With coronavirus cases on the rise in all but one state and a newly reached American death toll of 250,000, this would not seem the moment for the United States to take a patchwork response to the pandemic.
But that is what it has done, and that was perhaps never clearer than this week as mayors, school board and governors struggled to fend off the onslaught.
In Ohio, it was a nightly curfew. In Mississippi, it was an expanded mask mandate, and in Iowa a statewide one — the state’s first ever. In Maryland, all bars, restaurants and night clubs were ordered closed by 10 p.m. And in Pennsylvania, the authorities said anyone traveling to the state would needed to be tested before arrival.
“The new normal is no longer sustainable,” Minnesota’s governor, Tim Walz, said Wednesday evening as he announced sweeping new restrictions. “The ground is literally shifting under our feet.”
New York City, just eight weeks after open its schoolhouse doors, said it was closing them again. Denver, too, said it would move to all-remote teaching, as did the state of Kentucky.
A day after the governor of California said the state was “pulling the emergency brake” on its reopening, Los Angeles County went a step further and announced a curfew for businesses. Illinois, too, imposed new restrictions.
Only in Hawaii were cases reported to be staying relatively flat.
Early in the week, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said the nation needed “a uniform approach,” not a “disjointed” state-by-state, city-by-city response. Public health experts say the lack of a national strategy has been a primary reason that the United States leads the world in infections and deaths.
But there has been a notable lack of national direction.
Even before the election, there was squabbling within the Trump administration over how to contain the virus. The disarray has become even more pronounced in the aftermath of the election, with President Trump directing his aides not to cooperate with the transition.
On Wednesday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. asked that the government give him access now to federal resources to help him plan a coronavirus response. “This is like going to war,” he said. “You need a commander in chief.”
As the day drew to a close, more than 172,000 new cases had been announced in the United States — the second-highest daily total of the pandemic. And more than 1,900 more Americans were dead.
The spread of the virus in Europe appears to be slowing.
With many countries under some version of a less severe lockdown than in the spring — with many businesses closed and gatherings limited in size but schools open and restrictions on movement less severe — the World Health Organization said on Thursday that, for the first time in months, new infection rates were falling.
Two weeks ago, the agency reported that there were around two million new infections detected across Europe. Last week, that number fell to 1.8 million — a drop of 10 percent.
“It is a small signal, but it is a signal nevertheless,” Dr. Hans Kluge, the W.H.O. regional director for Europe, said at a news conference. Europe, he said, is capable of turning the tide, but he cautioned that the virus remained a serious threat.
Since deaths tend to lag behind new infections by several weeks, hospitals across the continent will remain under great strain, and the number of deaths is still rising, with 4,500 lives lost every day in Europe.
“One person is dying every 17 seconds,” Dr. Kluge said.
Acknowledging public weariness and anxiety ahead of the holiday season, he said that while people can take comfort from the promise of better days ahead, “it will be six tough months.”
“Your country, community, family and friends need you like they have never needed you before,” he said.
Collective action today, and the promise of vaccines on the horizon, was a reason for optimism.
“There is more hope ahead of us than despair behind us,” he said.
The W.H.O. remained opposed to lockdowns except as a last resort and better mask compliance could help avoid the most draconian restrictions.
Dr. Kluge estimated that mask compliance across Europe was at about 60 percent. If it were above 90 percent, he said, lockdowns would be avoidable.
The W.H.O. was working to help develop guidelines for a tiered system, he said.
In March, he said, the lockdowns came suddenly and were so sweeping that they “crunched the virus” but also “crunched the people.”
The goal now, he said, should be “coherence and predictability” with restrictions based on epidemiological markers and an assessment of health care systems’ capacity.
Michigan shut down indoor dining and in-person classes at high schools and colleges. Washington banned indoor gatherings with anyone outside your household without a weeklong quarantine. And officials in Oregon closed offices to the public and are limiting the number of people in grocery stores.
As record numbers of virus cases emerge across the United States, cities and states are implementing tough new restrictions. But in New York State, once the epicenter of the pandemic, the response to a second wave has been far more measured, with officials banking on a variety of less disruptive, targeted actions, often reliant on voluntary compliance.
Ominous signs are everywhere: In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio closed in-person classes at the city’s schools starting Thursday when the seven-day positivity rate rose above 3 percent on Wednesday. Thousands of new cases are emerging every day statewide, and hospitalizations have more than quintupled since early September, topping 2,200 on Wednesday. Deaths have also been trending upward, with the state reporting nearly 200 deaths in the past week, and 35 just on Wednesday, the highest one-day total since mid-June.
The numbers are also spiking in some areas that were spared the worst in the spring: Western New York has seen about 3,700 new cases in the past week alone, with rates of positive test results running above 5 percent.
All told, 12 counties around the state are seeing significant outbreaks, from Brooklyn to Buffalo.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says his response to the pandemic continues to be aggressive and highlights his state’s achievements: New York is still seeing much lower rates of infection than most states. And the number of daily deaths and hospitalizations pales in comparison to the spring, when thousands died for several weeks running, and tens of thousands were sickened.
Still, some public health experts and officials worry that without a broader shutdown, the state might not be able to limit the virus’s spread, particularly as residents tire of restrictions and the holidays near.
“The odds are against us at this stage in terms of keeping it under control,” said Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a former New York City deputy health commissioner.
One of the small mercies of the coronavirus is that the risk of serious illness in children has so far been relatively small. But that does not mean that the toll has not been devastating.
Even with the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, a new report by UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, warned that “the future of an entire generation is at risk,” with the threat to children “increasing, not decreasing” as the world deals with the economic fallout of the pandemic.
The report, based on surveys from 140 countries, paints an alarming picture of a generation facing “a trifecta of threats: direct consequences of the disease itself, interruption in essential services and increasing poverty and inequality.”
If the interruption to basic services including vaccinations and health care does not improve, UNICEF said that as many as two million children could die in the next 12 months and there could be an additional 200,000 stillbirths.
The report also found that school closures did little to slow the spread of the virus while causing long-term harm. While higher education institutions have played a role in community transmission, studies cited in the report showed “no consistent association between school reopening status and COVID-19 infection rates.”
“Unless the global community urgently changes priorities, the potential of this generation of young people may well be lost,” UNICEF warned.
At the peak of the first wave of pandemic, 90 percent of students around the world — 1.5 billion children — saw classroom learning disrupted. And some 463 million children were not able to access remote learning.
“The longer schools are closed, the more children suffer from extensive learning losses with long term negative impacts, including future income and health,” the report found.
As of November, according to the study, nearly 600 million students are still affected by school closures, with more governments considering renewed closures as the virus surges, the report found.
New York City is closing its entire public school system starting Thursday, and other cities are considering similar closures, but UNICEF found that such measures have not proven effective in slowing the spread of the virus.
“Children and schools are not the main drivers of the epidemic across countries,” the report found. “Evidence shows that the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them. Data from 191 countries show no consistent association between school reopening status and COVID-19 infection rates.”
Coronavirus cases are rising in almost every U.S. state. But the surge is worst now in places where leaders neglected to keep up forceful virus containment efforts or failed to implement basic measures like mask mandates in the first place, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the University of Oxford.
Using an index that tracks policy responses to the pandemic, these charts show the number of new virus cases and hospitalizations in each state relative to the state’s recent containment measures.
Outbreaks are comparatively smaller in states where efforts to contain the virus were stronger over the summer and fall — potential good news for leaders taking action now. States and cities are reinstating restrictions and implementing new ones: In recent days, the governors of Iowa, North Dakota and Utah imposed mask mandates for the first time since the outbreak began.
The index comes from Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, where researchers track the policies — or lack thereof — that governments use to contain the virus and protect residents, such as contact tracing, mask mandates and restrictions on businesses and gatherings. Researchers aggregate those indicators and assign a number from 0 to 100 to each government’s total response.
At its highest level of containment efforts, New York State scored an 80 on the index. At the beginning of November, most states were scoring in the 40s and 50s. Though many have taken fresh steps to contain the virus since then, the Times analysis compares cases and hospitalizations for a given date to a state’s index score from two weeks before, since researchers say it is reasonable to expect a lag between a policy’s implementation and its outcome.
When cases first peaked in the United States in the spring, there was no clear correlation between containment strategies and case counts, because most states enacted similar lockdown policies at the same time. And in New York and some other states, “those lockdowns came too late to prevent a big outbreak, because that’s where the virus hit first,” said Thomas Hale, associate professor of global public policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, who leads the Oxford tracking effort.
A relationship between policies and the outbreak’s severity has become more clear as the pandemic has progressed.
“States that have kept more control policies in a more consistent way — New England states, for example — have avoided a summer surge and are now having a smaller fall surge, as opposed to states that rolled them back very quickly like Florida or Texas,” Mr. Hale said. “I think timing really matters for the decisions.”
The economy’s ability to shrug off political uncertainty and a surge in coronavirus cases will be tested Thursday morning when the Labor Department reports the latest data on new claims for unemployment insurance.
Claims have been drifting lower lately, despite new restrictions on business activity in some states as the pandemic worsens and the threat of broader lockdowns looms. But new weekly filings for state benefits have not been below 700,000 since mid-March — well above the heights reached in previous recessions and a reflection of the severe economic fallout from the pandemic.
“I think jobless claims will be increasingly important in the coming weeks as a gauge of how the economy is responding to the increase in virus cases,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. “I would not be surprised if we have a modest move higher in claims because of the virus.”
The economy rebounded sharply in the third quarter, but many experts feel that it is running out of steam, especially in the absence of any new stimulus from Washington. Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on a new aid package, despite millions of unemployed workers and the near-collapse of activity in sectors like travel and dining.
On Monday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. called on the two parties to “come together” and enact a stimulus package along the lines of a $3 trillion proposal passed by the Democratic-controlled House.
News that competing vaccines from two companies showed strong evidence of efficacy against the virus has led the stock market higher and fueled hopes the pandemic could be brought under control next year. That would clear the way for renewed growth, many economists say.
“We’re potentially entering a period of softness, but the medium term is more promising,” Ms. Meyer added.
Japan has managed to keep coronavirus numbers low, but its strategy for success is being tested as cases reach record highs across the country.
While total case numbers remain low, they have begun to multiply rapidly, prompting Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, to warn on Thursday that the country is on “maximum alert” in an effort to prevent infections from running out of control.
Mr. Suga requested that people be more vigilant about wearing masks, especially while dining out, and said he might request stronger measures based on the advice of a panel of experts that will report to him this week.
Japan reported over 2,000 new cases on Wednesday, the first time it has crossed that threshold since the pandemic began.
Tokyo on Thursday announced that it would go on red alert, the highest level of a four-tier system, as it reported over 500 new cases, setting a record for the second day in a row. The change in alert is a largely symbolic measure meant to remind people to exercise heightened caution to prevent the virus’s spread.
In his remarks, Mr. Suga said he would not ask businesses to shorten their hours or stop government subsidies for travel and eating out, which were implemented after the virus’s first wave demolished the country’s service sector. Some health experts have argued that the program may have helped spread the virus.
This is the country’s third wave of infections.
But this surge is the most alarming yet, a panel of experts working for the Tokyo government said Thursday. While the two previous waves were mostly limited to young people, this one has hit a more diverse group, including middle-aged and older people, a change that could put more strain on the country’s hospitals. Additionally, an increasing number of cases have been traced back to homes.
So far, Japan has largely managed to avoid the large-scale outbreaks that have hit the United States and Europe. Experts say the country’s success comes from public education that has encouraged people to avoid the so-called three Cs — closed spaces, crowded places and close contact — and a high level of social compliance that has made mask-wearing and social distancing ubiquitous.
At Hong Kong’s deserted airport, cleaning crews constantly spray baggage trolleys, elevator buttons and check-in counters with antimicrobial solutions. In New York City, workers continually disinfect surfaces on buses and subways. In London, many pubs spent lots of money on intensive surface cleaning to reopen after lockdown — before closing again in November.
All over the world, workers are soaping, wiping and fumigating surfaces with an urgent sense of purpose: to fight the coronavirus. But scientists increasingly say that there is little to no evidence that contaminated surfaces can spread the virus. In crowded indoor spaces like airports, they say, the virus that is exhaled by infected people and that lingers in the air is a much greater threat.
Hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds — or sanitizer in the absence of soap — is still encouraged to stop the virus’s spread. But scrubbing surfaces does little to mitigate the virus threat indoors, experts say, and health officials are being urged to focus instead on improving ventilation and filtration of indoor air.
“In my opinion, a lot of time, energy and money is being wasted on surface disinfection and, more importantly, diverting attention and resources away from preventing airborne transmission,” said Dr. Kevin P. Fennelly, a respiratory infection specialist with the National Institutes of Health.
A sailor who returned to Samoa on a repatriation flight from New Zealand has tested positive for the coronavirus, the first known case in Samoa, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi announced on Thursday.
Though a second test to confirm the first came back negative, the man and his roommate have been placed in a hospital isolation ward in Apia, the capital of the Pacific island nation, Mr. Tuilaepa said. The sailor had returned to Samoa on Friday with 300 other people, about 25 of whom were sailors who had also been stranded at overseas ports, according to local news media reports.
In an address, Mr. Tuilaepa urged the public not to panic. “Let us keep the faith and wear masks and wash our hands as advised,” he said.
The country has begun contact tracing, including with airport workers who had handled the plane’s arrival last week.
Samoa was among the few countries worldwide with no confirmed cases of the virus, many of which are also island nations in the Pacific. Vanuatu, about 1,400 miles west of Samoa, recorded its first coronavirus case this month.
Jordan, which was commended worldwide for its early efforts to counter the pandemic, has now become one of the hardest-hit countries in the region, along with Lebanon and Iran.
The country has averaged more than 5,000 coronavirus cases a day in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. On Wednesday, Jordan recorded 7,933 cases, its highest number since March, according to the health minister.
The government attributed the recent sharp increase to the infection of 1,893 people at two factories in the southern city of Aqaba.
“It’s not just the U.S. and Europe facing devastating second waves,” said Nazanin Ash, the International Rescue Committee’s vice president of policy and practice. “Crisis-affected countries, which are already dealing with unfathomable levels of hunger, economic distress, crippled health systems and infrastructure, are now facing second waves that could be even more devastating than the first.”
In addition to Jordan’s domestic problems with poverty and health care, it must also assist the Syrian refugees who make up more than 10 percent of the country’s population, according to the World Food Program.
In March, the government imposed some of the tightest restrictions in the world as the virus spread in surrounding countries. The lockdown forbid people to leave their homes, suspended schools, banned public gatherings and closed borders and airports. In May, Jordan relaxed most public health restrictions.
Over all, Jordan has had 163,926 cases and 1,969 deaths, Johns Hopkins reported.
Last week, the country held parliamentary elections with the lowest turnout in a decade, followed by a lockdown and a curfew for four days.
The lockdown did not stop some candidates and their supporters from venturing out and celebrating with gunfire. Crowds were seen, many of them not wearing masks, in videos that spread on social media.
The brief lawlessness prompted an apology from the prime minister, and the minister of interior was forced to resign. Citing the crowds and celebrations, the government predicted a new spike in cases.
With a second pandemic lockdown underway in Ireland, many businesses have struggled to stay afloat.
Among them is Dublin Zoo, which issued a fund-raising appeal this week to prevent it from closing permanently. By Wednesday evening, just hours after launching the appeal, the zoo had received more than one million euros (about $1.2 million) in donations from the public, as well as pledges from the government.
“We find ourselves closed for a second time this year and we’re sad to say the future of Dublin Zoo is uncertain,” read a post on the zoo’s Facebook page, accompanied by a video of staff members asking for donations. The zoo has been closed for five months this year.
The closures have had a devastating impact on Dublin Zoo, where the costs for care run upward of €500,000 a month. The 69-acre zoo, inside Dublin’s Phoenix Park, is a major attraction, with more than 1.2 million people visiting last year. Since its opening in 1831, it has become something of a national treasure, staking its claim as the third most-visited attraction in Ireland and a regular destination for families.
The mayor of the city, Hazel Chu, was among the Dubliners who donated, and posted on Twitter about sponsoring a baby elephant. Irish celebrities and politicians also threw their support behind the campaign, alongside thousands of others who posted on social media, many sharing their own memories of childhood visits to the zoo, under the hashtag #SaveDublinZoo.
But the campaign also triggered calls from political parties demanding that the government come up with a long-term funding solution for the zoo.
The government has already begun working toward a sustainable solution. Malcolm Noonan, the minister who oversees heritage in Ireland, said in a tweet that he met with representatives from Dublin Zoo and Fota wildlife park, another zoo in County Cork, to assess the scale of the funding challenges. He was hopeful his ministry could offer short term financial support to “help tide the two main zoos past this immediate challenge,” but said the public donations were “testament to the high regard that these places have in our public consciousness.”