A pandemic-induced public transit crisis is borne unequally and expected to get worse.
As U.S. cities’ transit budgets have been crippled by the pandemic, passengers have endured long waits amid reduced service, and then often boarded crowded trains or buses, raising fears of exposure to the coronavirus.
Public transit leaders across the country have issued dire warnings to Congress, saying that the $25 billion in aid they received in March is quickly drying up. And without more help, they say, their systems will face a death spiral, in which cuts to service make public transit less convenient for the public, prompting further drops in ridership that lead to spiraling revenue loss and more service cuts.
Yet Congress has shown few signs that it will soon pass another stimulus package or that such a deal would include any of the $32 billion in new assistance that transit experts say is needed.
“It seems like we’re invisible, and they don’t care about us,” said Nina Red, a New Orleans resident who said her bus trip to the grocery store now sometimes took almost three hours instead of the usual one.
Ridership on top city systems has declined 70 to 90 percent during the pandemic, and sales tax revenue, which fuels many transit agency budgets, has cratered because of a collapsing economy.
As a result, cities like San Francisco have cut half their bus lines. In New Orleans, where 14 percent of transit workers have tested positive for the virus, fare revenue has dropped 45 percent.
And as service cuts have begun, experts say the brunt of the problem is being borne by the nation’s low-income residents, people of color and essential workers. Two economic studies have found Black people could be dying at nearly double the rate of white people from the coronavirus, in part because of their heavier reliance on public transportation.
Experts say the greater ability of higher-income workers to work remotely or to use cars highlights another systemic inequity that has become glaringly obvious during the pandemic.
“People with enough money can choose to opt out for a while,” said Beth Osborne, the director of Transportation for America, an advocacy group. “That’s quite a luxury.”
South Korea reported 166 new coronavirus cases on Saturday as health officials struggled to contain local transmissions, which have mainly centered on two church congregations. The daily caseload was the highest since March 11, indicating that the country’s outbreak is gaining momentum once again.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that all but 11 of the 166 new patients reported on Saturday had been infected through local transmissions.
Health officials this week shut down two churches in the Seoul metropolitan area where a total of 91 worshipers had tested positive for the virus as of midnight Friday, contributing to a sharp increase in the national tally.
South Korea reported 103 new cases on Friday, the first three-digit daily rise in three weeks. Officials were testing thousands of worshipers from the two churches, as well as their contacts, in an effort to isolate the infected and cut transmission chains.
Additionally, Seoul, the capital, which is home to 10 million people, and the equally populous Gyeonggi Province surrounding it have ordered all churches to refrain from large gatherings and to require masks and other disease-prevention measures during prayer services.
South Korea was among the countries hit early by the epidemic. But it has relaxed its social-distancing rules in recent months as the country managed to sharply reduce the number of new daily cases.
The government has urged people to adopt a “new daily life with Covid-19,” a term for reclaiming daily routines but with preventive measures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing in schools and sports stadiums.
Later on Saturday, Prime Minister Chyung Sye-kyun ordered social-distancing rules to be tightened in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province. Under the new rules, sports events must be held without spectators, and large indoor and outdoor gatherings are banned. District authorities are also empowered to shut down public facilities deemed vulnerable to spreading the disease.
As college classes move online, families rebel against paying full price.
When Southern California’s soaring coronavirus caseload forced Chapman University this month to abandon plans to reopen its campus and instead shift to an autumn of all-remote instruction, the school promised that students would still get a “robust Chapman experience.”
“What about a robust refund?” Christopher Moore, a spring graduate, retorted on Facebook.
A parent chimed in: “We are paying a lot of money for tuition, and our students are not getting what we paid for,” wrote Shannon Carducci, whose youngest child, Ally, is a sophomore at Chapman, where the cost of attendance averages $65,000 a year.
Back when they believed Ally would be attending classes in person, her parents leased a $1,200-a-month apartment for her. Now, Ms. Carducci said, she plans to ask for a tuition discount.
A rebellion against the high cost of a bachelor’s degree, already brewing around the United States before the coronavirus, has gathered momentum as campuses have strained to operate in the pandemic.
At Rutgers University, more than 30,000 people have signed a petition started in July calling for the elimination of fees and a 20 percent tuition cut. More than 40,000 have signed a plea asking the University of North Carolina system to house students in the event of another Covid-19-related campus shutdown. And about 340 Harvard freshmen — roughly a fifth of the first-year class — deferred admission rather than possibly spending part of the year the online.
Universities have been divided in their response, with some offering discounts but most resisting.
For months, public health experts and federal officials have said that significantly expanding the number of coronavirus tests administered in the United States is essential to reining in the pandemic. By some estimates, several million people might need to be tested each day, including many who don’t feel sick.
But the country remains far short of that benchmark and, for the first time, the number of known tests conducted each day has fallen.
Reported daily tests trended downward for much of the last two weeks, essentially stalling the nation’s testing response. About 733,000 people have been tested each day this month on average, down from nearly 750,000 in July, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The seven-day test average dropped to 709,000 on Monday, the lowest in nearly a month, before ticking upward again at week’s end.
The trend, coming after months of steady increases in testing, may in part reflect that fewer people are seeking out tests as known cases have leveled off at more than 50,000 per day after surging this summer. But the plateau in testing may also reflect people’s frustration at the prospect of long lines and delays in getting results — as well as another fundamental problem: The nation has yet to build a robust system to test vast portions of the population, not just those seeking tests.
Six months into the pandemic, testing remains a major obstacle in America’s efforts to stop the virus. Some of the supply shortages that caused problems earlier have eased, but even after improvements, test results in some cases are still not being returned within a day or two, hindering efforts to quickly isolate patients and trace their contacts.
“We’re clearly not doing enough,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, the director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy who was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President George W. Bush.
As it has with so many other aspects of life, the pandemic has upended nearly every element of lifeguarding. Ocean rescues are contactless and require guards to shower and sanitize equipment afterward. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is done through a face mask equipped with a manual pump.
Many lifeguards now carry hand sanitizer plus disposable masks and gloves, to give out and to protect themselves from the groups of people, often maskless, who are packing the shore.
So far, outbreaks among lifeguards have seemed to resulted largely from group housing and post-work gatherings, which for many young workers are selling points of this quintessential seasonal job.
Last month, roughly two dozen lifeguards in Avalon, N.J., tested positive for the virus. That led to the quarantining of about 45 guards, depleting the ranks and forcing other guards to work shifts with no breaks. In New York, 13 lifeguards from two Suffolk County beaches tested positive in July after attending a barbecue. There have been numerous smaller outbreaks, including in Cape Cod, Delaware and Newport Beach, Calif.
Janet Fash, a lifeguard chief at New York City’s Rockaway Beach, said her guards had been making more rescues than usual, in part because there are so many beachgoers.
The challenge is to maintain distance from struggling swimmers — an odd notion to most lifeguards, who are largely trained to never lose contact with them.
Generally, lifeguards pass swimmers a rescue buoy and then clasp them across the chest. Now, to avoid making contact, many guards approach people from behind, pass them the buoy and tow them in using the buoy line.
For the Fryson brothers, the year began on a hopeful note. They had reunited with their mother, Beatrice McMillian, after years in foster care.
Ms. McMillian had secured rental assistance for an apartment so that she could move out of a homeless shelter. The older brother, Kasaun, was embarking on adulthood, working at Whole Foods and attending community college.
The younger brother, EJ, was living with his mother and doing well in high school. Then, in April, Ms. McMillian died of Covid-19 and her death shattered everything the family had gained. Mr. Fryson, 22, headed to court to try to become his brother’s guardian and keep him from returning to foster care. “He needs someone, and I’m going to be that person,” Mr. Fryson said.
When the pandemic killed thousands of people in New York City, it made orphans of an unknown number of children. At least eight children have been placed in foster care because their parents died from the virus, according to the city Administration for Children’s Services.
The total number is probably higher. Children in families with more money or wider support systems usually handle guardianship issues privately.
The sudden loss has thrust some young adults into the unexpected role of surrogate parent, fighting to keep what is left of their families together.
“Your physical home is gone, your emotional home is gone. Then you’re going to be put with someone you’ve never known in your life,” said Karen J. Freedman, the founder and executive director of Lawyers for Children, which represents children in foster care, including some whose parents died in the pandemic. “That is a terrifying process for any child.”
The White Mountain Apache tribe, spread across a large reservation in eastern Arizona, has been infected with the virus at more than 10 times the rate of people in the state as a whole.
Yet their death rate from Covid-19 is far lower, just 1.3 percent, as compared with 2.1 percent in Arizona. Epidemiologists wonder whether intensive contact tracing on the reservation enabled teams to find and treat gravely ill people before it was too late to save them.
Contact tracing is generally used to identify and isolate the infected, and to slow the spread of the virus. Elsewhere in the United States, the strategy is largely failing as tracers struggle to keep up with widespread infections.
But on the reservation, contact tracers — equipped with oximeters, to detect low blood oxygen levels in people who often didn’t realize they were seriously ill — have discovered effective new tactics as they trek from home to faraway home.
Experts suggest that their approach may offer a new strategy for reducing deaths in some of the hardest-hit communities, especially among those in housing where multiple generations share space.
Dr. Vincent Marconi, the director of infectious diseases research at Emory University in Atlanta, said it was “incredible” that contact tracing could have such an effect on a population so disadvantaged and at such high risk.
If the reservation’s methods have lowered death rates, he added, “then absolutely, without a doubt, this needs to be replicated elsewhere.”
Alternatives to learning pods.
If your children will not be returning to classrooms this fall, you may have considered joining with another family to create a learning pod, or even hiring a tutor to assist in your children’s studies. There are some other options.
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Choe Sang-Hun, Shawn Hubler, Corey Kilgannon, Gina Kolata, Sarah Mervosh, Nikita Stewart, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Pranshu Verma.