WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert, warned that the travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday could make the current surge in Covid-19 cases even worse as the nation heads into December.
Appearing on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday, Fauci said that public health officials “tried to get the word out for people, as difficult as it is, to really not have large gatherings” during the holiday due to concerns that the celebrations could exacerbate the coronavirus spread.
“What we expect, unfortunately, as we go for the next couple of weeks into December, is that we might see a surge superimposed on the surge we are already in,” he said.
“I don’t want to frighten people except to say it’s not too late at all for us to do something about this,” he added, urging Americans to be careful when they travel back home and upon arriving, and to take proven steps like social distancing and wearing masks.
It can sometimes take two weeks for infected people to develop symptoms, and asymptomatic people can spread the virus without knowing they have it. So Fauci said the “dynamics of an outbreak” show a three-to-five-week lag between serious mitigation efforts and the actual curbing of infection rates.
While the first wave of vaccinations could start in America within a matter of weeks, Fauci said that, for now, “we are going to have to make decisions as a nation, state, city and family that we are in a very difficult time, and we’re going to have to do the kinds of restrictions of things we would have liked to have done, particularly in this holiday season, because we’re entering into what’s really a precarious situation.”
Covid-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have been accelerating in recent weeks. There have been more than 4 million cases and 35,000 deaths attributed to the virus in the month of November alone. Overall, America has had 13.3 million coronavirus cases and 267,000 deaths attributable to the virus, according to an NBC News analysis.
Despite a mid-November warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraging Americans not to travel during Thanksgiving, air travel broke pandemic records, with 6.8 million people traveling through airports in the seven days ahead of the holiday.
Fauci said that he is concerned about the nation’s hospitals, noting that he received calls last night from colleagues across the country “pleading for advice” amid the “significant stresses on the hospital and health care delivery systems.”
While he explicitly said he was not calling for a national lockdown, Fauci said at the local level, Americans could “blunt” the surge’s effects on the hospital system by taking mitigation steps “short of locking down so we don’t precipitate the necessity of locking down.”
The surge in cases comes amid promising news about a coronavirus vaccine, with both public health officials and the federal government planning to begin the first wave of vaccinations in December. Fauci said that while the “exact” recommendations for scheduling groups to receive vaccinations have not been finalized, “health care workers are going to be among” those first in line for the vaccines.
He pointed to the country’s success in distributing annual flu vaccines as “the reason we should feel more confident” about the ability to send the needed vaccine across America.
“The part about 300 million doses getting shipped is going to get taken care of by people who know how to do that,” he said. “The part at the distal end, namely, getting it into people’s arms, is going to be more challenging than a regular flu season, it would be foolish to deny that. But I think it’s going to be able to get done because the local people have done that in the past. Hopefully, they’ll get the resources to help them to do that.”
Good news about Covid-19 vaccines has been on the uptick this month, and with it, a bump in inquiries to travel agencies about what these medical advances might mean for travel in 2021.
The calls don’t always lead to bookings, advisors said, and although the good news is tempered in part by spiking cases around the country, consumer response to the vaccine news appears to both reflect high levels of pent-up demand and herald the nascent return of broad consumer confidence to travel.
On Nov. 9, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that preliminary data indicates their vaccine is more than 90% effective. A week later, Moderna on Nov. 16 said preliminary analysis found its vaccine was more than 94.5% effective. And just before Thanksgiving, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford said preliminary data found their vaccine up to 90% effective.
“Within an hour of Pfizer announcing their vaccine, we started getting calls,” said Helen Papa, owner of TBH Travel in Dix Hills, N.Y. “Within an hour. It was amazing.”
Cruise lines also saw some positive effects attributable to vaccine news. During Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ most recent financial earnings call, the day after Pfizer’s news, president and CEO Frank Del Rio said bookings in the previous 24 hours were “pretty good; better than the previous four or five Mondays.”
“And that’s, I think, attributable to the vaccine news,” he said. “We did not have any particular promotion or did any outsized marketing.”
Similarly, Royal Caribbean Group chairman Richard Fain addressed the question of positive news about vaccines during Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld, which was held virtually earlier this month.
“I don’t think it will surprise anybody that when the news is scary, people tend to go back into their cocoons,” Fain said. “As the news gets to be more positive they come out. What’s encouraging is how quickly it responds.”
After both the Pfizer and Moderna news broke, Skyscanner found that searches for travel from the U.S. to Mexico surpassed their weekly volume from last year, up 10%. Skyscanner attributed that increase to the vaccine news, as well.
For Papa, some of the inquiries she received at TBH have turned into bookings. Clients are “cautiously optimistic,” she said.
On the other side of the country from Papa, Coastline Travel Advisors in Garden Grove, Calif., also received a number of emails and calls from clients following vaccine announcements, according to president Jay Johnson.
While there has been a general sense of optimism and more confidence in travel’s return by next summer, he said, the influx of inquiries has not yet resulted in new business.
“There is without a doubt a huge amount of pent-up demand to travel in 2021,” Johnson said. “All we need now is confirmation that the vaccines work and a lowering of cases. Then, we’ll be off and running.”
Avenue Two Travel in Villanova, Pa., saw an uptick in both calls and bookings as a result of the positive vaccine news, but that was tempered by the rising number of cases around the country, said CEO Joshua Bush.
Avenue Two has seen steady, week-over-week increases in travel since mid-August, thanks to domestic travel and clients dreaming about 2021 travel, Bush said. In addition to closer-in domestic bookings, Avenue Two has even been booking things like world cruise segments and expedition trips. Overall, business is down about 70% year over year, but better than the 95 to 97% it was down when the pandemic first hit.
The week before Pfizer had announced its vaccine’s effectiveness, business was “absolutely dead,” which Bush attributed to the unsettled U.S. presidential election.
But the week of Nov. 16, Bush said, “with the election result [more widely accepted] and the vaccine … we are on track for our best week this year since Covid.” Those bookings were for both the holiday season and 2021 as travelers are getting more optimistic about a vaccine.
At the same time, the good news is offset by the surge in cases and deaths around the world, especially in the U.S.
“We’re hitting milestone death numbers,” Bush said. “We’re hitting milestone cases on individual days. That is really kind of tamping down the news that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’re definitely in this still.”
In some places, though, travelers have shown less concern about traveling during the pandemic, and the news of the vaccines was akin to a nonevent. Jeanne Polocheck, owner of Well Traveled Texan in Houston, said her Texas-based clients largely kept traveling during the pandemic. Things had initially slowed early this year, but by Memorial Day clients were out and about again, a trend that has continued. Domestic spots and Mexico have been popular.
She didn’t even get one phone call from a client about vaccines.
A potential stumbling block to the recovery of travel is the resistance among some people to being vaccinated. A Gallup poll conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1, before the vaccine trial results were announced, indicated 58% of adult respondents were willing to get a vaccination, a rise from 50% in September.
Lingering and significant reluctance to be vaccinated will likely present hurdles to overcome with regard to travel in the future, said Ensemble Travel Group CEO David Harris.
He pointed to the flu vaccine: It’s been available for decades, but a portion of the population skips it each year.
However, he is more hopeful about a Covid vaccine, given how serious the impact of the virus has been. While a vaccine will never be 100% effective, it could go a long way to the resumption of travel, he said, by giving confidence to governments to relax requirements for quarantines and other deterrents to travel.
“Those should, in theory, be relaxed if you get traction from an effective vaccine,” he said.
Earlier this month, a Gallup poll found that 65% of Americans said they would be willing to take an FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccine immediately if it were available at no cost. That leaves more than a third of the population unwilling, for the time being, to be vaccinated.
Travelers, as a subset of the population, seem a bit more willing to get the jab. Industry advocacy group Travel Again’s most recent monthly Traveler Confidence Index found that one in four business travelers and one in five leisure travelers do not plan to get the vaccine when they are eligible.
What does seem clear is that the travel experience will change for those who do and don’t get vaccinated. Leora Lanz, associate professor of the practice and chair of the master of management in hospitality program at the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration, said suppliers will need to think now about how they will handle passengers who aren’t vaccinated.
For example, cruise lines, she said, may have to expand onboard medical facilities to accommodate daily testing, and certain destinations may require proof of vaccination for entry.
“We’re going to have to think about what’s allowed in the future,” she said, including “where people can travel to if they haven’t been vaccinated.”
Which begs the question: Will suppliers require proof of vaccination from travelers?
“A business in the U.S. can legally decide who to do business with or not to do business with, as long as the decision does not violate civil rights laws,” Pestronk said.
David Sherwyn, professor of hospitality and human resources and the director of the Cornell Center for Innovative Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations, said he believes that some suppliers will opt to require vaccines.
Most likely among them are cruise lines, he said, followed by all-inclusive resorts. Conferences may also require attendees be vaccinated. It is less likely that urban hotels that are typically geared toward business travelers will require vaccinations, but Sherwyn said he could see a future in which a major brand designates a soft brand as vaccine-required.
If cruise lines do require vaccines, they would likely lose some customers, Sherwyn said. “But,” he added, “you’d lose more people who don’t want to be in close quarters with people who haven’t been vaccinated,” and they would get a lift from increased consumer confidence.
But Lynn Minnaert, academic chair and clinical associate professor at New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, considers it “fairly unlikely” that most suppliers would require vaccinations.
If it did become a requirement, Minnaert said, it would further complicate travel.
“It’s constantly changing,” she said of regulations. That is especially true in the U.S., she said, where regulations differ from state to state.
Lanz agreed that regulations “are complex and can be confusing.” However, she added, “they will, over time, become easier to navigate. And with that in mind, please let’s all retain the desire to travel, to learn from one another and help local communities and employees, as well.”
Jill Lawless, Associated Press
Published 11:20 a.m. ET Jan. 26, 2021
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams says the government is looking closely at a new strain of the coronavirus identified in the U.K. (Dec. 21)
LONDON — Britain appears ready to order some travelers arriving from abroad to isolate in hotels at their own expense in an attempt by the government to stop the importation of new coronavirus variants.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said there would be an announcement Tuesday on plans for tighter border measures. The BBC reported that U.K. citizens and residents arriving from most of southern Africa and South America, as well as Portugal, will have to self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days at their own expense.
Quarantine hotels have been used to limit virus transmissions in countries including Australia, New Zealand, China, India and Singapore but the practice has not been widely adopted in Europe.
Zahawi did not give details of the planned the announcement but said tightening border rules was “the right thing to do, because … as we vaccinate more of the adult population, if there are new variants like the South African or the Brazilian variants, we need to be very careful.”
Opposition politicians and public health officials have criticized Britain’s Conservative government for not closing the country’s borders earlier in the pandemic.
Current lockdown rules, imposed to slow the spread of a new, more transmissible virus variant first identified in southeast England, bar Britons from taking foreign holidays, although essential travel is allowed.
People arriving from overseas are already required to self-isolate in Britain, but enforcement is patchy.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, law-and-order spokesman for Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said only a “comprehensive hotel quarantine system” would be strong enough to keep new strains of the virus from spreading in the U.K.
“It cannot be restricted to only a handful of countries, leaving gaping holes in our defenses against different strains of the virus emerging around the world,” he said.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a Conservative, said the biggest problem was that many people already in the U.K. do not comply with self-isolation orders.
“I think the elephant in the room in this is not the 10,000 or so people who arrive in the U.K. every day, it is the 30,000 people in the U.K. already who are asked to quarantine by Test and Trace and are not doing so,” Hunt told the BBC.
He backed calls for a self-isolation payment from the government so people exposed to the virus or infected did not lose income by staying at home.
“We may also need to enforce more compliance, but I think you can only do that if you are making people a reasonable offer to support them financially for any losses they may have from having to stay home,” Hunt said.
People arriving in the U.K. from abroad also must show they have tested negative for COVID-19. Britain recently banned direct flights from South Africa, Brazil and Portugal — and barred entry to travelers from there and some nearby countries — in response to new variants of the virus.
The U.K. will soon become the fifth country in the world to record 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico — all of which have much larger populations than Britain’s 67 million people. As of Monday, the U.K.’s official coronavirus death toll was 98,531.
The real toll is likely even higher. U.K. statistics agencies say that up to Jan. 15, the total number of deaths registered in the country that mentioned COVID-19 on the death certificate was 108,084, including some involving people who never tested positive for the coronavirus.
British authorities are banking on a successful vaccination program to help the country suppress the outbreak and ease its current lockdown. So far more than 6.5 million people have received the first of two doses of a vaccine, and the government aims to give 15 million people, including everyone over 70, a jab by Feb. 15.
France will reopen its border with Britain, allowing truck drivers and their freight to cross the English Channel on Wednesday for the first time since Sunday night. But the deal announced late Tuesday won’t immediately alleviate the lines of trucks parked in the southeast of England and delays to the transport of perishable food on board.
All drivers will have to take a rapid coronavirus test and show evidence of a negative result before traveling into France, according to the announcement by the British Department for Transport of an agreement between the British and French governments. The British army will reportedly be used to oversee the thousands of tests that will be needed in the massive logistical effort. Testing the drivers currently waiting near the ports could take several days to complete, and Britain’s transport minister on Tuesday told drivers waiting elsewhere in the country to delay travel to the border.
On Sunday night, France closed its border for 48 hours to all travelers, including truck drivers, in response to a new strain of the coronavirus that has been spreading rapidly in England. The decision left more than 2,800 trucks stranded near the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, which were shut to outbound traffic.
France allowed trucks to bring goods into Britain, but those shipments also declined amid fears that the drivers would be marooned once they crossed onto the island.
“It’s a story of human misery,” Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry, said of the drivers, some of whom have been stuck sleeping in their trucks for two nights. “The government planning has been shocking on this, and there are no adequate lavatory facilities on the motorway for the past couple of days with up to 1,000 trucks parked up.”
The British government implemented plans that had been prepared for Brexit-related travel disruption in the new year early. It shut off part of a motorway to allow trucks to park on the road, and it opened an old airport that has capacity for more than 4,000 trucks to be parked and has a few more facilities.
Many of the drivers were said to be Eastern European nationals making return journeys to the mainland. Mr. McKenzie said that while drivers pack their own food, they are often not in Britain for more than a few hours so they wouldn’t necessarily bring a lot.
On Tuesday, the European Commission issued a nonbinding recommendation saying its member states should lift any blanket bans on travelers from Britain to avoid disrupting supply chains. And it noted that until the end of the month, freedom of movement still applies to Britain as part of the Brexit transition period.
“Within the E.U., it is crucial that transport workers are exempted from any restrictive measures, as quarantine and testing,” Adina Valean, the transport commissioner, said in a statement. “We have to continue to maintain the supply chains intact.”
British shoppers have been told there is no need to panic buy over concerns that there could be shortages of some fresh food later in the week. Still, Tesco, a large supermarket chain, reintroduced limits on purchases such as eggs and toilet roll.
The French government had said it wanted to reopen the border “based on a system of mandatory testing upon departure” and encouraged any would-be travelers to get P.C.R. tests, which can take several days to return a result. On Tuesday, it announced that European Union citizens and Brits with a permanent residence across the Channel will be able to travel starting Wednesday if they have a negative coronavirus test within the past 72 hours, using a list of tests approved by the French government, and if their journey is deemed essential.
The Labor Department on Tuesday released the final version of a rule that would allow employers to share workers’ tips with co-workers who don’t normally receive tips.
Under the so-called tip pools authorized by the new rule, the tips of waiters and waitresses can be shared with back-of-the-house workers like cooks and dishwashers.
But such sharing will be allowed only if the waiters and waitresses receive the standard minimum wage in their city or state, not the lower minimum wage that most states allow employers to pay tipped workers.
“This final rule provides clarity and flexibility for employers and could increase pay for back-of-the house workers,” Cheryl Stanton, the department’s wage and hour administrator, said in a statement.
The rule carries out a compromise negotiated between Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and R. Alexander Acosta, then the labor secretary, that was enacted in legislation in 2018.
Before the compromise, a Labor Department proposal for creating tip pools would have allowed supervisors, managers and owners to share in workers’ tips. The compromise prohibited this practice, making clear that only rank-and-file workers can benefit from tips.
Still, some labor advocates raised concern about an element of the new rule governing the amount of nontipped work, like cleaning, that a worker can perform and still be paid the lower minimum wage for tipped workers.
The previous standard, known as the “80/20” rule, held that workers could spend no more than 20 percent of their time on nontipped work and still earn the lower minimum wage. The new rule appears to allow workers to spend a much larger portion of their time on nontipped duties, citing vaguer language like a “reasonable time.”
Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Labor Department, has estimated that the change would cost workers more than $700 million per year, and probably far more during the pandemic, when tipped work is scarcer.
“Getting rid of the 80/20 rule is another way that employers can capture some of workers’ income,” Ms. Shierholz said in an interview.
The rule is scheduled to take effect in roughly two months, giving the incoming Biden administration a chance to postpone the implementation and possibly prevent it.
A prominent Silicon Valley chief executive, Brendan Eich, is in hot water again for his views on topics far from technology.
Last time around, in 2014, Mr. Eich was pushed out of his job as the top executive of the Mozilla web browser project as a result of donations he had made in opposition to same-sex marriage.
This time, Mr. Eich is facing blowback from users of his new web browser project, Brave, over his skeptical views on public policy around the coronavirus pandemic.
In recent months, Mr. Eich’s Twitter feed has largely alternated between promotion of the privacy-focused Brave browser and questions about the policy and science related to the coronavirus.
Supporters of the Brave project have recently used the company’s Reddit page to express concern about Mr. Eich’s outspoken views about the virus, with some suggesting he should give up his role as C.E.O.
“He was asked to leave Mozilla because he couldn’t keep his right-wing opinions to himself,” one user on Reddit wrote. “Now he’s doing the same thing at the helm of Brave.”
Brave employees, who serve as the moderators of the Reddit page, have gotten involved in the debate by removing some of the comments questioning Mr. Eich or calling for his removal. But even the removed posts have managed to set off fiery debates about the propriety of Mr. Eich’s public remarks.
Catherine Corre, a spokeswoman for the company, said that some of the posts that were removed “included personal attacks and gross misrepresentations.”
Brave has raised around $70 million from venture capital firms supporting the company’s effort to create an ad-free browser focused on the privacy of users.
But Brave has a broader audience of investors because it created a cryptocurrency, known as the Basic Attention Token, which users can buy, earn and spend on the browser.
Some Brave fans on Reddit have said they have begun to sell their Brave tokens or stopped using the browser in order to express opposition to Mr. Eich. The value of the token has fallen around 15 percent in recent days, though this sort of move is not entirely unusual in the volatile world of cryptocurrencies.
A month after BuzzFeed announced that it would buy HuffPost, Group Nine Media, the owner of TheDodo, NowThis, Thrillist, Seeker and PopSugar, sent a strong signal that it plans to get bigger.
The company, led by the chief executive, Ben Lerer, formed a special purpose acquisition company, according to an S.E.C. filing on Monday. In the filing, Group Nine said it planned to merge with similar companies but did not cite any agreements with specific partners.
“We initially intend to focus our search on target businesses in the digital media and adjacent industries, including the social media, e-commerce, events, and digital publishing and marketing sectors,” the company said in the filing.
“Our objective,” it added, “is to create a scalable digital media platform.”
Group Nine got its start in 2016, when the companies behind Thrillist, NowThis and TheDodo joined with Seeker, a digital network belonging to Discovery Communications. Discovery kicked in $100 million to help to new company get going, and Mr. Lerer, the former head of Thrillist, became its leader.
Group Nine expanded last year when it acquired PopSugar, a website with a shopping platform, a cosmetics line and a festival business, from the husband-and-wife duo Brian and Lisa Sugar. That deal came as part of a wave of consolidation in the digital media business, after Vox Media’s purchase of New York Media, the company behind New York magazine, and Vice Media’s acquisition of Refinery29.
After the BuzzFeed-HuffPost merger and Group Nine’s federal filing, digital media companies seem likely to continue the trend of joining forces in an industry that is not the wide-open field it used to be. Google and Facebook have grabbed ad revenue away from publishers, while Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch have monopolized the time and attention of would-be readers. And many legacy media outlets have become web savvy, hiring digital journalists, audience specialists and engineers away from popular sites, while also figuring out ways to persuade their customers to spring for expensive subscriptions.
With the formation of a special purpose acquisition company, a popular financial tool that effectively allows privately held companies to go public without an initial public offering of stock, Group Nine moved closer to making more deals. A Group Nine spokeswoman declined to comment.
Congress will allow a decades-old federal program that insures mortgages for thousands of nursing homes to provide emergency financial aid to elder care facilities that have been left hurting for cash because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The measure was tucked away in the spending package that was approved Monday and awaits President Trump’s signature. It would allow nursing homes posting operating losses because of the pandemic to get emergency loans to cover mortgage payments, insurance and property taxes. The mortgage insurance program is run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and guarantees mortgages for roughly 15 percent of the nation’s nursing homes.
Nursing homes have borne the brunt of the crisis, reporting more than 100,000 deaths related to the pandemic. The nation’s largest nursing home operator, Genesis Healthcare, warned in November that it might have to file for bankruptcy protection.
Beth Martino, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Health Care Association, which represents thousands of elder care facilities, said the association “has advocated for this proposal so our providers can continue to focus on keeping residents and staff as safe as possible during the pandemic.” She said nursing homes and elder care facilities “are facing the worst financial crisis in the history of the industry.”
The mortgage insurance program, though, has been criticized for not adequately assessing and monitoring nursing home operators and owners.
In 2018, the program incurred its worst loss when a chain of nursing homes in Illinois defaulted on $146 million in mortgages. That prompted a series of investigations and led to federal charges against two former operators, including a Chicago-area rabbi.
On Wall Street, the S&P 500 closed down 0.2 percent. The index had fallen close to 2 percent at its worst point on Monday, before recovering most of those losses. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 1.3 percent, after dropping 2.3 percent on Monday. The FTSE 100 in Britain was 0.6 percent higher after it fell 1.7 percent the previous day.
In Washington, after weeks of negotiations, Congress overwhelmingly approved a coronavirus stimulus package that includes billions of dollars for American households and businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic. It restores a supplemental unemployment benefit for millions of unemployed Americans for 11 weeks and includes money for another round of $600 direct payments.
The British pound continued its decline, down 0.8 percent against the U.S. dollar, as investors waited for an update on the Brexit trade negotiations. In just nine days, the transition period ends and Britain could lose tariff-free access to its largest trading partner if a deal is not reached.
More than 40 countries cut off travel links from Britain in an effort to stop the spread of a new strain of coronavirus that was “out of control” in parts of England. But on Tuesday, the European Commission advised European Union members to lift blanket bans on travelers, recommending testing or quarantines instead. And one vaccine expert said that there was no evidence at the moment to suggest that the current product would have to be adapted.
Peloton jumped 12 percent after it said on Monday it would acquire Precor, a Seattle-based fitness equipment manufacturer, to ramp up production of its stationary bikes and treadmills to keep pace with surging demand during the pandemic. The $420 million deal includes plans to acquire Precor’s factories, with more than 625,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
Apple rose nearly 3 percent, extending a rally that began late on Monday after Reuters reported that it continued to have plans to produce self-driving vehicle for consumers, aiming at 2024 for production.
Another dose of relief is finally on the way for the millions of Americans facing financial distress because of the pandemic.
Congress on Monday night passed an economic relief package that would provide a round of $600 stimulus payments to most Americans and partly restore the enhanced federal unemployment benefit, offering $300 for 11 weeks. The agreement also contains provisions related to student loans, rental assistance and medical bills.
How does the aid package affect unemployment insurance?
What about relief for housing bills like rent and mortgages?
The pandemic aid bill contains $285 billion for additional loans under the Paycheck Protection Program — the government’s small-business program created under the CARES Act — through March 31, while doing away with the restriction that left more than $100 billion unspent over the summer. The New York Times’s Stacy Cowley reports on what we know based on outlines of the bill circulating among congressional officials on Monday:
The new relief bill offers a second cash infusion for those who meet stricter terms: Borrowers with fewer than 300 employees that had a 25 percent drop in sales from a year earlier in at least one quarter could qualify for an additional loan of up to $2 million.
Hotels and food-service businesses are eligible for bigger loans this time, up to 3.5 times their average monthly payroll. Other borrowers would again be limited to 2.5 times their payroll.
Publicly traded companies are ineligible for the new loans, eliminating a provision that provoked a public outcry as deep-pocketed restaurant chains, software companies and drug makers, among others, collected taxpayer-funded loans.
The new bill expands the list of expenses that a loan could be used to pay, which previously were limited mostly to payroll, rent and utilities. Businesses could now use the money to buy supplies from their vendors, buy protective equipment for their staff or fix property damage “due to public disturbances,” according to a House Small Business Committee summary.
The plan would allow business owners who received loans in the program, which are tax-free, to claim deductions for expenses they paid for with loan proceeds.
The bill includes other aid measures that are not specifically part of the Paycheck Protection Program but could nonetheless help many small businesses. Those include a $15 billion grant fund for closed theaters, museums, zoos and live event venues, and $12 billion for Community Development Financial Institutions, which make loans and grants to people and communities that are often unable to get traditional banks to do business with them.
Hundreds of dollars in direct payments may start going to American households as soon as next week after Congress overwhelmingly passed a $900 billion stimulus package sending billions of dollars to individuals and businesses grappling with the economic and health toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
The long-sought relief package was part of a $2.3 trillion catchall package that included $1.4 trillion to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. It included the extension of routine tax provisions, a tax deduction for corporate meals, the establishment of two Smithsonian museums, a ban on surprise medical bills and a restoration of Pell grants for incarcerated students, among hundreds of other measures.
Though the $900 billion stimulus package is half the size of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed in March that provided the core of its legislative provisions, it remains one of the largest relief packages in modern American history. It will revive a supplemental unemployment benefit for millions of unemployed Americans at $300 a week for 11 weeks and provide for another round of $600 direct payments to adults and children.
“I expect we’ll get the money out by the beginning of next week — $2,400 for a family of four — so much needed relief just in time for the holidays,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC. “I think this will take us through the recovery.”
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who received a coronavirus vaccine on Monday with television cameras rolling, has insisted that this bill is only the beginning, and that more relief, especially to state and local governments, will be coming after his inauguration next month.
Lawmakers hustled on Monday to pass the bill, nearly 5,600 pages long, less than 24 hours after its completion and before virtually anyone had read it. At one point, aides struggled simply to put the measure online because of a corrupted computer file.
The legislative text is likely to be one of the longest ever, and it became available only a few hours before both chambers approved the bill. In the Senate, the bill passed 92 to 6. It will now go to President Trump for his signature.