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100 Isn’t a Magic Number, So Why Is It Part of the Vaccine Mandate?

But if you want a small-business loan? There, the government’s definition is far more expansive. The Small Business Administration, which orchestrated the popular Paycheck Protection Program, generally considers any company with fewer than 500 employees a “small” one. Unless you’re in one of dozens of industries with exceptions, which are detailed in a 49-page document that can seem almost whimsical in its divisions. A company that mines gold ore counts as small if it has up to 1,500 employees, but the limit falls to 750 for iron miners and just 250 for those that extract silver.

One thing about tiny companies is clear: They vastly outnumber their bigger brethren. The government estimates that there are nearly 32 million small businesses in America. Most have no employees beyond the owner. Their ranks include practitioners of nearly every profession — solo lawyers and accountants, Uber drivers, tutors, gig-working delivery cyclists, artists and writers and musicians and millions of salaried workers with side hustles.

Weed out those businesses and you’re left with six million employer firms, each with a payroll ranging from a handful of people to a few hundred. Only 20,000 companies in the country, according to data from the Census Bureau, are truly large businesses, with 500 or more employees.

To entrepreneurs in that squishy middle, the line between being a little business and a big one can feel pretty fuzzy. Twenty years ago, Franz Spielvogel joined Laughing Planet, which was at the time a single-location fast-casual cafe in Portland, Ore. It was a hit, so he and his business partner opened another Laughing Planet. Then another. Today, Mr. Spielvogel runs 15 locations in three states, with 224 workers.

Mr. Spielvogel said his mini-chain feels like a collection of neighborhood spots, which he likes. “We’re not Sweetgreen,” he said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s do 100 stores in the next six months.’ That’s not our mission.”

Being a midsize company can have some pain points, like having a limited legal and human resources infrastructure to handle the thicket of regulations that come with employing hundreds of people. But Mr. Spielvogel enjoys running a company small enough that it is able to preserve that first shop’s ethos and corporate culture. He’s unfazed — and honestly somewhat relieved, he said — by the new vaccination-or-testing mandate. He has been trying to coax his staff to get vaccinated by offering paid time off for each shot, and he hopes a mandate will convince his last few holdouts.

Even some teeny companies are eager to embrace it. Aaron Seyedian, the founder of Well-Paid Maids in Washington, said he wished the mandate extended to companies like his, which has 17 people.

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In Panjshir, Few Signs of an Active Resistance, or Any Fight at All

PANJSHIR, Afghanistan — In this lush strip of land — walled off from potential invaders by high mountain peaks and narrow, ambush-prone passes — former mujahedeen fighters and Afghan commandos regrouped in the days after the Taliban toppled the Afghan government, vowing to fight to the last man. With its history of resistance and its reputation for impenetrability, the Panjshir Valley seemed an ideal place for a determined force of renegades to base an insurgency.

By Sept. 6, however, the Taliban claimed to have captured the entire province of Panjshir, a momentous victory in a region that repelled numerous Soviet offensives in the 1980s, and had remained beyond the Taliban’s control during its rule from 1996 to 2001.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

He said that Qari Qudratullah, the new provincial governor, was meeting with elders to discuss a peaceful handover.

A Taliban military commission official, Mullah Hafiz Osman, later confirmed this was true, while Mr. Nazary, the resistance spokesman, denied the claim.

Behind the Panjshiri fighters flew the green, white and black flag of the Northern Alliance, repurposed to signify the National Resistance Front, which is led by Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shad Massoud, the leader assassinated in 2001. But villagers said that the Taliban had long been active in the valley, and that their takeover had been negotiated by some of the residents.

Outside the tomb of the elder Massoud, a young Talib, far from his home in Helmand Province in the south, performed his evening prayers.

Days earlier, photos of the partially destroyed tomb, in a dramatic hilltop mausoleum overlooking the valley, appeared on social media alongside accusations that the Taliban had ransacked the place. “This wasn’t our work,” one of the Taliban guards said. “Civilians broke in and smashed the glass.”

The site had since been repaired by the Taliban and was now in its original state. A group of guards stood around the tomb, and as evening fell, they stretched a green shroud over it and closed the doors for the night.

Outside the valley, those who had fled wondered if they would ever be able to return.

When the Taliban first entered Panjshir, Sahar, 17, and her family barricaded themselves at home, thinking the resistance would eventually chase the Talibs away. But the fighting steadily drew closer.

Neighbors started to flee, said Sahar, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity. Her uncle and cousin were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint near the village, she said, where they were beaten and ordered to turn over their weapons and the names of resistance fighters.

Last week, the family escaped through the mountains. They walked for five days, through remote valleys and over mountain ridges. Sahar fainted three times from dehydration, she said, and her mother had blisters and swollen feet. Her father, who is diabetic, nearly collapsed.

Eventually, they hitched a ride to Kabul, the country’s capital, where they had relatives with whom they are now living.

“We don’t know what will happen,” Sahar said by phone from Kabul. “We may never be able to get back.”

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York, N.Y. Wali Arian contributed from Istanbul, Turkey.

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Biden’s Electric Car Plans Hinge on Having Enough Chargers

For years, start-ups, automakers and other companies have been slowly building chargers, mainly in California and other coastal states where most electric cars are sold. These businesses use different strategies to make money, and auto experts say it is not clear which will succeed. The company with the most stations, ChargePoint, sells chargers to individuals, workplaces, stores, condo and apartment buildings, and businesses with fleets of electric vehicles. It collects subscription fees for software that manages the chargers. Tesla offers charging mainly to get people to buy its cars. And others make money by selling electricity to drivers.

Once the poor cousin to the hip business of making sleek electric cars, the charging industry has been swept up in its own gold rush. Venture capital firms poured nearly $1 billion into charging companies last year, more than the five previous years combined, according to PitchBook. So far in 2021, venture capital investments are up to more than $550 million.

On Wall Street, publicly traded special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, have struck deals to buy eight charging companies out of 26 deals involving electric vehicle and related businesses, according to Dealogic, a research firm. The deals typically include an infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from big investors like BlackRock.

“It’s early, and folks are trying to wrap their heads around what does the potential look like,” said Gabe Daoud Jr., a managing director and analyst at Cowen, an investment bank.

These businesses could benefit from the infrastructure bill, but it is not clear how the Biden administration would distribute money for charging stations.

Another unanswered question is who will be the Exxon Mobil of the electric car age. It might well be automakers.

Tesla, which makes about two-thirds of the electric cars sold in the United States, has built thousands of chargers, which it made free for early customers. The company could open its network to vehicles made by other automakers by the end of the year, its chief executive, Elon Musk, said in July.

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U.S. and I.M.F. Apply a Financial Squeeze on the Taliban

Despite the chaotic end to its presence in Afghanistan, the United States still has control over billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank, money that Washington is making sure remains out of the reach of the Taliban.

About $7 billion of the central bank’s $9 billion in foreign reserves are held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the former acting governor of the Afghan central bank said Wednesday, and the Biden administration has already moved to block access to that money.

The Taliban’s access to the other money could also be restricted by the long reach of American sanctions and influence. The central bank has $1.3 billion in international accounts, some of it euros and British pounds in European banks, the former official, Ajmal Ahmady, said in an interview on Wednesday. Remaining reserves are held by the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements, he added.

Mr. Ahmady said earlier on Wednesday that the Taliban had already been asking central bank officials about where the money was.

International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that it would block Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves. The decision followed pressure from the Biden administration to ensure that the reserves did not reach the Taliban.

Money from an agreement reached in November among more than 60 countries to send Afghanistan $12 billion over the next four years is also in doubt. Last week, Germany said it would not provide grants to Afghanistan if the Taliban took over and introduced Shariah law, and on Tuesday, the European Union said no payments were going to Afghanistan until officials “clarify the situation.”

The central bank money and international aid, essential to a poor country where three-quarters of public spending is financed by grants, are powerful leverage for Washington as world leaders consider if and when to recognize the Taliban takeover.

Mr. Ahmady, who fled Afghanistan on Sunday, said he believed the Taliban could get access to the central bank reserves only by negotiating with the U.S. government.

high-profile talks last month. But so far, China hasn’t shown an eagerness to increase its role in Afghanistan. The Taliban could try to take advantage of the country’s vast mineral resources through mining, or finance operations with money from the illegal opium trade. Afghanistan is the world’s largest grower of poppy used to produce heroin, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

But these alternatives are all “very tough,” Mr. Ahmady said. “Probably the only other way is to negotiate with the U.S. government.”

Afghanistan has about $700 million at the Bank for International Settlements, Mr. Ahmady said. The bank, which serves 63 central banks around the world, said on Wednesday that it “does not acknowledge or discuss banking relationships.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Ahmady wrote on Twitter that Afghanistan had relied on shipments of U.S. dollars every few weeks because it had a large current account deficit, a reflection of the fact that the value of its imports are about five times greater than its exports.

Those purchases of imports, often paid in dollars, could soon be squeezed.

“The amount of such cash remaining is close to zero due a stoppage of shipments as the security situation deteriorated, especially during the last few days,” Mr. Ahmady wrote.

He recalled receiving a call on Friday saying the country wouldn’t get further shipments of U.S. dollars. The next day, Afghan banks requested large amounts of dollars to keep up with customer withdrawals, but Mr. Ahmady said he had to limit their distribution to conserve the central bank’s supply. It was the first time he made such a move, he said.

Mr. Ahmady said that he had told President Ashraf Ghani about the cancellation of currency shipments, and that Mr. Ghani had then spoken with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Though further shipments were approved “in principle,” Mr. Ahmady said, the next scheduled shipment, on Sunday, never arrived.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

The New York Fed provides safekeeping and payment services to foreign central banks so they can store international reserves securely, and to facilitate cross-border payments and other dollar-based transactions. International reserves often take the form of short-term Treasury bonds or gold. The New York Fed has been storing gold for foreign governments for nearly a century.

Though Mr. Ahmady has left the country, he said he believed that most members of the central bank’s staff were still in Afghanistan.

If the Taliban can’t gain access to the central bank’s reserves, it will probably have to further limit access to dollars, Mr. Ahmady said. This would help start a cycle in which the national currency will depreciate and inflation will rise rapidly and worsen poverty.

“They’re going to have to significantly reduce the amount that people can take out,” Mr. Ahmady said. “That’s going to hurt people’s living standards.”

The more than $400 million from the International Monetary Fund, which the Biden administration has sought to keep out of the Taliban’s hands, is Afghanistan’s share of a $650 billion allocation of currency reserves known as special drawing rights. It was approved this month as part of an effort to help developing countries cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

But the toppling of Afghanistan’s government and a lack of clarity about whether the Taliban will be recognized internationally put the I.M.F. in a difficult position.

“There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access S.D.R.s or other I.M.F. resources,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. It added that its decisions were guided by the views of the international community.

Jake Sullivan, the White House’s national security adviser, said Tuesday that it was too soon to address whether the United States would recognize the Taliban as the legitimate power in Afghanistan.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The track record has not been good, but it’s premature to address that question at this point.”

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Red Ventures, the Biggest Digital Media Company You’ve Never Heard Of

The marketing of financial products promises far higher profit margins than the online “affiliate” businesses that underlie websites like The New York Times’s Wirecutter. While a publisher recommending a gadget on Amazon might earn a single-digit percentage of a shopper’s purchase, the “bounties” paid to Red Ventures for directing a consumer to a Chase Visa Sapphire Reserve credit card or an American Express Rose Gold card can range from $300 to $900 per card.

The arrival of Red Ventures’ executives hasn’t always gone over well among the journalists who find themselves working under Mr. Elias. Journalists, like members of a medieval guild (the guild hall is Twitter), tend to be more connected to the folkways of their profession than to any corporate culture, and some roll their eyes at Red Ventures’ rah-rah retreats, which feature fireworks and song. More troublingly, some reporters at The Points Guy, which also covers the travel industry in general (it has been a comprehensive source for information on where vaccinated Americans can travel), have complained that the new owners have eroded the already rickety wall between the site’s service journalism and the credit card sales that fund it.

Red Ventures is “all about profit maximization,” said JT Genter, who left the site more than a year ago. He and other Points Guy writers said they hadn’t been pushed to publish stories they found dubious — indeed, the site has occasionally offered carefully critical coverage of Chase and American Express, its dominant business partners. But he noted that Points Guy journalists are required to attend regular business meetings detailing how much money the site makes from credit card sales, which some take as a tacit suggestion to put their thumbs on the scale.

Mr. Elias said Red Ventures has a “nonnegotiable line” concerning the editorial independence of its sites, adding that he has given his cell number to CNET employees and instructed them to call him if they ever face pressure from the business side.

“I told them, ‘There’s a red line,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, we’ll see,’” he said.

Red Ventures’ roots in marketing, its investment in tech aimed at selling you something and its almost-accidental move into trying to provide readers with trusted, even journalistic, advice have made for an odd amalgam. And the company’s Silicon Valley style extends only so far. Most employees don’t receive equity in the company, and lunch isn’t free, just subsidized.

The company does offer a maxim-happy workplace, though, with inspirational slogans printed on the walls of its atrium in cheery fonts. The one I heard executives refer to most was “Everything Is Written in Pencil,” a motto that makes sense for a company that has changed almost entirely from its marketing origins to become a leading purveyor of service journalism. And its executives seem to have absorbed the idea that they are selling trust, even if they don’t put it in the language of journalism professors.

“Brand and trust are at the core of everything that we do,” said Courtney Jeffus, the president of the company’s financial services division, which includes Bankrate. “If you lose brand trust, then you don’t have a business.”

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NBC Tries to Salvage a Difficult Olympics

The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona had the Dream Team. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing had the Michael Phelps medal sweep. The Tokyo Olympics has a pandemic.

That has been the greatest challenge for NBCUniversal, the company that paid more than $1 billion to run 7,000 hours of games coverage across two broadcast networks, six cable channels and a fledgling streaming platform, Peacock.

The ratings have been a disappointment, averaging 16.8 million viewers a night through Tuesday, a steep drop from the 29 million who tuned in through the same day of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. NBCUniversal has offered to make up for the smaller than expected television audience by offering free ads to some companies that bought commercial time during the games, according to four people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations.

opening ceremony set a downbeat tone. Instead of the usual pageant of athletes smiling and waving to the crowd, there was a procession of participants walking through a mostly empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium, all wearing masks to protect themselves against the spread of Covid-19 as a new variant raged. The live morning broadcast and prime-time replay drew the lowest ratings for an opening ceremony in 33 years, with just under 17 million viewers. The high came Sunday, July 25, when a little more than 20 million people tuned in.

24 years as NBC’s prime-time Olympics host before leaving the network in 2017. “You can’t create something out of thin air. Everybody knows that this is, we hope, a one-of-a-kind Olympics.”

“It’s like if somebody is running the 100 meters and they have a weight around their ankles,” Mr. Costas continued. “That is not a fair judge of their speed.”

A widespread change in viewing habits, from traditional TV to streaming platforms, has been a big factor in the number of people watching. While NBC’s prime-time audience has shrunk considerably from what it was for the Rio games five years ago, the Olympics broadcasts are still bringing in significantly more viewers than even the most popular entertainment shows. The most recent episode of CBS’s “Big Brother,” a ratings leader, drew an audience of less than four million.

“We had a little bit of bad luck — there was a drumbeat of negativity,” said Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, during a conference call last week, after NBC’s parent company, Comcast, reported its second-quarter earnings. The less-than-festive atmosphere, he added, “has resulted a little bit in linear ratings being probably less than we expected.”

a television critic for Vulture. “But more than anything, watching this year has shown the wounds that we’re dealing with.”

Ms. Chaney noted NBC’s interview with the American swimmer Caeleb Dressel right after he won gold in a glamour event, the men’s 100-meter freestyle. Moved to tears, Mr. Dressel said, “It was a really tough year. It was really hard.”

The 13-hour time-zone difference between Tokyo and the East Coast may have also figured in the drop in prime-time viewers. Many people in the United States have been waking up to phone alerts trumpeting the medal winners who will be featured in that night’s broadcast.

all-around win — seemed to gain traction not so much on TV but in snippets shared on social media. That trend has been apparent in the number of followers for NBCUniversal’s Olympics channel on TikTok, which have shot up 348 percent since the opening ceremony.

Those who decide to watch must choose from a jumble of channels and digital options. In addition to NBC, the coverage is spread across NBC Sports Network, CNBC, USA Network, the Olympic Channel, the Golf Channel, the Spanish-language channels Universo and Telemundo, not to mention NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

There are so many choices that NBC’s “Today” show brought in Steve Kornacki, the political correspondent best known for elucidating election results, to break it all down. “If you’re a badminton fan, you’re going to be looking for NBCSN,” he told viewers. “If you’re an archery fan, USA Network. There’s all sorts of different possibilities!”

Jim Bell, who stepped away from Tokyo planning in 2018 when the company placed him in charge of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” He left that program and NBC a year later.

Ms. Solomon said she has been waking up at 4:30 a.m. in Tokyo and relying on double-shot lattes to get her through workdays that may go till 11 p.m. She does not share the opinion of some critics of the coverage.

“Every day, new stars arise, and new stories come to the fore,” she said. “So, personally, I don’t want it to end.”

In the view of Mr. Costas, who guided viewers through NBC’s Olympics coverage from 1992 through 2016, any comparison of the Tokyo games with previous competitions is not fair, given the pall cast by the pandemic. And three years from now, if all goes according to plan, NBCUniversal will get what amounts to a do-over in Paris.

“Paris 2024 will be, we hope, fingers crossed, much more like a classic Olympics situation,” he said. “That will be a more legitimate test.”

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Tokyo Olympics Highlight the Barriers Japan’s Girls Face in Sports

TOKYO — Kurumi Mochizuki is the kind of skilled soccer player who can roll a ball from between her shoulder blades to the top of her head and onto her right foot, keeping it aloft for more than a dozen kicks. She makes it look so easy.

Yet when she practices with her local club team in southeastern Tokyo, her coaches sometimes advise her to take longer breaks than her teammates, and warn her not to pick up heavy bags of balls when clearing equipment from the field.

All because she is a girl.

Kurumi, 13, is the only girl on her team. She plays with boys because there are no girls’ club teams near her neighborhood and no girls’ team at her middle school. Finding a team in high school will be difficult, too. Only one of the 14 schools in Kurumi’s area offers a girls’ team. Her older brother, who plays soccer at his high school, has had no such trouble — almost all the high schools in the district have boys’ soccer teams.

Tokyo Olympics, which open next month, offer an opportunity to anoint another crop of champions to inspire girls with athletic aspirations. But after the Olympic spotlight dims, those like Kurumi will still face powerful obstacles.

Japan has no law like Title IX, the American statute that requires schools receiving public funding to offer equal opportunities to boys and girls, and there is no public data on how much schools spend on extracurricular sports or how it breaks down on gender lines.

Female athletes who persevere often have to push past stereotypes that they are doing something unladylike, jeopardizing their chances of attracting boys and later becoming wives and mothers. Even their coaches view their participation through this lens, in some cases giving them etiquette lessons to ensure they are ready for domestic life.

2011 Women’s World Cup and claimed the silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012.

She followed her brother into soccer when she was 6. “When I was little, I never thought about it,” she said of being the sole girl on her team. “But once I got a bit older, I was much more aware of it.”

The extracurricular soccer team at her public middle school is technically coed, although not one of the team’s 40 players is a girl. Kurumi decided to stick to the club team she had played with since elementary school rather than try to break into a new group at school.

“There is a difference in strength and aggressiveness between boys and girls,” said Shigeki Komatsu, the middle school’s vice principal, standing on the sidelines as the boys scrimmaged on a gravel pitch, their cleats kicking up puffs of dust.

hopes that the situation would improve for female athletes in Japan.

Before that victory, girls in the United States had flocked to suburban soccer clubs after the U.S. women won the World Cup on American soil in 1999.

Koshien, that is more than 100 years old. Just after New Year’s, huge audiences tune in to watch the Hakone Ekiden, a college-level marathon relay that is restricted to male runners.

There are few vocal advocates for female athletes, and most of their coaches are men who often do not provide support for the physical changes that girls undergo in adolescence.

Hanae Ito, a swimmer who represented Japan at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, said coaches along the way had told her she was “mentally weak” when she gained weight or suffered menstruation-related mood changes as a teenage athlete.

“I thought it was a problem with me or that it was my fault,” she said. “But I think that this all ties back to Japan being a patriarchal society. Even women’s sports is seen from a male gaze.”

The idea that female athletes need to worry about their future prospects with men is deeply rooted.

After Hideko Maehata, an Olympic swimmer, became the first woman to win a gold medal for Japan, The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, heralded her victory at the 1936 Berlin Summer Games with the headline: “Next Up Is Marriage.”

Such attitudes persist today. Yuki Suzuki, who played in Japan’s Nadeshiko women’s professional soccer league and taught the sport until she gave birth to her son, is frustrated by the rigid gender definitions.

“Girls are often told ‘be feminine, be feminine,’” said Ms. Suzuki, now 34. “I think we have to change the fundamental culture of Japan when it comes to women.”

Even when girls get the chance to play, a bias toward boys emerges in small ways. At the middle school Kurumi attends, the boys’ volleyball and basketball teams get the gym three days a week for practice, while the girls use it the other two days.

Kurumi said she tried not to worry about the unequal treatment. She does not hold it against her coaches, she said, for barring her from carrying heavy equipment during practice.

“I am sure the coaches just care about me,” she said. “But personally, I know I could carry it.”

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Soho China Sells to Blackstone, Cementing Owners’ Exit

China’s economy is on a tear. Factories are humming, and foreign investment is flowing in. Even so, the wealthy and powerful people atop some of the country’s most prominent companies are heading for the exits.

The latest are Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, the husband-and-wife team that runs Soho China, a property developer known for its blobby, futuristic office buildings. In striking a deal this week to sell a controlling stake to the investment giant Blackstone for as much as $3 billion, Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang are turning over the company as high-profile entrepreneurs come under public and official scrutiny in China like never before.

Soho China did not respond to a request for comment.

China’s most famous tycoon, the Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, has kept an uncharacteristically low profile since late last year, when the government began a regulatory crackdown on his companies and the wider internet industry. Colin Huang, founder of the Alibaba rival Pinduoduo, resigned as chairman in March, less than a year after he stepped down as chief executive. In May, Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, said he would hand over the chief executive post to focus on long-term strategy.

Under the Communist Party’s top leader, Xi Jinping, nationalism has been resurgent in China, and the government has sought to exert more direct influence over the private sector. Even before this week’s sale, Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang of Soho China had been avoiding the spotlight more than they did during an earlier, freer era of China’s economic revival.

going after businesspeople and intellectuals with big online followings. The police that year arrested Wang Gongquan, a friend of Mr. Pan’s and supporter of human rights causes, on charges of disrupting public order.

Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang began selling off property holdings in China and spending more time in the United States. The family of Ms. Zhang and the Safra family of Brazil, long involved in international banking, teamed up to buy a 40 percent stake in the General Motors building in Manhattan.

They noted that the couple donated generously to Harvard and Yale but not to Chinese universities.

After media reports accused Soho China of “fleeing” Shanghai by selling projects there, Mr. Pan wrote on Weibo: “Buying and selling is normal. Don’t read too much into it.”

The company’s last big public event was the opening of Leeza Soho, a lithe, spiraling skyscraper in Beijing, in late 2019. Zaha Hadid, the famed architect who designed the tower and a friend of Ms. Zhang’s, had died a few years earlier.

Last year, Ren Zhiqiang, a retired property mogul and friend of Mr. Pan’s, was detained for an essay he shared with friends on a private chat group. The essay criticized Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the direction he was taking the country. Mr. Ren was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Today, Mr. Pan’s and Ms. Zhang’s Weibo accounts are filled with bland, friendly material: holiday greetings, book recommendations, photos of flowers in bloom outside Soho China buildings. Both of their accounts are set to display only the past half year’s posts.

On Wednesday night, minutes after Soho China announced the sale on its official Weibo account, Mr. Pan reposted the announcement without comment, in what online commentators called a “silent farewell.”

Albee Zhang contributed research.

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Mount Sinai Seeks to Expand School Virus Testing Program

Every week, students at KIPP Infinity Middle School, in West Harlem, file into a large auditorium and take their places on the designated floor markings, making sure to stand six feet apart. Then they pull down their masks and fill sterile tubes with their spit.

The school’s teachers try to make the experience fun, running competitions to see who can fill their tube fastest and holding dance contests while students wait for their classmates to finish.

“It’s kind of enjoyable,” said Bradley Ramirez, a seventh grader at the school who likes math and Minecraft. “It’s way better than just sticking a stick up your nose.”

Bradley and his classmates are participants in a coronavirus testing pilot program created by the Mount Sinai Health System, the nonprofit Pershing Square Foundation and KIPP NYC, a network of 15 local charter schools. Since early March, the program has conducted more than 13,000 saliva-based tests of KIPP students, teachers and staff members, identifying several dozen cases of the virus.

planned to fully reopen schools, eliminating remote learning, in the fall.

“The way you keep a school safe, the way you make teachers feel comfortable with the reopening of schools, the way you make parents feel comfortable sending their kid, is you have a testing program,” said William A. Ackman, a hedge fund manager who founded the Pershing Square Foundation.

The testing program originated in December, when Mr. Ackman decided that he wanted to find a way to get New York City children back to school and approached Mount Sinai with a proposal: What if he provided funding for the hospital to build a laboratory that could process 100,000 coronavirus tests a day? The hope was that the lab could devote some of that capacity to corporate clients, such as businesses that wanted to test their employees, and use the revenue to fund wide-scale testing for New York City schoolchildren.

Mount Sinai quickly agreed. “We began on a concerted effort that people at Mount Sinai have really rallied around,” said Dr. David Reich, president and chief operating officer of Mount Sinai Hospital. “It’s just one of those projects where you never have to worry about people wanting to show up for your Zoom meeting — they’re all there, and they’re all smiling.”

saliva-based coronavirus tests. The gold standard diagnostic tests are known as P.C.R. tests, which can detect even minute amounts of the virus in biological specimens. During the early months of the pandemic, these tests generally required medical professionals to stick a swab deep into a patient’s nasopharynx, a procedure that can be deeply uncomfortable and put clinicians at risk.

Saliva-based P.C.R. tests, many scientists came to believe, would be safer and less invasive. They would also be much more suitable for young children than the deep, nasopharyngeal swabs. “A brain scoop, for a kid? Really? That’s a no-no,” said Dr. Alberto Paniz-Mondolfi, a pathologist at Mount Sinai who led development of the new saliva test.

As the partnership between Mount Sinai and Pershing Square began to take shape, Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi and his colleagues accelerated their work, validating their saliva test in 60 adult patients. But they knew that in the real world, children could not always be relied upon to follow clinical procedures to the letter.

“When we start getting this from the schools, we’re going to have pieces of pretzels, old gum floating in the saliva,” Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi said.

So Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi and his colleagues asked their own children to make a sacrifice for science: to snack on an array of junk food, including pizza and Oreos, and then spit into some testing tubes. Using these samples, the researchers confirmed that even if a student’s sample was contaminated with one of these foods, the tests should still work properly.

“This was practical science, designed by parents to get their kids back to school,” Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi said.

Then it was time to pilot the tests in a real school environment. In January, Mount Sinai connected with KIPP NYC, which had been offering remote instruction since last spring. But it was hoping to reopen its schools in March, and administrators knew they would need to do some kind of in-school virus testing.

“One of the biggest fears that we had was around what it would mean to keep students safe,” said Glenn Davis, the principal of KIPP Infinity Middle School.

Mount Sinai and KIPP NYC agreed to begin a pilot saliva-testing project at five schools. The testing program, which eventually grew to include nine KIPP schools, was free for the schools and mandatory for all students who opted to return to in-person learning. (Some families chose to continue with remote education.)

Students, teachers and staff members are tested once a week. Medical assistants from Mount Sinai supervise the saliva collection and pack the bar-coded tubes into coolers for transportation back to the laboratory. (The samples are currently being processed at an existing Mount Sinai lab, but will be sent to the new lab when it opens next month.)

During the pilot project, 99.2 percent test results were returned within 24 hours, Mount Sinai says. Students or staff members who test positive typically have to quarantine for 10 days.

If a student tests positive, Mount Sinai also offers to send a team of “swabbers” to his or her home to administer free coronavirus tests to their family members and close contacts.

“We’ve detected a few mini outbreaks in that fashion, and hopefully prevented them from spreading by virtue of this screening program in the schoolkids,” Dr. Reich said.

Between March 10, when the pilot project began, and May 9, Mount Sinai conducted 13,067 tests and identified 46 coronavirus cases, a positivity rate of 0.4 percent. There have been no false positives and no known false negatives, Mount Sinai says.

The Mount Sinai team has submitted the data to the Food and Drug Administration, hoping to receive an emergency use authorization for the test.

Later this week, Mount Sinai will submit a formal proposal to New York City to take its testing program to the city’s public schools when they reopen in the fall. Mount Sinai declined to disclose the terms of the proposal, including what it plans to charge schools for the tests, but says it hopes to attract commercial clients to help defray, or possibly even eliminate, costs for schools.

In the meantime, it is approaching other charter school organizations in the city about using its tests during their summer sessions and programs.

“We can’t just sit there when this lab goes live in June and say, ‘OK, we’re waiting for September,’” Dr. Reich said. “Before the fall, we need to be doing a lot of tests.” The lab will initially have the capacity to run 25,000 tests a day, with the ability to scale up to 100,000 if there is sufficient interest.

For its part, KIPP NYC plans to expand the program to all of its schools in the fall, although the testing frequency may change, said Efrain Guerrero, managing director of operations for KIPP NYC. “I think parents see it and staff see it as just an additional safety measure that they appreciate,” he said. “For us it’s a no-brainer to continue to test at some frequency.”

Olga Ramirez, Bradley’s mother, had not initially wanted him to return to in-person learning. “I was very afraid at first,” she said. But Bradley, who desperately wanted to go back to school, managed to convince her, with the help of an informational video about the Mount Sinai testing program.

Ms. Ramirez now thinks that returning to school was the right decision. Bradley’s virus tests have all come back negative, and his grades are up since returning to in-person learning.

“I’ve seen his grades improve quite a lot, and I feel that my son is in good hands,” she said. She’s not alone, she added. “There’s so many mothers who are feeling the way I do.”

Elda Cantú contributed translation.

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