Waiters and bartenders are being thrown out of work — again — as governors and local officials shut down indoor dining and drinking establishments to combat the nationwide surge in coronavirus infections that is overwhelming hospitals and dashing hopes for a quick economic recovery.

And the timing, just before the holidays, couldn’t be worse.

Restaurant owner Greg Morena in Los Angeles County was trying to figure out his next step after officials in the nation’s largest county banned in-person dining for at least three weeks, beginning Wednesday. But he was mainly dreading having to notify his employees.

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A restaurant worker cleans the tables in the outdoor dining area of a Mexican restaurant in La Mirada, Calif., on Tuesday. Waiters and bartenders are being thrown out of work – again – as governors and local officials shut down indoor dining and drinking establishments to combat the nationwide surge in coronavirus infections. Associated Press/Jae C. Hong

“To tell you, ‘I can’t employ you during the holidays,’ to staff that has family and kids, I haven’t figured that part out yet. It’s the heaviest weight that I carry,” said Morena, who had to close one restaurant earlier in the year and has two operating at the Santa Monica Pier.

Restaurant owners — most of whom underwent shutdowns in the spring and summer — are finding the new round of closings challenging as colder weather sets in. Many are offering curbside pickup but also trying to hold outdoor dining, even if it means setting up shelters or heaters.

Read the full story here.

New Mexico gives businesses testing option to avoid closure

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico grocery stores and other essential businesses could avoid mandatory closures triggered by COVID-19 surges among employees if they agree to regularly test their workers and help with the state’s contact tracing efforts.

The state health and environment departments announced the voluntary program Tuesday. A business would have to submit a plan that details surveillance testing and contact tracing efforts for each of its locations.

If positive cases are discovered as a result of the testing, the resulting rapid response by the state will not count toward the mandatory 14-day closure requirement in the current public health order. The program also clears a path for businesses currently closed to be allowed to reopen before the 14-day period is over.

“Proactive testing is an essential tool in combating the spread of this virus,” acting Health Secretary Billy Jimenez said. “Partners in the private sector through these agreements will make a significant and positive impact in curbing COVID-19 in New Mexico.”

State officials already have acknowledged that the current rate of testing would have to more than double to effectively identify and track infections. The state currently is averaging close to 12,000 tests a day as laboratories are working around the clock to keep up with demand and volunteers are being sought to help with the effort.

New Mexico on Tuesday reported an additional 2,107 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to nearly 86,500 since the pandemic began. Another 28 deaths also were reported and more than 870 people were hospitalized.

New Hampshire fines restaurant $1,500 for ignoring virus rules

CONCORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire restaurant has been fined $1,500 following a complaint about a lack of social distancing and mask wearing during the coronavirus pandemic, the state attorney general’s office said Tuesday.

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The attorney general’s office in the administration of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has fined several food establishments for not following virus precautions. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The attorney general’s office said it assessed the penalty against Grumpy’s Bar & Grill in Plaistow after the restaurant on Nov. 14 was visited by a police officer who was following up on a photo taken the day before showing “overcrowding, standing and mingling in the bar area, no social distancing between tables, and no face coverings.” The officer said the conditions were similar and that the only person wearing a face covering was the bartender.

The attorney general, in its letter to Grumpy’s, said it also had been notified earlier in writing that 6 feet is required between tables; the number of people in the bar must be restricted in order to maintain the 6-foot distance; and standing and mingling in bar areas is prohibited.

Richard LeClaire, Grumpy’s owner, said establishments in nearby Massachusetts had closed earlier under new rules and “so we ended up with a serious overflow that we weren’t ready for.” He said since then, “we’ve taken measures so that won’t happen again.”

Separately, three recent cases of the virus were associated with Grumpy’s, with possible community exposure on Nov. 10 and Nov. 14, state health officials said last week. The restaurant had said on its Facebook page that the entire establishment has since had a “deep sanitizing clean.”

Last week, the attorney general’s office had fined a bakery, bagel shop and pizza place $500 each after repeated complaints about staff not wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump’s treasury chief to put $455 billion in virus aid out of successor’s easy reach

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will put $455 billion in unspent Cares Act funding into an account that his presumed successor, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, will need authorization from Congress to use.

Mnuchin plans to place the money into the agency’s General Fund, a Treasury Department spokesperson said Tuesday. That fund can be tapped only with “authority based on congressionally issued legislation,” according to the Treasury’s website.

The money includes $429 billion that Mnuchin is clawing back from the Federal Reserve — which backed some of the central bank’s emergency lending facilities — and $26 billion that Treasury received for direct loans to companies. Both initiatives were created under the sweeping Cares Act that was passed earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic inflicted economic pain on the U.S.

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Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, right, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are shown in  September. Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Associated Press

The move will leave Yellen — selected by President-elect Joe Biden as his nominee for treasury secretary — with just under $80 billion available in the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a pot of money that can be used with some discretion by the Treasury chief.

Mnuchin sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week asking for the return of money provided to the Fed by the Treasury as a backstop that allowed the central bank to lend to certain markets in times of stress. The Fed publicly objected to the move but agreed to return the funds.

Mnuchin said that many markets are no longer in danger of seizing up and don’t need aid beyond next month, when the programs are scheduled to expire. He said that the funds can be better applied to specific areas of the economy with the greatest need, through congressionally approved grants.

“For companies that are impacted by COVID — such as travel, entertainment and restaurants — they don’t need more debt, they need more PPP money, they need more grants,” Mnuchin said in an interview last week.

Mnuchin isn’t required to move the money into the General Fund — the Cares Act states that the Treasury Department can maintain access to the money by keeping it in its Exchange Stabilization Fund until 2026.

Yet moving the unspent money will make it virtually impossible for Yellen, if confirmed by the Senate as treasury secretary, to deploy on her own. The Biden transition team last week called Mnuchin’s clawing back of unspent money from the Fed “deeply irresponsible.”

“Biden will work with leaders across government to ensure Main Street businesses and state and local governments have the support and access to credit they need to weather this storm,” spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said.

Sweden reports no sign that herd immunity is stopping the virus

There’s little evidence that herd immunity is helping Sweden combat the coronavirus, according to the country’s top epidemiologist.

“The issue of herd immunity is difficult,” Anders Tegnell said at a briefing in Stockholm on Tuesday. “We see no signs of immunity in the population that are slowing down the infection right now.”

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People with bicycles pass an outdoor restaurant on a street in the Sodermalm neighborhood of Stockholm in August. Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency via Associated Press

Swedes have been more exposed to the virus than their neighbors elsewhere in the Nordic region, and every third Stockholmer tested has antibodies, according to figures published this week. That’s after the country famously opted against a lockdown, relying instead on voluntary measures.

The laxer strategy has coincided with a much higher infection rate in Sweden. In a recent OECD study, Sweden consistently ranked among the hardest hit nations in Europe, as measured by relative COVID mortality and infection rates, and was the slowest at containing transmission.

In what Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called an “unprecedented” step earlier this month, Swedes will no longer be free to gather in public in groups larger than eight. The sale of alcohol is now also banned after 10 p.m.

The new restrictions come amid warnings that Sweden’s intensive care beds are quickly filling up. Meanwhile, authorities in the country are warning against placing too much weight on a possible future vaccine.

“We are still seeing an increase in patients who need care and intensive care,” Thomas Linden, a departmental head at Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, said at Tuesday’s briefing. “One must not take the fact that there is a vaccine a few months away as an indication to be careless with measures.”

“In a third wave, the health-care system will be even more strained than it has been so far,” he said.

California shatters coronavirus records as surge worsens

LOS ANGELES — The fall coronavirus surge in California entered a critical moment on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, with the state shattering a daily record for new cases.

The state recorded 20,654 cases Monday, significantly surpassing a previous record of 13,400. Hard-hit Los Angeles County recorded more than 6,000 new cases, which was also a daily record.

Officials are hoping restrictions imposed over the last week will slow the unprecedented spread of the virus and that residents will avoid big Thanksgiving gatherings that experts fear could spread the virus further.

Last week, state officials announced a new order prohibiting most nonessential activity outside the home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in counties that are in the strictest “purple” tier of the state’s color-coded reopening road map. Roughly 94% of Californians — including all those in the southern third of the state — are subject to that order, which lasts until Dec. 21, though it could be extended.

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Licensed vocational nurse Caren Williams, left, collects a nasal swab sample from a traveler at a COVID-19 testing site at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Monday, Nov. 23. Los Angeles County announced new coronavirus-related restrictions Sunday that will prohibit in-person dining for at least three weeks as cases rise at the start of the holiday season and officials statewide begged Californians to avoid traveling or gathering in groups for Thanksgiving. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

“We’re hoping that’s all we’ll need, but we’ll see,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. “We’re open-minded to the dynamics of the conditions that are changing in real time.”

California is now on pace to see its cumulative death toll double just before spring, from the more than 18,700 deaths currently tallied to more than 37,000 by March 1, according to model forecasts by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

A Los Angeles Times analysis Monday found that the average daily number of coronavirus cases over a five-day period has more than tripled since Election Day. COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled since mid-October, from 730 on Oct. 18 to 1,473 on Sunday.

The specter of another coronavirus shutdown is looming over L.A. County, which has been particularly hard hit by the surge.

When such a new stay-at-home order will be handed down, or what precise form it will take, is unclear. But L.A. County director of public health Barbara Ferrer said, “For sure, we’re not going back to all of the restrictions that were in place in the original Safer at Home order.” The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the order at its Tuesday meeting.

Ferrer described a proposed new stay-at-home order that would be less encompassing than the one issued in March. It’s unnecessary to be as broad, she suggested, because officials know more about the virus and testing capacity has improved. The specifics will be discussed with the supervisors, a five-person elected board that represents the 10.1 million residents of Los Angeles County.

Officials are set to suspend outdoor dining starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday — delivering yet another blow to the region’s already battered restaurant industry. Takeout and delivery of restaurant food can continue.

New York to have COVID checkpoints at key bridges and crossings

New York City will have vehicle checkpoints at key bridges and crossings, and will strictly enforce the travel quarantine, Sheriff Joseph Fucito said.

The sheriff’s office will conduct spot checks when out-of-state buses drop riders off at the curb. Test and tracing teams will be on the ground to direct individuals to testing sites and provide education on quarantine, Fucito said.

The 14-day quarantine mandates that travelers quarantine or test out. Violations of self-quarantine will be enforced, and may carry fines of $1,000 to $2,000, according to the mayor’s office.

The city will enforce the completion of traveler forms at airports, Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There will be self-test site teams on site.

New York, the early center of the U.S. outbreak, reported a seven-day average of 1,476 new cases, and a seven-day positive test rate of 3.17%, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

International flyers may soon need to get virus vaccinations

WELLINGTON, New Zealand  — International air travel could come booming back next year but with a new rule: Travelers to certain countries must be vaccinated against the coronavirus before they can fly.

Encouraging news about vaccine development has given airlines and nations hope they may soon be able to revive suspended flight routes and dust off lucrative tourism plans. But countries in Asia and the Pacific, in particular, are determined not to let their hard-won gains against the virus evaporate.

In Australia, the boss of Qantas, the country’s largest airline, said that once a virus vaccine becomes widely available, his carrier will likely require passengers use it before they can travel abroad or land in Australia.

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An Air France jumbo jet rolls behind the tail of a KLM Royal Dutch airliner at Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy, north of Paris in 2003.

Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said he’s been talking to his counterparts at other airlines around the world about the possibility of a “vaccination passport” for international travelers.

“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travelers, that we will ask people to have the vaccination before they get on the aircraft,” Joyce told Australia’s Network Nine television.

He said they were looking at ways to electronically verify that people have the necessary vaccine for their intended destination, a difficult task.

“But certainly for international visitors coming out, and people leaving the country, we think that’s a necessity,” he said.

South Korea’s largest airline has a similar message. Jill Chung, a spokesperson for Korean Air, said Tuesday there’s a real possibility that airlines will require that passengers be vaccinated. She said that’s because governments are likely to require vaccinations as a condition for lifting quarantine requirements for new arrivals.

While Korean Air is reviewing several possibilities for screening, any change by the company or other airlines would be the result of coordination with governments, Chung said.

“This is not something for airlines to independently decide,” she said.

Air New Zealand echoed Chung’s position.

“Ultimately, it’s up to governments to determine when and how it is safe to reopen borders and we continue to work closely with authorities on this,” Air New Zealand said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Millions stick to Thanksgiving travel plans despite warnings

About 1 million Americans a day packed airports and planes over the weekend even as coronavirus deaths surged across the U.S. and public health experts begged people to stay home and avoid big Thanksgiving gatherings.

And the crowds are only expected to grow. Next Sunday is likely to be the busiest day of the holiday period.

To be sure, the number of people flying for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year because of the rapidly worsening outbreak. However, the 3 million who went through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Sunday marked the biggest crowds since mid-March, when the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the United States.

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Travelers leave the AirTrain at JKF International Airport in New York on Friday. Associated Press/Frank Franklin II

Many travelers are unwilling to miss out on seeing family and are convinced they can do it safely. Also, many colleges have ended their in-person classes, propelling students to return home.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel or spend the holiday with people outside their household.

Read the full story here.

Federal prisons to prioritize staff, not inmates, to receive virus vaccine

WASHINGTON — The federal prison system will be among the first government agencies to receive the coronavirus vaccine, though initial allotments of the vaccine will be given to staff and not to inmates, even though sickened prisoners vastly outnumber sickened staff, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

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Officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons have been instructing wardens and other staff members of federal prisons such as this one in Terre Haute, Indiana, to prepare to receive a coronavirus vaccine within weeks. Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons have been instructing wardens and other staff members to prepare to receive the vaccine within weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. The people could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The internal Bureau of Prisons documents, obtained by the AP, say initial allotments of the vaccine “will be reserved for staff.” It was not immediately clear how many doses would be made available to the Bureau of Prisons.

As of Monday, there were 3,624 federal inmates and 1,225 Bureau of Prisons staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Since the first case was reported in March, 18,467 inmates and 1,736 staff have recovered from the virus. So far, 141 federal inmates and two staff members have died.

There have been more than 12 million cases in the U.S. and over 257,000 deaths. But prisons are a particular concern because social distancing is virtually nonexistent behind bars, inmates sleep in close quarters and share bathrooms with strangers. In the early days of the pandemic, prisoners and staff members said the Bureau of Prisons had run short of even the most basic supplies, like soap.

The internal Bureau of Prisons records obtained by the AP also detail how the agency has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Trump administration’s vaccine program, known as “Operation Warp Speed,” to secure the vaccines. The documents say the administration’s initial distribution will include the federal prison system.

Health officials have been warning for more than a decade about the dangers of epidemics for those incarcerated.

Nearly 25 percent of all inmate cases and 30 percent of the staff cases have been reported within just the last month. Some staff members said they are apprehensive about receiving the vaccine because of what they feared was a lack of long-term testing and possible side effects.

Though the virus is also rising in state prisons nationwide, any plans for administering doses in those prisons would be handled by the states.

White House still planning holiday parties, despite previous super-spreading events

WASHINGTON — Public health officials are sounding alarms and urging Americans not to travel and limit gatherings this holiday season amid a new surge in coronavirus cases.

But that isn’t stopping the White House from planning a host of festivities, including holiday parties, which kicked off Monday with the arrival of the White House Christmas tree.

“Attending the parties will be a very personal choice,” said Stephanie Grisham, First Lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman and chief of staff. “It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic décor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations.”

The decision to move forward with indoor events and other gatherings comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, top White House advisers and public health professionals across the nation have been pleading with Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving or spend the holiday with people from outside of their households.

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First lady Melania Trump looks at the 2020 official White House Christmas tree as it is presented on the North Portico of the White House on Monday in Washington. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

As the weather has cooled, the virus has been spreading out of control, with cases and hospitalizations surging across the nation and more than 250,000 people dead.

The White House has already been the site of several suspected “super-spreader” events and dozens of staff — along with the president, the first lady and their son — have been infected, along with a long list of campaign aides and other advisers.

Grisham said the White House would be taking precautions to provide “the safest environment possible” for attendees at events. That includes smaller guest lists, requiring masks, encouraging social distancing on the White House grounds and hand sanitizer stations placed throughout the State Floor.

“Guests will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations. All passed beverages will be covered. All service staff will wear masks and gloves to comply with food safety guidelines,” she said.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Monday repeatedly evaded questions about indoor holiday parties scheduled at the White House while calling other Americans’ indoor gatherings potential “super-spreader” events.

“I want the American people to know that we are at a dire point in our fight with this virus, by any measure: cases, positivity, hospitalizations, deaths,” he said on on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “So I’m asking Americans — I’m begging you — hold on just a little bit longer. Keep Thanksgiving and the celebrations small and smart this year … do it outdoors if you can, keep it small, ideally less than 10, and prepare beforehand.”

“These apply to the White House, they apply to the American people, they apply to everyone. We want you to stay safe so we can get to a vaccine,” he said.

On Tuesday, the events will continue as President Trump participates in the annual pardoning of the National Thanksgiving Turkey at a ceremony in the Rose Garden.

Trump has remained largely behind closed doors since he lost his bid for reelection. He has refused to concede, lodging baseless allegations of voter fraud in an attempt to subvert the results and undermine one of the basic tenants of democracy.

Retail trade group sees solid holiday sales despite pandemic

NEW YORK  — The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, expects that holiday sales could actually exceed growth seen in prior seasons, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

The reason? Shoppers are looking for opportunities to spend and celebrate the holidays during tough times.

The trade group said Monday that it predicts that sales for the November and December period will increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total ranging between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion.

The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compare with a gain of 4 percent to $729.1 billion last year. Holiday sales have averaged gains of 3.5 percent over the past five years.

“After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz in a statement. “There are risks to the economy if the virus continues to spread, but as long as consumers remain confident and upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season.”

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Mannequins stand on display Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, at the Ann Taylor store with an online pickup sign on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The accelerating surge of coronavirus cases across the U.S. is causing an existential crisis for America’s retailers and spooking their customers just as the critically important holiday shopping season nears. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Kleinhenz cited that households have strong balance sheets buoyed by a strong stock market, rising home values and record savings boosted by government stimulus payments issued earlier this year. Jobs and wages are increasing, energy costs are low and reduced spending on personal services, travel and entertainment because of the virus has freed up money for retail spending, he added.

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20 percent and 30 percent to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year. Not included in total sales figure are sales from restaurants, gas stations and auto dealers.

The National Retail Federation delayed the release of its forecast by about a month, citing the uncertainty around the pandemic.

Still, the group warns any further shutdowns of stores as virus cases surge could derail sales. And it emphasized that any renewal of a government stimulus package would help the holidays.

When the pandemic was declared in mid-March, essential retailers like Target and Walmart were able to stay open while non-essential stores like department stores were forced to close. That further increased the dominance of big box stores, while malls based clothing stores faced further peril. The temporary closures accelerated bankruptcy filings of a slew of chains like J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus that were already struggling.

Many mall-based stores and other small and mid-sized businesses are still struggling to recover heading into the heart of the holiday season.

When non-essential retailers are forced to shut down, their e-commerce business can’t expand enough to keep them whole, according to Nick Mangiapane, chief marketing officer at Verisk Financial’s Commerce Signals unit, which captures credit and debit spending from 40 million U.S. households.

In the first wave of COVID-induced shutdowns, the gap in year-over-year sales trends was 57 percentage points between essential and non-essential with essential store sales posting a 6.4 percent gain while the rest suffered a 51.3 percent drop. During the second spike, which took place during the summer, the gap was smaller with few shutdowns, but it was still substantial.

So far, in this third wave, the sales performance gap is still sizable but any shutdowns will hurt sales for non-essential businesses dramatically, according to Mangiapane.


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