Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Will Biden’s mandates work?,


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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.

Credit…The New York Times

The sweeping vaccine mandates that President Biden announced yesterday will affect almost every aspect of society in the United States. Our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who covers science for The Times, had a simple question: Will the mandates slow the surging pandemic?

Yes, scientists told her — but not immediately.

Immunization itself takes time to be fully effective — roughly six weeks for a two-dose regimen. Add in the procedural hurdles to rolling out the Biden mandates and the fierce backlash that is already unfolding, and the president’s effort could be “too little, too late,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Experts pointed out that the administration didn’t emphasize measures that would quell the Delta variant surge more quickly, like masking and widespread testing. The companies affected by the mandates employ about 80 million Americans, but it’s not clear how many of those people are already vaccinated.

Some researchers said, however, that over the long term the administration’s plan should stem infections and return the country to some semblance of normalcy.

“It’s going to fundamentally shift the arc of the current surge,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s exactly what’s needed at this moment.”

The measure with perhaps the most immediate impact is the requirement that health care facilities receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding mandate vaccinations for their work forces. That’s because health care facilities are high-risk settings for transmission. Mandates that were imposed at the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs also suggest that they can quickly boost vaccination rates.

But for the new requirements to work, they must withstand inevitable legal challenges. The largest union representing federal workers has already raised questions, and Republican governors in several states said they planned to file lawsuits. (Biden’s response: “Have at it.”)

Legal experts say that Biden’s mandates should ultimately be protected by broad provisions attributed to the federal government and the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus.

“As long as there are provisions for workers not healthy enough to get the vaccine and probably to some extent religious accommodations,” said Jennifer Shinall, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, “I think that the legal challenges fail.”

For a year and a half now, restaurants and bars have adapted to the shifting realities of serving customers in a pandemic.

Some of that shift is obvious: Outdoor structures, requests to see vaccine cards before handing out menus, and bottles of hand sanitizer next to the salt and pepper.

But our colleagues on the Food desk looked at some of the smaller, less heralded developments that have the potential to stick around. Here are a few of our favorites from their piece on the transformation in American hospitality.

Unset Tables: Instead of a formal place setting, many restaurants are rolling their utensils in a napkin.

Restaurateurs say it requires less handling by employees — a potential boon for the health of patrons and of staffs, who are already stressed as positions go unfilled. And it might be an incentive for parents to teach children how to set a table. — FLORENCE FABRICANT

Thicker Pizza: To keep up with delivery-first chains, independent artisanal pizzerias reworked their base.

Some chefs, like David Sheridan at Wheated, in Brooklyn, began tinkering with the dough to keep the pies from going limp. Businesses like Di Fara, also in Brooklyn, rejiggered their formulas as they began shipping frozen pizzas across the country. The effect, in both cases, is a stronger (and sometimes thicker) crust that doesn’t become tooth-wrenchingly tough upon reheating. We may be witnessing the beginning of a new pizza genre: the high-quality portable pie. — PETE WELLS

QR Menus: They’re here to stay.

I miss menus, the kind printed out on paper or smudged on chalkboards. Scanning a QR code at the table and scrolling through the menu on my phone seemed like a clever, cautious workaround when we knew so little about how the coronavirus was spread, but at so many establishments it doesn’t seem to be going away. On the rare occasions I’m handed a paper menu — textured, creased, stained — I treasure it as a kind of relic. — TEJAL RAO

This week, on the 20th anniversary of September 11th, 2001, we remember the events of that day, and in particular the actions of our heroic first responders. We are in the 20th month of the Covid crisis and a no less dedicated group of heroes have been putting their lives at risk to save others. Healthcare workers in nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics have been going into crowded, understaffed, and under equipped facilities in a daily struggle to save lives. Countless Covid victims are alive today because of these heroes. And that success has come at great personal cost. This time, there is something that the rest of us can do to help. If you ask someone on the Covid front lines how to help, they only need two words: “Get vaccinated.”

— Peter Goodin, Naples, Fla.

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