Here’s what you need to know:Teachers this summer protesting school reopenings in Salt Lake City. The district was the only one in Utah that kept classes completely remote through the fall.Credit…Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
It remains unclear how much vaccinating teachers will lead to a broad return to normal for U.S. schools, but at least one district — Salt Lake City, Utah — is planning to reopen as soon as its teachers get their second dose in the coming weeks.
Salt Lake City, with 21,000 students, was the only district in Utah to stay completely remote this fall. (Many other districts were forced to close schools temporarily in response to outbreaks.) In November, Salt Lake approved a plan to begin offering in-person instruction to elementary school students starting on Jan. 25. But it had not made any plans to open for middle or high school students.
The arrivals of the vaccine, and some prodding from the state government, have apparently prompted the district to firm up its plans.
Earlier this month, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, announced that teachers and other school staff would be eligible to receive vaccines right after frontline health care workers. Getting teachers vaccinated, he said, would not only keep them safe but would also reduce disruption for families by helping schools avoid the “Ping-Pong effect” of going between in-person or remote learning.
Soon after, Republicans in the Utah state legislature proposed giving every teacher in the state a $1,500 bonus — except those in Salt Lake City.
The proposal prompted a series of discussions between the district and the legislature, which resulted in the district’s interim superintendent’s announcing a plan to reopen for middle and high school students on Feb. 8, with the timing of the vaccine playing a key role.
A spokesman for the Utah State Health Department said the current estimate was that teachers and school staff would likely be vaccinated in mid-to-late January.
Brad Wilson, the House Speaker, said that, if the Salt Lake City Board of Education approved the reopening plan in its meeting on Jan. 5, Salt Lake City teachers would be eligible for the $1,500 bonuses along with teachers in the rest of the state. (Other nonadministrative school staff, like lunchroom employees, secretaries, janitors and bus drivers, will receive $1,000 bonuses.)
Other states, including Arizona and Kentucky, have said that they will prioritize teachers for vaccinations, but it is not clear when teachers in those states will actually get their first shots.
In Lexington, Ky., where schooling has been remote since March, the district recently asked teachers to indicate whether or not they wanted to be vaccinated. The administration said vaccines, which might be administered as soon as January, would provide a path to reopening, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
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United StatesOn Dec. 22
WorldOn Dec. 22
Where cases per capita are
Police officers patrolling London on Monday.Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times
Struggling to limit the spread of a potentially more infectious variant of the coronavirus, the British government ordered more sections of England to be placed under the most restrictive lockdown measures on Wednesday, as health officials said severely curtailing human contact was the only way to protect people.
“The new variant makes everything so much harder because it spreads so much faster,” Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said at a news conference.
Two variants, the one detected in the U.K. and another in South Africa, are currently being studied by scientists, and while early indications suggest they are both more transmissible, more laboratory tests are needed to gain a fuller understanding of the dangers they pose.
New infections are soaring and the number of people in the hospital — nearly 19,000 — is about where it was at the peak of the outbreak in the spring. On Tuesday, 691 deaths were attributed to the virus, he said.
“That is 691 people who died just before Christmas,” Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said at a news conference. “Against this backdrop of rising infection, rising hospitalization and rising numbers of people dying of coronavirus, it is vital that we act.”
Areas of England including Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire will move to the highest level of restrictions starting the day after Christmas, Mr. Hancock said.
Mr. Hancock also said that British officials were concerned about the spread of the virus variant identified in South Africa. He said it was even more easily transmitted than the variant already spreading widely in London and southeast England.
The British authorities have detected two cases of the South Africa variant, Mr. Hancock said. In both cases, the infected people had been in contact with people who had traveled to Britain from South Africa in recent weeks. Mr. Hancock said that those infected with the new variant and their close contacts would be quarantined, and that travel from South Africa would be restricted.
At least five other countries have put in place similar travel bans.
And more than 50 countries have banned travelers from the U.K. since Prime Minister Boris Johnson first raised the alarm over the variant spreading in England on Saturday, when he imposed a lockdown on London and most of England’s southeast.
The United States has not imposed such a ban. But in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that sheriff’s deputies would conduct home and hotel visits to ensure that travelers from the United Kingdom were quarantining as required.
“We cannot take chances with anyone who travels, particularly folks traveling in from the U.K.,” Mr. de Blasio said.
VideoOn Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York cautioned that all travelers to the city from the United Kingdom would be receive an order to quarantine, and could face fines of $1,000 a day for failing to do so.
Britain had developed a three-tiered system to limit the spread of the virus in the fall. But the discovery of the new variant forced the government to add yet another, more restrictive, fourth tier.
Under the fourth tier, all nonessential businesses must close and people cannot meet with others indoors unless they live with them or they are part of their support bubbles. People living alone or who are the only adults in their houses may form support networks with another household.
The agreement gives the United States a total of 200 million doses, enough to vaccinate 100 million people.Credit…Whitney Curtis for The New York Times
The Trump administration reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to bolster the supply of their coronavirus vaccine for the United States by 100 million doses by the end of July.
The new agreement means the companies will supply the United States with a total of 200 million doses, enough to vaccinate 100 million Americans. The additional shots will cost $1.95 billion, the companies said.
The agreement, announced on Wednesday, would help the United States at least partly offset a looming vaccine shortage that could leave millions of American adults uncovered in the first half of 2021.
So far, only two coronavirus vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech’s and one made by Moderna — have won federal authorization for emergency distribution, and most of what the companies are capable of producing for the next six months has already been allocated through contracts with the United States and other governments.
Frustration at Britain’s Ports Over Travel RestrictionsIn Britain, about 4,000 truck drivers were stuck along roads near the southeastern English port in Dover after a 48-hour shutdown to prevent the spread of a variant of the coronavirus. Truckers who want to travel to France must show proof of a negative virus test.
“We don’t have food to eat, we don’t have drink, we don’t have anything — nobody don’t care about us.” “But now they say about some Covid test, but there is no Covid test. And I talked with the police officer. He said to me, when you go to the Maidstone. I say to them, how can we go to the Maidstone if the traffic — if the traffic with the trucks — is 200 kilometers?” [shouting] [yelling in distress] [arguing]
In Britain, about 4,000 truck drivers were stuck along roads near the southeastern English port in Dover after a 48-hour shutdown to prevent the spread of a variant of the coronavirus. Truckers who want to travel to France must show proof of a negative virus test.CreditCredit…Justin Tallis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Ferries and trains from Britain began arriving in Calais on Wednesday, as France reopened its ports to Britain after a 48-hour shutdown. But the logjam of thousands of Europe-bound trucks stuck in southeast England will take days to clear because drivers must show a negative coronavirus test before they can cross the channel.
The British army was mobilized to help the National Health Service, the country’s health care system, set up facilities to offer rapid coronavirus tests to drivers, who have been stuck in Britain since Sunday night, when France blocked passage to prevent the spread of a variation of the coronavirus that has swept through parts of England. Results from the test are usually available within 30 minutes, although the test is considered unreliable by some health professionals.
As testing sites were being set up Wednesday there was mounting frustration, confusion and skepticism about the plans in Dover. Trucks are parked around the ports, on closed sections of the motorway and at Manston Airport, a closed airfield nearby that has been turned into a giant parking lot for trucks.
Drivers were reportedly told they needed to go to the airport to take the tests, and it took until the afternoon before they were being administered. Drivers who weren’t at the airfield were reluctant to leave their spots in line closer to the border. Frustrations have been building and skirmishes have broken out among drivers, other waiting passengers and the police. One man was arrested after blocking a highway. For most of the day, access to the port was blocked by drivers and other travelers unwilling to move. Later in the day, another testing facility was set up at the port.
Hundreds of other freight drivers lined up along the motorway were told that tests would be administered to them where they were.
Authorities cautioned that it could take days to clear out the more than 5,000 Europe-bound trucks jammed into the area.
“I think it will take a few days to work our way through,” Robert Jenrick, (not Robert Jenkins, as was reported earlier here) a government minister, said on Sky News on Wednesday morning. Any drivers who received a positive test result, he said, would be offered a more accurate test, called a PCR test, which takes longer to process. If that was also positive they would be offered hotel accommodations to self-isolate for 10 days.
Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry, said there were probably 8,000 to 10,000 trucks in Britain waiting to cross the border.
“It’s a mammoth task,” he told Sky News. “The border is still effectively shut, the testing is effectively not happening.” Some drivers have already spent three nights sleeping in their trucks with limited access to food and toilets.
Trucks in Europe carrying goods to Britain were still allowed to pass this week, but their numbers had declined amid fears that the drivers would be marooned once they crossed into Britain. The German airline Lufthansa flew 80 metric tons of fruit and vegetables from Frankfurt to the north of England on Wednesday for a supermarket supplier that chartered the flight. The airline said it was unusual to transport just a cargo of fresh goods on its own.
The crisis at the border has raised concerns about food supplies around the Christmas holidays, because Britain relies on importing fresh fruit and vegetables, especially in the winter.
“It is essential that lorries get moving across the border as quickly as possible,” Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium said. “Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods.”
Early data collected from hospitals by the federal government suggest that they have given only about 20 percent of their antibody drug supplies to patients.Credit…Regeneron, via Associated Press
When federal regulators approved two antibody treatments last month for emergency use in high-risk Covid-19 patients, doctors worried there would not be enough to go around.
President Trump had taken one of the treatments, made by Regeneron, in October and promoted it as a “cure.” Early trial data had shown the treatments could keep people at risk of severe disease out of the hospital if administered soon after infection with the coronavirus.
But in a surprising turn of events, the treatments are sitting unused in hospital refrigerators around the country, just when they might do the most to help patients and relieve the burden on overwhelmed hospitals as cases and deaths surge to record levels.
The federal government has on hand nearly 532,000 doses of the two drugs, and 55 percent of that has been shipped out, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. But early data collected from hospitals by the federal government suggest that they have given only about 20 percent of their supply to patients.
Hospitals and clinics, staggered by the needs of the sick and gearing up to help administer the new coronavirus vaccines, have not focused as much attention on these treatments, which have to be infused into patients in a narrow window of time, within 10 days of when they start showing symptoms, but before they’re sick enough to be hospitalized. Administrators have struggled to identify people who should get the antibody drugs because of delays in testing and a lack of coordination between testing sites and hospitals.
And demand from patients themselves has been weaker than expected. Some have been reluctant to venture out of their homes to get the therapies in hospitals — or perceive the treatments aren’t available to them but are going to well-connected people like Chris Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Ben Carson, the housing secretary in the Trump administration.
“There were politicians getting it, and bragging about it, or whatever, and then people thought, well it’s not for me — it’s for those people,” said Dr. Daniel M. Skovronsky, chief scientific officer of Eli Lilly, which manufactures one of the antibody treatments.
Federal and state health officials have had to take the extraordinary step of urging patients to seek out treatments that were once expected to be snatched up.
Workers from Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless visiting camps in Oakland, Calif. Isolation and lack of indoor shelter appear to have helped slow the spread of the virus in the city’s homeless populations.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Early in the pandemic, health officials were terrified that the virus would decimate America’s homeless populations, the half-million people who live in shelters or on the streets. Those same specialists now say they are relieved that street encampments and homeless shelters did not suffer the same devastation as nursing homes.
The living conditions of homeless people — isolation and lack of indoor shelter — appear to have helped prevent the most dire predictions about the spread of the coronavirus in homeless populations from coming true.
Experts caution that the transitory nature of homelessness makes it challenging to gather precise data. And they remain anxious because overall infection rates soared throughout the fall. A recent outbreak at a shelter in San Diego served as a reminder that homeless populations, especially those sheltered indoors, are still very vulnerable to the dangers of Covid-19.
“It’s been pretty clear in sheltered settings that when infections enter they spread very rapidly,” said Dr. Margot Kushel, the director of the Center for Vulnerable Populations at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Helen Chu, an infectious-disease specialist in Seattle, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of homelessness, has helped conduct 2,500 tests in shelters during the pandemic. Only 15 tests, less than 1 percent, came back positive for the coronavirus.
“I had assumed it would be terrible in the homeless population because of how other viruses circulate,” Dr. Chu said. “It pretty much has turned out to be not as bad as I would have thought.”
Experts say that among the reasons for the better-than-expected outcomes are programs in California and New York, the states with the largest homeless populations, to provide thousands of hotel rooms for the most vulnerable people. Hotel rooms are also made available for people experiencing homelessness who exhibit symptoms or come into close contact with those who are infected.
“Ventilation is good,” and the outdoors are safer, Dr. Kushel said. “It’s a perverse advantage that so many people are unsheltered.”
Coronavirus: Then & Now
As 2020 comes to a close, we are revisiting subjects whose lives were affected by the pandemic. When Dan Levin first spoke with Kalee Kamer in April, she was participating in a virtual drug recovery meeting via Facebook Live.
Kalee Kamer can almost pinpoint the moment two epidemics — opioid addiction and Covid-19 — collided in her city of Portsmouth, Ohio: When the state’s backlog of unemployment payments began to arrive in the spring, unleashing a wave of deadly overdoses.
“You’d see them gripe on Facebook ‘when’s my money coming?’” she recalled of residents. “And then you’d see the R.I.P. posts.”
Temptation and grief are never far in Portsmouth, the largest city in Scioto County, which in 2019 had the highest overdose death rate reported by any Ohio county ever, according to Harm Reduction Ohio, a nonprofit group.
Lisa Roberts, a nurse who works for the Portsmouth Health Department, expects around 100 overdose deaths in the county this year, which would be nearly three times the number of residents who have died from Covid-19. She attributes the devastating toll to both the pervasiveness of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which are far more deadly than heroin and frequently get laced into illegal drugs, and the shuttering of rehab facilities and recovery meetings.
“It’s kind of a perfect storm,” she said.
In the early days of the pandemic, Ms. Kamer attended drug recovery meetings online with her fiancé, who was also in recovery. Since then, Ms. Kamer, 33, says she has lost count of the people she knows who have fatally overdosed during the pandemic. For a while, she feared her fiancé, Chris Keeton, would not survive either. After more than five months sober, he relapsed in May.
Alone and desperate to avoid drugs, Ms. Kamer, who had lost her waitressing job in March, spent the next few weeks mostly hanging out with a friend at a fire tower west of town. Then in June, she got a job at an outpatient drug treatment center.
A few weeks later, her boyfriend came home and admitted his drug use. “My life was crumbing,” Mr. Keeton, 34, said. “I broke down and cried and said I need help.”
He has been sober since early July, and she will celebrate three years of sobriety on Christmas Eve, she said. The couple this month finally set a date for their wedding: May 1, 2021.
Earlier this month, a Scioto County commissioner succumbed to the coronavirus. But even as virus cases rise, Ms. Kamer is more afraid of the opioid crisis, for which there is no vaccine.
“I worry, who are they going to try to recover with Narcan,” she said of emergency medical workers. “Or whose dead body are they going to go try to identify. That’s the fear that I have now, because it’s constant.”
A man received the Moderna coronavirus vaccine in New York on Wednesday. Credit…Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Canada’s regulator approved Moderna’s vaccine on Wednesday, a move that will make it easier to inoculate people in the country’s remote and northern regions.
Health Canada, which conducted a full review process but on an accelerated schedule, said that the vaccine can be used only on patients 18 and older until further testing on children is completed and analyzed.
The Canadian government had previously decided that the extremely low temperature shipping and storage requirements of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which is currently being dispensed, made it impractical for use in the country’s vast but sparsely populated Far North. Officials said earlier that the initial doses of the Moderna vaccine would be reserved for that region.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that deliveries of the Moderna vaccine would begin within 48 hours of approval and that 168,000 doses would arrive before the end of the month.
In other vaccination news:
Dubai will start inoculating people at no cost on Wednesday, using the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Reuters reported. Saudi Arabia is the only other Arab country using the Pfizer vaccine, but the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have rolled out a vaccine to the general public developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group, or Sinopharm. A message on the Dubai Health Authority’s hotline said the first phase of the vaccine would be for citizens and Dubai residents ages 60 and over, as well as for individuals with chronic illness.
A 90-year-old woman living in a retirement home received the first coronavirus inoculation in Switzerland on Wednesday, kicking off the start to the mass vaccination campaign on the European mainland. Swiss regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last weekend, and the first 107,000 doses from an order of three million arrived on Tuesday. The Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are still under review.
New rules for flights arriving from Britain caused long lines at the main airport in Mumbai, India, on Tuesday.Credit…Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press
Passengers flying into India from Britain and other European countries said they spent hours waiting in lines at the airport over the past two days as the authorities struggled to implement new quarantine measures intended to counter the spread of a coronavirus variant that has emerged in Britain.
At Mumbai’s main airport, which has catered to half a million international passengers since May, passengers were seen impatiently waiting on Tuesday to get tested. Outside, police officers beat some anxious relatives waiting for arriving passengers. The chaos continued on Wednesday at some airports.
India has banned all flights from Britain until Dec. 31. Travelers who left Britain before the ban took effect at midnight were allowed to enter India, so long as they took a P.C.R. test on arrival and agreed to quarantine. So far, three flights carrying nearly total 600 passengers have arrived at the Mumbai airport, and more planes are en route.
“It was like a nightmare,” said Anusia Mathur, who arrived on Tuesday from Amsterdam. She said she wanted to travel by road to her hometown but was instead told to move to a hotel for quarantine.
The Indian government is one of many around the world, including those of several European countries, that have banned flights from Britain, where scientists have identified a new virus variant that appears to be more contagious.
Officials in Mumbai said that passengers will have to take a P.C.R. test on Day 5, 6 or 7 of quarantine. Those with a negative result will be allowed to self-islolate at home for the next seven days.
After six passengers arriving from Britain tested positive for Covid-19 in India, the authorities worked around the clock to trace everyone who entered the country over the past two weeks.
Shoppers in Milan’s city center this month.Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times
Across Europe, people who have lost loved ones face an empty chair or an agonizing void this holiday season. That is hard enough. But a surge in infections, a new fast-spreading variant of the virus and mounting deaths have led the authorities to shut down Christmas, too.
The upending of holiday rituals has had a particularly disruptive effect in Italy, which is home to the Vatican, panettone and pandoro Christmas cakes, Neapolitan Nativity scenes and multigenerational family reunions.
Since at least October, the country has focused on rules for the festive season with the obsession of a child counting down the days on a chocolate-filled Advent calendar. Government ministers and virologists, celebrity entrepreneurs and influencers held forth on striking the right balance between health and mirth.
But the months of Christmas mania coincided with a dizzying increase in contagions that put a renewed burden on hospitals and catapulted Italy back to the ignoble position of deadliest country in Europe.
About 600 people die of the virus on average every day in Italy, more than any country other than the much larger United States and Brazil. Italy has lost more than 69,000 people to the virus and experienced more deaths generally than in any year since 1944, during World War II.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte himself started the holiday countdown in October, asking Italians to respect restrictions to enjoy “Christmas holidays with more serenity.” But by last Friday, he had switched the talk from saving Christmas for Italians to saving Italians from Christmas. In an almost apologetic speech to the nation, Mr. Conte introduced restrictions that limited movement and closed bars and restaurants from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6.
Monica Mazzoleni, whose mother died of the virus, decided with her father to spend Christmas Day away from the family table, avoiding the empty chair where her mother would sit. Instead, they intend to go to a restaurant near the northern city of Calusco d’Adda.
“We wanted to get away,” she said. But even those plans had to be canceled when the government closed restaurants. “There will be no Christmas for us,” she said.
In other developments from around the world:
President Emmanuel Macron of France is “showing signs of improvement” after he tested positive for the virus last week, his office said on Wednesday. Previous updates on his health had said he was stable, with minor symptoms like coughing, fever and headaches.
The health authorities in Hong Kong said that two students who returned from London this month appeared to have been infected by the coronavirus variant circulating in Britain. Starting on Thursday, anyone coming from Britain will be required to quarantine for three weeks at designated hotels, up from two weeks. (When announcing the extension, the health authorities said that the third week could be spent at home.) The government closed its borders on Tuesday to anyone who was recently in Britain, including Hong Kong residents.
In Italy, a patient with no apparent connection to the United Kingdom was also found to be infected with the newly identified variant of the coronavirus in the central region of Marche on Wednesday, doctors from the Ospedali Riuniti Virology Laboratory in Ancona said. The case suggests that the new variant is already circulating in the country. On Sunday, the health ministry said that two other people who had arrived from Britain were infected with the variant.
President Trump on his way to the Army-Navy football game earlier this month. Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times
Like a coin flip that never lands, America’s double-headed presidency is queasily suspended in midair as President Trump threatens to veto a bipartisan, Biden-blessed bill intended to speed relief to families, businesses and governments in time for the holidays.
The 11th-hour disruption was one of those entirely predictable surprises that have defined the Trump era. Over the last four years — especially on big-ticket budget deals (like the 2019 defense bill) — Mr. Trump has absented himself from negotiations and piped up only at the last possible second, often to little or no effect on priorities like funding his border wall.
In a speech posted late Tuesday on his Twitter account, Mr. Trump positioned himself as a guardian of the working class who had been quietly watching the congressional negotiations in horror as they crammed billions in wasteful spending into the bill, which he called “a disgrace.”
He is now pushing for $2,000 payments for individuals, not the $600 stimulus checks included in the compromise, a position embraced by progressives and deplored by conservatives.
It is not clear how Mr. Trump’s proposal will be taken in Congress. Democrats planned to raise the amount of the direct payments on Thursday by unanimous consent, but whether it passes there or even comes up in the Senate is unclear. The stimulus bill passed both houses on Monday with a veto-proof majority.
Why is Mr. Trump doing this now? One reason: A no has always been more attractive than a yes for the disruptive Mr. Trump, whose 2016 presidential run was impelled by his dislike of President Barack Obama but turbocharged by his contempt for the Republican Party establishment.
The opposite holds for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who ran in 2020 as a reassuring figure intent on restoring kindness and sanity to government. Mr. Biden offered tempered approval of the unloved $900 billion compromise deal on Tuesday, calling it a “down payment” on another coronavirus relief package next year.
On the stimulus issue, Mr. Biden is actually far closer to Mr. Trump than Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who has been wary of writing bigger checks. But Mr. Biden, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, when the deal seemed done, cast it as a hopeful harbinger of future agreements with Mr. McConnell, his frequent bargaining partner in the Obama years.
In that sense, Mr. Biden is coming in as president the way he left the vice presidency, with a smile of reassurance, while Mr. Trump is going out as he came in — with a defiant scowl.
How the current impasse, which comes at a moment of acute national crisis, plays out is hard to say. Mr. Trump is scheduled to leave this afternoon for his annual Christmas trip to Florida, though his plans could change.
But what struck many Republican aides most on Wednesday was Mr. Trump’s sudden embrace of a cause typically championed by the other party.
While Mr. Trump floated the idea of increasing the size of the checks in private last week, he did not push for the proposal on Twitter or weigh in personally with legislative leaders, nor did he instruct Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who represented him in the talks, to reject the compromise.
Boarded-up storefronts in Los Angeles. The stimulus package approved by Congress may not do enough for millions of jobless Americans if hiring does not pick up significantly.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times
New economic data from the federal government on Wednesday highlighted the recovery’s precarious state.
A report from the Commerce Department showed that personal income fell in November for the second straight month and that consumer spending fell for the first time since April.
Separately, the Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits remained high last week ahead of a new injection of federal aid.
About 869,000 people filed new claims for state jobless benefits. That was down from a week earlier but is significantly above the level in early November, before a surge in coronavirus cases prompted a new round of layoffs in much of the country.
Another 398,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, one of two federal programs to expand jobless benefits that were set to expire this month without congressional action.
Help may be on the way. After months of delays, Congress on Monday passed a $900 billion economic relief package providing aid to unemployed people, small businesses and most households. Most urgently, it would prevent jobless benefits from expiring at the end of this week for millions of people. But on Tuesday evening, President Trump demanded sweeping changes in the bill, throwing into doubt whether he would sign it.
The data released Wednesday showed the toll that the delays in aid — along with rising virus cases — have taken on the economy. Personal income fell 1.1 percent in November and is down 3.6 percent since July, as waning federal assistance more than offset rising income from wages and salaries. Consumer spending, which helped drive the initial recovery after lockdowns lifted last spring, also faltered, falling 0.4 percent as the weather cooled and virus cases rose. Spending on dining and travel both fell last month, the Commerce Department said.
The income and spending data was just the latest evidence that after rapid gains in the spring and summer, the recovery has stalled and could be going into reverse. Some forecasters expect the December employment report to show a net loss of jobs.
“That huge looming cliff that everyone’s been talking about for months on end, that’s been averted,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the hiring site Indeed. “But there’s no momentum forward. It feels like we’re just stuck. Hopefully the new stimulus package will help get a little more wind in our sails.”
The relief bill was smaller than many economists said was needed to carry the economy through the pandemic and ensure a robust recovery. It won’t revive industries that have been ravaged by the pandemic or undo the damage left by months of lost income for many households.
But the recent deterioration in the economy shows why economists across the ideological spectrum were urging Congress to act quickly even if that meant accepting a smaller bill.
“Without the aid, it seemed like we were on the precipice and there was definitely concern that we could have had a double-dip recession,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “The position that we find ourselves in now is significantly stronger than where we were even a week ago.”