U.S. Health Officials Warn Thanksgiving Travelers They Could Seed a Coronavirus Surge on Top of a Surge

Last Updated Dec. 1, 2020, 12:39 a.m. ET

Mayor Bill de Blasio abruptly announces that New York City’s elementary schools will reopen. Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado and his partner test positive. Turkey’s crisis is growing.

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Warning of a surge on top of a surge, U.S. health officials caution Thanksgiving travelers.

Thanksgiving Eve at Atlanta’s international airport.
Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Top federal health officials on Sunday forecast a post-Thanksgiving spike in coronavirus infections, deaths and stress on hospitals and medical staff. At the same time, they said that it was still possible to blunt the deadly rise with the tried and true measures of mask wearing and social distancing.

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, urged Americans to take it upon themselves to “protect yourself and your family,” even in states and cities where authorities had not required any such measures. During an appearance on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Dr. Birx seemed to be speaking to the political divide in the country, directly addressing “incredibly independent and fabulous Americans” who may be skeptical of measures to limit the spread of the virus.

Taking perhaps the strongest line of several top officials who spoke on Sunday, she said that travelers “have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week.” She urged that travelers avoid anyone in their family over 65 or with underlying illnesses.

It can take a week or more after infection for the virus to show up in testing, and many cases are asymptomatic, so people who feel fine or test negative one or two days after returning home may still be carriers.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, one of the federal government’s top infectious disease experts, said that clusters of new infections driven by the Thanksgiving holiday could emerge ahead of Christmas. “We might see a surge superimposed upon that surge that we’re already in,” he said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

So far, in the month of November alone, the total number of coronavirus cases in the United States has surpassed 4.1 million, with more than 25,500 deaths. Over the last two weeks coronavirus cases increased 12 percent, deaths 29 percent and hospitalizations 38 percent. Since the pandemic began, more than 13.3 million Americans have been infected and more than 265,900 have died. California on Sunday became the first state to report over 100,000 cases in a week, according to a New York Times database.

“It’s not too late,” to slow that surge, Dr. Fauci said, pleading for mask wearing and physical distancing. Otherwise, he said, local lockdowns might be necessary. “If we can hang together as a country and do these kinds of things to blunt these surges until we get a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated, we can get through this,” he said.

In another appearance, on ABC’s “This Week” Dr. Fauci said the best course for Thanksgiving travelers might be “if it’s possible, to quarantine yourself for a period of time.”

Adm. Brett Giroir, who leads U.S. testing efforts, urged Americans returning from Thanksgiving travel to cut down on unnecessary activity “and if you can get tested that would be a good idea.” But he also said during his appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that travelers were not required to quarantine unless they were exposed to someone with Covid-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee is meeting on Tuesday to decide on advice to provide states for vaccination priorities. Dr. Fauci said he expected that among the high priority groups would be patients at nursing homes and the staff who deal with them, a focus echoed by Dr. Birx and Admiral Giroir, who spoke of the need to “immunize for impact.”

Children are not expected to be vaccinated for months because they have not been a major part of vaccine trials, but Dr. Fauci said he expects to move that process forward in January by starting safety and immune response trials in children for the Moderna vaccine. If the vaccine proves safe and the immune response is similar to that in adults, a large trial involving tens of thousands of children would not be necessary, he said.

In an abrupt shift, Mayor Bill de Blasio will reopen New York City’s pre-K and elementary schools Dec. 7.

A protest on Nov. 19 at City Hall Park, where parents of public school children were holding a news conference to criticize Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to shut down schools earlier this month.
Credit...Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced on Sunday that he would reopen the city’s public elementary schools, abruptly shifting policy in the face of widespread criticism that the city was giving more priority to economic activities like indoor dining than to the well-being of its children.

Mr. de Blasio said that the city’s middle and high schools would remain closed for now. But he also signaled that he would overhaul how the city manages its schools during the pandemic, which has forced millions of children in the United States out of schools and is widely perceived to have done significant damage to their education and mental health.

The mayor said the city would abandon a 3 percent test positivity threshold that it had adopted for deciding when to close the school system, the largest in the country with 1.1 million students. And he said the school system would aim to give most parents the option of sending their children to school five days a week, which would effectively end so-called hybrid learning.

When the schools reopen, students can return only if they have already signed up for in-person learning.

Children in pre-K and elementary grades can return starting Dec. 7. Mr. de Blasio also announced that students in later grades with the most complex disabilities can return to classrooms on Dec. 10, though their schools will still be closed to other students.

Starting over the summer, Mr. de Blasio sought to make New York the first big city in the country to fully reopen its public school system. After logistical and political problems forced delays, the city welcomed hundreds of thousands of children back into classrooms about two months ago. But less than eight weeks later, Mr. de Blasio again shut schools down as a second wave of the virus threatened the city.

Even so, the number of infections in the school system remained very low, so Mr. de Blasio’s closure decision became a flash point in a broader debate throughout the country and the world over what should be closed during the pandemic.

‘In the fight of our lives’: New Jersey’s governor spotlights his state’s return to crisis.

A coronavirus testing center in Newark in late October.
Credit...Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

With daily coronavirus cases in New Jersey exceeding levels of the surge last spring, Gov. Philip D. Murphy warned on Sunday that his state was “in the fight of our lives.”

Over the past week, New Jersey has witnessed an average of more than 4,000 cases per day, an increase of 28 percent from the average two weeks earlier. At the peak of the surge in April, New Jersey averaged nearly 3,700 cases a day.

Hospitalizations in the state have increased 60 percent in the last two weeks, and deaths have increased by 78 percent over that period.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Murphy told the host, Bret Baier, “We’re in the fight right now, Bret, there’s just no question about it.”

New Jersey’s coronavirus statistics have worsened as states across the country have struggled with climbing case counts. Some areas of New Jersey, including Newark, have been hit particularly hard. Nearly 17,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus in the state since the start of the pandemic.

Mr. Murphy has appeared to be straddling a line in his public statements between urging vigilance and expressing optimism. As test positivity rates rose above 6 percent earlier this month, he followed through on a threat to tighten some restrictions that had been loosened as rates declined over the summer.

Still, he joined other governors in championing in-person learning, even as some school districts in New Jersey were reverting to remote lessons.

In his television appearance on Sunday, Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, likewise appeared to both assert that many in his state had skipped large Thanksgiving gatherings, while also allowing for the possibility that many had not. “We begged people to have a somber, respectful, small Thanksgiving,” the governor said. “And I want to give a shout out to New Jerseyans because I think overwhelmingly that’s what happened, but there’s a lot of fatigue out there.”

He asked New Jersey residents not to “let your hair down” with the Christmas holidays approaching, while noting that vaccines could help ease the pandemic before too long.

“The great news is there’s light at the end of the tunnel, vaccines in particular,” he said. “But for the next two or three months, we’re in the fight of our lives.”

Mr. Murphy said that he is doing everything possible to avoid a full economic shutdown while there is no additional federal relief available. He has been urging members of Congress to pass a new relief bill to assist businesses, restaurants and the unemployed, he said.

“That would be a game changer,” he said. “Not just in their lives and in their prospects, but it gives us more degrees of freedom in dealing with the virus.”

Should isolation periods be shorter for people with Covid-19?

A nurse checking medical files at the COVID-19 isolation ward for patients suffering from the coronavirus disease, at a hospital in Berlin this month.
Credit...Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering shortening the recommended isolation period for people with Covid-19 and may issue new guidelines as early as next week, according to two federal officials with knowledge of the discussions.

The agency recommends that infected people isolate for a minimum of 10 days, but a new analysis of previous research suggests that people are most infectious about two days before symptoms begin and for five days afterward.

The analysis underscores data that have accumulated since March. In July, based on similar evidence, the C.D.C. truncated its recommendation for isolation to 10 days from 14 days.

In September, France dropped its required period of isolation to seven days, and Germany is considering shortening it to five days. (Isolation refers to people who are ill; quarantine refers to people who were exposed to the virus and may become ill.)

Setting the isolation period at five days is likely to be much more palatable and may encourage more infected people to comply, said Dr. Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who led the new analysis, published in the journal The Lancet Microbe.

A recent survey in the United Kingdom showed that only one in five people were able to isolate for 10 days after developing symptoms. “Even if we do more testing, if we can’t ensure people self-isolate, I don’t think we’ll be able to control the spread,” Dr. Cevik said.

Shortening the period of isolation “would really help people comply with the public health guidelines,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist affiliated with the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, referring to the recommended isolation period.

Some people who are older or very sick may be infectious for longer than a week. A few patients who are extremely ill or have impaired immune systems may expel — or “shed” — the virus for as long as 20 days, other studies have suggested. Even in mild cases, some patients may shed live virus for about a week, the new analysis found.

But if a shorter recommended period encouraged more people to isolate, the benefit would more than offset any risk to the community from the small amount of virus that a few patients may still carry after five days, said Dr. Stefan Baral, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University.

But some doctors said they were not convinced by the analysis that five days of isolation would prevent transmission from the majority of people.

“There’s a sweet spot there, I would imagine, but I haven’t figured out where that is,” said Dr. Taison Bell, a critical care and infectious disease physician at the University of Virginia.

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado tests positive for coronavirus.

The governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, in Denver last week.
Credit...David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, and his partner, Marlon Reis, have tested positive for the coronavirus and are isolating at home, the governor’s office announced Saturday night, saying that neither of them were experiencing any symptoms.

“Marlon and I are feeling well so far, and are in good spirits,” Governor Polis, a Democrat, said in the statement.

He is at least the seventh U.S. state governor — three Democrats and four Republicans — to report receiving a positive test result, though in the case of Mike DeWine of Ohio, the result was almost immediately contradicted by another test and is thought to have been a false positive. Several more governors have quarantined when a family member, staff member or close associate tested positive.

“No person or family is immune to this virus,” Mr. Polis said in the statement.

Like other governors who have tested positive, Mr. Polis urged citizens to follow widely recommended precautions, including wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, avoiding large gatherings and washing hands frequently.

So far, none of the governors have reported experiencing severe illness. The first governor known to have tested positive was Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, a Republican, in mid-July.

The virus has thrown the N.F.L. into disarray.

The San Francisco 49ers can’t practice or play at their home field for three weeks.
Credit...Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

After bobbing and weaving around the coronavirus pandemic for much of the fall, the N.F.L. nears the final quarter of its regular season facing crises on teams from coast to coast.

The Denver Broncos, with all four of their quarterbacks forced to quarantine, faced a conundrum Sunday against the New Orleans Saints: Who could play the game’s most important position?

Rather than pick one player, the Broncos resorted to a committee. Two running backs — Philip Lindsay, a former Pro Bowler, and Royce Freeman — took snaps at quarterback, but at least they have N.F.L. experience. Mixing in has been the undrafted rookie Kendall Hinton, who woke up Saturday as a receiver on the practice squad and went to bed that same night cramming for extended playing time at a position he hadn’t played regularly since his sophomore year at Wake Forest.

The Broncos, who were routed by the Saints, were in this undesirable situation because three of their quarterbacks — Blake Bortles, Drew Lock and Brett Rypien — came in contact with a fourth quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who on Thursday tested positive for the coronavirus. Those three quarterbacks, according to a league executive familiar with the situation in Denver, not only didn’t wear masks during their time around Driskel but didn’t immediately disclose that information to contact tracers. They were forced on Saturday to isolate for at least five days.

And since N.F.L. rules prohibit teams from adding players without having quarantined in advance, the Broncos were left to start a running back at quarterback on Sunday.

Also in the N.F.L.:

  • The San Francisco 49ers will not be allowed to either play games or hold practice at their home stadium and training facilities for three weeks, after a coronavirus surge in the area prompted county health officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., to ban all contact sports — high school, college and professional — until at least Dec. 21.

  • Six more members of the Baltimore Ravens were reported to have tested positive for the virus as an outbreak in the team’s locker room expanded to 18 players. Their next game, scheduled for Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, has already been postponed twice.

  • The league said on Sunday that it had fined the New Orleans Saints $500,000 and taken away the team’s seventh-round draft choice for celebrating without masks in their locker room after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 8.

  • The league also said the New England Patriots were also fined $350,000 for violating the league’s safety protocols in October when Cam Newton and others on the team tested positive, forcing the league to reschedule their game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The league’s troubles have mounted as the total number of virus cases in the United States for the month of November passed four million, more than double the record set in October.

In the Bay Area, where the 49ers are based, reports of new cases have been low compared with other parts of the country, but have increased quickly in recent weeks. Santa Clara County just recorded its worst week of the pandemic, with more than 3,300 cases in the seven days ended Saturday.

“We are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity very soon if current trends continue,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer for Santa Clara County.

Besides forbidding contact sports, the county is also requiring anyone traveling into the region from more than 150 miles away to quarantine, a rule that will apply to local college and pro sports teams and their visiting opponents. Along with the 49ers, the San Jose Sharks of the N.H.L. and the football programs at Stanford University and San Jose State are affected.

The 49ers, who played the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday, should be able to return to Santa Clara County before the quarantine goes into effect just after midnight. It was not clear what the team would do after that. The 49ers have two home games and one road game scheduled for the next three weeks.

Netanyahu warns Israel may have to return to tighter restrictions.

Medical personnel disinfecting the body of a man who died from Covid-19 at an intensive care ward for coronavirus patients at a hospital in Jerusalem last week.
Credit...Oded Balilty/Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned on Sunday that his government could stiffen coronavirus restrictions after a sharp increase in the number of cases over the past week.

“We are seeing a clear rise in the infection rate,” Mr. Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting. “If necessary, we will halt the loosening of restrictions and even tighten those we’ve already loosened.”

In mid-October, Israel started to lift measures that the government had imposed as a part of a monthlong, nationwide lockdown. Authorities have gradually permitted schools, stores, hotels and other places to reopen, taking a more careful approach compared to the country’s previous reopening in May, which was hasty and disorganized.

Positive test results, however, have been increasing. Over the past week, Israel has been averaging 922 positive tests per day — a significantly higher number than in the beginning of November, according a New York Times database.

On Friday, a government-approved pilot program reopened 15 indoor shopping malls, under the requirements that they appoint inspectors to enforce virus restrictions and to keep customer volume to one per 75 square feet. But pictures and videos posted on social media showed crowded malls and shoppers maintaining little social distance.

Mall managers contended that they followed the program’s guidelines, while attributing the crowds to the government’s decision to permit such a small number of malls to open on Black Friday. They also said shoppers were more orderly on Sunday.

On Tuesday, a pilot program to reopen museums is set to begin.

That program requires museums to limit the number of visitors, who must reserve tickets in advance, and limits group tours to 10.

Australia hopes a pilot program for international students can restart its crucial education sector.

The University of Sydney. The Australian education sector is set to lose billions of dollars if the country’s borders do not reopen before the end of 2021.
Credit...Paul Miller/Australian Associated Press, via Associated Press

A cohort of 63 international students on Monday arrived in Australia under a pilot program that allows them to resume their studies, even as the country’s borders remain closed because of the pandemic.

The students, the first group of international students allowed in since March, arrived at Darwin International Airport in the Northern Territory from Singapore. They are from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

All of them tested negative for the coronavirus 72 hours before boarding the charter flight. They will be required to quarantine at a former workers’ camp outside the city of Darwin for 14 days before being allowed to re-enter the campus at Charles Darwin University.

The education sector, crucial to the Australian economy, is set to lose billions of dollars if the country’s borders do not reopen before the end of 2021. According to research from Victoria University, the loss of international students is also affecting the makeup of Australia’s cities.

In September, Charles Darwin University made a deal with the state and the federal government that would enable students to return from overseas to study. The success of the program could influence whether more international students can return to study in other states, including South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

Speaking to the local news media, the students — some of who had become stranded while visiting family overseas — said they felt lucky to return to Australia, which is beginning to reopen as states eliminate, or come close to eliminating, the spread of the coronavirus.

Xitao Jiang, a 23-year-old student from China returning to Australia, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday that was “very lucky” to have the opportunity to return to the country and study at the university in Darwin.

A Baltimore school returned to classrooms. This is what the first week looked like.

Teacher Zia Hellman, 26, with kindergarten student Paige Myers, 5, at their school in Baltimore. The city reopened 27 schools on Nov. 16 to about 1,200 academically at-risk students.
Credit...Rosem Morton for The New York Times

On Nov. 16, Baltimore City Public Schools held first in-person instruction for the first time since March. The city was the first large school district in Maryland and the latest among urban districts in the country to tiptoe into one of the highest-stakes experiments in the history of the nation’s public education system: teaching face-to-face in a pandemic.

Returning to the classroom has not been easy; neither has remote learning.

Educators looking to get back in front of students have had to navigate conflicting guidance from politicians and public health officials. Some teachers’ unions have refused to return to buildings until the virus abates, ostracizing colleagues who dare break with them. On the other hand, the country’s most vulnerable children have sustained severe academic and social harm from the remote-learning experiment. Parents, navigating their own economic and work struggles, are increasingly desperate.

Superintendents, meantime, have had to navigate a firestorm of political pressure, parental preference and the weight of a once-in-a lifetime public health crisis.

For Sonja Santelises, the chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, the decision to reopen 27 schools on Nov. 16 to about 1,200 academically at-risk students — such as kindergartners, special education students and English-language learners — last week was not a choice but an obligation. She made the call on the advice of the city’s public health commissioner.

“If I were to cling to one-liners or seek to score political points like some people want, I would choose not to see those families who need options, who need translators, those refugee families who walked miles to get their children an education,” Ms. Santelises said. “I will not do that.”

Baltimore reduced the number of planned building reopenings to 27 from 44 as the virus surged in certain parts of the city. But the local teachers’ union is calling for buildings in Ms. Santelises’s district to stay closed until they are deemed absolutely safe or a vaccine is widely available. It has pressured individual teachers against volunteering to go back and encouraged parents to boycott.

Those tensions reverberate across the country, where schools are grappling with the pandemic in widely varying ways, with some closing this month after opening earlier this fall even as others like in Baltimore just now are trying to reopen.

With the pandemic threatening to derail the education and prospects of a generation of children, district leaders are feeling pressure to move on their own.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Strained hospitals reflect the virus’s wide reach in Turkey, and other world developments.

A scene in Istanbul late Wednesday.
Credit...Associated Press

Turkey is showing a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections, in particular in the major cities of the country’s west. Hospitals are feeling the strain, with intensive care units in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, running at 75 percent capacity, the country’s health minister Fahrettin Koca said.

“There is heavy increase of patients in Istanbul; risk continues,” he said in Turkish on Twitter Saturday, writing in capital letters for emphasis.

“We have 4,903 seriously ill patients detected today, ” he said in another post. “Each of us is responsible for following the measures. This is not a personal choice, but a social necessity.”

Doctors’ associations in Turkey have been warning for weeks about the soaring numbers of infections, and have criticized the government for not being candid about the virus’s spread in the country.

Turkey runs an extensive testing program, but for four months the Health Ministry released figures only for hospitalized patients, not for all those testing positive for the virus, as most countries do. When the ministry began releasing figures for confirmed cases last week, they were running at up to 30,000 a day.

The number of Covid-19 patients in Turkey’s hospitals has more than doubled this month, to 6,714, and the country reported 182 deaths on Saturday, for a total of at least 13,370 since the pandemic’s start.

In other developments around the world:

  • Hong Kong reported 115 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, one of the highest totals in a single day since August. New clusters have emerged among customers and employees in three restaurants, and health authorities have called on anyone who visited them in the past two weeks to be tested. Hong Kong has had very few cases for its size, with 6,238 infections and 109 deaths in a population of 7.5 million. But its daily totals have risen lately to rival the worst days of the summer.

  • The Czech Republic said on Sunday that it would ease pandemic restrictions because the number of new cases in the country has been falling, The Associated Press reported. The health minister, Jan Blatny, said all stores, restaurants and bars, and most other establishments could reopen with some capacity limits on Thursday. The Czech Republic was among the hardest-hit nations in Europe when a new wave of infections took hold in the autumn, but new case reports have been declining since Nov 4. About one in 20 people in the country have tested positive since the pandemic began, and at least 8,054 have died.

  • With tensions rising in England over the extension of some restrictions after the current lockdown ends on Dec. 2, the police in London arrested more than 150 people on Saturday as they moved to stop anti-lockdown protests. The Metropolitan Police said the arrests were for breaking coronavirus regulations, assaulting a police officer and various drug offenses. A new set of rules announced on Thursday will divide England into three tiers of restrictions when the lockdown ends, depending on local conditions. Cases in the country have fallen by about a third since the lockdown began, according to a government study, the BBC reported.

  • Croatia entered a second partial lockdown on Saturday. For a month, the country will shut down or limit most activities besides schools, including bars, gyms, indoor dining at restaurants and gatherings larger than 25 people, according to the U.S. Embassy in Croatia. Reports of new coronavirus cases have risen sharply across the country, with a number of clusters around Zagreb, according to government data. The country’s prime minister wrote on Twitter that the lockdown could be extended past a month if conditions do not improve.

  • A woman in Singapore who had the coronavirus in March gave birth to a baby with antibodies against the virus, according to The Straits Times. The baby was born this month without the virus but with antibodies against the virus, the newspaper reported, citing the mother.

Those We’ve Lost

Retired only a few months, a nurse felt compelled to help. And then the virus hit her.

Iris Meda, 70, a retired nurse, wanted to help in the fight against the coronavirus, so she began teaching nursing skills to high school students. But she came down with Covid-19 and died on Nov. 14.
Credit...Selene Meda-Schlamel

Iris Meda, 70, didn’t feel right sitting on the sidelines when the pandemic hit. She’d been retired only a few months, and still had a lifetime of nursing experience in hospitals, prisons, schools and long-term care facilities to share.

So she went back to work in August, teaching nursing skills to high school students through Collin College, north of Dallas. But within weeks, she had come down with Covid-19 herself. After nearly a month in the hospital, most of it on a ventilator, she died on Nov. 14.

Her daughter, Selene Meda-Schlamel, said her mother was exposed to the virus on Oct. 2 while teaching a laboratory class, despite the precautions she was taking.

“I wasn’t worried, because I knew she was wearing an N95, and that she was some distance from the students,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel recalled, in an interview.

“I said to myself, ‘If something happens to her, it happens to her doing something she loves, fulfilling her calling and benefiting the world,’” she said. “But that’s a very different outlook from, ‘My best friend is gone, my kids don’t have a grandmother. Everything that we planned on doing will never occur.’”

Ms. Meda grew up in New York, the oldest of nine siblings, and was a natural caretaker from childhood, her daughter said. She married at 20, expecting to be a stay-at-home mother, but at her husband’s urging, she went back to school and earned a nursing degree from City College.

“She had a very personal touch,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel said. “You never felt like she was rushing you.”

Ms. Meda worked as a nurse at the jail on Rikers Island before moving to Texas in 1993, where she spent the rest of her career before retiring in January. When she took up teaching, she wanted to pass along to her students the kind of encouragement she had gotten to pursue an education. After class, she often returned home “lit up” from the thrill she got from teaching, her daughter said.

When her Covid-19 symptoms worsened in mid-October and she began struggling to breathe, Ms. Meda called her daughter for a ride to the hospital. Ms. Meda-Schlamel recalled that in the car, her mother handed her an envelope containing her medical documents and a handwritten card that she forgot about in the hectic days that followed.

When she finally opened it, she said, she found a note her mother had written after their phone call, telling her how proud she was of her and what a wonderful life she had before her. And two signed checks fell out, meant to help her daughter cover the hospital bills. On one, the amount was left blank.

“That was kind of symbolic of how she was as a person,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel said. “She was always giving people blank checks, blank emotional checks: ‘Whatever you need from me, if I have it, I’ll provide it.’”

A ghost tour company in Salem, Mass., sues the governor over virus restrictions.

A guide leading a group on a ghost tour during Halloween in Salem, Mass., in 2019. The Salem Ghosts company has been under a quota system, and the owner is filing suit against the governor of Massachusetts seeking relief.
Credit...Joseph Prezioso/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images



If the ghost of one of the women executed during the 17th century witch trials in Salem, Mass., were to appear among the participants in one of the guided tours seeking to understand what happened to her, she would not count against the strict 12-person limit that the state has imposed on such excursions.

Still, Lance Zaal, the founder of Salem Ghosts, which runs such tours, felt that the quota imposed under coronavirus restrictions seriously hampered his business.

The waiting list in October, prime ghost tour season, stretched to 500 people who could not be accommodated by Halloween, he said, so he recently filed suit in federal court in Massachusetts against Gov. Charles D. Baker and two other top officials responsible for the virus regulations.

Seeing hundreds of demonstrators on social justice issues pack the sidewalks and the commons of various Massachusetts towns, as well as crowded churches, Mr. Zaal decided that his outdoor tours faced unfair discrimination.

“One person’s free speech should not be weighed as more or less important than another’s,” he said.

Terry MacCormack, a spokesman for Mr. Baker, said his administration would not comment on pending litigation.

The 60-minute, $21 tour of nighttime Salem (“The most haunted city in America”) is built around the troubled, tragic history of the witch trials in the 1692-93, when 20 women accused of sorcery were executed.

Mr. Zaal, whose company runs ghost tours in more than 20 cities nationwide, noted that the general drop in tourism had hurt his business and the livelihood of his guides, who are counted in the Salem quota. The company tries to follow all local regulations, he said, with participants asked to wear masks and full refunds available to anyone feeling ill or recently exposed to Covid-19.

Initially, to minimize interactions involving money or credit cards, the company even stopped the sale of its electromagnetic ghost detectors.

Those have resumed, and there have been zero proven cases of ghosts spreading the virus to humans or vice versa, Mr. Zaal said, “It has been very safe between ghosts and humans so far.”

American mink have coronavirus, but there’s no sign yet of them passing it to humans.

An employee removing culled minks at a farm near Naestved, Denmark, this month.
Credit...Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As coronavirus infections surge in people, the virus is also spreading in mink. Oregon reported its first cases at a mink farm this week with 10 infected animals but no deaths. Mink farms in Utah, Michigan and Wisconsin have also reported infections.

Six other countries have reported infected mink: the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Greece. Some workers also were infected, as would be expected, because in most cases it is humans who pass the virus to farmed mink.

In the Netherlands and Denmark, genetic tests show that after humans passed the virus to mink, the mink passed it back again, with some mutations. No such mink-to-human transmission has been detected yet in the U.S., but scientists there and elsewhere are deeply concerned about the spread of the coronavirus to a variety of animals.

One of the mutations that arose in Denmark worried scientists, because it appeared in laboratory tests that this mutated version of the virus might be less well controlled by vaccines. However, no further evidence has supported that concern, and the variant in question hasn’t been found in people since September, according to Danish authorities.

In Denmark and the Netherlands, mink are being killed in large numbers because of virus outbreaks. The Netherlands had decided before the pandemic to phase out mink farming over animal welfare concerns; given the ease with which mink are infected, the country decided to accelerate its timetable and eradicate mink farming by 2021.

Several million mink have been culled in Denmark, but an effort to kill the remaining 14 million animals in the country has become embroiled in political disputes and public embarrassments. A government minister resigned because it appeared the government lacked the authority to order healthy mink killed, and local news outlets have reported that buried mink carcasses may be festering and emerging from the ground as their corpses bloat with gases.

According to Fur Commission USA, an industry organization, about 275 U.S. mink farms produce about 3 million pelts a year. The Department of Agriculture has ordered quarantines of infected farms and testing, and has posted strict guidelines on movement of mink from farm to farm, but it has not ordered mass culls. Thousands of mink have apparently died from coronavirus infections at American farms.

The London police arrest over 150 people protesting against England’s coronavirus lockdown and vaccines.

Police arrest a protester during an anti-lockdown demonstration in London on Saturday.
Credit...Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The British police arrested over 150 people on Saturday while trying to shut down anti-lockdown protests in central London, as tensions escalated over England’s lockdown.

The Metropolitan Police said the arrests were for breaking coronavirus regulations, assaulting a police officer and various drug offenses.

The lockdown in England, which bars mass gatherings, is scheduled to end on Dec. 2, when some rules will be relaxed.

Police officers lined up along several streets in central London’s West End shopping district and confronted protesters in St. James’s Park, near Westminster, the Reuters news agency reported. The anti-lockdown protesters were joined by groups demonstrating against vaccines.

Protesters marched along Oxford and Regent streets, ignoring requests to disperse, and scuffled with the police as bottles and smoke bombs were thrown, The Associated Press reported.

Though the current lockdown is ending next week, a new set of rules announced on Thursday will divide England into three tiers of restrictions. That means access to bars and restaurants will differ drastically from place to place depending on the government’s assessment of the local threat posed by the virus, and the more than 23 million people who live in the most restricted tier still face a ban on one of the nation’s favored activities: a visit to the pub.

Even in the worst-hit parts of England, shops, gyms and hair salons are being allowed to reopen, and religious services, weddings and outdoor sports to restart. Retailers will have a chance to open during the lucrative Christmas shopping season.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced plans to relax rules on social mixing to allow up to three households to gather together Dec. 22-27 to celebrate Christmas, but health experts warn this is likely to cause a spike in infections.

Opinion polls generally show that Britons support tough measures and prefer to prioritize health over the economy.