Posted on

Mask Mandate? In a Montana Town, It ‘Puts Us at Odds With Customers’

HAMILTON, Mont. — Outside River Rising Bakery sits an older gentleman, his face uncovered. He’s here every morning, greeting customers as he drinks his coffee and reads. Inside, people mill about, waiting to order. A group of moms chat at a corner table.

The employees wear masks, but patrons are not required to. Most don’t. It feels almost normal. As if the pandemic had never happened.

Half a block away in Hamilton, at Big Creek Coffee Roasters, most customers don’t go inside; instead they wait to order at a makeshift to-go window. There are a lot of strollers and Lululemon tights, and most people in the line are wearing a mask. If anyone did go inside, wearing one would be mandatory.

One Montana block, two small businesses — and two different decisions about asking customers to wear masks.

This summer, the governor, Steve Bullock, mandated face coverings in public spaces to combat a spike in Covid-19 cases. But the sheriff in Hamilton, backed up by the Ravalli County commissioners, elected not to enforce the order, saying individual rights took priority. That decision left small businesses stuck in the middle of a months-long national conflict over mask wearing as they try to keep staff safe and their doors open without alienating customers.

Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

For the owner of River Rising, Nicki Ransier, the commissioners’ decision made her life easier: “It kind of took some pressure off of us, because we’re not having that confrontation with our customers when they walk in.”

Before the governor’s order, Ms. Ransier asked her staff to wear masks, but a few customers berated her employees — some of whom are in high school — over the decision. One customer told the staff that they were “bending the knee to tyranny” by following Mr. Bullock’s order.

Other patrons wanted Ms. Ransier to flatly require masks for all and install costly plexiglass barriers. She felt she couldn’t please anyone, so she decided her policy would focus on what she could control: employees. She would let customers choose, but ask her 14 workers to wear masks even though it can be hot and miserable.

“We have a lot of older customers,” Ms. Ransier said. “And in my heart, I was just like, ‘What if I were to get Bob — the man who sits out front every day — or someone sick?’ I would just feel horrible.”

But the commissioners’ move frustrated Randy Lint, the owner of Big Creek Coffee Roasters. He thought the governor’s order would put an end to mask conflicts. Instead, he said, the commissioners’ decision “puts us at odds with customers.”


Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

“Dealing with fallout from stressed customers has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic,” Mr. Lint said.

He’s thankful for the to-go window and the reprieve it offers — at least while the weather is nice. He added a propane heater to extend the outdoor season, but once winter hits and customers come indoors, he knows his policy will be an issue again. Still, he said, he can’t risk having any of his seven staff members contract Covid-19. If one did, he would have to shut down for two weeks so everyone could quarantine. Mr. Lint said he wasn’t sure he could survive that experience emotionally.

“The danger is that it will all crush my spirit,” he said.

It’s a fear based in reality: Down the block, Naps Grill, one of the town’s busiest restaurants, recently chose to close temporarily after several workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Complicating the choice for business owners and customers alike is that the pandemic has been slow to affect Ravalli County, which is part of the Bitterroot Valley, an approximately 100-mile strip of isolated southwestern Montana. The county is 2,400 square miles — nearly as large as Delaware — but it has had just over 300 cases of the coronavirus and four deaths from Covid-19 since March. More than one-quarter of those cases have cropped up in the past week and caused several local schools to shut down for multiple days. And with the area’s reliance on tourists for hunting season and an influx of pandemic refugees from more populous states, anything could happen this fall.


Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

The town, with just under 5,000 residents, is home to Rocky Mountain Laboratories, where researchers are trying to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. It is also the county seat, luring many to shop and do business, and is a gateway to serious trout streams and other outdoor recreation. That means everyone is mixing on Main Street: white collar, blue collar, wealthy ranchers, scientists, lifelong bartenders, multigeneration residents, tourists, hunters, kayakers, conservatives and liberals.

There is an uneasy truce between newcomers with high-paying jobs who are looking for the Montana lifestyle and longtime Bitterrooters, whose wages have been slow to rise even as the median home price in the county has risen 60 percent since January 2017. The longtimers feel pushed out.

“We are scrupulously apolitical,” Mr. Lint said, who has lived in Hamilton for 25 years. “It’s a survival mechanism. We have a lot of old Bitterrooters who wouldn’t come in here otherwise. We just try to give a good drink and kindness.”

That’s the refrain up and down the block. Most owners, whatever their politics, keep their business’ social media and public statements staunchly neutral. But masks have become a very public symbol onto which people imprint their own assumptions.


Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

“It’s quite exhausting,” said Shawn Wathen, a co-owner of Chapter One Book Store, which is cater-corner from Big Creek. “If we could go one day and not have to talk about masks — that would be just quite astonishing.”

“The governor’s order was supposed to handle that for us so that we could focus on staying open as a business, right?” added the other owner, Mara Lynn Luther. “And that’s so frustrating.”

Chapter One has been a staple in Hamilton since 1974, and both Ms. Luther and Mr. Wathen were employees before becoming the owners. They jokingly call themselves bartenders — because customers bring them their biggest problems. It’s a real exercise in trust, for example, when someone asks them to order a title on mental health or how to save their marriage. They love the hours they spend talking about books and big ideas with shoppers.


Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

Recently, an elderly woman came in and lashed out when she was told that the store required masks. Instead of kicking out her longtime customer or using harsh words, Ms. Luther asked if the woman was OK. The two chatted, and Ms. Luther learned that the woman, unable to see facial expressions, was genuinely frightened to see people in masks. Now when the woman comes in, Ms. Luther said, she masks without complaint.

“Do we always share the same views and values as our whole community? No,” Ms. Luther said. “But for years we’ve just kept these lines of communication open and really made an effort to never make someone feel like we shut the door on them.”

Across the street at Big Sky Candy, the owners, Michele DeGroot and her daughter, Marlena Fehr, made a different decision: They are not asking patrons to mask while browsing the chocolates, truffles, toffees, fudge and caramels. The pair have been making the goodies from scratch for 19 years, and they love having people who came in as kids bring their own children now.


Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

That community connection is partly why they decided not to enforce the governor’s mask mandate: They didn’t want anyone to feel bad in a place that is supposed to bring joy. So instead of the “masks required” sign, a note on their front door says they won’t be enforcing the order and adds, in part: “BASICALLY, it’s up to you. You do what you feel is right for you. We will not judge you. The rest of the world does enough judging. We don’t need that here. We love each and every one of you.”


Credit…Lido Vizzutti for The New York Times

That’s how Ms. Ransier of River Rising feels about her customers: She loves them all. She cries when talking about how much they mean to her, and how Covid helped show her how much the cafe meant to them. When the pandemic hit, she said, her “old curmudgeon regulars” were the first to step up and offer cash donations to help keep her afloat.

“I didn’t even think they really cared, as long as we have their pastry,” she said. “But those ranchers, you know, they aren’t going to be wearing their heart on their sleeve. There’s always something good that comes out of everything.”

It’s bittersweet because she recently sold the business to her landlord, Fenn Nelson. The two had been in discussions since before the pandemic, and the timing finally worked out.

So far, Mr. Nelson is not planning any significant changes to the menu, the staff or the mask policy. At his other business, the microbrewery Higherground Brewing Company, he strongly encourages customers to wear masks inside but doesn’t make staff insist.

“At one level, I feel like I should push for more for masks,” Mr. Nelson said. “But on the other side, I feel like, at what cost? For us to survive, we need everyone as customers.”

Posted on

How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans in January that they didn’t need to wear masks, Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at the Mayo Clinic and the editor of the Blood Cancer Journal, couldn’t believe his ears.

But he kept silent until Zeynep Tufekci (pronounced ZAY-nep too-FEK-chee), a sociologist he had met on Twitter, wrote that the C.D.C. had blundered by saying protective face coverings should be worn by health workers but not ordinary people.

“Here I am, the editor of a journal in a high profile institution, yet I didn’t have the guts to speak out that it just doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Rajkumar told me. “Everybody should be wearing masks.”

Dr. Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science with no obvious qualifications in epidemiology, came out against the C.D.C. recommendation in a March 1 tweetstorm before expanding on her criticism in a March 17 Op-Ed article for The New York Times.

The C.D.C. changed its tune in April, advising all Americans above the age of 2 to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Michael Basso, a senior health scientist at the agency who had been pushing internally to recommend masks, told me Dr. Tufekci’s public criticism of the agency was the “tipping point.”

In recent years, many public voices have gotten the big things wrong — election forecasts, the effects of digital media on American politics, the risk of a pandemic. Dr. Tufekci, a 40-something who speaks a mile a minute with a light Turkish accent, has none of the trappings of the celebrity academic or the professional pundit. But long before she became perhaps the only good amateur epidemiologist, she had quietly made a habit of being right on the big things.

And the success of Dr. Tufekci and others like her at seeing clearly in our murky time represents a kind of revenge of the nerds, as outsiders from American politics and from Silicon Valley’s pressure to align money and ideology sometimes see what insiders don’t.

Credit…Julia Reinhart/ Getty Images

In 2011, she went against the current to say the case for Twitter as a driver of broad social movements had been oversimplified. In 2012, she warned news media outlets that their coverage of school shootings could inspire more. In 2013, she argued that Facebook could fuel ethnic cleansing. In 2017, she warned that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm could be used as a tool of radicalization.

And when it came to the pandemic, she sounded the alarm early while also fighting to keep parks and beaches open.

“I’ve just been struck by how right she has been,” said Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School.

I was curious to know how Dr. Tufekci had gotten so many things right in a confusing time, so we spoke last week over FaceTime. She told me she chalks up her habits of mind in part to a childhood she wouldn’t wish on anyone.

“A bunch of things came together, which I’m happy I survived,” she said, sitting outside a brick house she rents for $2,300 a month in Chapel Hill, N.C., where she is raising her 11-year-old son as a single parent. “But the way they came together was not super happy, when it was happening.”

These are, by her lights, the ingredients in seeing clearly:

  • An international point of view she picked up while bouncing as a child between Turkey and Belgium and then working in the United States.

  • Knowledge that spans subject areas and academic disciplines, which she happened onto as a computer programmer who got into sociology.

  • A habit of complex, systems-based thinking, which led her to a tough critique in The Atlantic of America’s news media in the run-up to the pandemic.

Add those things to a skill at moving journalism and policy through a kind of inside game, and Dr. Tufekci has had a remarkable impact. But it began, she says, with growing up in an unhappy home in Istanbul. She said her alcoholic mother was liable to toss her into the street in the early hours of the morning. She found some solace in science fiction — Ursula K. Le Guin was a favorite — and in the optimistic, early internet.

In the mid-1990s, still a teenager, she moved out. Soon she found a job nearby as a programmer for IBM. She was an office misfit, a casually dressed young woman among the suits, but she fell in love with the company’s internal bulletin board. She liked it that a colleague in Japan wouldn’t know her age or gender when she asked a technical question.

She stumbled onto the wellspring of her career when she discovered an email list, the Zapatista Solidarity Network, centered on Indigenous activists in southern Mexico who had taken up arms against neoliberalism in general and land privatization imposed by the North American Free Trade Agreement in particular. For Dr. Tufekci, the network provided a community of digital friends and intellectual sparring partners.

In 1998, she traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, and saw that the Zapatistas themselves were engaged in a traditional peasant uprising, the kind of thing that might have happened decades earlier. But now there was something new: the online global community around them. Perhaps because of a kind of egalitarian nerd ideology that has served her well, she never sought to meet the rebels’ charismatic leader, known as Subcomandante Marcos.

“I have a thing that fame and charisma screws with your head,” she said. “I’ve made an enormous effort throughout my life to preserve my thinking.”

Dr. Tufekci is the only person I’ve ever spoken with who believes that the modern age began with Zapatista Solidarity. For her, it was a first flicker of the “bottom-up globalization” that she sees as the shadow of capitalism’s glossy spread. She claims that her theory has nothing to do with how the movement affected her personally.


Credit…Gene Chavez

She got a PhD. from the University of Texas at Austin studying what she calls “techno-sociology” and became obsessed with how digital media could change society during the Twitter-fueled social movements of the late aughts — the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Gezi Park in her native Turkey.

While many American thinkers were wide-eyed about the revolutionary potential of social media, she developed a more complex view, one she expressed when she found herself sitting to the left of Teddy Goff, the digital director for President Obama’s re-election campaign, at a South by Southwest panel in Austin in 2012.

Mr. Goff was enthusing about the campaign’s ability to send different messages to individual voters based on the digital data it had gathered about them. Dr. Tufekci quickly objected to the practice, saying that microtargeting would more likely be used to sow division.

More than four years later, after Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, Mr. Goff sent Dr. Tufekci a note saying she had been right.

“At a time when everybody was being stupidly optimistic about the potential of the internet, she didn’t buy the hype,” he told me. “She was very prescient in seeing that there would be a deeper rot to the role of data-driven politics in our world.”

Dr. Tufekci’s views on tech were not uncommon among the small group of sociologists focused on new technologies. But she delivered her skeptical take at a time when the social sciences and qualitative research had fallen out of fashion. The rise of digital was all about the numbers, and the Tech machers and their cheerleaders in academe were suspicious of anything that could not be quantified. Big data had elbowed out sociological observation.

Many tech journalists, entranced by the internet-fueled movements sweeping the globe, were slow to spot the ways they might fail, or how social media could be used against them. Dr. Tufekci, though, had “seen movement after movement falter because of a lack of organizational depth and experience, of tools or culture for collective decision making, and strategic, long-term action,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “Twitter and Tear Gas.”

That is, the same social-media savvy that hastened their rise sometimes left them “unable to engage in the tactical and decision-making maneuvers all movements must master to survive,” she wrote.

That’s a lesson many social movements have learned since those days, and this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests locked in some immediate political gains. Some in Silicon Valley are taking social science more seriously these days, too. The Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey told me last fall that, if he had to do it all over again, he would have hired a social scientist to help design the service.

One of the things that makes Dr. Tufekci stand out in this gloomy moment is her lack of irony or world-weariness. She is not a prophet of doom, having hung on to an early-internet optimism that she shares with the Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and a few others.

That optimism is part of what got her into the literature of pandemics. Dr. Tufekci has taught epidemiology as a way to introduce her students to globalization and to make a point about human nature: Politicians and the news media often expect looting and crime when disaster strikes, as they did when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. But the reality on the ground has more to do with communal acts of generosity and kindness, she believes.

Public health officials seem to have had an ulterior motive when they told citizens that masks were useless: They were trying to stave off a run on protective gear that could have made it unavailable for the health care workers who needed it. Dr. Tufekci’s faith in human nature has led her to believe that the government should have trusted citizens enough to level with them, rather than jeopardize its credibility with recommendations it would later overturn.

“They didn’t trust us to tell the truth on masks,” she said. “We think of society as this Hobbesian thing, as opposed to the reality where most people are very friendly, most people are prone to solidarity.”

Dr. Tufekci’s new cause is ventilation; her vehicle is The Atlantic, which gave her a contract after she had contributed to The Times as a freelancer for many years. Ironically, just as the Times opinion department was tearing itself apart over the charge that amplifying a senator’s views could endanger protesters, the one writer who had certainly saved lives slipped out a side door. Her March column on masks was among the most influential The Times has published, although — or perhaps because —  it lacked the political edge that brings wide attention to an opinion piece.

Public health authorities are now listening to her. Two months after her Op-Ed article, Dr. Rajkumar and Dr. Tufekci took part in a conference call with World Health Organization officials who were concerned that people who had gotten in the habit of wearing masks would think they were safe and start behaving recklessly.

“No, listen, I’m a sociologist, I know that’s not true,” Dr. Tufekci told them.

Now I find myself wondering: What is she right about now? And what are the rest of us wrong about?

An area where she might be ahead of the pack is the effects of social media on society. It’s a debate she views as worryingly binary, detached from plausible solutions, with journalists homing in on the personal morality of tech heads like Mark Zuckerberg as they assume the role of mall cops for the platforms they cover.

“The real question is not whether Zuck is doing what I like or not,” she said. “The real question is why he’s getting to decide what hate speech is.”

She also suggested that we may get it wrong when we focus on individuals — on chief executives, on social media activists like her. The probable answer to a media environment that amplifies false reports and hate speech, she believes, is the return of functional governments, along with the birth of a new framework, however imperfect, that will hold the digital platforms responsible for what they host.

“It’s charmed that I get to do this, it feels good,” she said. “But in the ideal world, people like me are kind of superfluous, and we have these faceless nameless experts and bureaucrats who tell us: This is what you have to do.”

Read More

Posted on

New Safety Standards for Moviegoing as U.S. Theaters Reopen

LOS ANGELES — “Some people go to the gym. Some people go to church,” Megan Colligan, the president of Imax Entertainment, said at a news conference on Friday to mark the reopening of theaters in much of the United States. “And some people really do need to go to the movies.”

The film industry is holding its breath that she is right.

For the first time since March, when the pandemic brought much of American life to a halt, the nation’s major multiplex chains are selling tickets and serving popcorn again — although not in six states (New York, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and New Mexico) where government officials say it remains too dangerous.

To help convince the rest of the country that moviegoing is safe, Ms. Colligan and the chief executives of the four largest theater chains in the United States — AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Marcus Theaters and Regal Cinemas — appeared together via Zoom on Friday to announce uniform health protocols: mask requirements, limited capacity, no condiment stations, plexiglass partitions and enhanced air-filtration systems (or at least in top working order).

Most of the protocols, including limiting capacity to 40 percent or 50 percent (depending on the chain), had already been announced piecemeal by the companies. But consumer research, they said, indicated that moviegoers wanted to know that standards were uniform.

So they unveiled a campaign called CinemaSafe. More than 2,600 theaters operating more than 30,000 screens in the United States have signed on, according to the executives. Participating locations will display logos with a green check mark on a theater seat and the slogan “Your safety is our focus.”


Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The group also sought to position moviegoing as no different from other public activities to which many people had returned, like eating in restaurants. Dr. Joyce L. Sanchez, an infectious-disease expert at the Medical College of Wisconsin, noted that most films run about 90 minutes to two hours.

“It’s pretty similar to the time on a short-distance flight, which a lot of America is doing at this point,” she said at the news conference, which was organized by the National Association of Theater Owners, a trade group. Dr. Sanchez was not paid by the theater association to give her assessment of CinemaSafe.

But what about mask enforcement (in the dark, no less)? Some airlines have been kicking people off flights if they refuse to wear masks.

“We already do routine checks as movies are playing to make sure the sound and picture quality are excellent,” Mooky Greidinger, the chief executive of Cineworld, which owns Regal, said in a phone interview earlier in the week. “Those people will now be watching to see that people are wearing masks. These people will be opening an extra eye.”

That responsibility could pose challenges for theater workers, some of whom are teenagers. Retailers have had difficulties policing mask policies. In some instances, fights have broken out.

Mr. Greidinger said his company had already reopened its theaters in Britain and other European countries and had experienced “very, very small numbers of arguments.” Regarding mask comfort, he said: “I’m not going to say it’s the greatest. But after 10 minutes they will forget.”

This weekend, movie offerings include “Unhinged,” a road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe that will play in more than 1,800 theaters in the United States and Canada. An X-Men movie, “The New Mutants,” and a faith-based film, “Fatima,” roll out next Friday. Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated “Tenet” arrives on Sept. 3 in the United States.

Movie theater companies are desperate to begin selling tickets again. Domestic ticket sales so far this year total $1.8 billion, a 76 percent decline from the same period in 2019.

Credit…Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Regal and its competitors, however, make most of their money on concessions. But is it a good idea to be munching on popcorn — and removing one’s mask while doing so — during a movie?

Mr. Greidinger said it was. After all, he noted, everyone’s mouth will be pointed in the same direction while chewing. And chewing (with one’s mouth closed) without a mask is considered safer than speaking without one.

Dr. Sanchez seemed less certain, saying she would encourage patrons to minimize eating and drinking during a screening. She noted that respiratory droplets carrying the virus had been shown to travel up to 16 feet.

“Going to the movies is not risk free,” she said. But she did offer tips for anyone returning to a theater this weekend.

“Honor the people around you,” she said. “Speak up. Hold our movie companies accountable for what they are promising.”

Posted on

Misleading Hydroxychloroquine Video, Pushed by the Trumps, Spreads Online

In a video posted Monday online, a group of people calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” and wearing white medical coats spoke against the backdrop of the Supreme Court in Washington, sharing misleading claims about the virus, including that hydroxychloroquine was an effective coronavirus treatment and that masks did not slow the spread of the virus.

The video did not appear to be anything special. But within six hours, President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. had tweeted versions of it, and the right-wing news site Breitbart had shared it. It went viral, shared largely through Facebook groups dedicated to anti-vaccination movements and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, racking up tens of millions of views. Multiple versions of the video were uploaded to YouTube, and links were shared through Twitter.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter worked feverishly to remove it, but by the time they had, the video had already become the latest example of misinformation about the virus that has spread widely.

That was because the video had been designed specifically to appeal to internet conspiracists and conservatives eager to see the economy reopen, with a setting and characters to lend authenticity. It showed that even as social media companies have sped up response time to remove dangerous virus misinformation within hours of its posting, people have continued to find new ways around the platforms’ safeguards.

“Misinformation about a deadly virus has become political fodder, which was then spread by many individuals who are trusted by their constituencies,” said Lisa Kaplan, founder of Alethea Group, a start-up that helps fight disinformation. “If just one person listened to anyone spreading these falsehoods and they subsequently took an action that caused others to catch, spread or even die from the virus — that is one person too many.”

One of the speakers in the video, who identified herself as Dr. Stella Immanuel, said, “You don’t need masks” to prevent spread of the coronavirus. She also claimed to be treating hundreds of patients infected with coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine, and asserted that it was an effective treatment. The claims have been repeatedly disputed by the medical establishment.

President Trump repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, in the early months of the crisis. In June, he said he was taking it himself. But that same month, the Food and Drug Administration revoked emergency authorization for the drug for Covid-19 patients and said it was “unlikely to be effective” and carried potential risks. The National Institutes of Health halted clinical trials of the drug.

In addition, studies have repeatedly shown that masks are effective in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The trajectory of Monday’s video mirrored that of “Plandemic,” a 26-minute slickly produced narration that spread widely in May and falsely claimed that a shadowy cabal of elites was using the virus and a potential vaccine to profit and gain power. In just over a week, “Plandemic” was viewed more than eight million times on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before it was taken down.

But the video posted Monday had more views than “Plandemic” within hours of being posted online, even though it was removed much faster. At least one version of the video, viewed by The Times on Facebook, was watched over 16 million times.

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter deleted several versions of the video on Monday night. All three companies said the video violated their policies on sharing misinformation related to the coronavirus.

On Tuesday morning, Twitter also took action against Donald Trump Jr. after he shared a link to the video. A spokesman for Twitter said the company had ordered Mr. Trump to delete the misleading tweet and said it would “limit some account functionality for 12 hours.” Twitter took a similar action against Kelli Ward, the Arizona Republican Party chairwoman, who also tweeted the video.

No action was taken against the president, who retweeted multiple clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers Monday night. The original posts have since been removed.

When asked about the video on Tuesday, Mr. Trump continued to defend the doctors involved and the treatments they are backing.

“For some reason the internet wanted to take them down and took them off,” the president said. “I think they are very respected doctors. There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it, that she’s had tremendous success with it and they took her voice off. I don’t know why they took her off. Maybe they had a good reason, maybe they didn’t.”

Facebook and YouTube did not answer questions about multiple versions of the video that remained online on Tuesday afternoon. Twitter said it was “continuing to take action on new and existing tweets with the video.”

The members of the group behind Monday’s video say they are physicians treating patients infected with the coronavirus. But it was unclear where many of them practice medicine or how many patients they had actually seen. As early as May, anti-Obamacare conservative activists called the Tea Party Patriots Action reportedly worked with some of them to advocate loosening states’ restrictions on elective surgeries and nonemergency care. On July 15, the group registered a website called “America’s Frontline Doctors,” domain registration records show.

One of the first copies of the video that appeared on Monday was posted to the Tea Party Patriots’ YouTube channel, alongside other videos featuring the members of “America’s Frontline Doctors.”

The doctors have also been promoted by conservatives like Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, a nonprofit media organization.

Posted on

We’ll Be Wearing Masks for a While. Why Not Make Them Nice?

TOKYO — Rieko Kawanishi is the first to admit that the pearl-laden mask she designed is not the most effective defense against the coronavirus. “It’s full of holes,” she said with a laugh.

But her handmade face covering, which she recommends wearing over a regular mask, reflects a sudden burst of creative attention in the worlds of fashion and technology to a humble product that had been largely unchanged for decades.

“After the pandemic, there were so many more places where, for the first time, you absolutely had to wear a mask,” said Ms. Kawanishi, a jewelry designer in Tokyo. “I just thought, I want to make something elegant.”

As the virus continues its relentless spread, with rules on mask-wearing being tightened in many places around the world, consumers are starting to demand more of the coverings that will guard their public breaths for the foreseeable future.

In response, companies and designers have flooded the market with alternatives to the common throwaway surgical masks that spurred Ms. Kawanishi to action.

Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

Inventors have dreamed up masks with motorized air purifiers, Bluetooth speakers and even sanitizers that kill germs by heating the face covering (but hopefully not the face) to over 200 degrees. In South Korea, the electronics giant LG has created a mask powered with fans that make it easier to breathe.

In boutiques, patterned masks are showing up on mannequins, exquisitely paired with designer dresses. An Indian businessman said he spent $4,000 on a custom mask made of gold. And a French costume designer has filled Instagram with phantasmagoric designs featuring everything from pterodactyls to doll legs.

The coronavirus “has driven a rapid evolution in mask technology,” said Yukiko Iida, an expert on masks at the Environmental Control Center, a consulting company in Tokyo.

“When there’s demand, the market reacts quickly,” she said. “People are wearing them all day every day, so we’re seeing improvements in things like ease of wear and ease of communication,” she added, citing a mask with a clear front that allows people to see the wearer’s facial expressions.


Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

The urge to innovate has been great in Japan, where masks were widespread even before the pandemic, used to warm faces or protect against pollen, influenza or the unwelcome gaze of strangers.

While most people in the country are still wearing cheap white surgical masks, consumers have begun to move away from viewing face coverings as a one-and-done commodity, something picked up at a convenience store, worn a few times and tossed in the trash.

Taisuke Ono, the chief executive of a tech start-up, Donut Robotics, said he envisioned a world where people could be wearing masks on trips abroad for the next 10 years or more. If that happens, they will demand that their masks do more than just protect them from viruses, he said.

His company is building a mask that serves as a combination walkie-talkie, personal secretary and translator. It can record its users’ voice, projecting it to someone else’s smartphone — all the better for social distancing — or transmuting it from Japanese into a variety of languages.


Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

“The pandemic made this possible,” he said, noting that his prototype had generated media attention and enormous interest from investors on Makuake, a Japanese version of Kickstarter. Before, he said, “even if you made something like this, no one would invest in it, and you couldn’t sell it. Now, the global market has grown several times.”

Although the pandemic will end at some point, he added, “people will still be using masks because they’re afraid.”

While it’s unclear how well some of these more ambitious masks will fare with consumers, one innovation has been a clear hit: face coverings with high-tech fabrics that are said to provide superior comfort or protection.

As summer temperatures rise, masks made of materials intended to keep wearers cool are in demand. People who have been wearing reusable cloth masks — including those sent by the Japanese government to every household in the country — are finding them ill suited for the heat and humidity of summer in central Japan, much less Singapore or Hong Kong.


Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

Toyoshima, a Nagoya-based trading company, began collecting funds for a new mask made with military-grade nylon in mid-April. It raised over $1.2 million — more than 13,000 percent of its goal.

Customers told the company that they wanted a highly effective mask that was also fashionable, said Koki Yamagata, who leads the company’s crowdfunding initiatives.

“A lot of people said that they wanted more colors,” he said as he modeled a white version of the mask, which retails for around $50, on a Zoom call. The products have not generated much profit, he said, adding that the company began making them partly out of a sense of social responsibility.

Other Japanese companies have followed suit. Tadashi Yanai, the founder of Uniqlo, the giant clothing retailer, insisted that his company would not sell masks, but changed his mind after customers clamored for a product made from the brand’s high-performance, fast-drying fabric.

The masks sold out immediately, and the company has committed to making 500,000 packs a week, according to a spokesman, Aldo Liguori, who said that the company was now planning to sell them overseas, as well.


Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

For some clothing makers, producing masks has been a necessity, with retail sales slowing considerably as consumers stay home.

Many “factories haven’t had much to do for two or three months, so they’re saying ‘Why don’t we make cloth masks?’” said Kensuke Kojima, a product consultant for the fashion industry.

These Japanese producers have entered a market that had seen only incremental changes over the decades, like masks that came in different colors or offered no-smear coatings to protect makeup.

While medical practitioners have worn masks of one sort or another for hundreds if not thousands of years, the masks worn today were first developed in the late 19th century for use during surgeries.

They were first employed to fight epidemics in the early 20th century, when Wu Lien-teh, a doctor of Chinese descent, began promoting simple gauze masks as an effective method for battling an outbreak of pneumonic plague in a part of northeastern China then known as Manchuria.


Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

When the Spanish flu hit in 1918, the practice went global for the first time.

While masks soon fell out of favor in most countries, the Japanese government continued encouraging their use for fighting common illnesses like the flu, said Christos Lynteris, a medical anthropologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

The ubiquity of surgical masks in Japan, which are typically made of nonwoven synthetic materials, has risen and fallen over the years as the country confronted different health issues and crises.

In the 1990s, they became a popular defense against clouds of seasonal pollen created by fast-growing trees, like cypress, planted across the country to provide a source of cheap timber.

In 2011, after the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, mask stocks ran low as consumers feared radioactive fallout. And in the following years, drastic increases in pollution from China drove more demand, particularly in the winter.

But, even in Japan, it took a pandemic to push mask sales into the stratosphere, with face coverings in such short supply early on that people were lining up at the crack of dawn to buy a box.

Months later, masks are abundant, and shops in Harajuku, the youth fashion mecca, are increasingly putting them on prominent display. On Takeshita Street, storefronts are lined with masks ranging from the playful (plush animal faces) to the punk-inspired (leather straps studded with spikes and safety pins).


Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

Although these masks may be fashionable, buyers should beware, said Kazunari Onishi, an expert on infectious diseases at the Graduate School of Public Health at St. Luke’s International University in Tokyo.

“You must choose a mask that meets the national standards,” he said, adding that “other types of masks are not intended to be used against infection.”

“If your priority is reliably preventing infection, these masks will not protect your life,” he said, adding that even if you wear a mask, “you must maintain a safe social distance.”

Posted on

Walmart to Require Masks in Stores

Walmart will begin requiring that all of its customers wear masks in its stores, starting on Monday.

The new rule from the nation’s largest retailer, with more than 5,000 stores nationwide, is a strong statement about wearing masks in public space at a time when the issue has become politicized.

In a statement, Walmart said that 65 percent of its stores, which include Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs, are in areas where there was already some form of government mandate to wear masks.

At Sam’s Clubs, the company said that it would provide complimentary masks to customers that did not already have one. (Sam’s Club customers have to pay a membership fee to shop there.)

But in Walmart stores — which are far more numerous — the details for this new policy are still being ironed out.

The company said it was creating a new job called a “health ambassador.” That person will be stationed next to the front door and will remind customers of the new rule.

“Ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers,’’ Walmart said, and “will work with those who show up at a store without a face covering to find a solution that works for everyone.”

The retailer did not immediately identify what those possible solutions might be or say that it would provide masks to customers who didn’t have one. Retailer workers around the country have faced heated and even violent confrontations when they remind customers to cover their faces.

Walmart joins a growing list of companies that are requiring customers to wear masks, including Starbucks and Best Buy.

Walmart’s massive reach has reshaped communities nationwide and in the past it has largely avoided publicly wading into any politicized debates. A notable exception came last year when it announced it would stop selling ammunition that can be used in military-style assault rifles and would discourage its customers from openly carrying guns in its stores. It also called on Congress to increase background checks and consider a new assault rifle ban.

Read More

Posted on

Disney World Draws Excitement and Incredulity as Reopening Nears

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., will reopen on Saturday, and Disney has been posting marketing videos online to highlight the safety procedures it has designed to protect visitors and employees.

“I feel safe because Disney has gone above and beyond what they needed to do,” an employee named Sam says in one of them while standing near Fantasyland.

Some of the 1,000-plus responses to that particular video were supportive. Others were incredulous, with people using words like “irresponsible” and “disappointing.” Disney World is reopening? When coronavirus infections have soared in Florida? “You gotta be kidding,” wrote Alexander Jones, a Seattle motion graphics artist.

The pandemic has devastated Disney’s businesses, and reopening its signature tourist attraction — with restricted capacity and government approval — is a major part of the company’s comeback attempt. But in doing so Disney is stepping into a politicized debate surrounding the virus and efforts to keep people safe, where even the wearing of masks has become a point of bitter contention.

Complicating matters, Disney is allowing people to return to a modified Disney World while other parts of its empire remain closed. “Mulan” was supposed to arrive in movie theaters on July 24, but Disney postponed the release to Aug. 21 because of surging coronavirus cases nationwide and the likely unavailability of theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, recently slowed down the reopening of theme parks in California, including Disneyland, which had been scheduled to come back on July 17.

Credit…Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press

The Florida Department of Health reported 7,347 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, with 1,179 in the central part of the state, which includes Orlando. Those numbers are down from last week but still among the highest in the country, leading some to question whether Disney is being responsible in opening up Disney World.

“The world is changing around us, but we strongly believe that we can open safely and responsibly,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park chairman, said in an interview. “For those that might have questions or concerns, when they see how we are operating and the aggressive protocols that we have put in place, they will understand.

“This is our new normal. Our new reality,” he continued. “Covid is here, and we have a responsibility to figure out the best approach to safely operate in this new normal. Businesses across the country are open, whether it’s a local pizza shop in Orlando or an airline taking on new guests.”

Mr. D’Amaro said Disney’s four theme parks in Asia had reopened “without incident.” He declined to say how many people would be allowed into Disney’s Florida parks, though he said visitors should expect a “sparse” atmosphere, rather than the usual crowds. Shanghai Disneyland initially limited attendance to about 20 percent of its pre-outbreak capacity.

County and state officials have approved Disney World’s reopening plan. Unions representing roughly 48,000 Disney World employees have signed agreements with Disney to return to work under rigid safety protocols. Many fans are ready to visit. When Disney began taking park reservations on June 24 — you can no longer walk up and buy a ticket, allowing the company to restrict capacity — the surge of interest crashed the booking system; some reservation blocks were gone within minutes.

And competing attractions resumed operations weeks ago. Universal reopened its three Orlando theme parks on June 5, while SeaWorld Orlando brought back its rides and marine exhibits on June 11. Legoland in Winter Haven and Busch Gardens in Tampa have also been selling tickets again. Legoland doesn’t require masks.


Credit…Gregg Newton/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But none of those places has the prominence of Disney World, which consists of six separately ticketed parks with combined annual attendance of 93 million. The two most popular ones, the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom, will reopen on Saturday. Disney World’s other major parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, are set to reopen next Wednesday. Two water parks will remain closed. Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping mall, reopened on May 20. The National Basketball Association will restart its season on July 30 at a Disney World sports facility.

For visitors, the Disney World experience will be drastically different. Parades, fireworks and most indoor shows have been suspended. There will be no opportunities to hug Mickey Mouse or other costumed characters. Fingerprint scanners will not be used at park entrances.

Disney, known for its militaristic style of theme park management, will require face coverings for all employees and visitors over the age of 2. Disney will also take temperatures, leave seats empty on rides and run loudspeaker announcements urging people to frequently wash their hands. Plexiglass partitions have been installed in shops and restaurants. Disney has added 4,000 hand-sanitizing stations.

“Disney’s approach seems reasonable,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who is part a group that will review vaccine data as advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If Disney strictly enforces the safety procedures it has outlined — no exceptions — it will keep the risk very low for visitors and employees.”

Even so, he said, anyone over the age of 60 should postpone visiting.

Some Disney World employees have said they do not feel safe returning to work under the conditions that Disney has laid out. Actors’ Equity, which represents about 750 Disney World performers, has been sparring with the company over coronavirus testing. The union has refused to allow members to return to work until Disney provides regular tests. Company-orchestrated testing is not part of Disney’s back-to-work plan for any of its park employees. (Disney World employs roughly 75,000 people.)

“It is deeply disturbing that while coronavirus cases in Florida surge, Disney is refusing to provide regular testing to one of the few groups of workers in the park who by the very nature of their jobs cannot use personal protective equipment,” Mary McColl, executive director of the Actors’ Equity Association, said in a statement last week.

A spokeswoman for Disney Parks and Experiences, Alannah Hall-Smith, said in an email on Tuesday that Actors’ Equity members would remain on furlough. “We’ve decided to move forward with our phased reopening without their participation,” she said.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Updated July 7, 2020

    • 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.

    • 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 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.