When the coronavirus pandemic began, we were figuring out how to stay safe, how to stay home and how this was going to affect our lives in the long run. Now that we have better answers to many of these questions, new ones have surfaced. How can I stay healthy while interacting with others? How can I prevent the spread of this disease? What can I do if I’ve lost a job? How can I explain this to my kids? Simply, how can I live in this new normal?
Six Big Questions
Where are we in developing a vaccine?
The Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization of two vaccines — one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna has set in motion the most ambitious vaccination campaign in the nation’s history. Vaccines are rolling out to health workers now and will reach the rest of us by spring, with the timelines varying a bit by state.
We know you have more questions about the vaccines. So, we have added some basic answers below, and you can find a more comprehensive list here.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins found in the blood made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University.
The real problem is that your antibody test may be inaccurate, according to guidelines issued in September by a major medical society. Some tests look for the wrong antibodies and even the right antibodies may fade away.
Because current tests cannot determine if someone is immune, the Infectious Diseases Society of America said, antibody tests “cannot inform decisions to discontinue physical distancing or lessen the use of personal protective equipment."
How is the winter weather affecting the virus?
Cases have climbed rather steadily upward since November, which saw four million new cases in that month alone, climaxing Jan. 8 with almost 300,600 new cases that day and with winter dips in new cases still far above pre-November numbers.
And those numbers don’t lie. Winter is a double-edged sword: We are moving indoors, increasing our risk among those around us, and the colder, less humid weather can increase the viral load of the air we’re breathing in. Covid-19’s fatty outer membrane becomes rubbery in cold weather — easing its transmission between people whose dry and winter-damaged nasal passages are more susceptible anyway. (Makes you want to throw on a mask, huh?)
“The nose and mouth are the virus’s portal of entry,” said Rossi A. Hassad, an epidemiologist and statistician at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. “How can a mask not be a barrier against an organism coming toward me?”
And just because this is the year of Covid-19, it doesn’t mean that winter’s stuffy friend, the flu, got the memo to stay away. As in other years, tens of thousands of people are expected to die from the flu this year. (A point of comparison: Covid-19 has a fatality rate at least 10 times that of the flu.)
What we know about the flu, which has that same rubbery membrane coat, can inform us about the dangers and precautions we should take against Covid-19.
Comparing the two, Dr. Hassad wrote in MedPage Today: “This Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to parallel the 1918 flu pandemic if we fail to comply with the protective measures recommended by public health authorities.”
So far, more than 400,000 people have died in the U.S., with the country recording its first 100,000 deaths from the virus in late spring.
In addition to prime winter conditions for the virus, people across the country are also experiencing pandemic fatigue. Or as Dr. Stanley M. Perlman, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa who has studied coronaviruses for more than 40 years, puts it, “People are losing respect for the virus and letting their guard down.”
Striking a balance between restrictions and mental health, while also keeping yourself and others out of harm’s way, is important.
So what to do? If you are indoors, wear a mask, keep the recommended six feet distance from people outside your immediate household whenever possible, try to limit your time inside to places with good ventilation, open windows when you can and crank the heat, if necessary. Humidifiers are also strongly recommended.
But if you are socializing with others, it’s better to stay outside whenever possible. One suggestion from the British journalist Oliver Burkeman: Embrace your inner Brit and suck it up. An umbrella over the barbecue? (Not a problem, Mr. Burkeman said.) Eating ice cream in your fleeces? (Still yum.) And, remember, just because you’re socializing in the bad weather, doesn’t mean you can’t complain about the weather. (The Brits always do.)
Will there be another stimulus payment?
Another dose of relief was approved for the millions of Americans facing financial distress because of the coronavirus pandemic.
After months of back and forth, congressional leaders in both parties came to an agreement in December, providing a round of $600 stimulus payments to most Americans and partly restoring the enhanced federal unemployment benefit, offering $300 for 11 weeks.
The legislative package provides welcome, albeit temporary, assistance to many, some of whom have already received stimulus checks and heartier and lengthened unemployment payments, but the package has also been criticized for being too little too late. President Biden promised additional aid, urging a third relief package.
We’ve answered many of your questions about the current relief package, and will provide updates as the new presidential administration moves forward.
What’s the deal with schools?
The answer really depends on where you live: how bad the outbreak is in your geographic area and how strict local officials are being to keep the number of cases down. Some school districts have remained virtual, while others have fully reopened classrooms or have remained on a hybrid schedule. But across the country, the colder weather is starting to make it harder to keep students safe, as cases tick up and schools that have reopened shut back down.
In October, New York City, which had previously implemented a hybrid schedule, was the first big city to reopen all of its public schools — then quickly announced an immediate and indefinite shutdown in November. A few days later, however, the city announced a return to in-person education, and the tapering off of hybrid learning. (Do you have whiplash yet?) And the start to 2021 has caused only more uncertainty.
Currently, only younger students and those with complex disabilities — making up about 190,000 of the some 1.1 million of the city's public school students — are learning in the classroom, with a vast majority opting for remote learning. Middle and high school students, who were welcomed to the classroom for just a few weeks this fall, have no set date to return. It’s been hardly a promising effort for the nation’s largest school system, which has been criticized for lackluster remote learning, creating an ever-greater racial disparity within the school system — and one that school administrators across the country have turned to for an example of how to reopen safely.
But after Covid-19 rates surged across California this fall, schools in several counties hit the brakes. The first students in Los Angeles began returning to the classroom in November, as schools serving kindergartners through second graders applied for county-approved health waivers to teach in areas with high infection rates. By the end of January, all students in San Diego are slated to return at least a few days a week. But San Francisco schools remain shuttered, with hopes of reopening in January dashed amidst high rates across the state. "Right now we are in a surge that requires us to stay home and stop the spread," Mayor London Breed said in a statement in December. In an open letter published in January, 30 medical professionals from the University of California, San Francisco, urged the reopening of schools across the state by Feb. 1, writing: “Long term school closures have a detrimental, measurable impact on children and adolescents.”
As of mid-January, the vast majority of states — including New York — had handed off the decision-making for school openings to local districts, according to data pulled by Education Week, a news organization covering K-12. Only Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. (with some exceptions) have full closures in effect, while a handful of states — Delaware, North Carolina, West Virginia, New Mexico, California and Hawaii have partial closures, with hybrid instruction sometimes allowed. In contrast, four states — Texas, Florida, Arkansas and Iowa — require schools to offer at least some in-person instruction. (See Education Week's up-to-date map showing school openings by state.) For more information about schools, keep scrolling to our section on Schools.
What about work?
Essential workers were never able to stay home and many of the rest of us might already be back in the office — in August, a survey by LinkedIn and Censuswide found that more than two-thirds of offices in the U.S. had either reopened or never closed in the first place.
Another survey of workers (this one by Wakefield Research and commissioned by Envoy, a workplace technology company) shows widespread hesitancy to return to the office. As an employee, you have some (limited) rights (at the federal, state and local level), but you won’t always be able to decide.
Even as cases rise, some workplaces are adamant about an in-person return — complete with contactless entries, limited elevator usage, plexiglass dividers, alternating schedules, frequent temperature readings and requirements to wear masks and social distance.
No matter what, be sure you know what to expect — and what’s expected of you before you head in. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, calls for employers to develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, among other suggestions, but employers aren’t mandated to do so.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also posted guidelines for promoting the use of facemasks, taking daily health surveys, disclosing symptoms and determining how employees may have been exposed at work. (And the C.D.C. says that a full shutdown isn’t always needed if cases pop up in the office.)
For others, this all still seems pretty far out. Some larger corporations, including Google, Uber, Target and Ford Motor (and, while we’re on the topic, The New York Times) have decided to keep workers largely remote until next summer.
And on the extreme side of the argument, some companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, have said that their employees won’t ever have to return to the office and that they will continue to have a permanent remote working option.
For more, head to our “Money and Work” section.
When can I get the vaccine?
While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most have put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first, with older people and those with certain health problems ahead of younger, healthier populations. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated?
Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once a country authorizes a vaccine, it’ll be able to vaccinate only a few percent of its citizens at most in the first couple of months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected.
A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus.
So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds and so on.
Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect — this is known as herd immunity. In a candid press conference in January Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, said that if the United States can vaccinate 70 percent to 85 percent of the population by the middle or end of the summer, “by the time we get to the fall, we will be approaching a degree of normality.”
If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask?
Yes, but not forever. The vaccines clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility: We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms.
Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.
Will it hurt? What are the side effects?
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines.
While serious allergic reactions are rare, they have been documented. For instance, 10 minutes after receiving the Pfizer vaccine, a healthcare worker in Alaska had an anaphylactic reaction, and a rash crossed her face and torso. She also had shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate. And 10 minutes after the same vaccine, another healthcare worker in Alaska experienced eye puffiness, lightheadedness and a scratchy throat, but after medical treatment he was back to normal within an hour. Both workers, who were expected to recover, said they hoped their experiences did not negatively impact the vaccination process, according to the hospital. (The Pfizer vaccine was shown to be safe and about 95 percent effective in a clinical trial involving 44,000 participants.) In some places, people driving through for a shot in the arm have been asked to wait in the parking lot for 15 minutes to monitor for any immediate effects.
More often, some people have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that last less than a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off of work or school after the second injection.
While minor aches and pains aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: They are the result of your immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.
Will mRNA vaccines change my genes?
No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body.
The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which are produced to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes: The mRNA molecules our cells make can survive only a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile, the mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so cells can make extra virus proteins, prompting a stronger immune response. Even so, the mRNA can last for only a few days at most before they are destroyed.
We have things to celebrate. What should we do?
Even with a pandemic raging, there are things some have been lucky enough to celebrate. And you should: Life is short — you just don’t want to make it unnecessarily shorter. So how do you celebrate safely?
Infection rates have been on the rise as people began cozying up together indoors. In November, the month of Thanksgiving, the virus set new daily infection records: a million new cases reported in 10 days, another million in under seven days — a total of four million new cases over that month. And we similarly saw increases after the winter holidays — with a record 300,600 new cases Jan. 8 alone, just a week after New Year’s.
Some celebrations are worth delaying indefinitely. (Have you really turned a year older if it hasn’t been celebrated?) Others can be hosted over video chat. Or you can whittle down the party — masked up and distanced — to the people who matter the most.
And if you’re determined to gather, be sure to keep your guest list small. Experts advise limiting the number of households attending. (It’s best not to mix households at all.)
The recommended 10-day quarantine ahead of gathering — or even a shorter restriction of your contacts is better than nothing. Experts also suggest driving to the destination while limiting contact along the way, keeping your mask on and doing your best to keep some distance from those not in your household. You could throw a test on top for extra precaution — even for local gatherings. (See below for information about testing to determine the best test for you and when you should get it. And get more information from the C.D.C. about testing here.)
No matter the location or style of the event, everyone should wear masks as much as possible when not eating and people from different households should do their best to keep their distance. The recommendation is keeping six feet apart at all times.
The best safe-hosting option? Move the gathering outside. Outdoor gatherings are lower risk because wind disperses viral droplets, and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up in concentrated amounts and being inhaled, which can happen when infected people exhale in a confined space for long stretches of time, according to Dr. Julian W. Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester. (Go here for some tips on safe picnicking.)
If it gets cold, you can crank the heater — in fact, the C.D.C. suggests putting your central air and heating on “continuous circulation.” Exhaust fans (like those over your stove or in the bathroom) can also help, but don’t turn on a regular fan — because that will simply recirculate the same, potentially contaminated air and increase everyone’s risk.
Other ways to lower the risk to you and your guests is to limit the length of your celebrations, keeping shouting and singing to a minimum, and limiting the sharing of serving bowls and utensils. And don’t bother getting out the nice guest towels. This year, paper towels are the way to go. The C.D.C. also reminds us to drink responsibly: “Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice Covid-19 safety measures.”
During the pandemic, being a good host means letting your guests know the expectations and safety standards up front — so no one is uncomfortable by unexpected rules or the lack there of — and have extra masks on hand in case a guest forgets.
But if you’re truly worried about getting Uncle Harold sick, stay home. It is the surest way to keep him safe.
And remember, no matter how far you traveled to gather: If you develop Covid-19 related symptoms (fever, shortness of breath, etc.) within 14 days of celebrating or later test positive, make sure to let your host know and follow these guidelines to keep others safe.
What should we do about birthdays?
For those of us who enjoy getting older — or at least all the attention that comes with it, you can still observe the day while making sure you live to see another year. For those in milder climates, park birthdays (everyone masked and distanced) may still be an option. (For those in colder climates, a park party is a good way to see who will scarf-and-glove up for you — you know, the people who really love you.)
Otherwise, that virtual party over Zoom can actually be a lot of fun (I’m speaking from experience) — so long as you limit the time and plan simple, interactive ways to get everyone on the call to take part. Don’t pick a time too close to mealtimes — or you’ll lose people to their microwaves. Be respectful of not monopolizing people’s days. And if you’re inviting people from different time zones (after all, this is the year you can have anyone and everyone you’ve ever loved in one — albiet virtual — place), be sure you pick an hour that isn’t too late or too early for the guests.
If you’re like my mother and think eating birthday cake in front of everyone (without a slice) is rude, you can suggest they bring along their own favorite treats, so it feels like you’re all together. (Or just plough in, it is your birthday, after all.)
Think carefully about that invite list: Who knows who, what personalities work well together and what do folks who haven’t met have in common? The simple answer to that last question is: you. So, your next step is figuring out how this group of people can pass the time together, and, again, that should probably be centered on what they have in common — again, you. So ask folks to introduce themselves and (if you’re brave enough) share a funny or embarassing story about yourself. It’s a nice way to get people laughing, talking about someone they all know and (I assume) love, without it starting to sound like a eulogy. You can also end with a short game as a sign off — like a round-robin story where everyone contributes one sentence with their goodbye.
Just be sure to keep your guests’ tendencies in mind: If you’re inviting a bunch of talkers, you can let people speak up on their own (so long as they don’t scream over each other). If they’re a quieter bunch, you might want to call names – and regardless, that’s a nice way to get the party started. (You can even let a close friend or two know you’re going to start with them, so you can get rolling on a high note.)
If everyone enjoys singing or another particular activity, you can incorporate that – but just be sure if you’re an opera star and inviting someone who is (um, well, not), you don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable. (You’ll know when people’s faces start blinking to darkened squares.) And speaking of appearances, just because you don’t have to clean the house, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make an effort with a nice, festive background – via real decorations or your own Zoom creation.
For kids (and more festive adults, too), you can also go for a multi-tiered birthday celebration: in-person activities at home with the members of your household, as well as online or drive-by activities with friends. At home, endow your birthday celebrant with “magic powers” for the day – the chance to pick each meal and all the family activities. (Get ready for a few more sweets and even more noise than usual.)
Not sure how to fill time online with your kid’s friends? You could hire virtual entertainment. There are still music classes and magicians and clowns, and they offer virtual shows. (The website Mommy Poppins has a good list.) Or, if you don’t have the budget to hire a clown, you could always consider putting the red nose on yourself – and practice your juggling beforehand. (Unless you want the kids laughing at you.) Just be sure to keep any virtual party short and sweet – say one hour, with a start and end time. And to keep on schedule, signal that the call is wrapping up by introducing one final activity – phrases like “before we say goodbye,” or “we have just a few more minutes to do X” will cue that the party is coming to a close. (Both you and the other parents on the call will appreciate it.)
Or, if your kid feels like he’s at school every time he looks at his friends through a computer screen, consider taking the party to the street. Put a festive birthday sign replete with his favorite color balloons in the front yard and host a drive-by caravan, with celebrants waving, honking and throwing a requested candy from the window.
What do we do about our wedding?
Are you dreading the impending date of the day you always dreamed about? The pandemic has ruined a lot — and has really taken a toll on weddings. Depending on cancellation fees, you could postpone. (Lots of people are.) And if you want to be sure of celebrating with everyone you love in person, be flexible about choosing a new date — you wouldn’t want to have to re-cancel. For those who can’t afford to postpone, you can create a virtual component to the wedding, so everyone can “be” there without actually coming. (But keep reading for the right way to do that — because manners are changing with the pandemic, but they aren’t null and void.)
For the newly engaged: Enjoy the moment — if you do it right, you’ll be engaged only once. In the interim, start talking with your partner about what you’d like for the big day, and plan slowly. With people getting vaccinated, we will soon be able to start making plans like normal. But the process could be slow. No need to rush the wedding, just to postpone later. Besides, if you plan it too soon, you might lose out on your bachelor/ bachelorette party — and those will be far more fun in the near but undated future.
Regardless, long-held wedding decorum may no longer be applicable, especially when it comes to uninviting guests. To avoid having to retract invitations, Steve Moore, an owner of Sinclair and Moore Events in Seattle, says couples should either skip the save-the-date cards or include a disclaimer noting they plan to adhere to state and federal guidelines for gatherings. “We’ll ask in advance for your flexibility, understanding and grace,” he offered as a suggestion. Just don’t send a plethora of fake invitations complete with parking information, just to recant by Facebook post with a link to your registry. (And, yes, we know of at least one couple who did exactly that.)
No matter what, be sure you are clear in communicating any changes. A simple online blast, while effective, may not be sufficient. (You don’t want a guest showing up just because she had the good sense to detox from social media.) Depending on the size of the guest list, you can call, text, send an email — or depending on the timing and nature of the changed plans, you can send a “you are cordially uninvited to my wedding” card. (A disappointed selfie of the couple could at least bring a few laughs along with the dis-invite.) But be sure to emphasize that the change in plans is not because you don’t love the person but because you do. And you can always tack on the promise of a second “to be determined” invitation: After all, with the stress you’ve been under, your first or second wedding anniversary might just call for a big party — when you can host without all the pressure. (Paper and cotton gifts may not cut it in a post-pandemic world.)
And if you really don’t want to cancel, you could try to host a wedding over Zoom at the planned location or another — or switch it up to a drive-in theater). Or, just invite your very closest people (that’s often both immediate families and best friends, not all your sorority sisters — unless you really are that person) to celebrate face-to-face, making sure they all get tested before you gather. (“Please bring a gift and proof of Covid test.”) #Covidwedding has 336,000 Instagram posts and counting.
What about a funeral?
There are steps you can take to treat the dead with dignity.
If someone you love is in hospice or nearing the end, start planning. Death is always logistical. Now, it’s even more so. Call a few funeral homes to ask about pricing and procedure, and check your state laws on the size of the gathering.
If your religion mandates you bury someone within a specific period of time, turn to a religious leader for help. They will have worked with other people in your situation, and should have suggestions about how to cope.
Understand that as much as you would like to honor your loved one in your traditional ways, the changed world has also affected funeral services. Consider the risk of a funeral gathering, and the comfort levels and health concerns of those who would like to attend. You may choose to organize a smaller in-person memorial, schedule a service at a later date or hold a Zoom memorial.
As for grieving? It’s going to be hard. You cannot hug your friends, and you cannot have them over. But with technology, you can lean on your community virtually. Maybe that’s just regular phone calls to your support network over the first few weeks. Or maybe that’s a Zoom shiva or wake. If you go the videoconferencing route, ask everyone to show up with a memory or a poem to share. Call on people one by one.
Science and Health
What is the difference between the coronavirus and Covid-19?
A coronavirus is a type of virus. There are lots of common coronaviruses, which are basically just forms of a cold.
This coronavirus — the coronavirus — is novel. It causes Covid-19, a disease. The 19 signifies 2019, the year when it started. The two terms are used interchangeably in conversation, but actually mean slightly different things.
I keep hearing about droplets, aerosol clouds and surface contamination. What does this thing attach to, how does it get around and how would I get it?
If you were to share saliva with someone — kiss, drink from the same cup — you could obviously get the disease. But it’s not just direct contact that can cause transmission. After pressure from researchers, the W.H.O. conceded that the virus can be transmitted through particles that can linger in the air for hours after an infected person has left.
The nastiest recent revelation is, perhaps, that flushing a toilet can also spread the virus throughout a bathroom.
There is some good news, though. After months of sanitizing our groceries, packages and mail, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the risk of catching the coronavirus from a surface is low.
What does the virus do to my body?
In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome — which caused their blood oxygen levels to plummet — and received supplemental oxygen. In severe cases, they were placed on ventilators to help them breathe.
By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. (And some people don’t show many symptoms at all.) In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea and nausea, have also been observed.
Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe" — but few other serious symptoms.
More serious cases can lead to inflammation and organ damage, even without difficulty breathing. There have been cases of dangerous blood clots, strokes and brain impairments.
What are my chances of getting sick?
It’s a moving target, and depends a lot on where you live and when. If you’re somewhere with an outbreak, you’re at higher risk. If your state is reopening and cases are climbing, your risk is highest.
Lots of factors determine how sick you actually get. Younger people tend to do better than older people, and having underlying conditions increases your risk. And if you were exposed to a lot of the virus — as many essential workers were — you have a higher risk of getting a severe case.
Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a widespread manner that spans the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups. But social inequalities - not genetic makeup - is responsible for the racial gap.
However, a better question might be what your chances are of getting someone else sick. People in their 20s, 30s and 40s account for a growing proportion of the cases in many places, raising fears that asymptomatic young people are helping to fuel the virus’s spread.
Most people have a low chance of getting a severe case. But if you’re not careful, you have a very high chance of infecting someone who is vulnerable. It’s sort of like drunk driving. You could harm yourself, but you could also harm other people, too. That’s why we don't do it.
If I am sick, how will I know?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on how to get tested and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that if you’re sick or think you’re sick, but only mildly ill, you should isolate yourself, and you shouldn’t leave your house except to go to the doctor.
But a lot of people get the coronavirus without showing many, or any, symptoms. That’s why you should always wear a mask outside your home — the only surefire way to know you don’t have it is to get a test. And tests are not always reliable. Go to the next question for more information about testing.
How do I get tested? How long do tests take to come back?
You can find testing sites across the country — including at some hospitals, urgent care clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Even some churches, fire stations and airports provide testing. (The testing is free and your immigration status will not be questioned at LaGuardia Airport in Queens.) And some airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines also offer tests for passengers heading to certain destinations.
But while testing helps limit spread, it’s not a catch-all defense against the virus. Tests are not always accurate.
A positive test means you need to isolate and cancel any plans, but even a negative test is not a free pass. It can give you some reassurance, but you still need to take all precautions, including wearing a mask and keeping your distance. Even the most reliable tests can have a high false negative rate, depending on the timing of the test — and you may also contract the virus between taking the test and getting the result.
Covid-19 takes up to 14 days to incubate and in that time, you may test negative and show no symptoms — even as you’re passing it to people around you. In fact, about half of transmissions occur before people notice their symptoms. And the accuracy of your test results depends greatly on when you get tested — because the virus needs time to replicate in your body before any test can detect it.
So if you got tested the day after you were infected, one study in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine showed your test results would yield a false negative every time. And while results show greatly diminishing false negatives in the early days after symptom onset, they tick back up on the backend of the illness.
The type of test you get, as well as the case count and backlog in your geographic location can affect the timing of your results — as well as the results themselves. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers molecular tests (PCR tests) that detect the virus’s genetic material to be “typically highly accurate" although it takes longer to get the results back (maybe a few days because samples must be sent to a lab), and you could be infected in the interim. Meanwhile, antigen tests (many of the rapid tests) are used to detect certain proteins on the surface of the virus. While you can get results back in under an hour, a false negative is more likely and the F.D.A. suggests that those with “negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test."
Companies like CareCube and Pixel by LabCorp, don't even require you to leave your home. They will mail you a test and you mail your sample back. They promise results within 12 to 34 hours and 36 hours, respectively. (JetBlue also has a partnership with Vault Health for mail-in tests.)
So remember: The purpose of testing is to safely separate people who test positive from the rest of society to limit the number of infections ... not to go back to living like the the good ole’ days of 2019.
I’m asymptomatic but was exposed to someone with the virus. Should I get tested?
Yes, absolutely. Although earlier guidance from the C.D.C. suggested otherwise, the agency reversed their controversial recommendation. The agency now says anyone exposed to an infected person for more than 15 minutes needs a test.
The previous phrasing, which suggested asymptomatic people who have had close contact with an infected individual “do not necessarily need a test," now clearly instructs: “You need a test."
When should I go to the hospital?
Going to the hospital should not usually be your first interaction with a doctor.
If you’re feeling sick, speak with a medical professional over the phone and get a test. If you can, consult with a doctor before you go to a medical center or the hospital — they might have insights or suggestions.
As soon as symptoms start, mark the days. While most patients recover in about a week, a significant minority of patients enter “a very nasty second wave" of illness, said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, assistant professor of infectious disease at The University of Alberta. “After the initial symptoms, things plateau and maybe even improve a little bit, and then there is a secondary worsening."
What precautions do pregnant people need to take?
If you or a loved one is pregnant right now, congratulations! This crazy world could use every bit of new joy it can get. We hope you’re having an easy ride.
This is, though, probably a stressful time to be pregnant, especially since there’s so much that’s still uncertain. Here’s what we know:
Pregnant people might be at increased risk from severe illness from Covid-19, according to the C.D.C. Pregnant people might also be at risk of interruptions to their pregnancies, such as a preterm birth. And a study of pregnant Black and Latino people in Philadelphia shows they have an increased chance of being exposed to coronavirus, which bolsters other research showing that the coronavirus disproportionately affects Black and Latino people.
Experts are cautiously optimistic that the coronavirus won’t alter fetal development, although one study found strong evidence that a baby was infected with the virus in the womb. A more common concern is that the parent carrying the child is at increased risk of suffering complications if infected. Pregnancy is already a stressor on the lungs and cardiovascular system, and the immune system changes significantly during the course of carrying a baby.
So. Just as raising a child takes a village, it will be a community effort to keep this new baby safe before it’s born. As a family, take extra precautions to protect the pregnancy. Keep your mask on. Socially distance whenever possible.
Importantly, though, keep your appointments. Talk to your doctor about how to safely come in for vaccines and check-ups, or whether remote visits are an option. That’s more important now than ever.
Preventative Measures and Treatment
If I am exposed to the virus, do I need to quarantine?
For those who worry about potential exposure, the C.D.C. has amended its quarantining recommendations. While the agency still says that quarantining for 14 days is the safest option, in December the C.D.C. proposed two, easier alternatives.
If you don’t have symptoms, then you can quarantine for 10 days. Otherwise, you can cut your time in quarantine in half to 7 days by taking either a P.C.R. or rapid test and getting a negative result. If you choose the testing option, it should be taken within 48 hours of the end of your quarantine. You should continue monitoring yourself for symptoms, and taking precautions like wearing a mask and social distancing.
But what are the benefits of quarantining for the full 14 days? The C.D.C. reminds us that “even if you test negative for Covid-19 or feel healthy,” you could still have the virus because symptoms could appear anywhere from two to 14 days following exposure.
Remember, while studies have found that the median incubation period of the virus is five days, and the vast majority of people develop symptoms within 11.5 days of being exposed, some patients show symptoms up to two weeks after being infected. So, if you do exit quarantine early, you may feel fine and still accidentally pass the virus along to Uncle Harold.
Additionally, depending on when along that timeline you get tested, you could come up with a false negative — because the virus may not have yet sufficiently replicated in order to be detected. (Your test is more likely to be accurate in the early days after symptom onset, but drop again on the backend of the illness.)
Why do masks work?
The coronavirus clings to wetness and enters and exits the body through any wet tissue (your mouth, your eyes, the inside of your nose). That’s why people are wearing masks and eyeshields. They’re like an umbrella for your body; they keep your droplets in and other people’s droplets out.
But masks only work if you are wearing them properly. The mask should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin, and should stretch almost to your ears. Be sure there are no gaps — that sort of defeats the purpose, no?
What should I consider when choosing a mask?
There are masks everywhere. There are N95s and respirators, homemade masks and bandanas. Respirator valves should be avoided, but they do look cool. Even Kim Kardashian has waded in.
There are a few basic things to consider when you’re wearing a mask.
Does it have at least two layers? Good.
If you hold it up to the light, can you see through it? Bad.
Can you blow a candle out through your mask? Bad.
Do you feel mostly OK wearing it for hours at a time? Good.
The most important thing, after finding a mask that fits well without gapping, is to find a mask that you will wear.
Every brand in the history of clothing, it seems, has entered the mask market. Spend some time picking out your mask, and find something that works with your personal style. You should be wearing it whenever you’re out in public for the foreseeable future.
What about gloves? Should I wear them too?
Not really. Gloves become a second skin. They themselves could become contaminated (don’t touch your face!) and depending on how they’re made, they might have holes.
Gloves may be helpful if someone in your household becomes sick, so you can reduce the amount of times you have to wash your hands. But you will have to change the gloves every time you leave their room or interact with the sick person.
The most effective intervention is still washing your hands thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, every time you enter your home.
Why is six feet away the right distance?
The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. Six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet.
But some scientists have looked at studies of air flow and are concerned about smaller particles called aerosols. They suggest that people consider a number of factors, including their own vulnerability and whether they are outdoors or in an enclosed room, when deciding whether six feet is enough distance.
Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study.
It's a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it's windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
Should I get a regular flu shot?
Yes. You should always get a flu shot annually because the flu virus changes and it is a safe and effective vaccine. Even if you do get the flu after being properly immunized, the illness is likely to be significantly less severe.
This year, it’s even more important you go get your flu shot. You could help prevent a “twindemic" of influenza and Covid-19, experts say, which could overwhelm hospitals and testing centers. Both ailments can produce similar symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue that can be extreme. Here is a closer look at the differences between the two diseases.
Does the virus live in clothes and hair?
Probably not. If you are practicing social distancing and making only occasional trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, experts say that it’s not necessary to change clothes or take a shower when you return home. You should, however, always wash your hands upon entering your home.
The same advice goes for head and facial hair: If you practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently, you probably don’t need to worry.
I have the coronavirus. What should I expect my recovery to look like?
First off, we hope you get better soon.
Recovery is sort of a case-by-case basis. Some people show none or few symptoms, and only find out they have been infected when they test positive for antibodies. Other people are left with continuing shortness of breath, muscle weakness, flashbacks, mental fogginess and other symptoms months after they first got sick. And there’s a range of experiences in between.
Mara Gay, a member of The Times’s editorial board, wrote candidly about her experience in recovery.
“I am one of the lucky ones. I never needed a ventilator. I survived. But 27 days later, I still have lingering pneumonia. I use two inhalers, twice a day. I can’t walk more than a few blocks without stopping," she wrote.
Many people recover, but it may take a while. Go easy on yourself, and be forgiving if your body isn’t performing the way it used to. You survived a pandemic. That alone is cause for celebration.
How I Can Help
What can I do to stop the spread?
Wear a mask and stay far away from other people. That’s it. That’s the tweet.
Can I give blood?
You can. Transfusions are still needed for cases like organ transplants or complications of childbirth.
The American Red Cross is collecting donations at blood banks, which have enacted new safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Those measures include checking the temperatures of staff members and donors before they enter a drive facility, providing hand sanitizer for use before and during the donation process, enhancing their disinfection of surfaces and equipment, and spacing beds — when possible — to enable social distancing between donors.
And even if you’re under a stay-at-home order, donating blood is an essential need, so public health officials have made an exception for your trip to the center.
I’ve recovered from Covid-19. How do I donate plasma?
Plasma is, basically, the liquid part of your blood: it’s light yellow and about 92 percent water. Any antibodies that your body creates are contained in the plasma. Once you’ve recovered, or convalesced, from a given virus, those antibodies stick around in your plasma for a certain amount of time, ready to fight that virus if it comes back.
If you have antibodies, your convalescent plasma can be transfused into a patient still battling the disease.
To qualify, donors must pass normal blood-donation requirements and be symptom-free of Covid-19 for at least 14 days, and, in most cases, must have positive results from a test. (Other restrictions may apply, depending on the organization.)
Many health care institutions nationwide are involved in plasma donations, including the Red Cross, so to find a location near you go to the website for the National Covid-19 Convalescent Plasma Project or visit the Red Cross’s website.
Where should I donate money?
If you are looking to give money to those who need it most, you may want to consider an organization that provides food or helps with medical efforts.
You can also consider giving to local businesses and families in need directly. Or helping your neighbors in ways that are not necessarily monetary.
I want to help other families with school-age kids. How?
Many families are struggling, and you can offer a helping hand, either through donations or volunteering. If you can afford it, a recurring monthly commitment — set up with an automatic withdrawal from your bank account or credit card — gets your family to commit for the long run. Charity Navigator has a list of vetted nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak.
Involve your children by asking their opinions on where they think you should focus resources. They can also help raise money by hosting a socially distant bake sale or starting an online fund-raising campaign.
For school supplies, donate to First Book, a national nonprofit that provides free or inexpensive books and learning materials to children in need.
Or establish an ongoing connection with another family. One New York organization, the New Neighbors Partnership, pairs refugee families with families who have slightly older kids, so a relationship built on clothing donations can be maintained over several years.
Is it safe to return to life as (kind of) normal?
Please practice caution no matter where you live. At this time, it is just not safe to jump back into the world with two feet, especially if you are in an area where cases are surging.
And in many states, that's the situation. Many re-openings have been followed by a surge of new cases. When you do visit businesses or are otherwise out and about, maintain your social distance and keep your mask on. Just because many Americans are bored of the pandemic, doesn’t mean it’s over.
Which doctor visits should I be avoiding? When should I still go?
Taking care of your health is important and keeping up with vaccinations, screenings, dental care and other appointments shouldn’t be delayed. Things of course have changed: You’ll need to check with the medical office first and take some basic precautions, like wearing a mask and arriving early for fever checks and screening questions.
If you experience symptoms or an injury that would have required an emergency room visit before, you should still seek emergency care. (Remember, the E.R. is for life-threatening situations like chest pain, numbness or tingling that could signal stroke, breathing difficulties or serious injuries.)
If you have or believe you have Covid-19, you should call to check in with your doctor, especially if you are in a high-risk category. Most of the time, you’ll be advised to monitor your symptoms at home, including checking your oxygen levels with a home fingertip pulse oximeter. If your oxygen level goes to 93 percent or lower, seek medical care. If you have trouble breathing or experience other concerning symptoms, contact your doctor or go to the nearest E.R.
As for non-emergency medical needs, you have a few options. One of the best things we’ve learned during the pandemic is that doctors and patients can accomplish a lot with telehealth — online video medical visits. And if case counts are rising in your area and hospitals are overwhelmed, doctors may need to delay some care, particularly elective procedures.
But don’t make the decision to skip out on important medical care without talking to your doctor first. Medical offices are taking extensive precautions to keep everyone — the staff and the patients — safe from the virus, and chances are that you will be able to keep your appointment. Call ahead to learn how your medical providers are handling the inflow of patients. (Here are questions to be sure to ask, as well as a set of guidelines, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.)
Many people have already delayed doctor visits — and in some cases that can be dangerous. In May almost half of American adults say they or someone they live with had put off medical visits, according to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Hospitals have also rescheduled at different points of the pandemic.)
It shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently it needs to be said: don’t avoid the doctor or hospital if you truly need their services. In April emergency medical services in Newark made 239 on-scene death pronouncements — four times the number that time last year — and less than half directly tied to Covid-19, meaning the virus may be indirectly taking the lives of many more, who may not be going to the doctor either out of fear or because they suddenly find themselves uninsured.
On the other hand, while demand for face-lifts sky-rocketed this summer, now is probably not the best time for one. We’ve all seen you on Zoom. You’re not fooling anyone anyway.
How should I decide where and how to go to stores?
This is a hard question to answer. The increasing moves to reopen businesses reflect the immense political and societal pressures weighing on the nation’s governors, even as epidemiologists remain cautious and warn of a second wave of cases this fall.
Since the spring, through, a lot of businesses have learned how to welcome customers safely. Temperature checks at the door probably don’t do much, but mandatory masks and limits on the amount of people who can enter at one time do.
In general, here are things to keep in mind. If you have a choice between outside and inside, choose outside. You’re less likely to get or give the virus outdoors because it can hang in the still indoor air. And if you have to go inside, wear a mask as much as you possibly can.
To reduce your risk of exposure, consider what most people will be doing at various businesses. Where are people going to feel most at ease, and where will they most want to get close to one another and remove their masks? At a store, you can do your best to get in and get out.
But at businesses that exist for socialization, that’s a lot harder. Bars can be loud, and alcohol is flowing — meaning people's inhibitions are lowered. Gyms are inherently germy, and working out in a mask is hard. Dining in restaurants is tricky: Tables are close, you’re eating so you cannot keep your mask on, and waiters keep dropping by to check up on you.
Is it safe to go grocery shopping?
We’ve all learned how to safely grocery shop during the pandemic — wear a mask, avoid crowds, keep the trip short and wash your hands (when you get home and after you’ve unpacked groceries). While it may feel like a more hazardous time to shop compared with earlier months of the pandemic, the level of risk varies across the country. Your risk of crossing paths with an infected person is higher when an indicator called the test positivity rate is above 5 percent in your community.
Case counts and test positivity rates have risen across the country, which is why everyone needs to take precautions. But in some places, while precautions are needed and numbers have newly risen, it’s still not as bad as it once was. For instance, New York City’s test positivity rate now falls just below 9 percent, meaning your risk is lower compared with last April, when the rate was close to 70 percent.
To find out how your state is doing, use this chart from Johns Hopkins University. And to find the test positivity rate in your community, check your state or county health department's website or try the Covid Act Now website.
What about getting a haircut?
But fixing a ’do is one of the most beloved types of self-care there is. Even when you’re visible only on Zoom, split ends and straggly edges can crimp your confidence. When barbershops reopened in New York City, people came rushing back.
If you go to a salon, make sure you and your hairdresser or barber are both wearing masks. They have to get close to you, so be extra careful. Also, unless you’re getting your hair done outside, make sure they have fans running and windows open, to keep air moving through the space.
To keep yourself safe, shampoo your hair at home, so your stylist doesn’t have to bend down over you. Wait for the appointment outside and keep the haircut time short. Skip the blowdry.
That’s true for getting your hair colored, too. Step outside while the chemicals are taking, and wash your own hair out.
And, ah, masks. But what about the hair behind my ears? That’s an easy fix. Either settle for a not-so-close shave this time, or unloop one ear at a time, holding your mask to your face. Safety first. Vanity second.
What about the dentist?
Taking care of your pearly whites is not just a good beauty habit; it’s also essential for your health. With all the baking and drinking we’ve been doing during lockdown, you’re going to need a visit sooner rather than later. In fact, that’s part of the reason economists are using dentists as a bellwether for comfort about reopening writ large.
Dentists have mobilized and are ready to accommodate visitors. Dentists and hygienists should wear head-to-toe personal protective equipment and change between appointments.
Getting the first appointment of the day may also limit risk, though many dentists said they are seeing fewer patients so they have more time to disinfect rooms between visits. But the risk might be more to the providers than it is to the patients; they keep their mask on while you take yours off.
What about laundromats?
In confined spaces, droplets spread. The C.D.C. suggests that, while doing the laundry of a sick person, you should wear gloves and try not to shake the clothing, to minimize the possibility of dispersing the virus through the air. If possible, wash items using the warmest water setting, and dry thoroughly. But you can wash their laundry with everyone else’s.
That being said, the C.D.C. also says that surfaces contaminated with droplets of the virus can infect people, it is “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads." We know that’s contradictory information. Safe is always better than sorry, though, and if you’re living with someone sick, it’s always good to take precautions.
At the laundromat, if you leave your home to wash your clothes, don’t hang out in the room between cycles. Sit in your car or lounge outside as you wait, just for social distancing purposes.
How about gyms?
By their very nature, athletic facilities like gyms tend to be germy, and gym equipment can be difficult to sanitize. In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, flu virus and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in four different athletic training facilities.
If your gym is open and you plan to go, see what health and safety steps they have put in place (there will probably be more than enough signage). For what you personally can do, start by disinfecting any surfaces that you touch. Wash your hands frequently, or use hand sanitizer. When spraying a disinfectant, give it a fews minutes to kill germs before wiping. Clean any grime or dust off surfaces first. Once you're done with that machine, disinfect it again for the next person.
New York City reopened gyms in August, after much outcry. State officials said that they had tracked coronavirus infections connected to gyms in Hawaii and South Korea as case studies to inform their policies. Their policies might be good for you to adopt, no matter where you live: weights and machines are available to use, but studios are not. One-on-one training sessions are allowed; indoor group fitness classes are not.
When weighing whether to head back to your gym, consider the fact that a gym is still a confined space, and exercising through a mask is hard. Maybe just exercise outside instead? Or, there are many exercise classes streaming online. Set up a corner of your home, lay out a yoga mat, and stream those instead.
Socializing and Friends
Why is it safer to spend time together outside?
Outdoor gatherings lower risk because wind disperses viral droplets, and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up in concentrated amounts and being inhaled, which can happen when infected people exhale in a confined space for long stretches of time, said Dr. Julian W. Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester.
What are superspreaders?
A superspreader is someone who is really good at passing on the coronavirus to others.
The good news is: They’re rare.
But superspreaders exist. There was that Texas birthday party, where one man reportedly infected 17 members of his family. What about Biogen employees, who infected people after a healthcare conference? And there was that Connecticut soirée, dubbed “Party Zero."
Now researchers are trying to figure out why so few people spread the virus to so many. For the most part, they’re trying to answer three questions: Who are the superspreaders? When does superspreading take place? And where?
The answer to these questions is, for the most part, unknown. As with everything coronavirus-related, assume the worst and be hypervigilant.
What if I have to be indoors in a small space, like an elevator?
Are there stairs? Can you climb them? If not, or it’s too many flights, wait until the next car with no one in it.
But even alone in the elevator, since droplets can hang in the air long after you leave, wear your mask at all times.
And, no talking. Keeping your mouth shut lowers the risk of you spewing coronavirus droplets into the contained space.
Can I hug my friends?
Ugh, same. Hugs are great. We actually need physical touch. So, is there any safe way to do it?
Tara Parker-Pope, founding editor of Well, posed this conundrum to Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts on airborne disease transmission. Dr. Marr calculated that the risk of transmission is surprisingly low if both people are wearing a mask — in part because the duration is so brief.
“If you don’t talk or cough while hugging, the risk should be very low," Dr. Marr told her.
A few tips for lowering the risk further: Wear a mask. Do it outside. Turn your heads away from one another (no cheek-to-cheek, dear). Don’t linger, you don’t want to breathe into each other’s faces. Wash your hands afterward.
Of course, if you’re really worried about it, you can make a “hug glove" with a clear tarp with sleeves. It’s like an umbrella for your entire body.
How can I deal with the loneliness?
Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely — but it sure can feel that way. Rates of depression were already spiking this summer when the days were long and socially distanced outdoor activities were a given. Now, as we squirm against shorter days and tighter restrictions — both those imposed by local authorities as well as those reinforced by the weather — it is more important than ever to strike a balance between our physical and mental health. (Actually they go hand-in-hand: studies suggest that loneliness can adversely affect the immune system — making those people more likely to get sick.)
These days many of us feel caught between our closing walls and rabbit hole minds. So it’s especially important to take stock of your feelings, familiarize yourself with depression’s physical and mental markers and, if you’re uncertain, consider taking this self-diagnostic test.
Andrew Solomon, a professor of medical clinical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, explains that people’s responses to social isolation can be quartered into categories: 1. People who are generally unaffected, 2. Those with minor worry, 3. People now experiencing an anxiety disorder for the first time and 4. Those already suffering major depressive disorder but now falling into a “double depression.”
Ignoring depression can lead to substance abuse, broken relationships — and suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.
And remember: you’re not alone. Since the pandemic, one in three Americans have reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder — up from one in 12 shortly before. In June, Americans’ anxiety had tripled and depression had quadrupled between the first and second quarters of the year. Young adults and Black and Latino people (who have carried the brunt of the pandemic toll in loss of life and work) are experiencing upticks in anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 11 percent of respondents noted suicidal thoughts, with those thoughts being most acutely felt by Black and Latino people, as well as essential workers and unpaid caregivers for adults.
For those most greatly affected, professional help is suggested, but everyone can benefit from routine with time built-in for self-care. The things that brought you calm and joy in the months ahead of the pandemic may not make sense now, says Lucy Rimalower, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. So, be intentional in creating the schedule and self-care you need right now and let it change as your needs change.
Scott Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut who spent almost a year in space, has a few suggestions to stave off the boredom and develop a healthy routine — even alone. These ideas include keeping to a schedule, getting outside every day and keeping a journal — but you don't have to write about these dreary days. Happy memories are good writing material, too!
I actually … like … not seeing people. Help?
That’s really normal. For many people, the coronavirus has offered a strange respite from the pace of the world. Many of us, also, are more introverted than we previously thought.
Instead of self-flagellating, use this as an opportunity to reset. Tell someone you’re wiped out from life right now. Real friends will understand. Politely decline Zoom calls if you’re tired of them. Don’t feel like you need to eat outside with someone until you’re ready. It is a good time to take stock: Who and what is important to me, and who and what do I want in my life after all of this?
Eating and Drinking
I am not really eating normally. What should I do?
If you are eating differently, you might be able to manage the change on your own. If you are snacking a lot, that’s OK. But if it bothers you, try to assess whether you are actually hungry and, if so, try to add fruits and vegetables into your routine, if you can.
If you’re regularly not eating enough, find something you can tolerate. Schedule your mealtimes like any other essential appointment. You can also set alarms as reminders to drink some water, or to eat something.
But eating disorders can be serious, even life threatening. Roughly one in 10 Americans struggle with disordered eating, and the pandemic has created new hurdles for those managing difficult relationships with food.
“When the world feels out of control, people want to have control over something," said Jessica Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis who treats patients with eating and other mental health disorders. “Often, it’s what you put in your mouth."
So if you are struggling, speak with people you trust and consider seeking professional help.
What should I do about restaurants?
"We’re all tired of cooking. And spending money in local businesses is a great way to help the economy. Restaurants have been especially hard hit: 87 percent of New York City’s restaurants and bars couldn’t pay their full rent in August. But an open restaurant doesn’t mean a safe restaurant either for you, or for other customers or staff. The rules with outdoor dining are fuzzy: many people take their mask off when they sit down to dinner and don’t put it back up until they’ve paid the check. That could endanger you and the people you are dining with. That could also endanger the staff who have to bend over you to serve you. (Let’s also assume you’re not only going out to dinner with people in your household pod, tables aren’t usually six-feet wide). Already, open restaurants have been linked to viral spread. The food itself if not the problem. It’s customers, whose laughter and talking can spew viral droplets throughout the area and all over waiters and staff. If you want to eat restaurant food, consider getting it as take out and eat it as a socially-distanced picnic at a local park. (You could also try a ghost kitchen -- restaurant food designed specifically for takeout.) That way you can support a local business, see your friends and avoid having to cook — without as many ethical or safety concerns.
Are those outdoor winter dining contraptions really safe?
In big cities such as New York and Chicago, tents, cabanas and wooden installations resembling large-scale dollhouses have been set up next to their mother restaurants lining the roads, taking up parking space. Diners, some bundled in parkas and shivering into their matzo ball soup, have continued eating outside even as the weather turns wintery — but not all these outdoor shelters are the same. Just because you’re cold doesn't mean you’re really eating outside — or, most importantly, that you’re gaining the benefits of that al fresco meal with a reduced Covid-19 risk. Outdoor dining has exploded in New York City — with more than 10 times the number of restaurants joining the city’s outdoor dining program than before the pandemic. (Governor Andrew Cuomo re-shut down New York City’s indoor dining Dec. 14 — with only outdoor dining, takeout and delivery now available.) And while these restaurants are supposedly bound to winter dining rules, it’s unclear how strictly this will be enforced. If you do want to eat at a restaurant and reduce your risk of contracting Covid-19, here’s what to look for: *An open, airy space. In New York, any contraption with more than 50 percent of its wall area covered is considered inside dining. That’s a good general guideline for all of us. *Even outside, tables should still be six feet apart. And you should only be dining with members of your household. *Remain careful when eating near one of those outdoor heaters, as they are considered a fire hazard.
I am drinking a lot. Should I be worried?
Drinking is a hard one. If you imbibe, it makes a lot of sense that you are drinking more now. The coronavirus can be both stressful and boring, and drinking can dull the stress of waiting. New Yorkers, for example, flocked to buy cheap wine.
And although you might have normally had wine with friends, drinking alone — especially if you live alone — is not inherently frightening.
But substance abuse experts say they are worried that the pandemic could also trigger more serious drinking problems and even create new ones for people who have never struggled with dependency before. And without regular meetings, alcoholics are struggling to stay sober without the help of counselors and group support.
There is no right answer as to when it’s time for you to be worried. Some questions, though, might help you get a clearer sense of the problem. These are drawn from several self-administered quizzes put out by rehabilitation facilities and medical centers, but are mostly common sense gut checks.
First, just try to quantify your drinking. How many days a week do you drink? When you do drink, how many drinks do you have? Is there a time of day that you most want to drink? Can you sleep without a drink?
What about your attitude toward drinking? Do you get angry or irritable when someone tries to take your alcohol away, or suggest you might have a problem? Are you secretive about drinking?
And, primarily, have your drinking patterns changed dramatically since the pandemic started? Have you had major life changes — beyond lockdown — like losing your job or the death of a relative?
If your answer to some, or many of these questions, is yes, it might be time to step back and reconsider. If it continues to escalate, talk with friends, family and doctors about what professional help might look like.
Why are bars linked to outbreaks?
Think about a bar. Alcohol is flowing. It can be loud, but it’s definitely intimate, and you often need to lean in close to hear your friend. And strangers have way, way fewer reservations about coming up to people in a bar. That’s sort of the point of a bar. Feeling good and close to strangers.
It’s no surprise, then, that bars have been linked to outbreaks in several states. Louisiana health officials have tied at least 100 coronavirus cases to bars in the Tigerland nightlife district in Baton Rouge. Minnesota has traced 328 recent cases to bars across the state. In Idaho, health officials shut down bars in Ada County after reporting clusters of infections among young adults who had visited several bars in downtown Boise.
Governors in California, Texas and Arizona, where coronavirus cases are soaring, have ordered hundreds of newly reopened bars to shut down. Less than two weeks after Colorado’s bars reopened at limited capacity, Gov. Jared Polis ordered them to close.
To understand the connection between bars and outbreaks, consider a simple question: Are you your most vigilant self after a few drinks?
What should I consider when ordering food?
Both takeout and delivery are safer than eating in restaurants, because social distancing is possible. And, good news, packaging has a low risk of transmitting the disease. Although the C.D.C. says that surfaces contaminated with droplets of the virus can infect people, the agency notes that it is “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."
Delivery, though, is slightly safer because of contactless delivery, which lets workers leave food at your door, said Ben Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. Since the ordering and payment can be done electronically, customers and workers never need to touch.
If you choose to pick your food up, ask the restaurant staff member to put the food down and walk away before you pick it up. Wear a mask. Stand far apart from other patrons. And whether you choose takeout or delivery, try to pay in advance. You can do it electronically, which will keep both you and the workers safer.
As the world is reopening, I’m anxious. What should I do?
Lots of people with anxiety are struggling more than usual, and lots of people who haven't been anxious before are dealing with symptoms. With different messages coming from varying levels of the government, people can be left feeling as if there are few reliable answers about what precautions they should take or without a clear sense of whether things are under control.
“Uncertainty drives anxiety," said Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist at Boston University and the author of “How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety." “Anxiety is rooted in not knowing what is going to happen."
Just because the world is reopening, you don’t have to start living your life as if it’s before the pandemic. Instead of focusing on what frightens you, think of the things that you want to have back in your life that would enrich and fulfill you. Ease back in with activities that you actually want to do, and view this time as an opportunity, weighing whether you want to continue past relationships and activities.
Feel free, also, to tell people what your boundaries are, or name the awkwardness. You might just ask what the other person feels comfortable with. “Should we elbow bump? Do you want to go first? I guess I’ll take the next elevator, right?"
“A problem shared is a problem halved," Dr. Hendriksen said. “Naming the uncertainty is helpful because it shatters the illusion that there is a right way to do this."
Am I depressed? Or just in a bad mood?
Most experts expect to see rates of depression and other psychological disorders increase in the coming months, as the pandemic continues. And yet, a majority of those who seek treatment for depression will improve if they persist.
“I don’t know anyone right now that’s not having depression-like symptoms," said Luana Marques, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and the president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “It’s hard to keep going when our brains are constantly on fight or flight. It makes people really tired. If you’re having trouble concentrating or getting out of bed, it’s not abnormal. It’s an evolutionary response to a threat."
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.
What about meditation?
Meditating is a great way to take care of your stress. If you’re a novice looking to start, try for just five minutes every day. There’s no right way to do it, but a consistent practice is a good way to build your relaxation muscles. Apps can be helpful: Wirecutter, a product recommendation site that’s owned by The New York Times, recently named the meditation app Headspace (which costs $69.99 a year, after a free two-week trial) as its top choice.
Or, just try to find a comfortable space and breathe through your distress. Breathe from your belly, imagining your breath moving up from the depths of your body. Slow it down, close your eyes, and feel your lungs expanding and deflating.
How do I find a therapist?
Finding a therapist can be difficult, even under normal circumstances.
First, figure out what your insurance is and how you can pay for it. The logistical structures will make it a lot easier to move forward, and narrow down your choices for you. Of course, that’s not always an option — therapy can be time-intensive and expensive. You may not have insurance. If it is possible for you, though, here’s a quick guide.
Then, determine what type of professional you need. If you’re mostly looking to talk, a psychologist is a safe bet. Keep in mind that they do not prescribe medication.
If you’re suffering from a specific ailment — panic attacks, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, sociopathy, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia — see a psychiatrist or a psychologist with considerable experience in that specialty.
Then, set up a few preliminary calls and consultations. The getting-to-know-you session is often free, and you should take it as an opportunity to talk about what you are looking for from therapy, and how they approach their practice.
You might click with someone, the way you would with a friend. And there’s nothing wrong with trying a few initial appointments to learn about your own wants and desires. Remote options are now widely available, so you can still attend sessions while staying distant.
I’m having trouble sleeping. What should I do?
While there’s no single trick that works for everyone, one thing you can try now to improve your sleep is setting up a consistent schedule. That means sticking to a regular bedtime and wake time. Melatonin is also worth considering.
Try to go 90 minutes without any screentime before bed — that means no emails, social media or watching TV. (Read a book, take a nice shower, etc.) You can also take baby steps, beginning with 15 minutes, then working your way up.
Working out, whether that means taking a socially distant walk or doing an at-home routine, can help tire you out and dispel extra nervous energy. Taking a warm shower or bath 90 minutes before lights out may also help prime you for a better night’s sleep. And be sure to nix the coffee, alcohol and any food before bed — these things don’t promote quality rest.
How can I stay motivated to work?
As the weeks morph into months, the ennui of coronavirus-induced isolation can undermine our enthusiasm for getting anything done.
If that sounds familiar, remember: Doing what’s meaningful — acting on what really matters to a person — is the antidote to burnout.
Motivation might best be fostered by dividing large goals into small, specific tasks that are more easily accomplished, but not so simple that they are boring and soon abandoned. Avoid perfectionism — the ultimate goal could become an insurmountable challenge. As each task is completed, reward yourself with virtual brownie points (not chips or cookies!), then go on to the next one.
Help! I’m frustrated with my partner.
That makes sense. If you’re cohabitating, you could be in a tough spot. If you’re not, you’ve probably had to figure out ways to see each other — or not — that feel safe and nurturing for you and the people around you.
Or as Eric Spiegelman, a podcasting executive based in Los Angeles, tweeted in April, “My wife and I play this fun game during quarantine, it’s called ‘Why Are You Doing It That Way?’ and there are no winners."
No matter who you are or how you are interacting, make sure you take care of yourself first. Then, make a plan. If you are both working from home, when can you take time to care for each other and feel normal and romantic again? What rituals can you implement to separate day from night, roommates from lovers? You might just have to impose boundaries.
If you were both at work before the pandemic, separately, during the day, you probably didn’t talk for 14 waking hours straight. Build in time apart, as if you really were at the office, so seeing each other is a nice break at the end of the day, rather than a droning grind.
“The traditional marriage vows are ‘for better or for worse,’" said Jean Fitzpatrick, a relationship therapist based in Manhattan. “This is for worse. And so how do we navigate a time like this? Our relationships will either grow as a result, or they will be harmed."
But this time together might actually make you closer. So many parts of our lives have changed without our consent, and we may be feeling a kind of grief about it. Some people may not want to complain to their partners about these bad feelings, but if you don’t honestly share these feelings, you two might feel a sense of disconnect. Lean on each other right now.
And, you can still do nice, intentional, romantic things. Get dressed up. Foot rubs. Chocolate. You’ll be OK.
My partner wants to go out more than I do. What should we do?
You are going to have to work together to weigh each other’s needs. One partner might have parents who are older and at higher risk of complications from the coronavirus; the other might be an extrovert who thrives on being around other people and is, emotionally, at a breaking point.
Remember that you’re on the same team. “It’s not, ‘My needs versus your needs, and let’s negotiate,’ but asking the question and having the posture of: ‘What is best for our relationship?’" said Jennifer Bullock, a psychotherapist based in Philadelphia.
Several psychologists and counselors recommended presenting a united front when explaining shared decisions to friends and family. Any sort of “I would, but he’s afraid" seeds resentment and can amplify the problem far past the boundaries of your own home.
In any fraught situation, sit down with your partner and listen. Instead of offering rebuttals, try to treat it more like an interview about where he or she is coming from. Ask open-ended questions — which can’t be answered with a simple “yes" or “no." You could try: “How should we approach our safety when I go back to the office?"
But remember, this is a pandemic. If one person is seriously scared about their health or the health of their family, their needs might take priority. Ultimately, your well-being and others’ should take precedence.
How do I date during this time?
That’s a tough one.
By nature, pandemic dating is much more serious than any other type of dating. Even if you feel willing to take the risk, you’re basically co-mingling your quarantine pods when you make out. That doesn’t mean that you have to marry the person, but it does reframe the pace of everything.
There’s something sort of nice, though, about taking it slow. Start with a socially distanced walk with masks or a video chat, maybe. Get to know them. If you are going to be physically intimate, you’ll need to have frank and honest conversations about your limits and your living situations.
Now, though, sex is way more complicated. A number of public health agencies have offered tips for dating and sex during the pandemic, but the New York City health department has recently updated its Safer Sex and Covid-19 fact sheet with more-detailed and descriptive advice. The new guidelines still say that “you are your safest sex partner," and that the “next safest partner" is someone in your household.
Some couples are wearing masks during the deed; others are getting tested before getting intimate. The only sure thing is that this is going to be a bumpy year for single people.
One of the good things about dating during quarantine, though, is that it’s cheaper. Two drinks might be $25. A video chat with your own wine is much less.
I’m worried that I, or my friend, might be suffering domestic abuse. What should I do?
If you are in danger, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.
This is a problem that is affecting people across the world. Since the pandemic started, abusers and their families are often stuck in the same house, and tensions are running high. Doctors and advocates for victims are seeing signs of an increase in violence at home. They are hearing accounts of people lashing out, particularly at women and children.
“No one can leave," said Kim Foxx, the chief prosecutor in Chicago. “You’re literally mandating that people who probably should not be together in the same space stay."
Across the country, hotlines are seeing increased traffic, with calls and text messages mounting. But in many places, reports are dropping. That’s not because abuse is falling, officials say. Instead, it’s because people are having a harder time reporting. Reports of child abuse cases are falling, which is also worrisome.
Be careful when reaching out for help, especially if your partner monitors your phone. Maybe ask a friend to call for you, or use their online chat tool.
Is it coronavirus or the common cold?
It’s inevitable. In the fall and winter your child is likely to develop a fever, runny nose or cough. Maybe even all three.
You likely won’t know if it’s the coronavirus or a common cold because the symptoms are so similar. If there’s any chance your child may have the virus, don’t send them back to school without a negative test, because research suggests they can be asymptomatic but still contagious. And if they have symptoms — even sniffles or an upset tummy — play it extra safe.
A chart on the C.D.C.’s website shows just how often these symptoms can overlap.
“This is not the year to just send your kid to school," said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and assistant dean at Brown University. “This is the year to respect the community and get your kid tested before sending them back."
If you think your child has been exposed, get her tested. That might pose new challenges, though: pediatric tests can be hard to come by.
“Kids weren’t really out in the wider world when this whole testing infrastructure was set up," said Sarah Kliff, an investigative reporter at The Times. “But now they are. Day cares are reopening. Some students are going to school in person. We don’t really have a testing infrastructure meant to handle that."
So don’t assume that your local pharmacy will also swab your kid. Call ahead, and take deep breaths.
Should my kid get a flu shot?
YES. (Sorry to be extra, but, YES.)
As any parent knows, cold and flu season always brings a host of respiratory viruses and runny noses, but this year there’s the possibility of getting both the flu and Covid-19. So public health leaders are urging everyone to get the flu vaccine to both protect ourselves and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with sick patients.
If your child is younger than 9, keep in mind that they might need two flu shots: their immune system isn’t strong enough to launch a response after one. And get their shot early — Sept. or Oct. That way, they’ll be protected from early flu season. But you might also get it out of the way before the coronavirus flares up again in cool weather.
What about a coronavirus vaccine for kids?
No one really knows for sure when a vaccine will be available. Even if adults can get a vaccine by next summer, their children will have to wait longer. Perhaps a lot longer.
Thanks to the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed and other programs, a number of Covid-19 vaccines for adults are already in advanced clinical trials. But no trials have yet begun in the United States to determine whether these vaccines are safe and effective for children.
Only if researchers discovered no serious side effects in adults, would they start testing a vaccine in children, beginning with teenagers and working their way to younger ages. Vaccine developers are keenly aware that children are not simply miniature adults. Their biology is different in ways that may affect the way vaccines work.
How should I explain this to my kids? How is their mental health?
Before you talk to your children, it’s important to understand your own anxiety and keep it in check. If your child is worried about the coronavirus, listen to him or her, rather than respond with comments like, “It’ll be fine." Dismissive reactions can make children feel like they’re not being heard, said Abi Gewirtz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota.
Talking about the pandemic and its impact may help avoid the harmful effects of stress. Help your kids understand that there are things they can do to help others — like staying home whenever possible and wearing a mask when they go out. Kids feel good when they know they are helping solve a problem.
Also, avoid making assumptions. While we may be struggling with schools being closed, kids could be rejoicing in it. We might assume our kids miss their friends, but they may appreciate having more time with us. And some who were dealing with bullying or social challenges at school may be relieved to not have to see other kids.
How does this affect kids, physically? Can they transmit coronavirus?
Fewer children seem to get infected by the coronavirus than adults, and their symptoms tend to be mild. But it can be serious, contrary to earlier belief.
A very small number of children with the virus have shown symptoms associated with toxic shock or Kawasaki disease. This is a rare illness in children, according to the New York City health department, that involves inflammation of the blood vessels, including coronary arteries.
Two studies offer compelling evidence that children can transmit the virus. While neither proved it, many epidemiologists who were not involved in the research said that the evidence was strong enough to suggest that schools should be kept closed. (We have more about schools in a later section.)
If your child develops severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing, an inability to eat or drink, or a change in behavior, you should contact a doctor.
My partner and I both work from home, and now both parent from home. What should we do?
Honestly, the first step is to acknowledge this is totally bonkers. The writer Deb Perelman, who created the food blog Smitten Kitchen, laid it out plainly in her essay: "In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both."
“Why are we not hearing a primal scream so deafening that no plodding policy can be implemented without addressing the people buried by it?" she asks.
There are a few strategies to try. Most importantly, work with your partner and present a united front. Division will create disorder, which will create chaos, which will drive you all up the wall.
However you can, try to create boundaries. That might be a physical boundary (“This is the adult room") or a time boundary (“You are not allowed to talk to Daddy until 2 p.m. today"). To do that, you might need to use time more effectively — sleep whenever you can and use noise-canceling technology, if need be. Having a daily schedule also helps.
But most important, be kind to yourself, and to one another. This is not like anything that has ever happened before. That’s OK. If the kids are spending more time on their screens, or if you’re not whipping up super healthy organic meals every night, whatever. You’re getting through it, and you’re loving one another. That’s what counts, right?
I’m worried my kid isn’t actually learning much through remote school.
For many of us, this year has been an epic fail. And unfortunately, that failure is extending to a lot of our kids’ education — in staggering numbers.
“We’re obviously dealing with unprecedented learning loss and course failure,” Brian T. Woods, a Texas superintendent, said, “and it’s going to take years to mitigate.”
Declining literacy rates are particularly concerning. An overwhelming amount of data shows that if kids aren’t reading by the third grade, they may never catch up — and they’re more likely to drop out of high school.
Now, if your kid’s grades were better in the spring but have plummeted in the fall, that’s not necessarily a reflection on your child: Schools often inflated grades at the start of the pandemic in an effort to keep things less stressful as everyone got acclimated. The problem is we’ve still not adjusted and the grading system is now becoming evidence of that.
Of course, this semester’s grades are generally less a reflection on our children and more on how the school system is handling the seismic shift in education this year. (Isn’t it nice to have someone else to blame, parents?)
Many children have still not returned to the physical classroom — their schools shuttered since the spring. Disrupted class schedules, online learning and unequal resourcing across districts and within homes have all teamed up against our children at the expense of their learning.
And kids with slow internet or who are sharing devices with siblings on similar school schedules, or who are still without an electronic device to tune in — are at a still far greater disadvantage.
In California, seven families have sued the state, saying in the lawsuit that remote learning has heightened inequality in the classrooms and infringed on the rights of “low-income and minority students” from receiving an education.
For ideas about how to make sure your kid keeps up, head to the next question.
How can I keep my kid on track?
Here are a few tips to keep your kids engaged in the remote classroom. (Most of these tips are good personal reminders for the working parent, too.):
1. Don’t let them study in bed: If your kids aren’t asleep, they shouldn’t be in bed. Instead, create a space with your children that fosters a good learning environment — one that separates work from the rest of life, says Donald M. Rattner, a New York-based architect who specializes in creating productive home and office spaces.
2. Pick a space away from other distractions (like the television) and where they have room to move around. If you can position their desks by a window to let in natural light, that’s even better. Create separate spaces with curtains, screens or an extra sheet. And let your children take some leadership in creating their space, adding artwork, fun pencils or a favorite photo. The in-home classroom should be a place the kids want to be.
Just be sure that the work space includes all their necessary school supplies. (Nothing wastes time like walking all over the house in search of a sharpened pencil or that long-lost password to login.) In fact, depending on the age and needs of your child — as well as the layout of your home or apartment — you may set up offices as though your kid is the co-worker in the next cubicle over.
You have an important work call, your kid has a test, or maybe one of you just needs a moment’s peace? Signal that. Color-coded cards (green for ‘go,’ red for ‘don’t even think about it’) on the space dividers can signal when each of you can invade the other’s space.
3. Set a strict routine. Just because you’re not jumping out of bed and rushing to school every morning doesn’t mean that some parts of that morning routine can’t stay the same. Work on a schedule with your children — one that they are happy with and that works with your own schedule (you matter, too!).
Then help them keep to it. Set a time to wake up, eat breakfast and, yes, change out of pajamas. And be sure to follow the same rules as the kids. No just-coffee-for-breakfast hypocrites in the house, please.
4. Set daily goals. Sharing these goals with family members can give everyone ownership of their day and create self- and group-accountability, as well as compassion toward others in the house. If people are lagging behind, remind one another of your goals and see what you can do to meet them even after the inevitable hiccups in the day.
5. Transitions are natural — just don’t get caught up. You can’t be productive every moment of the day. Kids need breaks (and so do you) for snacks, recess — and, yes, even naps! — to process the day. Build that into the routine.
6. Get up and get moving. Take breaks to go outside, get some exercise or even just move around a bit inside the house.
7. Remember to engage with your child. There’s a reason children are always asking “Why?” They, too, are invested in the meaning of what we do day in and day out. And some of that gets lost in a virtual environment. Try to connect their work to an everyday example in which you’ve used the material they’re learning.
8. Keep in touch with the teachers. Just because you can’t go to parent-teacher conferences right now doesn’t mean you can’t check in and voice concerns or ask for help. This is a school year for the record books. So have compassion for the teachers who are up against even more than usual. (And that’s saying something.)
9. Keep your distance, too. While younger kids need more help logging on and staying on — their fine motor skills aren’t fully developed yet — older kids don’t need someone peering over their shoulder every few seconds. (And you have better ways to spend your time, too.) If your child needs help and you’re equipped to provide it, then schedule some time outside of class to work together. And be sure to mark an end to the school day. In pre-Covid times, the school bus ride or walk home from school was a nice cue that the day was over — at least before the homework began. But now since all work is homework, when work is finished, find cues for both students and parents that the day is done: Close the computer, stop checking email — you’re transitioning back into the life part of that work-life balance.
10. Remember, tomorrow is a new day. You might not be trained as a teacher or have expected to be a full-time worker, caregiver and teacher all at once: You’ll make mistakes and so will the kids. Give them grace. Give yourself grace. Give everyone grace again and again and again. You can work the kinks out with each new day.
How can we keep grandkids connected to their grandparents?
Older people are more likely to have a severe case of the coronavirus, so visiting grandparents or grandchildren is risky.
In the nice weather, you could spend time together outdoors. Don’t forget a mask.
Video chat does work, although you might need to walk your older parents through the twists and turns a few times before it’s second nature.
If you live close, perhaps you conjoin your quarantine pods. Get tested, quarantine while you’re getting results back, and then spend time together normally. That might be necessary: Parents, stressed from working at home, desperately need reliable child care. Some grandparents who have become the primary caregivers are delighted, and exhausted.
That might be your best option. Social distancing is hard to explain to kids, and often harder to explain to grandparents. You want kids to have their grandparents around at high school graduations, first jobs and weddings. If you can’t see each other safely, maybe you should wait until you can.
How do I get my kid to wear a mask?
Older children can be a little cranky about adapting to life with masks, but younger children are perfectly positioned to learn a new drill.
Most children enjoy the chance to feel morally superior to adults (and adults often make this all too easy); go ahead and encourage a little righteousness. They can be the family monitors, reminding their parents not to forget their face coverings when they leave the house.
For some children, though, even the humblest of masks can be scary — scary in themselves, and scary as reminders of the threat of infection and the generally frightening moment. By making it into a game, or buying see-through or emotive masks for the family, you can alleviate their anxiety. Or, maybe it’s an opportunity to play dress up?
How do I help my kids entertain themselves without socializing?
Maybe don’t. Let them amuse themselves.
That’s tough: Research has shown that our heavily scheduled lives have contributed to a significant decrease in the amount of free time kids have, so their independent play skills may not be ready for the moment we are facing.
But it might really be necessary. “Independent play encourages time management, executive function and organizational skills, and emotional and physical awareness and regulation," said Dana Rosenbloom, a parent and child educator in Manhattan. “All skills that help us be successful individuals as adults."
You can help them play on their own. Start slow — let younger kids direct play for 20 minutes, 35, then an hour. Keep toys out of rotation, said Avital Schreiber-Levy, a parenting performance coach in New Jersey who has created a play guide for parents on lockdown. “When toys sit out too long, they go stale," she said. “It’s about making them novel again, either because we take them away or we set them up in a new way."
Let kids get messy, and keep play in a specific zone where they can wiggle and jump. And, be patient. If your kid is used to socializing and screentime, self-directed play might be tough for them. Letting them work out the kinks on their own will develop strength and resiliency that can last them a lifetime.
What about socializing with other children? Can we do it safely?
If your family or friends live nearby, consider linking up quar-pods. If you as parents agree to community norms and guidelines, you can probably let your kids play together as if the world were normal.
But if you’re unable to do that, or you want to see someone for a play date, know that there are risks. Playgrounds are open in some states, and young children are being asked to stay six feet apart and wear masks, an often unrealistic expectation.
If you’re trying for a play date, good communication with a parent is essential.
“A start would be, ‘Hi, our kids have been asking about getting together, and as you know, this is a complicated conversation right now,’" said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. A parent could continue, “I wanted to start with an open conversation, see where you are, tell you where I am, and see if it’s possible to send a consistent message to our kids."
Enlist your kids for help, too. If they feel like it’s a project that they’re doing together, they might find some way to enjoy it. You could make spaces — all of the kids get their own blanket — if you’re playing outside.
But there’s no good answer to this. If you can keep your kids away from other kids, you’re reducing your family’s risk of infection. That might not be possible, but it might also be the only way to do it safely.
But will not socializing with other children stunt my kid’s development?
Probably not, although it does make sense to worry.
Social interactions are an important part of development throughout childhood, and spending time with peers is typically part of that process. But try not to fret too much about what kids are missing right now. Children are resilient and adaptable, and they’re not entirely cut off from other people.
There is much to be gained from interactions with parents, siblings and even pets. Time alone is valuable, too. And connection through technology, like hanging out or playing games through video chats, can fill in some of the blanks. Even without peer interaction for a while, kids can still develop socially and emotionally in ways that will prepare them to pursue real-world friendships when those can resume.
Friendship is like riding a bicycle. You don’t really forget how, even if you have some time away.
There’s a case at my child’s school. Help?
If we’ve learned anything from the first semester back in school, it’s that if your kid is in a classroom, you’ll most likely hear about some positive Covid-19 tests. But that doesn’t mean that schools will necessarily reshutter in response.
A case at your child’s school does not mean you should panic. Schoolchildren aren’t likely to get and spread the virus, so your kid is probably OK. A classroom in quarantine, or a school forced to switch to remote learning, does not necessarily mean a district has failed. In fact, if your school is following an established pandemic procedure, it may signal that things are working effectively — contact tracing is essential to help families and classrooms assess risks and make a plan.
As gut-wrenching as the news of Covid-19 in your school can seem, it’s better to catch a small number of cases before your school has an outbreak — so hearing about it could even be considered good news. And remember: If transmission rates in the surrounding community are high, students are most likely getting infected outside of school, where the environment is less controlled.
“It’s important to distinguish between Covid in your school, which is bad, but not exactly the same thing as Covid being transmitted in your school,” said Dr. Benjamin Linas, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University. “People have lives outside of school. It’s very likely that people will get infected somewhere else.”
Most experts agree that students shouldn’t return to school if more than 5 percent of people in their community test positive. In some places that number is even lower — at one point, New York had an infamously low threshold of 3 percent.
Is there help available to families without access to the internet?
It is hard enough to learn through the Zoom classroom. But what about when you’re not even able to do that?
The effects of a year of disrupted schooling on learning loss is yet unknown — but early indicators show that literacy among our young students could be horribly stunted.
As last school year wound to a close, a survey of more than 1,500 families around the country conducted by ParentsTogether, a national advocacy group, found a deep disparity between low-income parents and those making more than $100,000: lower-income students were 10 times more likely to be doing little to no remote learning. In other words: Many of these students weren’t receiving any formal education.
The reason for the disparity is simple: The digital divide is greatest in rural areas and communities of color, where families are sometimes without access to high-speed internet or are sharing devices for remote learning.
Poorer school districts put those families at a further disadvantage — unable to compete with richer districts quickly shelling out money for student devices. With worldwide demand for low-cost laptops up 41 percent from last year, shipments have been long-delayed — with poorer students in poorer districts last in line. Those students are now forced to watch recordings of classes or complete printed assignments delivered to their homes instead of attending the more interactive live classes.
Among older students in less affluent families who are facing constrained economic situations at home, dropouts are on the rise, as children pick jobs over lackluster learning.
If you’re in need of low-cost internet or affordable devices, reach out to your school. And then check out EveryoneOn, which pairs you with programs by your ZIP code.
For those who want to help, you can donate to EveryoneOn or check out National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a nonprofit organization that urges the importance of internet access for all and has a list of local organizations working toward digital inclusion.
You may also consider giving to Comp-U-Dopt, which refurbishes used computers and gives them to children in cities across the country. For $215, the organization can obtain a computer, overhaul it, deliver it and provide two years of tech support and training.
Should my child take the bus?
School buses are the nation’s largest single form of mass transportation. But during the coronavirus pandemic, the C.D.C. recommends they operate at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing.
Before putting your kid on the bus, be sure those guidelines are being followed. Among the C.D.C.’s suggestions: mandatory mask-wearing, opened windows, clearly marked six feet of space for kids lining up and unidirectional markers inside the bus to keep the flow of kids easy and uncongested.
Disinfectants should be on board, but it never hurts to pop an extra hand sanitizer or pack of wipes in your child’s backpack.
Similar to some of the outdoor dining situations you’ve seen, temporary dividers are also helpful on the bus — as well as leaving seats empty between people. (An easy reminder for kids: seats marked off-limits.) It’s also a good idea to keep some space away from the driver, who is more likely to contract the virus than many of the children on the bus.
But don’t be surprised if your bus driver isn’t wearing a mask. While the C.D.C. says mask-wearing should be encouraged, officials note: “Masks should not be worn by drivers and aides if their use creates a new risk (e.g., interference with driving or vision, contribution to heat-related illness) that exceeds their Covid-19 related benefits of slowing the spread of the virus.”
Of course, if you’re still worried and own a car, you can log some good quality time with the kids while driving them to school.
What is college going to be like this spring?
For most students, it was a rough last few semesters. But across the country, administrators are optimistic that the lessons learned at the start of the academic year will serve them well and bring more students safely back to campus.
The way to do it: consistent testing, thorough contact tracing and, of course, requiring masks and social distancing.
With that in mind, the University of California, San Diego is bringing an additional 1,000 students to campus housing, the University of Florida is upping the number of in-person classes offered and Princeton will increase its on-campus living student population to thousands of undergraduates from a few hundred. Almost two times the number of students will return to Harvard — and make that almost three times to Brown. And Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., isn’t just increasing the number of students on campus, it plans to reopen study abroad, too.
Yes, money is a factor in the decision to bring students back. (Colleges make a lot, charging for room and board.) But actually, some studies suggest it’s not a bad approach because oftentimes cases aren’t traced back to in-person classes anyway — the biggest risk is the social activities college students like to engage in after class. In fact, a study of 70,000 undergraduates at Indiana University suggested that the more classes a student took in person, the lower the likelihood that student would become infected with the coronavirus.
Faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill voiced their concerns about in-person classes in an open letter: “We have every reason to expect that the University will — once again — be overwhelmed by infections when classes resume,” they wrote, asking the university to cancel most in-person classes in the spring.
And more than 200 professors at the University of Florida asked for reprieves from teaching students face to face — less than half were given permission to do so.
Separately, college students are becoming frustrated with fees and loans that don’t seem worth the virtual education. Students at the University of Georgia and at Georgia Tech are suing to get some of their tuition and fees back. Community colleges are enrolling fewer and fewer male students — especially among students of color.
It’s not an easy time. Across the country, colleges are asking Congress to pass a bill with $120 billion in relief for higher education.
Why are some schools and universities remote only, while others are open for in-person learning?
Without clear federal mandates, state and local authorities have largely been on their own to determine the best course of action for their schools — and those plans differ greatly even under similar circumstances. (The same goes for colleges.) The result: a patchwork of unclear messaging and policies that has left many parents in the lurch.
It seems that access to the right resources and advance planning have given some schools a better shot at opening successfully. For that reason, across the country schools in lower-income neighborhoods are significantly more likely to opt for remote-only instruction. At the same time, some public schools are located in places with high community spread, so many of these districts made the tough decision to start and stay remote only.
In New York City and San Francisco, private school students are generally receiving live classroom experiences, while most public school students in both districts spent much of the school year without — meaning that the class divide is determining which children receive in-person instruction.
More recently, some public schools that are reluctant to fully open have been pushing to at least get younger students back in front of a teacher — as research suggests that these children are in particular need of in-person instruction.
But no matter what kind of school your children attend, if they have been remote for the fall and are returning for the spring semester, be sure you know what to expect.
At this point it should go without saying, but again: If your school has a “masks recommended” policy, rather than a masks required one, you’re at greater risk. And old ventilations systems with poor circulation can mean that the virus hangs around in one place that much longer.
Students in districts with low community spread will be safer.
Why are my younger kids in the classroom and the older ones still at home?
For two reasons: 1. They really need that in-person instruction more than the older children, and 2. It’s safer for them to be in the classroom.
Younger children — those under 10 — are less-likely to contract and transmit the virus, so they can enter the classroom at a much lower risk than older students.
And keeping elementary schools open seems to work. In fact, during Europe’s second wave, even as countries re-shuttered, their youngest students kept coming to class.
“The data is becoming more compelling that there is very limited transmission in day care and grade schools,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s coronavirus task force.
So who’s coming back?
Many elementary students in New York City started back Dec. 7. Those in Michigan, Cambridge, Mass., and Johnson County, Kan., were already in class.
Other timelines are a bit less certain. But Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have all said that whenever they do open, the younger students will be the first ones back at their desks. (Those districts say they’ll reopen schools only after cases in their cities stabilize.) Las Vegas will also send young students back sooner.
And across the Midwest, which reopened quickly and has been suffering with high caseloads, public health officials shuttering high schools and sometimes middle schools have prioritized keeping elementary students in the classroom.
With a vaccine rolling out, will school get easier?
Short answer: It should!!
Kids will have to wait longer than most of the rest of us to get vaccinated — Pfizer and Moderna just started trials for kids over 12 — but they aren’t the ones who are keeping the schools shuttered anyway.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says vaccinating students is “an extra added benefit,” but not necessary for reopening.
Children rarely die after contracting the virus. In fact,
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">young kids do not even pose a high risk of infecting others.
The real hiccup to school starting is protecting the adults in the building, and teachers will be among the first to get vaccinated — after health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities.
Of course, teachers aren’t the only adults at school. Bus drivers, cafeteria staff, custodians and receptionists are all critical to keeping a school running — and where they will fall in the vaccine line remains uncertain.
“The equity angle is really important,” said Dr. Grace M. Lee, an associate chief medical officer for practice innovation at Stanford Children’s Health. “All of the folks that enable a school to open are going to be critical to that work force.”
Do you have any strategies for staving off boredom at home?
Our section At Home is your one-stop guide to riding out the pandemic. In it, you’ll find advice and guidance on everything you’ll need to pass the time: what to watch, cook, read, listen to and more, along with tips for dealing with the psychological and emotional effects of quarantine.
What should I do to keep my home safe? Should I still be disinfecting everything?
Always remember the basics, like washing your hands frequently (and reminding members of your household to do the same).
The coronavirus isn’t really transmitted on surfaces. Or, at least, surfaces are a much lower risk than person-to-person transmission. So although disinfecting isn’t a bad idea, you probably don’t need to be quite as vigilant now as we initially thought.
Mostly, keep people who might be infected out of your house. But the safest thing you can do to keep your home safe is to keep yourself safe when you’re outside of your home. That means wearing a mask and socially distancing whenever possible.
I’m working at home and stiff as heck. Tips?
You’ll want to focus on your wrists and forearms, your shoulders, and your chest and back. Read here for three stretches that’ll help, but for now let’s try this one for your wrists:
* Stand with one arm out in front of you and your palm facing the ground.
* With your other hand, gently pull the fingers of the outstretched arm back. You should feel the stretch in the underside of your wrist.
* Hold for a moment or two, then release.
* Next, keeping your arm straight, use your other hand to push your fingers and palm down and toward your body. Hold a few seconds, then release.
* Repeat with your other arm.
Don’t forget to stretch and strengthen your whole body, too. See The Times’s 9-Minute Strength Workout, which includes exercises you can do in a pinch.
I’m trying to exercise again. It’s really hard. Tips?
If you’ve had the coronavirus, expect a long recovery. Even if you were an athlete beforehand, you are not going to be back at your peak capacity for a while. The usual return-to-play criteria for sick athletes do not apply, said Dr. James Hull, a sports pulmonologist at Royal Brompton Hospital in London.
“We have seen people have some mild symptoms to start with and seem to improve," he said, “only to then deteriorate really badly at seven days following their first symptoms."
Even if you haven’t been symptomatic, most everyone took at least a few weeks off of their normal workout routine in the early part of the lockdown. A lot of people are a lot less toned than they used to be.
If that’s you, start slow. Focus on strength, rather than cardio, because inactivity eats away at muscle mass.
Dawdle through any resumption of weight training, said Brad Schoenfeld, an associate professor of exercise science at Lehman College in New York, who researches resistance exercise. “If you have been doing almost no training," he said, “plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of your prior workouts" when you return to the gym.
If you’re running outside, wear a mask, even if it’s uncomfortable. You’re breathing heavily, and you could be spitting out — or sucking in — virus droplets. No one wants that.
What about pets? Can they get the coronavirus? Can they transmit it?
In April, a dog in North Carolina tested positive for the coronavirus, as did two pet cats in New York and eight tigers at the Bronx Zoo. However, there has been no evidence that pets such as dogs or cats can spread the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization and the C.D.C. (The animals showed mostly mild symptoms — though a tiger was “visibly sick" — and have recovered.)
Still, if you are sick with the coronavirus, it is best not to pet your family dog. And avoid petting other people’s dogs as well.
But do take care of your animal’s mental health — this is stressful for them, too. Staying at home for months on end can acclimate your dog to an unrealistic reality, experts said. Start leaving for a bit, even to walk, so they get used to the idea that you won’t always be around.
I want to renovate my home. What should I do?
You’re in luck. Home renovation is the new sourdough bread.
Almost a month after the phase 1 reopening of New York City that allowed contractors and their crews back into residential buildings, “we’re redefining what ‘full steam ahead’ means," said Steve Mark, the chief executive of SMI Construction. “It’s not going to mean what it used to."
It’s a tough balance as contractors and homeowners try to navigate restrictions, but hammers are banging once more.
Other than pandemic-related changes, renovating a home is a pretty standard process. You budget and design, work with a contractor and/or a designer, and watch as mishaps and mayhem happen around you.
I miss looking at art. What do I do?
Some museums are trying to reopen. Science museums designed for kids are opting for no-touch exhibits, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, plans to open in late August. Some museums have been forced to close.
Some galleries and museums are uploading their collections, so you can “visit" virtually. The Arts section ran a series of reviews of virtual shows. It’s, of course, not the real thing. But by zooming in, you can “get up close" to the surface of canvases in a way that you might never have been able to before.
I miss getting dressed up. And I have hot new threads. Should I … wear them?
Extravagant purchases innocently made in February and March, before the extent of the pandemic was known, have become markers of a fast-receding era of freedom. Some purchasers have even saved their sales receipts, as if they were historic documents. Many of these items now languish in closets. Others are put to good use.
If that’s you, wear them. Beautiful clothes are beautiful clothes. You deserve to be stunning and extra, even if you’ve got nowhere to be. Wear a gown and a mask to walk the dog. It’s a pandemic. There are no rules. You’re fierce no matter where you are.
Money and Work
What is included in the second stimulus bill?
Congress passed the hefty 5,593-page bill on Dec. 21 — just days before as many as 12 million Americans were set to lose unemployment benefits and other protections like eviction moratoriums were set to expire at the end of the year. However, whether it becomes law or not still rests with President Trump, who has criticized it.
The $900 billion economic relief package will be among the hardiest in recent times but falls far short of the CARES Act, which was almost twice the size and is credited with keeping the economy afloat in the spring.
The bill provides necessary aid to many for now. It helps fund testing, tracing and vaccine distribution and includes most of the elements economists have asserted are crucial to avoiding economic disaster.
The package, which was folded into a year-end spending bill in order to expedite its enactment ahead of Christmas, means that most Americans will receive a round of $600 stimulus payments, and that enhanced unemployment benefits will be restored at an additional $300 a week for an extra 11 weeks. Additionally, the package contains provisions affecting current and future students, as well as protections for renters and people with surprise medical bills. — It puts $285 billion toward the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept many small businesses above water last spring, and $15 billion toward struggling art venues.
It includes measures to address climate change, along with $82 billion toward funding colleges and schools, $13 billion to increase nutrition assistance, $7 billion for broadband access and $25 billion for emergency rental relief — as well as huge breaks to the country’s richest.
You can learn more about the bill — with its good, bad and just plain strange provisions — in questions below.
Is more coming under President-Elect Biden?
Ultimately, few on either side of the aisle seem thrilled with the new deal: President Trump called it a “disgrace” and all but threatened to veto it, while President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. called it a “down payment” and said more was necessary — an idea that could be difficult to implement amid Republican opposition and rising optimism that a widely-dispersed vaccine could bring things back to “normal.”
Republicans and Democrats didn’t agree on much about the second relief package, but now that it has been rushed through Congress, they have found common ground — in how much they dislike it.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York said in a Tweet on the day of its passage that the quickie-read didn’t even constitute governance: “It’s hostage-taking.”
And in what may be a first, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, publicly agreed with her, retweeting: “It’s ABSURD.”
(Just six senators — Mr. Cruz among them — and 85 House members actually voted against the package.)
With a dark cloud cast over the entire package, what can we expect going forward? And, perhaps most important to many struggling Americans: How does that translate into money in our pockets?
For one, Mr. Biden has promised to work toward another relief package during his first month in office. He has said the focus of that package would be to put money toward distributing vaccines to 300 million people, as well as to provide support to those who have lost their jobs and businesses struggling to stay open during the pandemic. The bill, he said, would also include more funding to help firefighters, police officers and nurses and would include a third round of stimulus checks — although the amount would be up for negotiation.
But the president-elect faces challenges in passing any new stimulus package, among them two issues that were so contentious they were removed from the latest package altogether: a direct stream of funding for state and local governments (Mr. Biden is for it) and a sweeping liability shield from coronavirus-related lawsuits for businesses, schools and other institutions (a Republican priority).
Ultimately, with a diminished Democratic majority in the House, Mr. Biden’s success in passing a third relief package could be decided by two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, which will determine control of the Senate.
Can I expect another stimulus payment?
If the bill becomes law, many Americans can expect another payment — but not as much as last time. Single adults with an adjusted gross income on their 2019 tax returns of up to $75,000 a year can expect a $600 payment. Heads of households making up to $112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $150,000 a year would get $1,200. Each dependent child brings in an extra $600. (Dependents 17 or older do not qualify.)
If your income hits just above those levels, you can receive a partial payment that declines by $5 for every $100 in income.
When and how should I expect the next stimulus payment to come through?
The first payments may go out before the end of the year, but that could be held up depending on what President Trump does with the proposed relief package on his desk. And no matter what, many people will be waiting a while before they see the money in their accounts.
The last round of payments is a good measuring stick: Under the CARES Act, people started receiving direct deposits two weeks after the legislation was approved — while those receiving the money by another method (an actual check or prepaid benefit cards) often waited much longer.
And, yes, just like last time, many of us will be receiving direct deposits this time around. So if you want to avoid the extra lag time, be sure that the I.R.S. has your bank account information on file through the I.R.S. tracking tool Get My Payment. (The tool will alert you if it needs more information for the direct deposit, and you can also add your address if you want a check.)
But the income I made last year makes me look ineligible. What do I do?
You’re not alone if your income looks a lot less in 2020 than it did in 2019 — and while this means you’ll have to wait to receive this second stimulus payment, the good news is that you’ll still be able to claim the money on your 2020 tax return. You can expect it back in the form of a refundable tax credit.
Go here for more information from the I.R.S. about what you need to know to receive your Economic Impact Payment. And scroll to the question about taxes for a list of things to keep in mind before filing your taxes.
I still haven’t even gotten (all of) my first stimulus payment.
How long can I expect my unemployment benefits to continue?
If it becomes law, the new stimulus package extends unemployment benefits for everyone for 11 weeks — expiring March 14 for those who have already reached their maximum benefit and April 5 for those who have not.
Most states cover 26 weeks of unemployment, although some provide less. The CARES Act had already extended that by 13 weeks and with an extra 11 now tacked on, the time folks can collect unemployment is almost doubled. (Also of note: Some states offer their own extended benefit program — often half the length of time of their standard program — so be sure to check your state’s website for more information based on where you live.) With that in mind, benefits could last almost a year or more between state and federal programs. (Go here for an illustration of the payment process in New York State.)
Additionally, in the new year, the extra federal benefit is coming back, so if you’re eligible for unemployment, you’ll be receiving an extra $300 a week tacked on to your usual stipend — for an extra 11 weeks.
Both extensions apply to those receiving state-level benefits as well as those on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — covering self-employed, gig workers, part-timers and others who would not typically be allowed to collect unemployment benefits. For more on the extra $300, go to the next question.
When does the extra $300 start coming and how long will it last?
If you qualify for unemployment benefits, then you would also qualify for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit — otherwise known as that extra $300 you’ll see in your bank account every week for 11 weeks in the new year.
Technically, the extra $300 a week will start after Dec. 26 and go through March 14 — but Department of Labor workers can expect a delay in those extra payments, so just because you claim your benefits doesn’t mean that you’ll receive the money at that time.
Of course, this isn’t anywhere close to that $600 a week under the CARES Act that kept so many of us afloat in the spring and summer. That extra payment ran out in July. This time, it will be more like those six weeks at the end of the summer when folks received an extra $300 each week following a memo issued by President Trump.
Will there be a delay between payments?
There could be delays. Check your state’s website for instructions about what you need to do to get the extra 11 weeks of benefits. While they’ll likely be reinstated automatically, you don’t want to leave that to chance, and you should expect to be waiting at least a few weeks before the money starts coming in.
Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst for social insurance at the National Employment Law Project explained that, historically, benefits are restored with the date of enactment, so what you’d be seeing is a gap in when you get paid, not a gap in your eligibility.
I didn’t qualify before, what about now?
Just because you didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits before doesn’t mean that you won’t qualify this time.
For instance, if you previously received a mix of income from both self-employment and wages paid by other employers and are now unemployed, then you were most likely placed into a lower state-issued benefit bracket based on those lower wages.
Let’s take Norma Jean, for example. She works as a waitress between freelance movie gigs. Her restaurant work qualifies her for the lower, state-level benefits while boxing her out of the more generous Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
The second stimulus package tries to fix her problem, sort of. So long as Norma Jean received at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income before the pandemic, she is now eligible for an additional weekly federal benefit of $100 — tacked on to the $300 extra everyone else is receiving. (Both add-ons end March 14.)
But again, nothing will be paid quickly. Norma Jean’s state will have to reach an agreement with the Labor Department before she starts receiving that extra $100 — and with states coming to these agreements at different times, a Norma Jean in one state may receive her extra Franklin before a Norma Jean in another.
And take note: You don’t have to have lost your job to collect benefits. If you are quarantined or furloughed without pay, even though you expect to return to your job, you can collect benefits in the interim.
Will the new stimulus package help with my rent?
Yes, for some folks. The new stimulus package would put $25 billion toward those who need help catching up on rent — with a priority placed on families with lower incomes and people who have been unemployed for at least three months.
That money will be distributed through state and local governments, and eligibility is determined on several conditions: Your household income for 2020 cannot exceed more than 80 percent of the area median income; at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability; and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship in some capacity as a result of the pandemic.
More than 500 emergency programs have been created during the pandemic, according to Diane Yentel, chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. (Here’s the group’s database and map of such programs.)
I’m worried about getting evicted.
The eviction moratorium keeps getting extended in bits and pieces and will now go through Jan. 31.
The Trump administration previously banned evictions through the end of 2020 — following an order put forward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning that evictions would lead to such renters filling shelters and living in other crowded conditions, which could lead to spiking outbreaks. The new stimulus package doesn’t change the original order — except for extending it another month.
And while many renters are teetering toward peril, restrictions are tight for those who are eligible for the moratorium. They cannot expect to earn more than $99,000 in 2020 (that’s $198,000 for married couples filing joint tax returns) and must have experienced a “substantial” loss of household income, loss of wages, lay-offs or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses, among other conditions.
Be sure to sign this form on the C.D.C. website declaring your eligibility by the end of the year, and check out this article to learn more about staying your own eviction. And if your landlord is pressuring you, be sure to check out low or no-cost legal assistance through Legal Services Corporation’s map, as well as Just Shelter, a tenant advocacy group’s website on local organizations helping tenants in need and Eviction Lab’s list of local and regional actions to halt evictions.
Does this affect how I should file my taxes this coming year?
A few things to keep in mind when filing taxes for 2020:
For qualification purposes, you may report earnings from 2019 on the questions about earned-income tax credit as well as on the refundable portion of the child tax credit. (This may help you maintain eligibility if you lost your job or have had your work hours reduced.)
If you didn’t get one or both stimulus payments because of an income discrepancy that mistakenly disqualified you or because you are married to an undocumented immigrant, then you can retroactively claim it on your 2020 tax return, and it will come back as a refundable tax credit. (Learn how to claim the recovery rebate credit here.)
If you deferred making payroll tax payments the last few months, you will have to make them — but you have all of 2021 to do so.
And remember, if you can, this is the year to give: Under the CARES Act, taxpayers can deduct up to $300 in cash without even itemizing your income tax return. And if $300 doesn’t seem like a lot, then go ahead and give it away — and take the tax deduction to boot!
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
Employers have to provide a safe workplace with policies that protect everyone equally. And if one of your co-workers tests positive for the coronavirus, the C.D.C. has said that employers should tell their employees — without giving you the sick employee’s name — that they may have been exposed to the virus.
I don’t have health insurance. Help?
If you lost your job (and with it your health insurance), or even if you never signed up for a policy, you may have options. Some states and employers have loosened the rules around when you can sign up for insurance because of the pandemic.
There’s also the possibility of continuing your job-based coverage under a law known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA; applying for Medicaid with your state agency; or getting an individual plan at Healthcare.gov. It depends on your circumstances which route makes sense. For more details on the various coverage options, check out this piece by Margot Sanger-Katz and Reed Abelson.
The government has also made it easier for people to join or change their employer-provided health insurance plans, if your company decides to offer the option.
But navigating the complex web of alternatives and figuring out how to qualify can be a challenge.
People earning very little will most likely be eligible for Medicaid in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Because of the Affordable Care Act, most states now allow all residents to qualify for Medicaid if their household’s monthly income is below a certain threshold — around $1,400 a month for a single person or $2,950 for a family of four.
If your income is too high for Medicaid, you can probably buy coverage through the marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act — and you may qualify for substantial subsidies. If you lose your job for any reason, you are permitted to sign up during a special enrollment period.
What about my 401(k)?
Watching your balance bounce around can be scary. You may be wondering if you should decrease your contributions — don’t! In fact, if your employer matches any part of your contributions, make sure you’re at least saving as much as you can to get that “free money."
Many components of the stimulus package include changes to rules regarding retirement account withdrawals, borrowing and penalties.
Should I be putting money in a mattress?
That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But you may want to think about having enough cash to cover basic needs if you’re retired. One financial planner recommended that retirees set aside enough cash for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.
Should I refinance my mortgage?
It could be a good idea, because mortgage rates have never been lower. Refinancing requests have pushed mortgage applications to some of the highest levels since 2008, so be prepared to get in line.
But defaults are also up, so if you’re thinking about buying a home, be aware that some lenders have tightened their standards.
What about sick leave?
Most workers at small and midsize companies, as well as government employees, are eligible. That includes part-time workers.
Eligible employees get two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill or seeking care, as long as they’ve been employed at least 30 days. They can receive their full pay, up to $511 a day.
Some workers can also get 12 weeks of paid leave to care for children whose schools are closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak, but fewer workers qualify for this type of leave. They can receive two-thirds of their usual pay, up to $200 a day.
Part-time workers will be paid the amount they typically earn in a two-week period, up to the daily limits. People who are self-employed — including gig workers like Uber drivers and Instacart shoppers — can also receive paid leave, but they must calculate their average daily income and claim it as a tax credit.
Paid leave is not for everyone though: Employers with fewer than 50 workers can deny workers the child-care leave (but not the sick leave) if it would be hard on their businesses. Companies with more than 500 employees are excluded from the rules entirely. Many workers at big businesses already have paid sick leave, but their employers’ low-wage workers are the least likely to be covered. The New America Foundation has published a detailed list of large employers (mostly consumer-facing companies like retailers, restaurant chains and hotels) and their policies.
How do I get a new job right now?
First, if you were laid off, recognize that you might be grieving. Even if it wasn’t your fault — and it probably wasn’t your fault right now — that’s a hard thing to swallow. Give yourself some time before jumping right back in.
If you’re just starting out, you’re not alone. People in their early 20s especially are entering a terrible job market, and might do well to manage their expectations, at least for a few months. No matter who you are, or what you were doing before, you’re probably going to have to be willing to be flexible. Lots of industries are laying off people for the foreseeable future, and many careers are on hold. Still, others are hiring in droves.
Taking a lower-wage service job — grocery stores, pizza delivery — might also work.
This is going to be a slog. But the American economy might be changing for the better. Training skilled workers went out of fashion. Now, it may be coming back.
OK, I have a new job. How do I start it?
Congratulations! In ordinary circumstances, starting a job is an act of showcasing both professional expertise and social prowess. Onboarding virtually, especially during a coronavirus pandemic, can feel distant and impersonal.
You can still come prepared, though. Since you’ll be learning about your new role and your team through a computer screen, it’s important to give the technology you’ll be using a test run before your first day. Make sure you’re up-to-date on the company’s preferred communication tools, which may include Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other digital-collaboration products.
Also, ask your boss and co-workers directly how they like to communicate. “You have to ask your boss, ‘How do you want me to communicate with you? Do you want voice, phone, text, email, and how often is good?’" Lisa Jacobson, a career consultant, said.
Embrace the weirdness, if you can. Expect your new colleagues to see your bedroom or home office immediately, or maybe your partner or pet lurking in the background. That’s OK. They’ll be forgiving (we hope). And rely on friendly faces — Zoom coffees are totally kosher.
If you’re starting a new in-person job, prioritize safety conversations first. It’s good to know where they stand with pandemic stuff, and it’s respectful to ask detailed questions. It’s also easier to establish your boundaries up front, rather than having to wedge them into conversation a few weeks down the line.
I have a work visa. What’s going on with that?
President Trump temporarily suspended new work visas and barred hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the United States, part of a broad effort to limit the entry of immigrants into the country. The order is in place at least until 2021.
Mr. Trump blocked visas for a wide variety of jobs, including those for computer programmers and other skilled workers who enter the country under the H-1B visa, as well as those for seasonal workers in the hospitality industry.
The temporary suspension of work visas is opposed by a lot of businesses — including tech companies in Silicon Valley and manufacturers — whose leaders say it will block their ability to recruit workers for jobs that Americans are not willing or able to perform. Foreign doctors are willing to come help, but most cannot get into the country.
If you can, get in touch with an immigration lawyer and your employer. There may be legal recourse, and some attorneys are working on such cases for free.
Is flying safe?
Many countries around the world, including the United States, have imposed travel restrictions to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Airport closures, the suspension of all incoming and outgoing flights, and nationwide lockdowns are just some of the measures countries are adopting in an effort to help contain the pandemic.
After the pandemic hit, three of the four biggest airlines in the country — American, Delta and Southwest — vowed to block the sale of middle seats to provide more social distancing in the air. United Airlines was the sole holdout. American Airlines has since brought back the middle seat. Southwest has extended its commitment to less density through Oct. 31.
Still, if you’re looking for an uncrowded flight, the odds might be in your favor. Airlines for America, the trade group that represents the major airlines in the United States, says that as of Aug. 9, flights are running about 47 percent full, versus 88 percent a year ago.
Can I travel within the United States?
Many states have travel restrictions, and lots of them are taking active measures to enforce those restrictions, like issuing fines or asking visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Here’s an regularly updated list of statewide restrictions.
In general, travel does increase your chance of getting and spreading the virus, as you are bound to encounter more people than if you remained at your house in your own “pod." “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19," the C.D.C. says.
If you do travel, though, take precautions. If you can, drive. If you have to fly, be careful about picking your airline. But know that airlines are taking real steps to keep planes clean and limit your risk.
I’m American. Where am I allowed to travel?
That depends on where you want to go.
In recent weeks, many countries around the world, including the United States, have imposed travel restrictions to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Airport closures, the suspension of all incoming and outgoing flights, and nationwide lockdowns are just some of the measures countries are adopting in an effort to help contain the pandemic.
Even as many countries remain off-limits to American visitors because of the high rate of coronavirus within the United States, about two dozen others have started to welcome U.S. citizens. We have an updated list of the international destinations that allow U.S. citizens to enter, though there are some restrictions.
Flights to some tourist destinations are cheap. But is it ethical?
That depends. Questions about the morality of traveling are not new. For years, people have raised concerns about climate change and traveling to countries with oppressive governments. Certain travel activities, like elephant riding, also raise eyebrows.
On the one hand, the economy of many vacation destinations, like the Caribbean, often depend on tourism. And cheap flights are tempting. But many countries have been spared outbreaks, and have much weaker health systems than we do. As with everything these days, assess the risks.
What are other strategies for getting away?
Even domestic travel is hard right now: Some states have imposed travel restrictions on out-of-town folks, and the list changes every day. The day before you go, check restrictions. But it might cause the least stress and hassle just to stay close to home this time around.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. You could buy or rent a van. Or a boat. Both industries are booming. National parks might be crowded, but you could take a road trip to an alternative destination. Nature can be healing for your soul. Go bask.
My trip was canceled. How do I get a refund?
If your flight was canceled, you’re in for an uphill battle. The airline has to give you a refund, but they might drag their feet. And if you booked with an agency, it may be more complicated. Also, don’t let them talk you into a credit. You’re entitled to a refund. Get a refund. Here’s how:
First, try to resolve it on your own — send a few emails to establish a paper trail and put on your best “I’d like to speak to the manager" voice. If you get nowhere, file a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Be as specific as possible. Then, let the company know you filed a complaint.
Sarah Firshein, a travel writer for The Times, has been writing helpful columns on how to get your refund.