Why U.S. Cruises Are Still in Port in 2021

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its “no sail” order on U.S. cruise ships and set out a framework that would allow them to start sailing again, bringing relief and hope to a decimated industry — and to many cruise fans.

And then, nothing.

Nearly six months later, cruise lines are still waiting for technical instructions from the agency, which will allow them to prepare their ships for simulation voyages, designed to test whether they can safely sail.

In other parts of the world, the industry is stirring to life. Some cruise lines plan to restart domestic cruises in Europe later this month and voyages around the British Isles are scheduled for June, when lockdown restrictions are expected to be lifted. Royal Caribbean is running cruises to Greece from the Israeli port of Haifa this spring that will require all the crew and passengers on board to be fully vaccinated.

The C.D.C. says its current focus is working with cruise lines to implement the initial phase requirements of testing all crew and setting up onboard labs as part of a step-by-step approach for the return of passenger cruising. The framework includes extensive testing, quarantine measures and social distancing, but the details remain unclear.

downsize their fleets and sell ships for scrap.

Now, with vaccinations underway across the world and infection rates dropping in some regions, cruise companies are scrambling to prepare their ships for a gradual return starting in Europe and Asia. In the United States, cruise fans will likely have to wait at least until the fall.

“We are hopeful for this year,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the cruise news site Cruise Critic. “There have already been some success stories out of Europe where cruise lines have shown that they’ve got great protocols in place, that they are committed to adhering to them, that they can keep passengers in a bubble and that they can do effective testing. We can expect those learnings to help inform cruising in the United States.”

While the timetable remains fluid, here’s what we can expect from cruising over the next few months.

AIDA Cruises has scheduled an excursion around the Canary Islands from March 20 and will be followed by Costa Cruises, which plans to resume Italian sailings on March 27. MSC Cruises is also planning a European voyage in May that will only be open to passengers living in the European Union’s Schengen zone.

Last summer, some cruise companies resumed operations in Europe with strict health and safety protocols but shut them down again in the fall after some ships reported cases of Covid-19 and the region went back into lockdown in response to a resurgence of the virus.

In Britain, domestic cruises could begin from May 17, when lockdowns on the hospitality sector are expected to be eased, the ministry of transport said earlier this month.

Princess, P & O, Cunard and Hurtigruten are among the cruise lines that have announced “staycation sailings” around the British Isles this summer. Some ships will sail around the country’s coastline without calling at any ports, while others will offer shore excursions.

“People are very excited to start cruising again and we are seeing tons of demand right now, particularly in the expedition space,” said John Downey, the president of the Americas for Hurtigruten, a Norwegian line specializing in expedition cruises.

“We will continue to focus on amazing, remote destinations where our guests are more often surrounded by wildlife and nature rather than human populations,” he added. “With stringent health protocols we put in place, we feel very comfortable about the safety of our guests and crew.”

cruiseguy.com, referring to the missing technical details in the conditional sailing order.

“They are waiting for it now and they expect them to update their guidance because it was issued before the vaccines were rolled out and a lot has changed since then,” Mr. Chiron added.

Cruise executives say they expect the C.D.C. to issue the technical requirements soon.

Cruise Lines International Association, the industry group that represents most of the largest cruise companies, announced a mandatory set of health protocols that will be implemented as part of a phased-in resumption of operations.

The core elements include:

Some companies are reluctant to depend on testing alone, after the SeaDream 1, a ship that had aspired to be a model for a safe return to cruising, cut short its Caribbean voyage last year because several passengers tested positive for the coronavirus, despite the fact they’d had a negative test before boarding.

Most major cruise lines have not decided whether they will require vaccinations for future sailings and are waiting for further scientific guidance once inoculation becomes more widespread around the globe.

In Britain, Saga Cruises and P & O said that they would require all guests to be fully vaccinated before boarding their ships throughout 2021. Royal Caribbean announced sailings from Israel to Greece in May, where all crew members and passengers over the age of 16 must be vaccinated.

Royal Caribbean Group. “We’ve been getting more and more experience with sailings abroad out of Germany, Singapore, the Canary Islands and Italy and we will continue to learn and adapt as new knowledge and scientific discoveries like the vaccine come to the fore.”

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places list for 2021.

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C.D.C. Says 3 Feet in Elementary Schools With Masks Is O.K.

In a major policy revision intended to encourage more schools to welcome children back to full in-person instruction, federal health officials on Friday relaxed the six-foot distancing rule for elementary school students, saying they need only remain three feet apart in classrooms as long as everyone is wearing a mask.

The three-foot rule also now applies to students in middle schools and high schools, as long as community transmission is not high, officials said. When transmission is high, however, these students must be at least six feet apart, unless they are taught in cohorts, or small groups that are kept separate from others.

The six-foot rule still applies in the community at large, officials emphasized, and for teachers and other adults who work in schools, who must maintain that distance from other adults and from students.

“Transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

recent study in Boston found no significant differences in the number of infections in school districts in Massachusetts that adopted a three-foot rule, when compared with those that required six feet of distance. Additional C.D.C. studies examining safety in schools were also released Friday.

“C.D.C. is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” Dr. Walensky said. “These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based road map to help schools reopen safely, and remain open for in-person instruction.”

The new guidance emphasizes that good air flow and ventilation in school buildings is a critical component of maintaining a safe environment, and continues to stress multiple layers of preventive behaviors including universal masking, hand washing, cleaning buildings and doing contact tracing, combined with isolation and quarantine.

Adults in schools must continue to stay six feet apart from other adults and from students, officials said. The six foot rule still applies in common areas of schools like lobbies and auditoriums, any time students are eating or drinking and cannot wear a mask, and during activities that involve more exhalation — like singing, shouting, band practice, sports or any exercise, activities that “should be moved outdoors or to large well-ventilated spaces whenever possible.”

The American Federation of Teachers had been staunchly opposed to changing the guidance. In a recent interview, Randi Weingarten, the president of the union and a close ally of President Biden, described herself as “very concerned” about the possibility that the agency might change the distancing guidance. Instead of reducing distancing, she said, districts should be finding additional space to accommodate students at six feet of distance.

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Sam’s Club C.E.O. on the Company’s High Sales and Low Wages

But one of the benefits I got in being on the finance side was a really thorough understanding of the profit and loss and balance sheet and how that all hangs together. It enabled me to take strategy and pull it apart and say: “Well, what are the objectives? And what are the prices we’ve put in place to be able to achieve those objectives?”

What were the biggest changes you made in stores and in warehouses as a result of the pandemic?

There was a lot of tactical decisions we had to make very early on: metering people into the club, the request for associates to wear masks, health screening every day, plexiglass that we had to put in appropriate places, decals on the floor. There was just such an exhaustive list.

We also wanted to give members confidence that they could trust our standards. Like, “Let’s make sure that in the first 10 feet of walking into Sam’s Club, they see us wiping down a cart.” We’re spraying them outside, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the member knows that they’ve been sprayed down. So let’s make sure that we also wipe them down so that the member knows they can have confidence.

How are you dealing with the issue of masks at a moment when states are lifting restrictions?

When a member turns up at the club, we will ask them to wear one. We will have one there to offer to them. If somebody is adamant that they don’t want to wear one, then we will continue to offer it to them.

What we’ve been trying to do is protect the safety of our associates and make sure that we’re not putting them into a conflict point. We’ve tried to make sure that we de-escalate and contain issues rather than have them escalate. I would say a majority of members comply. Most of them, if you ask them once or twice, will put a mask on.

How have people’s shopping habits changed over the past year?

We have seen periods that we called “carbs and calories,” where people would just buy up pizza, ice cream, potato chips. It was almost like they were looking for indulgence in food that they couldn’t get through experiences outside of the home. We’ve certainly seen a resurgence in people nesting and home improvement, yard improvement, outdoor entertaining. People are like, “How do I make my home my castle?”

Help me understand why it’s hard for a company like Walmart to get to the point where it’s supporting a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

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For Political Cartoonists, the Irony Was That Facebook Didn’t Recognize Irony

SAN FRANCISCO — Since 2013, Matt Bors has made a living as a left-leaning cartoonist on the internet. His site, The Nib, runs cartoons from him and other contributors that regularly skewer right-wing movements and conservatives with political commentary steeped in irony.

One cartoon in December took aim at the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Mr. Bors titled it “Boys Will Be Boys” and depicted a recruitment where new Proud Boys were trained to be “stabby guys” and to “yell slurs at teenagers” while playing video games.

Days later, Facebook sent Mr. Bors a message saying that it had removed “Boys Will Be Boys” from his Facebook page for “advocating violence” and that he was on probation for violating its content policies.

It wasn’t the first time that Facebook had dinged him. Last year, the company briefly took down another Nib cartoon — an ironic critique of former President Donald J. Trump’s pandemic response, the substance of which supported wearing masks in public — for “spreading misinformation” about the coronavirus. Instagram, which Facebook owns, removed one of his sardonic antiviolence cartoons in 2019 because, the photo-sharing app said, it promoted violence.

Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting on its site altogether after he incited a crowd that stormed the U.S. Capitol.

At the same time, misinformation researchers said, Facebook has had trouble identifying the slipperiest and subtlest of political content: satire. While satire and irony are common in everyday speech, the company’s artificial intelligence systems — and even its human moderators — can have difficulty distinguishing them. That’s because such discourse relies on nuance, implication, exaggeration and parody to make a point.

That means Facebook has sometimes misunderstood the intent of political cartoons, leading to takedowns. The company has acknowledged that some of the cartoons it expunged — including those from Mr. Bors — were removed by mistake and later reinstated them.

“If social media companies are going to take on the responsibility of finally regulating incitement, conspiracies and hate speech, then they are going to have to develop some literacy around satire,” Mr. Bors, 37, said in an interview.

accused Facebook and other internet platforms of suppressing only right-wing views.

In a statement, Facebook did not address whether it has trouble spotting satire. Instead, the company said it made room for satirical content — but only up to a point. Posts about hate groups and extremist content, it said, are allowed only if the posts clearly condemn or neutrally discuss them, because the risk for real-world harm is otherwise too great.

Facebook’s struggles to moderate content across its core social network, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp have been well documented. After Russians manipulated the platform before the 2016 presidential election by spreading inflammatory posts, the company recruited thousands of third-party moderators to prevent a recurrence. It also developed sophisticated algorithms to sift through content.

Facebook also created a process so that only verified buyers could purchase political ads, and instituted policies against hate speech to limit posts that contained anti-Semitic or white supremacist content.

Last year, Facebook said it had stopped more than 2.2 million political ad submissions that had not yet been verified and that targeted U.S. users. It also cracked down on the conspiracy group QAnon and the Proud Boys, removed vaccine misinformation, and displayed warnings on more than 150 million pieces of content viewed in the United States that third-party fact checkers debunked.

But satire kept popping up as a blind spot. In 2019 and 2020, Facebook often dealt with far-right misinformation sites that used “satire” claims to protect their presence on the platform, Mr. Brooking said. For example, The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning site, frequently trafficked in misinformation under the guise of satire.

whose independent work regularly appears in North American and European newspapers.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2019 that he would bar two congresswomen — critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — from visiting the country, Mr. Hall drew a cartoon showing a sign affixed to barbed wire that read, in German, “Jews are not welcome here.” He added a line of text addressing Mr. Netanyahu: “Hey Bibi, did you forget something?”

Mr. Hall said his intent was to draw an analogy between how Mr. Netanyahu was treating the U.S. representatives and Nazi Germany. Facebook took the cartoon down shortly after it was posted, saying it violated its standards on hate speech.

“If algorithms are making these decisions based solely upon words that pop up on a feed, then that is not a catalyst for fair or measured decisions when it comes to free speech,” Mr. Hall said.

Adam Zyglis, a nationally syndicated political cartoonist for The Buffalo News, was also caught in Facebook’s cross hairs.

paid memberships to The Nib and book sales on his personal site, he gets most of his traffic and new readership through Facebook and Instagram.

The takedowns, which have resulted in “strikes” against his Facebook page, could upend that. If he accumulates more strikes, his page could be erased, something that Mr. Bors said would cut 60 percent of his readership.

“Removing someone from social media can end their career these days, so you need a process that distinguishes incitement of violence from a satire of these very groups doing the incitement,” he said.

Mr. Bors said he had also heard from the Proud Boys. A group of them recently organized on the messaging chat app Telegram to mass-report his critical cartoons to Facebook for violating the site’s community standards, he said.

“You just wake up and find you’re in danger of being shut down because white nationalists were triggered by your comic,” he said

Facebook has sometimes recognized its errors and corrected them after he has made appeals, Mr. Bors said. But the back-and-forth and the potential for expulsion from the site have been frustrating and made him question his work, he said.

“Sometimes I do think about if a joke is worth it, or if it’s going to get us banned,” he said. “The problem with that is, where is the line on that kind of thinking? How will it affect my work in the long run?”

Cade Metz contributed reporting.

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Super Nintendo World Looks for a Level Beyond the Pandemic

After a year of pandemic life, many people need an escape. On Thursday, thousands in Japan found one in the fantasyland of the Mario Bros.

A theme park, Super Nintendo World, opened at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, ending months of delays and testing the proposition that people will want to gather in large numbers while the coronavirus is circulating to race in a Mario Kart or punch question mark blocks.

The authorities said they were taking steps to prevent the spread of infections. The park’s capacity is limited to 10,000 people. Guests have their temperature taken upon entering, and they must wear a mask, wash their hands frequently and maintain a distance from others.

film and sports industries combined. The new park also capitalizes on the success of the Nintendo Switch, a video game console released in 2017. About 80 million units have been sold.

“Because it’s coming straight from the imagination of Shigeru Miyamoto, it really brings the atmosphere of Super Mario Brothers into the real world,” said Robert Sephazon, a game developer based in Japan who has visited the park.

“Although it’s a bit of escapism, and it does really work,” he added, the pandemic never fully disappears, with masks and hand sanitizing to ensure that shared touch screens do not present a danger.

some have speculated that a locked door with a familiar design could be a clue that the site will expand to include a Donkey Kong world.

“I couldn’t tell which world I was in, a virtual or a real, as it’s so well created,” said Moe Ueura, a 31-year-old high school teacher from Hyogo Prefecture who attended the opening ceremony.

While fans rushed through the site on Thursday, others, both overseas and in Japan, expressed sadness that it might be some time before they, too, could escape into the world of Mario.

“I want to visit the Nintendo World when Covid is over,” wrote one person on Twitter. “But I wonder when the day will be.”

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

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President John Magufuli of Tanzania Dies at 61

NAIROBI, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist leader who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his country away from democratic ideals, died on Wednesday at a hospital in the port city of Dar es Salaam. He was 61.

His death was announced on television by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who said Mr. Magufuli had died of heart complications while being treated at Mzena Hospital. The announcement followed more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically ill with Covid-19 — reports that senior government officials had repeatedly denied.

Ms. Hassan did not specify the nature of Mr. Magufuli’s underlying illness in her brief televised remarks, but said that he had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. She said that flags will fly at half-staff nationwide and that funeral arrangements were underway.

Mr. Magufuli, a trained chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the economy, stem wasteful spending and upgrade Tanzania’s infrastructure.

marked a sharp departure from his two immediate predecessors who had promoted the East African nation as a peaceful, business-friendly democracy.

During his first term, Mr. Magufuli’s government banned opposition rallies, revoked the licenses of nongovernmental organizations and introduced laws that critics said repressed independent reporting. He also said that pregnant girls should not be allowed in school.

refused to let opposition representatives into polling stations.

On voting day, at least 10 people were killed when violence broke out in the semiautonomous archipelago of Zanzibar after citizens said they had seen soldiers delivering marked ballots.

Mr. Magufuli won that election with 84 percent of the vote amid accusations of widespread fraud and irregularities. Tundu Lissu, the main opposition candidate running against him, was accused of trying to overthrow the government and had to leave the country. He remains in exile in Belgium.

Over the past year, Mr. Magufuli came under intense criticism at home and abroad for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He railed against masks and social distancing, promoted unproven remedies as cures and said that God had helped the country eliminate the virus.

Tanzania has not shared data on the coronavirus with the World Health Organization since April, and it has reported just 509 cases and 21 deaths, figures that have been widely viewed with skepticism.

As vaccine rollouts began worldwide, Mr. Magufuli discouraged the Health Ministry from securing doses for Tanzania.

in a speech to an unmasked crowd in late January. “If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccines for AIDS would have been brought. Vaccines for tuberculosis would have made it a thing of the past. Vaccines for malaria would have been found. Vaccines for cancer would have been found.”

writing on Twitter, “Science shows that #VaccinesWork.”

In February, the United States Embassy in Tanzania cautioned against “a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases” and warned that “limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care.”

Mr. Magufuli’s death came just days after speculations that he was sick with the virus. The rumors started swirling after Mr. Lissu, the opposition figure in exile, said that the president had Covid-19 and was being treated in a hospital in neighboring Kenya.

Mr. Lissu urged the authorities to disclose the whereabouts of the president, who had not been seen in public for almost two weeks. Mr. Magufuli did not attend a virtual summit for leaders of the East African regional bloc on Feb. 27.

Tanzanian officials dismissed the rumors and said that Mr. Magufuli was working as usual.

John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was born on Oct. 29, 1959, in the district of Chato in northwestern Tanzania. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Dar es Salaam, according to the presidential office’s website. In 2009, he obtained a doctorate in chemistry from the same university, according to the website.

Before becoming president, he was a member of Tanzania’s Parliament and held a number of cabinet posts. He first developed a reputation for fighting corruption when working in cabinet positions including as the minister of lands, fisheries and public works.

Mr. Magufuli is survived by his wife, Janet, a primary schoolteacher; and two children.

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Hong Kong’s Virus Rules Keep Cases Low but Stoke Complaints

HONG KONG — A pandemic illness had struck Hong Kong, and the Worley family had gamely followed the rules. They wore masks. They socially distanced. They skipped traveling overseas with their newborn baby to visit his grandparents.

Then the coronavirus came to the playgroup of their 15-month-old son. Now the three of them are stuck in a spartan government quarantine center for 10 days.

“We’ve done everything that was asked of us,” said Kylie Davies-Worley, the mother, who is Australian. “We’ve complied with every regulation, we’ve stayed home when we needed to, yet we feel like we’ve been treated like second-class citizens. It’s not humane.”

Hong Kong’s targeted approach to fighting the virus entails temporarily restricting the freedoms of a few for the benefit of the many. The Chinese territory has avoided full lockdown largely by moving aggressively to stamp out the virus wherever it may appear, whether among taxi drivers and restaurant workers, in densely crowded, low-income neighborhoods, or at dance halls popular with older women.

told CNN.

a separate statement the same day, the government specified the amenities available to children in quarantine centers and said that “each and every decision has been made in the interests of the children and their families.”

Quarantine is nothing new in Hong Kong, which has one of the strictest policies in the world. People who test positive for the virus are isolated in hospitals for monitoring and treatment, regardless of whether they have symptoms, while their close contacts are quarantined for up to 14 days, even if they test negative. More than 42,000 people have passed through government quarantine facilities during the pandemic.

a New York Times database.

“One of the lessons from SARS is that targeted approaches like contact tracing and quarantine are a useful way to limit transmission of an infection, and that has been applied with great success with the Covid pandemic in Hong Kong,” said Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health, referring to the 2003 epidemic that killed 299 people in the Chinese territory. (Hong Kong has recorded 203 deaths from Covid-19.)

stop the protests from resuming.

That distrust is reflected in lower-than-expected participation in a citywide vaccination campaign, with residents especially skeptical of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine. On Monday, the government said it was expanding eligibility to everyone 30 and older to accelerate vaccination efforts.

Confusion, distrust and misinformation on social media have contributed to accusations of unequal treatment in quarantine decisions. Parents asked why some children were allowed to quarantine at home or in hotels instead of in government facilities; health officials say it depends on their degree of exposure to the virus.

The case of a couple working at the U.S. Consulate who tested positive for the virus but were allowed to bring their two children with them to the hospital caused further consternation and complaints of exceptional treatment. Mrs. Lam said the decision had been made based on the couple’s family circumstances and not their status as consular employees.

“Everybody is treated equal before the law and in terms of our epidemic control measures, regardless of their race, their status, their identity, whether they are more resourceful or less resourceful,” she said on Tuesday. “This is a fundamental principle in Hong Kong and we will abide by that principle.”

Though officials did relent on quarantine for some children, no such reversal came for members of the playgroup used by the Worley family. One of them, Jennifer Choi, is spending seven nights in a government center with her 13-month-old daughter.

Like the Worleys, Ms. Choi, who is from South Korea, said she had been careful to follow social-distancing rules. Her daughter often wears a face shield even though Hong Kong does not require masks for children under the age of 2.

So it was frustrating for her and other parents when officials cited the presence of maskless babies in the group as one reason all eight of them and their caregivers were being sent to government quarantine.

“What kind of logic is that?” Ms. Choi said.

Tiffany May contributed reporting.

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Trump to Supporters: Get Vaccinated

Former President Donald J. Trump, in a nationally televised interview, recommended the Covid-19 vaccine to Americans who were reluctant to get it, including his supporters.

Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, were vaccinated in secret in January. Vaccine proponents have been calling on him to speak more forcefully in favor of the shots to his legions of supporters, many of whom remain reluctant, polls show.

Speaking to Maria Bartiromo on “Fox News Primetime” on Tuesday evening, Mr. Trump said, “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me frankly.”

He added: “It is a safe vaccine, and it is something that works.”

While there are degrees of opposition to vaccination for the coronavirus among a number of groups, including African-Americans and antivaccine activists, polling suggests that opinions are breaking substantially along partisan lines.

CBS News poll that they would not be vaccinated — compared with 10 percent of Democrats — and another 20 percent of Republicans said they were unsure. Other polls have found similar trends.

Mr. Trump encouraged attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., late last month to get vaccinated.

Still, Mr. Trump — whose tenure during the pandemic was often marked by railing against recommendations from medical experts — said on Tuesday that “we have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also.”

With President Biden’s administration readying television and internet advertising and other efforts to promote vaccination, the challenge for the White House is complicated by perceptions of Mr. Trump’s stance on the vaccine.

Asked about the issue on Monday at the White House, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump’s help promoting vaccination was less important than getting trusted community figures on board.

“I discussed it with my team, and they say the thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctor, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Trump’s supporters and campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” Until everyone is vaccinated, Mr. Biden added, Americans should continue to wear masks.

Widespread opposition to vaccination, if not overcome, could slow the United States from reaching the point where the virus can no longer spread easily, setting back efforts to get the economy humming again and people back to a more normal life. While the problem until now has been access to relatively tight supplies of the vaccine, administration officials expect to soon face the possibility of supply exceeding demand if many Americans remain reluctant.

“The national atmosphere around vaccine uptake matters,” said John Bridgeland, the founder and chief executive of Covid Collaborative, a bipartisan group working closely with the White House on issues of vaccine hesitancy. “Although the ground game is the most important thing, having a tail wind behind us at the national level with every single living President and first lady, regardless of party, saying Americans should get this safe and effective vaccine creates the kind of tail winds we are looking for.”

Annie Karni contributed reporting.

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Three Feet or Six? Distancing Guideline for Schools Stirs Debate

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear and consistent in its social distancing recommendation: To reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus, people should remain at least six feet away from others who are not in their households. The guideline holds whether you are eating in a restaurant, lifting weights at a gym or learning long division in a fourth-grade classroom.

The guideline has been especially consequential for schools, many of which have not fully reopened because they do not have enough space to keep students six feet apart.

Now, spurred by a better understanding of how the virus spreads and a growing concern about the harms of keeping children out of school, some public health experts are calling on the agency to reduce the recommended distance in schools from six feet to three.

“It never struck me that six feet was particularly sensical in the context of mitigation,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “I wish the C.D.C. would just come out and say this is not a major issue.”

reviewing the matter.

The idea remains contentious, in part because few studies have directly compared different distancing strategies. But the issue also boils down to a devilishly difficult and often personal question: How safe is safe enough?

“There’s no magic threshold for any distance,” said Dr. Benjamin Linas, a specialist in infectious diseases at Boston University. “There’s risk at six feet, there’s risk at three feet, there’s risk at nine feet. There’s risk always.” He added, “The question is just how much of a risk? And what do you give up in exchange?”

relatively low-risk environments; children under 10 seem to transmit the virus less readily than adults.

In recent months, there have been hints that six feet of distancing may not be necessary in school settings. Case rates have generally been low even in schools with looser distancing policies. “We know lots of schools have opened up to less than six feet and have not seen big outbreaks,” said Dr. Jha.

In a 2020 analysis of observational studies in a variety of settings, researchers found that physical distancing of at least one meter substantially reduced transmission rates of several different coronaviruses, including the one that causes Covid-19. But they found some evidence to suggest that a two meter guideline “might be more effective.”

“One of the really important data points that has been missing is a direct head-to-head comparison of places that had implemented three feet of distance versus six feet of distance,” said Dr. Elissa Perkins, the director of emergency medicine infectious disease management at Boston University School of Medicine.

the team reported in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases last week. The study also found that Covid-19 rates were lower in schools than in the surrounding communities.

The authors say the findings provide reassurance that schools can loosen their distancing requirements and still be safe, provided they take other precautions, like enforcing universal mask wearing.

“Masking still appears to be effective,” said lead investigator Dr. Westyn Branch-Elliman, an infectious diseases specialist at the VA Boston Healthcare System. “And so, provided we have universal masking mandates, I think it’s very reasonable to move to a three-foot recommendation.”

Not everyone finds the study so convincing. A. Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious disease researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that the school-district data was too noisy to draw firm conclusions from. “It doesn’t really allow you to get, I think, an answer that you can feel really confident in,” he said.

The study’s authors acknowledged that they could not rule out the possibility that increased distancing provided a small benefit.

With aerosol transmission, safety generally increases with distance; the farther the aerosols travel, the more they diluted become. “It’s like being close to a smoker,” Dr. Marr said. “The closer you are, the more you’re going to breathe in.”

And distance aside, the more people there are in a room, the higher the odds that one of them will be infected with the coronavirus. A six-foot rule helps reduce that risk, said Donald Milton, an aerosol expert at the University of Maryland: “If people are six feet apart, you can’t pack them in. And so, it’s safer just because it’s less dense.”

Masks and good ventilation do a lot to reduce the risk. With these measures in place, the difference between three and six feet was likely to be relatively small, scientists said. And if Covid-19 is not very prevalent in the surrounding community, the absolute risk of contracting the virus in schools is likely to remain low, as long as these protections are in place.

“We can always do things to reduce our risks further,” Dr. Marr said. “But at some point, you reach diminishing returns, and you have to think about the costs of trying to achieve those additional risk reductions.”

Some experts say that a small increase in risk is outweighed by the benefits of fully reopening schools. “Trying to follow the six-foot guideline should not prevent us from getting kids back to school full time with masks, with at least three-foot distancing,” Dr. Marr said.

Others said it was too soon to loosen the C.D.C. guidelines. “Ultimately, I think there could be a place for this changing guidance,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, said in an email. “But it’s not now, when we are struggling to vaccinate people, we’re still seeing over 60,000 cases a day and we’re trying to not reverse the progress we’ve made.”

Even proponents of changing the guideline say that any shift to looser distancing will have to be done carefully, and in combination with other precautionary measures. “If you’re in an area where there’s not a strong tendency to rely on masks, I don’t think it would be wise to extrapolate our data to that environment,” Dr. Perkins said.

Moreover, officials risk muddying the public health messaging if they establish different standards for schools than for other shared spaces. “I’ve evolved on this,” Dr. Linas said. “Last summer I felt like, ‘How are we going to explain to people that it’s six feet everywhere except for schools? That seems not consistent and problematic.’”

But schools are unique, he said. They are relatively controlled environments that can enforce certain safety measures, and they have unique benefits for society. “The benefits of school are different than the benefits of movie theaters or restaurants,” he said. “So I’d be willing to assume a little bit more risk just to keep them open.”

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