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Indians Firms May Benefit From Trump’s H-1B Limits

When President Trump suspended a raft of visa programs in June, including temporary permits for highly technical foreign workers known as H-1B visas, he portrayed the order as a victory for the American work force. Further overhauls were in the works, he said weeks later, “so that no American worker is replaced ever again.”

The order is now in front of the courts, after a judge on Thursday blocked the order and ruled that Mr. Trump had overstepped his authority. The move will allow some companies, like Microsoft and Exxon Mobil, to bring temporary workers into the United States again. The issue will now go to an appeals court, which may rule in favor of Mr. Trump’s sweeping order.

But the fate of the program still remains in doubt. The Department of Homeland Security has submitted a new regulation for federal review that would toughen H-1B eligibility and impose new obligations on the companies trying to bring in foreign workers.

The uncertainty has thrown the plans of major companies in doubt and has already disrupted the lives of thousands of foreign workers, particularly those from India, who claim more than two-thirds of the H-1B visas issued each year.

The confusion might all be in vain, however. Experts say restrictions will do little to accomplish their stated goal of encouraging companies to hire Americans instead of workers from abroad. In fact, limits on H-1B visas may have the unintended effect of spurring American companies to shift even more work abroad.

Already, Indian outsourcing companies are working to cast the new restrictions as an opportunity to do just that.

“In America, there is a genius mix of homegrown and transplanted talent. The high level of global competition gives America its tech edge,” said Sandeep Kishore, the chief executive officer of Zensar Technologies, an Indian firm that employs more than 9,500 people globally.

More than 400 are on work visas in Zensar’s offices in the United States, he said, but more work could drift to India if companies cannot hire who they want.

The United States “risks giving up its edge,” Mr. Kishore said. “If we can’t bring this talent into the U.S., we’ll place them in our offices overseas.”

The pandemic, which has forced millions to work from home, could reinforce the idea that more American jobs can be done remotely.

The June suspension did not affect the foreign workers already in the United States on H-1B visas. But it upended the lives of those who were outside the country when the president issued his suspension.

Sonal Thakkar, a lead consultant at an Indian information technology firm in San Jose, Calif., rushed back to India last year to apply for an extension of her visa.

In March, her visa interview was canceled after India’s government imposed a nationwide lockdown to stop the coronavirus. Then, Mr. Trump’s suspension came.

This week, Ms. Thakkar received an email from the office of the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, saying her visa application had been “refused” and sent for “mandatory administrative processing.” It’s a process that could take months and she fears she could still be denied a visa after that.

Now, Ms. Thakkar is not sure when she can return to the United States and her husband, who is still in San Jose on an H-1B visa.

“I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “We’ve been together for six years. I am losing so many memories and I’m unable to create new ones.”

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Credit…Sonal Thakkar

An executive at Infosys, one of India’s biggest technology companies, said in a LinkedIn post that it arranged a chartered flight to bring back more than 200 workers and their families to India, after their American visas expired. The company declined to comment.

Even before Mr. Trump’s election, limiting the H-1B program had won some bipartisan support. The program allows companies to bring in well-educated or technically skilled workers from abroad temporarily. About 65,000 candidates are selected each year by lottery. The workers can bring their families, but they must apply for green cards separately if they want to remain in the United States once their work ends.

Some labor groups say companies use the program to bring in cheap labor. Often, they say, H-1B visa holders are not stars in their fields but hold skills that can be easily found domestically.

“There are very few people in this world who are truly innovative, and our economy depends on them,” said Russell Harrison, the director of government relations for the IEEE-USA, an association representing more than 170,000 technology professionals that supports H-1B restrictions.

Sensitive to the criticism, Indian outsourcing companies have long stressed plans to hire in the United States. In early September, Infosys announced it would hire 12,000 more Americans over the next two years.

Indian outsourcing companies dominated the H-1B lottery a decade ago, but sponsors now include some of the biggest names in American technology. Seven of the top 10 sponsors last year were American, including Amazon and Google, according to official citizenship data. About 15 percent of Facebook’s employees are H-1B holders.

If the government considerably limits the number of H-1B workers they can bring in, companies may send the work overseas instead.

“The work will go to India more because there is an abundance of high-quality college-educated tech labor in India,” said William Lazonick, an economist and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, who has studied the globalization of business. “It is obviously an advantage if that higher-quality labor force is less expensive to employ than workers in the company’s home country.”

Research is scant, but at least one study has found that limits on H-1B visas lead to more hiring overseas. The study, by Britta Glennon, an assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, compared periods of tightened H-1B restrictions with hiring by major firms and found greater hiring in places like China and India, which have a large pool of skilled workers, and Canada, which has looser immigration policies.

Like industries around the globe, the outsourcing business took a substantial hit during the coronavirus pandemic. The troubles were particularly acute in India, where many workers lack the equipment or the internet connections to work from home.

Tech companies struggled to source hundreds of thousands of laptops in the early weeks of the pandemic. They sent desktop computers to workers’ homes and enabled firewalls to fend off cyberattacks.

At Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest information technology firm with more than 400,000 workers globally, these responsibilities fell on the shoulders of Amit Jain, the global head of I.T. infrastructure, based in Mumbai.

Mr. Jain, who worked at the company for 32 years, died in March after suffering a heart attack.

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Credit…The Jain family.

“He was overworked and extremely exhausted,” said his brother, Mukul Jain. “He told me he hadn’t slept in two to three days because he was helping employees in India, Europe and the U.S. to work from home.”

T.C.S. declined to comment about Mr. Jain’s death. A public relations firm that represents the company said that about 95 percent of T.C.S. employees were now working remotely.

Now India’s outsourcing companies are seeing their results stabilize. Share prices have risen as investors bet that companies looking to trim costs and reduce head count seek their services.

Indeed, companies have resumed looking toward outsourcing companies. In July, Vanguard, the mutual fund company, said it struck a deal with Infosys of India to assume 1,300 back office positions, like record keeping and technology services. Workers would be offered comparable jobs at Infosys, said a spokeswoman for Vanguard, adding that the decision was unrelated to the pandemic or the shifts in the H1-B program.

India’s outsourcing companies face long-term challenges. Cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence could eventually take over some of their tasks. The companies themselves are trying to move up the value chain to do more of the innovative technology work done in Silicon Valley and China.

“Most of the larger Indian I.T. companies haven’t expanded in that direction. They haven’t expanded to semiconductors, e-commerce, gaming and other technologies,” said Nitin Soni, a Singapore-based analyst and senior director at Fitch Ratings, a credit rating firm. “They have stuck to their core strengths, which are all in the realm of automation of organizational stuff.”

But companies rethinking the future of the office could offer them new opportunities.

“If you can get the same or better talent at lower cost, which allows you to do your business 24 hours, then that’s a good value proposition,” said Ajay Gupta, Mumbai-based partner at global consulting firm Kearney.

Of traditional offices, he added, “even companies within India are saying, ‘We don’t need this rigid infrastructure.’”

Vindu Goel contributed reporting from Berkley, Calif.

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Coronavirus Leads Japan to Lock Borders, Shutting Out Foreign Workers

TOKYO — When Jeff Mazziotta, a director of a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization, left Japan for South Africa in early March, he planned to spend a month training park rangers on emergency field medicine before returning to Tokyo.

Nearly five months later, Mr. Mazziotta is still stuck abroad. He is one of nearly 100,000 foreign residents of Japan who have been prevented from re-entering the country since April under its stringent coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

Japan’s rules, which stand out for making permanent and long-term residents ineligible for travel privileges granted to citizens, have left Mr. Mazziotta and many others in a difficult bind.

He has been forced to rely on a friend for financial support because he has little cash and no access to his Japanese bank account. His office in Japan, where he works as an English teacher to supplement his nonprofit work, put him on unpaid leave, and he has been unable to pay the rent on his Tokyo apartment.

“How am I going to recover from four months of lost pay and the bills that have been building up?” Mr. Mazziotta, an American citizen, said during a video chat in late July. Foreign residents who feel abandoned, he added, are “questioning the time and energy they spent building a life in Japan.”

Japan, a country known for its hospitality but also for casting a sometimes wary eye on its foreign residents, has been promoting itself as the premier Asian destination for global capital and talent, with an eye on wooing financial firms fleeing Hong Kong. But its treatment of foreign residents during the pandemic has undercut that message and shaken the trust of the country’s international community.

The restrictions have provoked loud protests from foreign businesses and residents in Japan. Executives at major international firms say they are rethinking their ties to the country, including how its handling of foreigners could hinder business continuity in an already uncertain time.

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Credit…Cassandra Zona

In response, Japan has said it will ease some of the re-entry rules to gradually allow those like Mr. Mazziotta who have been trapped abroad to return to the country. But the changes do not apply to everyone: As many as 17,000 long-term residents of Japan could remain stuck outside the country, according to government data.

For many, the damage is done: The restrictions have split up families, hurt careers and caused students to miss months of school. Some of those stranded outside the country have been saddled with mountains of debt as they continue to pay taxes and rents on homes in Japan while also bearing the costs of being abroad.

The ban has also affected the 2.5 million foreigners who remain in Japan. Many have faced agonizing decisions over whether to leave to care for a dying parent, grieve the loss of a loved one or reunite with a spouse or child, knowing that doing so may make it impossible to return.

“If you’re thinking about setting up your business in a place that is as safe and predictable as possible, Japan certainly has that in its favor,” said Christopher LaFleur, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

But “the policy in terms of travel has de facto discriminated against the foreign national residents of Japan,” he said, adding that it “certainly is going to weigh on people’s calculus in the months ahead.”

Japan is far from the only country to tighten its borders to control the spread of the virus, with many nations restricting or even stopping short-term travel for business and tourism. All told, Japan has banned entry from 146 countries, including places, like New Zealand and Taiwan, that appear to have eradicated the virus.

Both New Zealand and Taiwan allow long-term residents to travel freely, requiring only a quarantine period upon arrival. Japan, by contrast, is the only member of the Group of 7 industrialized nations to restrict travel by foreign residents while allowing its citizens to come and go as they please.

Japanese officials have said the restrictions on foreign residents are necessary to protect the country from the larger-scale outbreaks abroad and to avoid overwhelming the capacity of airports to test travelers for infection.

More than six months into the crisis, Japan can test only about 33,000 people a day — far fewer than nearly all of its peer countries. Around 3,000 of those tests have been reserved for the country’s international airports — administered to both Japanese and foreign travelers — with plans to increase the number to about 10,000 in September.

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Credit…Kimimasa Mayama/EPA, via Shutterstock

Long-term residents have generally been unable to re-enter Japan since April 3. Those who have sought to leave after that date are allowed to return only if they fall into one of a handful of special categories, including “humanitarian” exemptions allowing them to care for a sick relative or attend a parent’s funeral.

But the guidelines are ill defined, and even for those who would seem to meet the requirements, return is not guaranteed. Before leaving the country, travelers must sign a document acknowledging that they may not be allowed to return. The final decision rests with the immigration agent who greets them at the airport.

Julie Sergent, a consultant in the hospitality industry, made three unsuccessful attempts to leave the country to spend time with her family after her father’s death.

She said that in late July, a month after her most recent attempt, officials told her that her situation did not qualify for re-entry, questioning why she would still need to grieve with her family when so much time had passed since her father’s funeral.

“I promote Japan; I want the country to do well,” she said. But, she added, “if this situation drags on too long, I might take the decision to leave Japan and move to a country where I have more rights.”

Immigration officials said they could not comment about individual cases.

The travel rules have also made it harder for many people to do business. Mark Borer, a permanent resident of Japan, where he has lived for 25 years, owns a small plastics recycling company in Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, that employs some 20 people, including six workers from Vietnam. He also has a real estate business in the United States.

The restrictions have hampered both ventures, he said in a recent phone call, noting that he and his employees alike had been unable to travel for either business or personal matters since April, when Japan briefly declared a national emergency.

“I really love the country, and I’ve been here half my life,” he said, but “it’s a punch in the gut.”

If the restrictions are not lifted in the next few months, he said, “you’re forced to think maybe we need to end up selling or closing down the business here.”

It’s not just foreign-owned businesses that have been affected. Japanese construction companies, said Gordon Hatton, co-chairman of the real estate committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, have become increasingly reliant on foreign workers to fulfill a range of functions from manual labor to structural engineering.

If foreign employees “have to leave for some personal reason and they can’t come back,” he said, “that’s a huge waste for the Japanese companies as well, not just these individuals, so it has an impact on the bigger economy.”

Aware of foreign residents’ concerns, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last month that Japan would loosen some of the rules. On Wednesday, immigration officials said at a news conference that they had begun readmitting those who left before the start of the restrictions in April.

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Credit…Issei Kato/Reuters

But even as they moved to loosen restrictions, officials added 17 countries to the re-entry ban list and instituted a rule requiring that travelers take a coronavirus test and receive a negative result no more than 72 hours before departing for Japan. That may be impossible for residents who are stuck in countries where tests are in short supply or results come slowly.

The Asahi Shimbun, a leading newspaper, reported that Japan would initially allow an additional 500 foreigners a day to re-enter. That low figure, as well as the uncertainty over how the loosening would be carried out, has led people like Keifer Castigador, an engineer from the Philippines who left Japan in late February, to be wary of trying to return.

Mr. Castigador went to the Philippines to help his wife recover from an emergency cesarean section. He tried to return in May, when Japan announced that it was reopening to residents who had qualified for a humanitarian exemption. He confirmed his status with Japanese officials, but when he tried to re-enter the country, he was turned away, he said.

He was held in detention for a night at his own expense and returned to the Philippines, he said, where he had to go into quarantine. He is now waiting to see how the new rules play out before he tries to return.

“We’re sitting it out this time because it was too much for us last time,” he said.

For Mr. Mazziotta, the English teacher, the experience has left an indelible impression. He has applied to the Japanese Embassy in South Africa for permission to return under the new rules, but has not yet heard back. His Japanese work visa runs out in September, and with no clarity about when he will be allowed to return, he is beginning to lose hope.

“Even if I can go back,” he said, “I wonder if the mountain that has been built is too difficult to climb.”

Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.

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On One Block in Brooklyn, the City’s Economic Turmoil Is on Full Display

The roots of one store on the block extend to Mexico, from where a 13-year-old boy left for the United States decades ago and found his footing in the food industry.

A drugstore is owned by a pharmacist lured to the neighborhood from the Midwest by an acquaintance. Another shop is run by a man from the Dominican Republic who began working there nearly 30 years ago

Now these storefronts in the 4400 block of Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a collection of restaurants, bodegas and mom-and-pop shops largely run by immigrants, are in many ways emblematic of the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on New York’s small businesses.

Nearly 90 percent of the city’s restaurants and bars paid none or only part of their May rent, according to a survey by the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a business group. Nearly two-thirds of ground-floor commercial tenants, from bodegas to nail salons to boutiques, did not pay rent in May and June, according to the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents thousands of property owners.

As the city reopens, many mom-and-pop shops will not return, while others are struggling to survive.

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Credit…Ismail Ferdous for The New York Times

When the pandemic erupted in New York in March, the Soriano family made the difficult decision to shut down its butcher and grocery store for all of April. A relative, as well as friends, had died of the virus, and the family worried about its spread.

A month’s worth of income vanished. The store, which reopened in May, has not recovered. The employees’ schedules have been cut back. The staff of five butchers has been reduced to three. And the store now closes at 7 p.m. — not at 9, as it had before — because the former rush of customers has disappeared.

“A lot of the community is out a job,” said Dennis Soriano, 27, who owns El Rancho with his parents and brothers.

His father, Felix, left Mexico for the United States at 13 by himself, eventually moving to New York and working his way up in the food industry, from dishwasher to head chef of a restaurant in Chelsea.

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Credit…Ismail Ferdous for The New York Times

The family opened the butcher shop about five years ago cater-corner from a Key Food supermarket. But El Rancho specializes in cuts of beef and pork not found at most grocers, like tripe, al pastor, cecina (salted beef) and longaniza, a sausage similar to chorizo.

Even after El Rancho reopened, many customers could not afford the groceries or use food stamps. The store’s food stamp permit expired during the pandemic, and it could not file for a renewal until recently because of the shutdown, Dennis Soriano said.

Since May, the store has yet to make a profit, he said. In recent weeks, the store’s expenses soared when pork and beef prices skyrocketed. A weekly order of meat and groceries to stock the store, which typically cost $1,500, jumped to as much as $4,000. Prices have since started to return to normal, he said.

The family did not want anyone to leave hungry, so El Rancho has extended informal lines of credit to customers, totaling about $8,000 a month Mr. Soriano said. The store has given away boxes of produce and meat to about 450 families.

“It’s a special block,” he said. “It’s a special community. And it’s built by immigrants.”

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Credit…Ismail Ferdous for The New York Times

The conveyor of clothes at Bay Ridge French Cleaners is a time capsule from March 14, its last full day of business.

Pressed button-down shirts hang in plastic bags. Hemmed jeans wait for their owners. About the only items being cleaned nowadays are police uniforms.

The pandemic has turned the economy upside down. Dry cleaners were allowed to remain open as “essential” businesses, but at the same time, they were less essential than ever.

For more than three months, working professionals have traded their collared shirts, dresses and suits for comfortable work-from-home attire. If a customer does show up, it’s usually to say hello.

“The situation is really, really, really bad,” said Alex, 52, the owner, who started working at the front counter in 1992, a few years after he immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. He asked that his last name not be published.

When Alex turns on the conveyor and watches clothes swing by, he is reminded of the lost income. Customers do not pay until they pick up.

On a recent afternoon, he pulled a plastic bag off the rack and placed it on the counter: Three tailored pants for a man named Victor. He died from the coronavirus, Alex said.

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Credit…Ismail Ferdous for The New York Times

Bay Ridge French Cleaners was started by an immigrant from Cuba in 1980, and Alex bought the cleaners and the entire building in 2004.

The business has never made Alex particularly wealthy — he is the only full-time employee — but he made enough over the years to buy a three-story home for his family about 150 feet from the store.

The shop had been in decline for years, he said, as office workers who had lived in the neighborhood retired or moved. The new residents, he said, cannot afford to have items dry cleaned as often and, in a sign of modern work culture, they increasingly wear clothes that can be washed at home.

Alex said he has spent the past months thinking a lot about the future of Bay Ridge French Cleaners. If he did not own the property, he said, he would have had to close it long ago because of rising rents. A vacant storefront down the street is for lease for about $8,000 a month.

“I have no choice right now,” Alex said about keeping the store open. “But if I had the chance, I would close.”

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Credit…Ismail Ferdous for The New York Times

In 1984, Gopesh Patel bought a one-way ticket from Chicago to La Guardia Airport and hopped in a car for Sunset Park. It was his first time in New York City. At the corner of Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, Dr. Patel met a friend of a friend who had bought a drugstore there.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.