Live Coronavirus Updates: Federal Workers in the U.S. Return to Offices


The federal work force in the U.S. is returning to the office under inconsistent reopening plans.

As virus cases increase around the United States, some of the federal government’s 2.1 million employees are heading back to their offices in one of the few regions where confirmed infections continue to decline: the nation’s capital.

At the Energy Department’s headquarters, 20 percent of employees — possibly as many as 600 — have been authorized to return. The Interior Department said in a statement last month that it anticipated about 1,000 workers to soon return daily to its main office near the White House. The Defense Department has authorized up to 80 percent of its work force to return to office spaces, which could result in up to 18,000 employees inside the Pentagon, according to a spokeswoman. Many of them are already there.

“Federal employees have been working throughout the entire pandemic,” said Everett Kelley, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers in the District of Columbia. “To move them to a work site so the administration can say they reopened the government is irresponsible.”

Governments in the capital region are less than enthusiastic about a rush back. Cases in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are now holding steady, just days after cases in Washington had been declining.

A panel of public health experts chosen to inform Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s reopening strategy in Washington recommended initially capping office buildings at 25 percent capacity, a threshold some federal agencies will soon exceed. In April, Ms. Bowser, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia signed a letter urging the Trump administration to continue encouraging telework for the federal work force as much as possible.

Many private employers in the region have closed their offices to nonessential workers until at least Labor Day, but federal back-to-work orders are not changing. And that has local epidemiologists worried.

“You don’t want to negate all of the hard work that the D.C., Maryland, Virginia regions have done to reduce the number of cases of coronavirus in our region, by then returning everyone to work and potentially reversing the trends,” said Amanda Castel, an epidemiology professor at George Washington University.

Early numbers found that Black and Latino people were being harmed by the coronavirus at higher rates, but new federal data — made available after The New York Times sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — reveals a clearer and more complete picture: Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected across the United States, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups.

Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, according to the new data, which provides detailed characteristics of 640,000 infections detected in nearly 1,000 U.S. counties. And Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, the data shows.

The disparities persist across state lines and regions. They exist in rural towns on the Great Plains, in suburban counties, like Fairfax County, Va., and in many of the country’s biggest cities.

“Systemic racism doesn’t just evidence itself in the criminal justice system,” said Quinton Lucas, the Black mayor of Kansas City, Mo. In Missouri, 40 percent of those infected are Black or Latino even though those groups make up just 16 percent of the state’s population.

Mr. Lucas said, “It’s something that we’re seeing taking lives in not just urban America, but rural America, and all types of parts where, frankly, people deserve an equal opportunity to live — to get health care, to get testing, to get tracing.”

In the era of the coronavirus, cash is no longer à la mode.

At Julien Cornu’s cheese shop in Paris, social-distancing requirements and concerns over hygiene now prompt nearly everyone who walks through the door to pay with plastic.

“People are using cards and contactless payments because they don’t want to have to touch anything,” Mr. Cornu said as a line of mask-wearing shoppers stood three feet apart before approaching the register of La Fromagerie and swiping contactless cards over a reader.

While cash is still accepted, even older shoppers — his toughest clientele when it comes to adopting digital habits — are voluntarily making the switch.

Cash was already being edged out in many countries as urban consumers paid increasingly with apps and cards for even the smallest purchases. But the coronavirus is accelerating a shift toward a cashless future, raising new calculations for merchants and enriching the digital payments industry.

Fears over transmission of the disease have compelled consumers to rethink how they shop and pay. Retailers and restaurants are favoring clicks over cash to reduce exposure for employees. China’s central bank sterilized bank notes in regions affected by the virus. Governments in India, Kenya and Sweden, as well as the United Nations, are promoting cashless payments in the name of public health.

“We have a world in which there is less contact,” said Morten Jorgensen, director of RBR, based in London, a consulting firm specializing in banking technology, cards and payments. “People’s habits are changing as we speak.”

How much more cautious is Wales than England when it comes to lockdown? Try buying a drink in Llanymynech, which straddles the English-Welsh border.

For a small village, there is an impressive selection of pubs, three in all, but choose wisely if you want a pint: Only two of them — those on the English side of the border — can serve customers.

“It is ridiculous,” John Turner, owner of the still-shuttered Dolhin Inn, said over a beer at a rival pub across the boundary line, “but there’s got to be a border at some point. It just so happens we are on it.”

England allowed restaurants, cafes and bars to reopen on Saturday after more than 100 days of lockdown. That was good news for fully two-thirds of the pubs in Llanymynech.

But the Welsh government has delayed pub openings until July 13 — and even then is allowing drinking only in gardens or other outdoor spaces.

The rules are different because the Welsh government in Cardiff has power over issues like health, education and public administration. And like Scotland, Wales has generally taken a more cautious approach to virus controls than England has, keeping travel restrictions in place, for example, and waiting longer to open nonessential shops.

In other news from around the world:

  • In an open letter to be published this week, 239 scientists in 32 countries are urging the World Health Organization to recognize that the virus can infect people through tiny aerosolized particles, not just larger respiratory droplets expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes.

  • Officials in India postponed the reopening of the Taj Mahal this week. The number of cases in the country started to rapidly rise several weeks ago after the government began lifting a lockdown imposed in March, and some cities have already reinstated tough rules to keep their caseloads down. India has reported about 700,000 confirmed infections and nearly 20,000 deaths as of Monday.

  • The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, won a second term on Sunday, as voters endorsed her highly visible leadership during the pandemic. The sprawling metropolis has avoided the kind of spiraling death toll from the virus seen in other world capitals.

  • Pakistan’s health minister said he had tested positive for the virus. The official, Zafar Mirza, wrote on Twitter that he has mild symptoms and is isolating at home. There have been at least 231,000 cases in Pakistan and at least 4,700 deaths.

In the battle for riders, New York City’s subway has always trounced buses. By a lot.

But at the height of the pandemic the equation was flipped on its head — average daily ridership in April and May was 444,000 on the subway and 505,000 on the buses.

It was the first time that happened since the transit agency started keeping such records more than half a century ago.

Buses have held on to their lead even as the city has begun reopening after a three-month shutdown and more commuters return to work. Average daily counts in June were 752,000 riders for the subway — and 830,000 riders for the buses.

The city’s sprawling bus system, which has long been overshadowed by the subway, has emerged as a crucial part of its recovery.

Buses are being counted on to keep people out of cars and to relieve subway crowding as more commuters come back, drawing many riders who said they felt buses were a safer and less-stressful alternative because riders can wait outside for the bus, see how clean or crowded it is before paying the fare, and hop off at any time and be back outside again.

“I’m more comfortable on the bus,” said Arturo Carrion, 52, who works as a cleaner for Uber. “The train is tight with a lot of people like sardines.”

Nick Cordero, a musical theater actor whose intimidating height and effortless charm brought him a series of tough-guy roles on Broadway, died on Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 41.

His death was announced on Instagram by his wife, Amanda Kloots. The couple, who moved from New York to Los Angeles last year, have a 1-year-old son, Elvis.

She did not cite a cause, but he had been hospitalized for three months after contracting the coronavirus.

Mr. Cordero’s experience with the virus, which included weeks in a medically induced coma and the amputation of his right leg, was chronicled by Ms. Kloots on Instagram.

Mr. Cordero’s big break came in 2014, when he played Cheech, a gangster with a fondness for theater and a talent for tap who was the highlight of a musical adaptation of “Bullets Over Broadway.” The role won him a Tony nomination.

He went on to play the abusive husband of the title character in “Waitress” and a mentoring mobster in “A Bronx Tale.”

Take some time for a little self-care.

Salons may be open in your area, but you don’t have to schedule an appointment there to give yourself a little pampering. Here are some ideas for adding a spa moment to your week.

Reporting was contributed by Liz Alderman, Stephen Castle, Robert Gebeloff, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Apoorva Mandavilli, Zach Montague, Richard A. Oppel Jr., Michael Paulson, Motoko Rich, Kai Schultz, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Will Wright and Carl Zimmer.





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