Masks … Off? – The New York Times

And information about antivirals, from Times reporters and readers.
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New York City’s education department placed dozens of school employees on unpaid leave, saying they had presented fake vaccine cards.
International travelers will continue to need proof of vaccination to enter the U.S. by land or ferry.
Several U.S. airlines will allow some passengers who had been barred for mask rule violations to fly again.
Find the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.
This has been quite the week for face coverings in the U.S.
On Monday, Philadelphia became the first major American city this spring to reinstate its mask requirement, which was set in motion when cases reached a certain level. Yesterday, the city’s health department announced that the mandate would be lifted, as cases appeared to plateau.
What’s next is anyone’s guess, especially when it comes to public transportation. (Here’s a regularly updated guide to the shifting regulations.)
The legal battle also looks, well, like a real chin-scratcher.
In a news analysis, my colleagues Charlie Savage and Sharon LaFraniere examine why the U.S. Justice Department has not asked for a stay in the mask mandate case, even though it is moving forward with a high-profile appeal that was requested by the C.D.C.
“The administration may instead be buying time and thinking about trying to erase the ruling — a move that would allow it to protect the powers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to respond to a future crisis — but without reviving a mask mandate,” Charlie and Sharon argue.
But masks are not the only things that can protect us against the ongoing threats of the pandemic.
Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, the chief health officer of Indiana University, writes in a Times opinion piece that one of the most important interventions is acquiring better ventilation with superior filtration capabilities. He also emphasizes that robust sick leave and work accommodations for people at high-risk, especially immunocompromised people, would minimize viral spread and hospitalizations.
Germicidal ultraviolet light is even more effective than filtration, three researchers argue in the Opinion section. Instead of putting the onus on individuals, they write, “there are ways that building owners can make indoor environments safer by disinfecting indoor air.”
It’s a classic pandemic conundrum: Is it my responsibility, or is it society’s responsibility? What do I owe the people around me — especially if they are vulnerable? Food for thought, for a spring weekend.
Last week, we asked readers about their experiences with antiviral pills. Almost 200 people wrote in to share their stories. I learned so much from your experiences and am grateful for the trust you placed in us to share them.
But first, I want to refer you to a whip-smart Times resource on antivirals, written by Knvul Sheikh, a reporter on the Well desk.
“Basically anyone who is eligible would really benefit from antivirals,” Knvul told me. “They could have fewer symptoms. They could recover faster. They are less likely to have to go a hospital. And some researchers suspect that antivirals may even reduce the chances of getting long Covid down the line, though there aren’t any studies to support that hypothesis yet.”
Eligibility is more expansive than you might think, Knvul said.
“We usually just talk about people 65 years old or older and those with heart disease, cancer, diabetes or obesity,” she said. But people with asthma, ADHD, depression, an H.I.V. infection or kidney disease are also eligible, as are current or former smokers.
“If you start to feel sick, don’t hesitate to take a Covid test and get the antiviral prescription you need sooner rather than later,” she said. “There’s only a short time frame when you can get the pills. If you wait more than five days after symptoms appear, you may no longer be eligible.”
Now, on to your stories.
For many readers, it was easy-peasy.
“Cost: $0,” wrote Beverly Pelzner Kalban, 69, who lives in Brooklyn. “I did not experience any major discomfort other than trying to extricate the rather large pills from the foil packaging.”
But some readers, especially those living in rural areas, struggled to find the drugs. They weren’t alone, a Times columnist Zeynep Tufekci writes in our Opinion section: “The medications remain hard to get for many, despite supplies.”
Catherine Butler, 66, lives in Washington, D.C., but tested positive while in Florida. “It took me all day,” Catherine writes. Her primary care doctor and one pharmacy could not prescribe it on a virtual visit; another pharmacy needed a PCR test, the results of which would take two days. Another doctor who did not take her insurance offered ivermectin instead.
After a few more calls, Catherine finally found the treatment. “The news had made it seem that this medication would be easy to get,” Catherine wrote. “It wasn’t!”
A tip: Try telehealth visits, act quickly and know you may be in for a drive.
Many readers pointed out that they don’t know how they would have fared without antiviral treatments.
Dr. Nancy Simpkins, in Essex County, N.J., said she had been skeptical and hesitant to prescribe antivirals — until she tested positive. She did not take Paxlovid and struggled with severe Covid symptoms.
“Then several members of my family developed Covid and they were not as stubborn as I was; I gave them Paxlovid, and their course was markedly less than mine.” Dr. Simpkins now prescribes it to many patients and said it “intercepted the virus from causing severe symptoms” in all of them.
Many readers said they believed they had a much easier course of the virus while taking antiviral medications than they otherwise would have.
The Rev. Dr. Andy Anderson, a 66-year-old Episcopal priest in Northern Virginia, tested positive three Mondays ago.
“My good Roman Catholic doctor knew I needed to be well by the start of Holy Week on Palm Sunday,” he said, April 10. By the Thursday before, Anderson said, he turned the corner. On Saturday, he tested negative and his symptoms were “completely gone.” On Sunday, he even attended Palm Sunday services.
For some, the drugs felt like a lifesaver.
Matt D., 34, is immunocompromised. “I am convinced that if I didn’t take Paxlovid, I would have ended up in the hospital,” Matt wrote. “And with three young children at home, I don’t know how everything would have shaken out.”
You may be in for some diarrhea, maybe for a few days. Remember to hydrate.
“The side effect for me has been a repeat of the very unpleasant prep for the colonoscopy. Only four more days to go. Oh joy,” wrote Bill Hoare, 71, who lives in Somers, N.Y.
And be prepared for some funky tastes:
“My mouth tasted like a metal dump truck,” wrote Paul Boehm, 73, who lives in Concord, Mass. “I had dreams of sucking on galvanized nails.”
“Made my mouth taste like a mixture of rubber and roadkill,” wrote Caren, 40, who lives in Gillette, N.J. “Chewing gum made it worse.”
“It tasted like a slice of rotten grapefruit,” wrote Abie Sidell, 29, who lives in Queens, adding, “everything tasted like nickels from your grandfather’s sock drawer.”
The bottom line: Antivirals are not always pretty, but they will significantly reduce your chances of hospitalization and death.
Routine childhood vaccinations in the U.S. lagged during the pandemic.
Covid made a high-school sports referee shortage worse.
The remaining unvaccinated players on the New York Yankees say they have gotten shots, The New York Post reports.
The pandemic has brought more robots into nursing homes. That may be a good thing.
Libraries were ready for the pandemic after expanding outdoor spaces.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator under former President Donald Trump, has written a memoir, “Silent Invasion.” Our reviewer calls it “earnest, exhaustive and excruciating.”
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
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Knvul Sheikh contributed to today’s newsletter.
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