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.
Parents across New York City scrambled on Thursday morning to find child care and set up their children for full-time remote instruction less than a day after learning that public schools would shut because of rising coronavirus cases.
The news was delivered to principals in an email sent by the schools chancellor just after 2 p.m. on Wednesday — as the city recorded a 3 percent test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had delayed his morning news conference for hours, confirmed the news to reporters that afternoon.
The mayor could not give an estimate on when school buildings would reopen.
“Today is a tough day, but this is a temporary situation,” he said.
Here’s what else you need to know:
The shutdown of schools was not unexpected.
Parents and teachers had been watching the city’s test positivity rate steadily increase, dreading the day when it would reach 3 percent. That was the threshold Mr. de Blasio set over the summer which would end in-person classes and require fully remote learning.
Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza had recently urged principals to prepare for shutdowns, while Mr. de Blasio encouraged parents to develop backup plans in case schools closed.
The school closure was a major setback in New York’s recovery after it was the global epicenter of the pandemic in the spring. Mr. de Blasio, the first big-city mayor in the country to reopen schools, pushed for in-person classes heavily over the summer as part of his plan to revive the city.
The mayor cautioned on Wednesday that schools would not automatically reopen once the seven-day positivity rate drops below 3 percent. He may wait until community transmission stabilizes at a lower rate to avoid reopening and then having to close again.
Still, the delivery of the news devolved into chaos.
It was a chaotic and confusing day for parents and educators as the announcement itself was delayed for hours. The mayor’s 10 a.m. news conference was repeatedly pushed back and finally began at 3 p.m.
At a separate news conference earlier in the afternoon, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shouted at a reporter who asked whether schools would remain open. While he was speaking, The New York Times reported that schools would close on Thursday.
The mayor said he spent much of the morning consulting with Mr. Cuomo on how to reopen schools. They plan to mandate more testing of students and staff members and require students to have a permission slip that will allow them to get tested in school buildings.
The closing will be a burden on some students and parents.
The sudden change to all-remote learning will disrupt the education of many public school students who had been attending school in person. Many parents depend on their children being in school for at least part of the week in order to work.
Educators and parents had also criticized the city for not improving remote learning even though about 70 percent of children already take online classes full-time.
Some students, including those in homeless shelters, have not received iPads or laptops from the city, and teachers have said that some students struggle to log on.
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.”
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.