90 percent of them a place to stay, fulfilling a long held goal of charities to reduce rising levels of street homelessness. But whether that reprieve will last, charities say, will depend on how much more money the government will give and if it is spent to target systemic barriers to ending homelessness.

Tighter restrictions spurred by the new variant of the coronavirus have made it even more urgent to get people inside, said Steve Douglas, chief executive of St. Mungo’s, a charity that has supported people sleeping on the streets since the pandemic began.

“If you are rough sleeping on the streets and looking at 0 degree temperatures and the threat of Covid — it is difficult to see hope,” he said.

On Monday the government pledged 310 million pounds, about $420 million, to local councils to help support those without homes, and charities that usually offer communal temporary homes at churches and schools have stepped up their efforts, paying for accommodations like hotel rooms to help people avoid the virus.

Crisis U.K. has independently paid for about 500 rooms in four London hotels, and the City Hall of London said it had provided another 500. Combined with the efforts of other groups, it means many of the thousands of so-called rough sleepers in Greater London — about 3,400 according to a summer census — will spend the Christmas and New Year holidays, if not longer, under cover.

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