Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington said on Tuesday that an indoor mask mandate in the nation’s capital would be eased on Nov. 22, reflecting a shift away from mask requirements as coronavirus vaccination rates continue to rise and infections fueled by the Delta variant subside in the city.
About 88 percent of the District of Columbia’s adult residents have received at least one vaccine dose, according to city health officials.
Masks will still be required in certain circumstances, including on public transportation, inside school buildings and in congregate living facilities like nursing homes, college dormitories and jails.
Ms. Bowser said the easing of the mandate did not mean that people should stop wearing masks entirely. “It does mean that we’re shifting the government’s response to providing you this risk-based information, and recommending layering strategies, as the best way to protect yourself and the community,” she said during a news conference.
Washington imposed its current mask mandate in July after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised everyone, whether vaccinated or not, to resume wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces if they lived in an area where the virus was spreading rapidly. The agency defined those areas as places that reported more than 50 new infections for every 100,000 residents over the previous seven days, or where more than 8 percent of tests had come back positive over that period.
As of Tuesday, the District of Columbia was above that threshold, with 81 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, according to the C.D.C.
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for all adults as early as Thursday, a move that would expand the number of Americans eligible for additional shots by tens of millions, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent committee of vaccine experts has scheduled a meeting for Friday to discuss data on the booster dose’s efficacy and safety. If both the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. sign off this week, they will have acted strikingly quickly — a little more than a week after Pfizer asked for authorization of boosters for everyone 18 and older.
Under that scenario, any adult who received a second dose of the vaccine at least six months earlier would be officially eligible to get a booster as soon as this weekend. The F.D.A. is expected to rule without consulting its own expert panel, which has met frequently during the pandemic to review vaccine data and make a recommendation ahead of a regulatory decision.
Moderna is expected to soon submit its own request for the F.D.A. to broaden eligibility for its booster. But for now, every adult could get the Pfizer booster, according to people familiar with the planning.
The broad booster authorization has been viewed as something of a fait accompli for weeks. Some state and local officials have begun rolling out similar policies ahead of F.D.A. action — responding to persistent virus case counts and the eagerness of many Americans to seek additional protection ahead of holiday gatherings.
New York City health officials on Monday encouraged all adults who want boosters to seek them out. Arkansas, California, Colorado and New Mexico have already moved to expand access.
Many Americans, regardless of where they live, have taken the matter into their own hands and sought out extra doses even if they do not officially qualify yet.
The F.D.A. in September downsized Pfizer-BioNTech’s request to fully approve booster doses for all adults, instead signing off on a more limited population, including those 65 and older, as well as adults with underlying medical conditions or those at risk because of their jobs.
At least 30 to 40 percent of vaccinated adults are still excluded from booster eligibility, according to some estimates.
More than 30 million people have gotten additional shots, with the number often outpacing the number of first shots given each day around the country. Booster doses were also authorized in October for everyone who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and for vulnerable groups who received Moderna’s two-dose shot.
The C.D.C.’s gathering on Friday is scheduled to be briefer than recent meetings about Covid vaccines, just three hours, and is expected to be straightforward, one federal official familiar with the planning said, in part because of how far the nation’s booster campaign has already come. That would suggest a significant softening of opposition among public health experts since President Biden announced in August that he hoped to offer booster doses to all adults.
Mr. Biden wanted to start the campaign in late September, but his announcement was heavily criticized by public health experts, who said he was rushing federal scientists and regulators who had to decide whether the data supported such a move. Members of the F.D.A. and C.D.C. advisory committees have said they were uncomfortable with how quickly the administration wanted to offer booster shots to a large swath of Americans.
Some key regulators and outside advisers had been hesitant to endorse a sweeping booster campaign this early, arguing that effectiveness of the two-dose regimen, especially in preventing hospitalization and death, has held up strongly. One large study in New York of nearly nine million people has shown remarkable durability in the protection gained from all three federally authorized vaccines.
But more recently, federal regulators and scientists have said the evidence is increasingly clear that a reduction in vaccine efficacy against milder Covid cases, and in protective antibodies, has put Americans — especially seniors and those with medical conditions — at risk of harmful breakthrough infections as the Delta variant of the virus only gradually loosens its grip.
“Antibodies decay with time. That’s not just a coronavirus vaccine story,” said Dr. Ofer Levy, director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Harvard’s Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the F.D.A. advisory committee. “Vaccines vary in the durability of the protective response. We are starting to see waning in other age groups as well.”
An Israeli study published in the scientific journal The Lancet in late October compared about 730,000 people who had received a booster dose in August or September with individuals who had received only two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least five months earlier, finding that boosted recipients had a lower risk of hospitalization and severe disease. Those with booster shots were evaluated between one week and nearly two months after their third dose.
Gov. Kathy Hochul urged New Yorkers on Tuesday to get a coronavirus vaccine booster if they believed they were at high risk or lived in a “high transmission area,” jumping ahead of a possible decision by federal regulators to authorize an additional shot for all adults.
Ms. Hochul went further than earlier comments, but still created some confusion by offering a vague definition of high risk. That may not be an issue for too long, as the Food and Drug Administration is aiming to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for all adults as early as Thursday, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.
That would expand the number of Americans eligible for additional shots by tens of millions. Some states, including Arkansas and Colorado, recently moved to allow all adults to get a booster instead of waiting for a decision by the federal government. On Monday, New York City urged everyone 18 and older to get a booster shot.
Ms. Hochul said at one point that people should get a booster if they lived in an area with a positivity rate above 4 percent or 5 percent. That includes the area around Albany, the capital, and the Finger Lakes region, according to state data; New York City is at about 1.5 percent.
“Anyone who lives in these areas and feels risk, that they’re at risk of catching this virus, they should go get a booster,” Ms. Hochul said during a briefing in Buffalo on Tuesday afternoon. “I want to be crystal clear on that.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Hochul had not issued any formal guidance defining a high risk area. Her office later said that the governor did not want to set strict guidance in order to coax as many people to get a booster.
Indeed, Ms. Hochul suggested she was trying to avoid putting out statewide guidance for boosters, stressing that transmission rates varied widely by region and people’s personal circumstances were different. She said the metric for determining a high transmission area was flexible, adding that “what I’m not looking for is a broad brush statewide approach to treat every region in the state identically.”
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, did not specify whether rates should be considered at a regional, county or citywide level, but she seemed to suggest that vast swaths of the state currently fell under her interpretation of high risk. Even so, she has framed the decision around boosters as one best left to individuals.
She said, for example, that people who live in more densely populated areas or interact with many people on a daily basis may feel more inclined to get a booster and should do so if they so desire.
The Biden administration is planning to pay more than $5 billion for a stockpile of Pfizer’s new Covid-19 pill, enough for about 10 million courses of treatment, after the company gears up production next year, according to people familiar with the agreement.
Senior federal health officials describe the pill as a powerful new weapon against Covid. When given promptly to trial groups of high-risk unvaccinated people who developed symptoms of the disease, the drug sharply reduced the risk of hospitalization and death.
The action comes at a time of renewed hope among some senior Biden administration officials that the nation may have weathered the worst of the pandemic, even as the onset of winter threatens to spur the spread of infection.
More than 70 percent of the nation’s adults are now fully vaccinated. After exacting a horrific toll since midsummer, the virus has left a trail of death and disease but also more natural immunity in its wake, some public health experts say.
“I do think that these new oral antivirals will change the way that Covid is managed,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “These will help reduce burden on hospitals and the death toll.”
“But even without these pills, those numbers are going down,” he added.
Pfizer on Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its pill for high-risk, unvaccinated people. A similar drug developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics could be authorized as soon as early December.
A spokesman for Pfizer, Kit Longley, said that while the company is seeking authorization for its pill to be given only to unvaccinated people for now, it might ask for a modification later, depending on the data from clinical trials.
Both treatments are geared toward people who are older than 65 or who suffer from medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe Covid. Among clinical trial volunteers, the Pfizer drug cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent when given within three days after the start of symptoms.
The Merck pill was about 50 percent effective when given within five days of the onset of symptoms, though the different designs and timing of the trials make comparisons imprecise.
Pfizer has said it expects to be able to produce enough pills for more than 180,000 people by the end of this year and for more than 21 million in the first half of next year. Merck, too, has said it plans to ramp up production over the next year.
The U.S. government had initially planned to order 1.7 million courses of Pfizer’s treatment, with an additional option for 3.3 million, for about $700 per course.
But the new supply of ten million courses is expected to cost significantly less per treatment. The treatment involves 30 pills taken over the course of five days.
The contract is still being finalized, but an announcement is expected this week, according to one official familiar with the deal.
The government has also ordered 3.1 million treatment courses, with options for 2 million more, of Merck’s pill, at about $700 per person.
Rebecca Robbins contributed reporting.
After a scaled-down celebration last year, the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square will return at “full strength,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday. It will be Mr. de Blasio’s final act running New York City, after eight years in office, and serve as a prelude to his possible bid for governor next year.
“We want to welcome all those hundreds of thousands of folks, but everyone needs to be vaccinated,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Join the crowd, join the joy, join a historic moment as New York City provides further evidence to the world that we are 100 percent back.”
The New Year’s celebration will come four months after lightning cut short a star-studded “homecoming concert” that was also designed to signal the city’s comeback. Proof of vaccination was also required to attend that event, which drew thousands to Central Park.
Attendees who are unable to be vaccinated because of a disability will have to show proof that they had a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of the event. Children younger than 5, who are not yet eligible for vaccines, will have to be accompanied by a vaccinated adult. Masks will be required for any attendees who are not vaccinated, said Tom Harris, the president of the Times Square Alliance.
Asked at a news conference why vaccination would be mandatory to attend the ball drop when it is not required for many other outdoor activities in New York, Mr. de Blasio said a crowded, hourslong event drawing people from around the country and the world required greater precautions.
“When you’re outdoors with a few hundred thousand people packed close together for hours on end, it’s a different reality,” he said. “You’re talking about a lot of people really close for long periods of time. It makes sense to protect everyone.”
Pfizer has applied to the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its antiviral pill to treat unvaccinated people with Covid-19 who are at high risk of becoming severely ill, the company said on Tuesday.
The drug, which will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid, could become available within weeks if authorization is granted. It is meant to be dispensed by pharmacies and taken at home.
Paxlovid is the second antiviral pill to show effectiveness against Covid, in a new class of treatments for the disease that are expected to reach far more patients than other drugs that are typically given by infusion.
In a key clinical trial, Paxlovid was found to sharply reduce the risk of hospitalization or death when given to high-risk unvaccinated volunteers soon after they started showing symptoms. It appears to be more effective than a similar offering from Merck, known as molnupiravir, that could be authorized as soon as early December.
Both pills are geared toward older people or people who have obesity or medical conditions that put them at elevated risk for getting severely ill from Covid.
A spokesman for Pfizer, Kit Longley, said that for now, the company is seeking authorization for its pill to be given only to unvaccinated people, but the company might submit amendments to that provision later, depending on the data from clinical trials. The F.D.A. has final say on who will be eligible to receive the pill.
Merck, which applied for authorization for molnupiravir last month, said it would be up to the F.D.A. to decide whether to authorize its pill for use in vaccinated people in addition to unvaccinated people.
The F.D.A. has not yet said whether it would convene a meeting of expert advisers to recommend whether to authorize Pfizer’s treatment. A panel of experts that advises the agency on antimicrobial drugs is scheduled to meet at the end of this month to discuss Merck’s drug.
Supplies of Pfizer’s treatment, which is taken as a regimen of 30 pills over five days, will be very limited at first. Pfizer said it could produce enough of the pills by the end of the year to treat 180,000 people. The company expects to expand manufacturing to produce at least 50 million treatment courses next year, including 21 million or more by the end of June.
Australia and Britain have already locked up some of those supplies, and the United States plans to buy about 10 million courses of treatment, according to people familiar with the agreement.
Pfizer said on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement to allow other manufacturers to make and sell the pill inexpensively for use in 95 developing countries.
Pfizer’s drug is designed to stop the coronavirus from replicating by blocking the activity of a key enzyme that the coronavirus uses to replicate itself inside cells. Merck’s pill works differently, by inserting errors into the virus’s genetic code, a mechanism that has raised concerns among some scientists that Merck’s drug could trigger genetic mutations that cause reproductive harm. That difference could give Pfizer’s pill an advantage among doctors and patients, because it does not carry the same safety concerns as the Merck pill.
Amazon has agreed to pay $500,000 to help enforce California’s consumer protection laws after the company was accused of concealing Covid-19 case numbers from its workers, officials said on Monday.
The judgment, which is subject to court approval, is the first of its kind nationwide and is in line with a California “right to know” law that was designed to keep workers safe during the pandemic, according to a news release from the attorney general’s office.
Under the arrangement, Amazon must also tell its warehouse workers within a day about the exact number of new Covid-19 cases in their workplaces, ensure that notifications adequately inform workers of the company’s disinfection and safety plans, tell health officials about new cases and submit to monitoring by the attorney general’s office regarding its Covid-19 notifications.
“We’re glad to have this resolved,” Barbara Agrait, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said in an emailed statement. She said the attorney general’s office “found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings,” only with technical aspects of how the company communicated broadly with its workers.
“We’ve worked hard from the beginning of the pandemic to keep our employees safe and deliver for our customers — incurring more than $15 billion in costs to date — and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead,” Ms. Agrait said.
A complaint filed in Superior Court in Sacramento maintained that Amazon’s actions had prevented employees and the public from gaining full access to information regarding Covid-19 cases.
The state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, said that such information was crucial for workers making difficult decisions regarding their health in the pandemic.
“Amazon’s practices led to workers not knowing if they had been potentially exposed to two, 20 or even 200 cases of Covid-19,” he said at a news conference on Monday. “This left many workers understandably terrified and powerless to make informed decisions to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones.”
“No corporation is too big to follow the law,” Mr. Bonta said. “This is a huge win for the safety and health of Amazon’s tens of thousands of warehouse workers, their families and our communities throughout this state.”
He said that the judgment sent a clear message that businesses must comply with the law, and that it was particularly important as the busy holiday season approached.
At the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has used his opposition to coronavirus vaccine and mask mandates to build up his national political profile, Florida lawmakers kicked off a special legislative session on Monday to take up legislation aimed at restricting such measures.
Mr. DeSantis, who is seen as a possible presidential candidate in 2024, has cast the session as a high-profile effort to counter the vaccination rules set by the Biden administration.
The Biden administration has ordered federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated, as well as employees of health care companies that receive Medicare and Medicaid. The federal government also plans to put in place workplace-safety rules in January mandating that all businesses with 100 or more employees require them to be vaccinated or be tested frequently.
Several states with conservative governors, including Florida, have already challenged those federal mandates in court. To also pass laws curtailing them would put Florida at the forefront of what has become a highly politicized fight between Republican-led states and the White House.
“Nobody should be losing their jobs because of these jabs,” Mr. DeSantis, who has taken to calling the vaccinations “jabs” or “injections,” said last week.
About 60,700 people have died of Covid-19 in Florida. The state was hit hard by the virus this summer, when the Delta variant filled hospitals in much of the state with more patients than at any time during the pandemic. That wave has burned itself out, and in recent days new cases and hospitalizations have fallen to some of the lowest levels in the country. Just over 60 percent of Florida’s population is vaccinated, according to federal data.
Critics of the governor have said that his fight against mandates resulted in needless deaths. Florida experienced its worst daily death tolls during the summer surge, when vaccines were already widely available.
As cases surged, Mr. DeSantis fought local school districts and governments that required masks or vaccines, withholding funds, fining them or taking them to court. (Most school districts have now loosened their mask restrictions, in light of the falling virus levels.)
The special session is intended to carry the state Republican Party’s opposition to mandates even further.
Business leaders, however, have expressed fears that any new Florida laws might force them to face conflicting state and federal mandates.
Democrats have decried the move as mere political theater. “This entire special session is a political stunt,” Representative Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat, said on Monday.
But the governor, who formally announced his 2022 re-election last week, is too popular among conservatives in the Republican base for his wishes to be ignored. “We don’t believe that the federal government should be in a position to force vaccines,” Speaker Chris Sprowls of the House said in the State Capitol on Monday.
None of the four proposed bills under consideration would ban employee vaccine mandates outright. Private employers would be able to require vaccinations, but they would also have to allow for exemptions for medical issues or pregnancy, and religious reasons. Employees willing to be periodically tested or wear protective equipment could also opt out. Employers would have to pay for the tests or provide protective equipment, like masks.
Public school districts and local governments would be prohibited from requiring vaccinations. Lawmakers would also give parents the sole discretion over whether students should get vaccinated or wear masks.
More than 10,000 Australians have registered for compensation claims linked to complications from coronavirus vaccinations, a situation that could leave the government paying out tens of millions of dollars in public money for rare occurrences of serious problems.
A government program will offer no-fault payouts for factors including extended periods of missed work, and the minimum amount for such claims is 5,000 Australian dollars ($3,670). Applicants will be expected to provide medical bills and other evidence, and the registration surge has already occurred a month before an online portal launches.
In a country where nearly 85 percent of residents over 16 have been fully vaccinated against the virus, Australia’s main medical regulator has recorded 78,880 adverse events said to be linked to Covid vaccination. That amounts to just 0.21 percent of the nearly 38 million doses given to over 18 million people in the country by early November.
Most of those adverse events involved mild side effects like headache, nausea and sore arms. The regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has received 288 reports of heart inflammation among people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as well as 160 reported instances of a rare clotting complication linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The regulator noted in a report last week that new illnesses or deaths within a few days or weeks of inoculation were “often coincidental, rather than being caused by the vaccine.” Nine deaths have been linked to Australia’s inoculation program, nearly all of them among people age 65 or older.
It is unclear how a few hundred recorded cases of adverse effects have led to 10,000 registrations of interest in the compensation program. For the most part, Australia’s vaccination program has been a slow and then rapid success: After initial setbacks, an outbreak of the Delta variant pushed the country to move quickly to vaccinate its population.
The country’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, recently emerged from lengthy lockdowns, and case numbers have been declining nationwide to fewer than 1,500 per day.
Spain’s Basque region on Tuesday announced new restrictions on gatherings to control its latest coronavirus wave, after months in which Spain stood out as a country that had largely reined in the pandemic, in particular thanks to a high vaccination rate.
The virus has spread unevenly in Spain in recent weeks, and the infection rates in the Basque region and neighboring Navarra are now more than twice the national average. Lawmakers in the worst-hit regions are leading a nationwide debate over whether Spain should reintroduce more restrictions to prevent a serious Covid-19 resurgence this winter.
The Basque regional government said that all areas in which the infection rate exceeds 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants should suspend mass events and other gatherings, in particular those where food and drinks were served and where social distancing could not be guaranteed. The region’s 14-day average infection rate climbed just above 180 per 100,000 inhabitants this weekend, compared with a nationwide rate on Monday of 82 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Spain’s health ministry.
The regional government said it would also ask the Basque judiciary to mandate proof of Covid-19 vaccination for people seeking to enter restaurants and nightclubs.
“We are not doing well,” Gotzone Sagardui, the regional health minister, told a news conference, adding that the virus was again spreading “with a worrying speed of growth.”
Spain’s health regulators lowered the country’s status to “low risk” in October after a plunge in the nationwide infection rate from a summer peak of over 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in late July. That improvement was largely attributed to a successful vaccination campaign, and 79 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.
Booster shots are now being given to people who are over 70 or living in nursing homes, and Spain’s government is expected to soon offer vaccinations to children under 12.
At the same time, however, the country’s pandemic response has recently involved a patchwork of restrictions put in place by regional governments, which are responsible for health care.
Iñigo Urkullu, the Basque region’s leader, has led a push to require vaccination in certain business sectors — as has happened sweepingly in Italy and some other countries — and has urged Spain’s central government to set nationwide rules.
Ximo Puig, the leader of the eastern region of Valencia, also said recently that his government was considering whether to require vaccination passes for entry into some venues.
Hong Kong has granted Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, an exemption from one of the toughest pandemic quarantines in the world.
Mr. Dimon this week became the first head of a Wall Street bank to visit the city since the beginning of the pandemic. He was in town on Monday and Tuesday to meet with employees and regulators.
Even as other places loosen travel restrictions, Hong Kong has stuck with its lengthy quarantine mandates for most visitors, leaving little room for exceptions. The last public figure to be granted an exemption in Hong Kong was Nicole Kidman, whose visit to film a television series about rich expatriates prompted outcries, including debate in Hong Kong’s Legislature.
Mr. Dimon’s exemption was “justified to facilitate a short visit” of about 30 hours, a government spokesman said in an emailed statement, adding that Mr. Dimon’s trip was “considered to be in the interest of Hong Kong’s economic development.”
JPMorgan declined to comment.
Hong Kong has remained largely closed to the rest of the world and requires overseas visitors from “high-risk” countries, including the United States, to quarantine in a hotel for 21 days. Other visitors from overseas must quarantine in a hotel for at least 14 days. People coming from mainland China are the only visitors who can skip the quarantine.
Earlier this year, officials carved out exemptions for top bankers and other executives whose work they said was in Hong Kong’s economic interest. Those exemptions were mostly abandoned last month when Hong Kong’s top leader said the government needed to align itself with mainland China’s goal of complete elimination of the virus.
Hong Kong has made opening its border with mainland China a priority over opening its borders to overseas travel. It has reported just two local transmitted cases in more than five months.
During his visit, Mr. Dimon said Hong Kong’s quarantine rules were making it difficult to retain employees in the city, according to Bloomberg News.
His brief comments echoed those from the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Market, a top lobbying group for financial firms, which publicly urged Hong Kong to loosen rules and warned that the restrictions were threatening the city’s status as an international business hub.
Pfizer announced a deal on Tuesday to allow its promising Covid-19 treatment to be made and sold inexpensively in 95 poorer nations that are home to more than half of the world’s population.
The agreement follows a similar arrangement negotiated by Merck last month, and together the deals have the potential to vastly expand global production of two simple antiviral pills that could alter the course of the pandemic by preventing severe illness from the coronavirus.
Under the agreement, Pfizer will grant a royalty-free license for the pill to the Medicines Patent Pool, a nonprofit backed by the United Nations, in a deal that will allow manufacturers to take out a sublicense. They will receive Pfizer’s formula for the drug and will be able to sell it for use in 95 developing countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, once regulators authorize the drug in those places.
Yet like the Merck deal, the Pfizer agreement excludes several poorer countries that have been hit hard by the virus. Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst pandemic death tolls, as well as Cuba, Iraq, Libya and Jamaica, will have to buy pills directly from Pfizer, most likely at higher prices compared with what the generics manufacturers will charge. (Those five nations are included in the Merck deal.)
China and Russia — middle-income countries that are home to a combined 1.5 billion people — are excluded from both deals.
Still, Pfizer’s approach on its drug is markedly different from the way it has handled its Covid vaccine. The company has shipped more than two billion doses globally but sent only about 167 million of those to the developing countries that are home to about four billion people.
It has not provided any manufacturers a license to make its Covid vaccine, from which it is on track to bring in $36 billion in revenue this year.
At one point, fall was billed across corporate America as the Great Office Reopening. But the Delta variant of the coronavirus intervened, and mandatory return-to-office plans turned optional.
Still, many people chose to report back to their desks. The share of employed people who worked remotely at some point during the month because of Covid-19 dropped in October to 11 percent, the lowest point since the pandemic began, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A closer look at the New York work force, from a November survey of 188 major employers, showed that 8 percent of Manhattan office workers are back in the office full time, 54 percent are fully remote and everyone else — nearly 40 percent — is hybrid.
Few are finding it a smooth transition period. Some companies used their tentative return-to-office dates as a way to avoid questions about how to balance the needs of their remote and in-person employees, according to Edward Sullivan, an executive coach.
That has resulted in a mushy middle ground: video calls where remote workers have trouble hearing, a sense that people at home are missing out on perks (teammates), while those in the office are, too (pajamas).
At stake isn’t just who is getting talked over in meetings. It’s also about whether flexibility is sustainable, even with all the benefits it confers.
A local government in eastern China said it had reassigned decontamination workers and called on them to apologize after they entered a quarantined resident’s apartment and beat a pet corgi with a metal rod, triggering anger online.
Video of the incident, from a home security camera, circulated widely on Chinese social media on Saturday. It showed two workers in white hazmat suits pursuing the dog in an unoccupied apartment. It yelps as one worker swings at it with a metal bar. Then it is briefly caught in the legs of a table as it flees to another room off camera.
The dog’s death was not shown, but state media reports later said it had been culled. The vague wording of the Xinzhou district government’s statement Saturday, which said workers had “decontaminated” the animal though there was no indication it had been infected with the coronavirus, helped fuel the outcry.
The pet’s owner or owners could not be reached for comment. According to an account on the Twitter-like platform Weibo that first shared the video, the owners had been sent to hotel quarantine along with other residents of their neighborhood in the city of Shangrao, in Jiangxi Province. Jiangxi is experiencing a small-scale coronavirus outbreak, with more than 70 cases reported since the end of last month.
Quarantined residents were asked to leave their apartments so local government workers could disinfect them. But unlike in other Chinese cities, which allowed owners to take pets into quarantine or even arranged boarding, no preparations for animals appear to have been made.
It was unclear why the dog was killed. In other parts of China, a small number of animals have been killed as part of the pandemic response, including three cats that were euthanized in the northern city of Harbin in September after they were found to be infected with the coronavirus. Before the pandemic, some Chinese cities carried out large-scale campaigns to cull unregistered dogs and cats.
The online anger over the corgi’s treatment touched on broader concerns about draconian enforcement of China’s “zero Covid” policy, which has led to repeated lockdowns in some cities, and about the abuse of animals. China has no law against animal cruelty, despite the growing popularity of pet ownership.
“This kind of behavior is really chilling,” Zhang Junyang, a film director, wrote on Weibo.
“In the current epidemic situation, the grass roots personnel are indeed working very hard,” he added. “But why can’t we have a little warmth when dealing with domestic pets? Why can’t it be more humane?”
State media outlets sought to assuage anger over the episode, calling it an isolated mistake that should not reflect poorly on the national pandemic response.
“Observers admit the imperfect behavior of the anti-epidemic staffer, but they have also called for more understanding toward the front-line workers who are working tirelessly to curb the epidemic,” read one report in the Global Times newspaper, which is owned by the ruling Communist Party.
Cao Li contributed research.