Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
Debates rage over religious vaccine exemptions.,
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Cuba will begin giving shots to children as young as 2.
Vladimir Putin is in isolation after possible exposure to the coronavirus.
Singapore began giving third vaccine doses to older residents.
The religious exemption
Major religious traditions, denominations and institutions are nearly unanimous in their support of Covid-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, many Americans say they are hesitant to get vaccinated for religious reasons.
Their attempts to secure exemptions from the country’s rapidly expanding vaccine mandates are creating new fault lines, pitting religious liberty concerns against the priority of maintaining a safe environment at work and elsewhere.
“It would be a stretch to say that resistance to the vaccine flows from any particular reading of the Bible,” said our colleague Ruth Graham, who covers religion and faith for The Times. “My sense is that it’s sometimes back-engineered to fit an existing gut reaction to pandemic precautions — and vaccinations specifically.”
Some vaccine-resistant workers are sharing tips online for requesting exemptions on religious grounds; others are submitting letters from far-flung religious authorities who have advertised their willingness to help. In California, a megachurch pastor is offering a letter to anyone who checks a box confirming the person is a “practicing Evangelical that adheres to the religious and moral principles outlined in the Holy Bible.”
For many skeptics, resistance tends to be based not on formal teachings from an established faith leader, but on an ad hoc blend of online conspiracies and misinformation, conservative media and conversations with like-minded friends and family members.
“A lot of Protestant pastors are acutely aware that they are not necessarily the primary shapers of how people are viewing the pandemic,” Ruth said. “It’s almost a cliche now to hear pastors say: ‘I get them for one hour a week and Fox News gets them for 15.'”
President Biden’s sweeping new workplace vaccine mandates have only intensified conflicts. Now, employers are trying to distinguish between primarily political objections from people who may happen to be religious, and objections that are actually religious at their core.
Since federal civil rights laws protect accommodations for religious beliefs that are “sincerely held,” employers are tasked with reviewing a deluge of requests. The city of Tucson, Ariz., for example, assigned four administrators to sift through nearly 300 requests from city workers looking to sidestep a vaccine mandate. So far, they have approved about half.
Some businesses are taking a harder line. United Airlines told workers that those who receive religious exemptions would be placed on unpaid leave at least until new Covid safety and testing procedures are in place.
Broadway is back
Some of Broadway’s biggest and best shows — including “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” “Hamilton” and “Chicago” — are resuming performances tonight.
Their return is a powerfully symbolic move for New York City’s recovery, but it’s also a high-stakes gamble at an uncertain stage of the pandemic.
Our colleague Michael Paulson, who covers theater, and the photographer Mark Sommerfeld got a backstage look at the preparations for opening night. Dancers relearned moves, singers flexed their vocal cords, and technicians recreated special effects.
By the end of the year, if all goes as planned, 39 Broadway shows will welcome back audiences, who must be vaccinated and masked. But a big unknown remains: After the Delta surge and months of anxiety and streaming entertainment, is there an appetite for live performances?
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Tell us about your second pandemic summer
In June, as days stretched long, it seemed as if the pandemic in the U.S. was waning. Masks came off. Restaurants and bars reopened. Americans began vacationing again.
But then the situation shifted. The Delta variant caused a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Indoor masking returned, vaccine wars raged and back-to-office plans were shelved.
We all experienced this summer differently, and we’d love to hear how yours went. We may feature your response in the next installment of “Our Changing Lives.” If you’d like to participate, you can fill out this form.
What else we’re following
The Delta variant continues to hobble the global economy, pushing down spending and snarling supply chains, Bloomberg reports.
A leading opponent of Israel’s vaccination policies died of Covid-19.
Britain’s winter plan for the virus includes booster shots for those 50 and older.
Despite the Covid risks, many world leaders are attending the U.N. General Assembly, which convenes today for two weeks in New York City.
During the General Assembly, Biden will call for 70 percent of the world to be vaccinated against Covid.
Companies are working to make offices safer, but employees say they are still reluctant to use public transportation to come into work, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Nicki Minaj declined to attend the Met Gala, citing its requirement that attendees be vaccinated.
The Verge explored the lives of delivery workers in New York City during the pandemic.
What you’re doing
Covid has emotionally separated me from my relatives in Alabama. We are no longer talking with each other. They all have had Covid. One was hospitalized with oxygen. She was lucky. She was given remdesivir and dexamethasone and survived. Yet she and the rest of her family are convinced that ivermectin was all that was necessary. Her doctor told her she doesn’t need a vaccination because she had Covid and her antibodies are still high, plus he said he’ll prescribe a dose of ivermectin if she gets the Delta variant, just like he did for himself when he had Covid. You can’t make this stuff up.
— Yolanda, Chicago
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.