Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Debates rage over religious vaccine exemptions.,


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Credit…The New York Times

Major religious traditions, denominations and institutions are nearly unanimous in their support of Covid-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, many Americans say they are hesitant to get vaccinated for religious reasons.

Their attempts to secure exemptions from the country’s rapidly expanding vaccine mandates are creating new fault lines, pitting religious liberty concerns against the priority of maintaining a safe environment at work and elsewhere.

“It would be a stretch to say that resistance to the vaccine flows from any particular reading of the Bible,” said our colleague Ruth Graham, who covers religion and faith for The Times. “My sense is that it’s sometimes back-engineered to fit an existing gut reaction to pandemic precautions — and vaccinations specifically.”

Some vaccine-resistant workers are sharing tips online for requesting exemptions on religious grounds; others are submitting letters from far-flung religious authorities who have advertised their willingness to help. In California, a megachurch pastor is offering a letter to anyone who checks a box confirming the person is a “practicing Evangelical that adheres to the religious and moral principles outlined in the Holy Bible.”

For many skeptics, resistance tends to be based not on formal teachings from an established faith leader, but on an ad hoc blend of online conspiracies and misinformation, conservative media and conversations with like-minded friends and family members.

“A lot of Protestant pastors are acutely aware that they are not necessarily the primary shapers of how people are viewing the pandemic,” Ruth said. “It’s almost a cliche now to hear pastors say: ‘I get them for one hour a week and Fox News gets them for 15.'”

President Biden’s sweeping new workplace vaccine mandates have only intensified conflicts. Now, employers are trying to distinguish between primarily political objections from people who may happen to be religious, and objections that are actually religious at their core.

Since federal civil rights laws protect accommodations for religious beliefs that are “sincerely held,” employers are tasked with reviewing a deluge of requests. The city of Tucson, Ariz., for example, assigned four administrators to sift through nearly 300 requests from city workers looking to sidestep a vaccine mandate. So far, they have approved about half.

Some businesses are taking a harder line. United Airlines told workers that those who receive religious exemptions would be placed on unpaid leave at least until new Covid safety and testing procedures are in place.


“Moulin Rouge!” returned to rehearsals this summer.Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

Some of Broadway’s biggest and best shows — including “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” “Hamilton” and “Chicago” — are resuming performances tonight.

Their return is a powerfully symbolic move for New York City’s recovery, but it’s also a high-stakes gamble at an uncertain stage of the pandemic.


“American Utopia,” is returning to a bigger theater, so it needs a bigger curtain.

Our colleague Michael Paulson, who covers theater, and the photographer Mark Sommerfeld got a backstage look at the preparations for opening night. Dancers relearned moves, singers flexed their vocal cords, and technicians recreated special effects.


Testing the effects for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”Credit…

By the end of the year, if all goes as planned, 39 Broadway shows will welcome back audiences, who must be vaccinated and masked. But a big unknown remains: After the Delta surge and months of anxiety and streaming entertainment, is there an appetite for live performances?


Crews at “The Lion King” changed color gels in stage lights in case they had faded during the pandemic.

In June, as days stretched long, it seemed as if the pandemic in the U.S. was waning. Masks came off. Restaurants and bars reopened. Americans began vacationing again.

But then the situation shifted. The Delta variant caused a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Indoor masking returned, vaccine wars raged and back-to-office plans were shelved.

We all experienced this summer differently, and we’d love to hear how yours went. We may feature your response in the next installment of “Our Changing Lives.” If you’d like to participate, you can fill out this form.

Covid has emotionally separated me from my relatives in Alabama. We are no longer talking with each other. They all have had Covid. One was hospitalized with oxygen. She was lucky. She was given remdesivir and dexamethasone and survived. Yet she and the rest of her family are convinced that ivermectin was all that was necessary. Her doctor told her she doesn’t need a vaccination because she had Covid and her antibodies are still high, plus he said he’ll prescribe a dose of ivermectin if she gets the Delta variant, just like he did for himself when he had Covid. You can’t make this stuff up.

— Yolanda, Chicago

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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