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US to ease travel restrictions on fully vaccinated foreign visitors

The United States plans to ease travel restrictions on visitors from Europe and the United Kingdom starting in November, a person familiar with the matter told CNN Monday.

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Leslie Bricusse, ‘Willy Wonka’ and ‘Goldfinger’ songwriter, dead at 90
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What If We Just Gave Renters Money?
In an obscure but public meeting last week, local and federal housing officials discussed a controversial idea that could transform U.S housing policy: What if the government gave money directly to renters, rather than relying on a complicated voucher system that drives both tenants and landlords up the wall? You’ve heard of universal basic income. What about universal basic rent?The status quo is not working particularly well. More than half a million Americans experience homelessness on any given night, housing stock is in too-short supply, and rent and mortgage payments consistently rank among the heftiest bills families have to bear. For decades, most federal housing assistance has come in the form of a voucher program known as Section 8. But the program is cumbersome and bureaucratic. Landlords are often reluctant to jump through the government’s regulatory hoops to get the money, so they opt out. Because of funding constraints, only a quarter of those eligible for vouchers even get one, and those lucky few often must scour dozens of ads before finding even one unit that might accept the subsidy.President Joe Biden promised during his campaign to make these vouchers available to all low-income families who qualify, and Congress is debating a measure as part of his economic package that would add roughly 750,000 more vouchers to the program. If it becomes law, that expansion would surely help some Americans find homes. But it wouldn’t solve the underlying problem: Most landlords don’t want to rent to voucher recipients.[Read: How housing policy is failing America’s poor]The coronavirus pandemic showed the viability of an alternative path—one that officials in Biden’s administration now seem willing to at least discuss. Congress tried a lot of things to help people struggling with the economic fallout from COVID-19. One initiative, a government-administered eviction-prevention program, has been mired in paperwork and delays, and only one-fifth of the money the feds allotted to it has been distributed. Another program, in which the IRS simply mailed Americans stimulus checks, got money in people’s hands right away.These recent experiences might inform federal leaders as they research new ways to improve housing assistance. Last Thursday, at a public meeting organized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, policy experts and housing-authority officials considered new voucher-program ideas that could merit formal study. Making vouchers more like cash for renters, as opposed to subsidies for landlords, was one of the top three ideas that emerged from the meeting, and it will be explored further at a second gathering later this month. The leading proposals could be tested under a HUD program known as Moving to Work, which has been around since 1996 but was expanded by Congress in 2016.Distributing rental subsidies as cash was the second-most-popular idea discussed at the meeting, and participants acknowledged that it could involve a cost-saving element, too, as it would reduce, or even eliminate, the need for regular HUD inspections of voucher-eligible housing. At the conclusion of the three-hour session, committee members voted to continue their discussion of the idea at their next scheduled meeting, on October 28.“I think it’s interesting in light of [universal basic income], and I think it would be interesting to decouple the government from trying to figure out the right type and size and quality of housing and leave that up to people,” Chris Lamberty, the executive director of Lincoln Housing Authority, in Nebraska, said at the meeting.A couple of hours into the virtual call, Todd Richardson, the head of HUD’s research arm, noted that meeting participants seemed relatively excited about the cash-assistance idea. He warned, though, that it might not “pass muster” with the agency’s legal department. Asked for clarification as to what the legal concerns may be, a HUD spokesperson told The Atlantic that the public meeting posted on the Federal Register was not “intended for press” and “I don’t think we had put an invitation to the press.”Moving to Work isn’t the only vehicle policy makers could use to test the idea of distributing cash-based rental assistance to tenants. Congress could also authorize a pilot study, like it did in 2019 when lawmakers approved a new voucher program to help families relocate to richer neighborhoods.And in Philadelphia, starting early next year, a new study will explore how families fare when they receive rental assistance as cash. “There’s never been a full evaluation of using cash to renters for our tenant-based vouchers,” Vincent Reina, one of the University of Pennsylvania researchers who will assess the program, told me. “There’s been some explorations, but a true, proper evaluation is something that we’ve never really done.” Reina attributes the lack of study to political resistance. “Cash transfers are often more contentious,” he said.The closest thing to a real test of the idea occurred in the 1970s, when Congress authorized the Experimental Housing Allowance Program. That program, which ran for longer than a decade in a dozen U.S. cities, provided cash assistance for housing directly to more than 14,000 low-income families. In a report filed to Congress in 1976, program evaluators noted that housing allowances were being well-received by their local communities and that the housing payments were being successfully administered to renters.[Read: The power of landlords]It’s clear that at least some current HUD staff are considering this old research. In 2017, Richardson published a blog post suggesting that the 1970s housing-allowance experiment could inform the Moving to Work program today.Public-housing authorities might resist the idea, as it could require them to relinquish some control. Other authorities might lack trust that the funds would go toward rent. The findings from the Experimental Housing Allowance Program also suggested that cash subsidies could lead to lower-quality housing options for renters, though experts caution against drawing firm conclusions from the half-century-old study.Studying the idea of cash rental assistance has great potential, Phil Garboden, a professor of affordable-housing economics, policy, and planning at the University of Hawaiʻi Manoa, told me. “I imagine vouchers will continue to exist in their current form for quite some time, but studying it is a terrific idea,” he said. “We absolutely do not have good data on it.” Garboden hopes researchers could tease out whether landlords avoid taking the vouchers mainly because they don’t like to deal with the red tape involved, or whether they’re simply resistant to rent to poor people.Some renters might prefer the voucher status quo, but for others, cash could prove easier to use. Being able to pay for housing with cash or some dedicated housing subsidy might alleviate some of the administrative hassle that comes with navigating the U.S. welfare system—what Atlantic writer Annie Lowrey coined “the time tax” earlier this year.“Different forms of support work differently for different people, and a voucher could be a really effective mechanism for some households and some markets and less effective for others,” Reina told me. “It’s not to say vouchers can’t work, or can’t be improved, or shouldn’t be made universal, but we know through our existing voucher research that elderly households, households with kids, and households where the head is Black are less likely to use vouchers.”Stefanie DeLuca, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins who was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, told me that distributing housing assistance as cash could feel dignifying for some tenants. “The research on the Earned Income Tax Credit points to the idea that recipients experienced a sense of agency and dignity when they received a lump sum of money, and I suspect that renters being able to present themselves to landlords as paying like any other potential tenant could feel quite empowering,” she said.Still, DeLuca’s own research suggests that the existing housing-voucher program could be improved in real ways to entice more landlords to participate, even in competitive markets. Researchers have been studying landlord signing bonuses and ways to get landlords their money faster. Even COVID-19 has helped hasten the digital streamlining of HUD contracts, making them less annoying to manage.A new bipartisan bill introduced in May by Senators Chris Coons and Kevin Cramer would seek to remove red tape for Section 8 landlords. HUD is also beginning a new, major study of landlord incentives as part of its Moving to Work expansion.And to be sure, one reason lawmakers have long resisted cash transfers is fear of political blowback. Over the years, Republican and Democratic politicians have embraced the myth that welfare rewards laziness, and that cash benefits in particular will spark public outrage.But as we emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear that cash assistance to Americans is more politically viable—even more popular—than many in Washington previously thought. The U.S. government has also proved that it can cut checks quickly when it deems it necessary. In fact, distributing money can be easier than administering a byzantine social-insurance program that eligible participants may not even know about. If landlords continue to resist housing vouchers, perhaps the government will take that decision out of their hands and simply give renters cash.
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When can we start enjoying nightlife again? 
A merry disco in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, with a rapid Covid-19 test requirement for dancing without masks. | Markus Scholz/Picture Alliance via Getty Images Scientists don’t want you to be going out right now. But if you must … Over the course of the last 18 or so months, I watched as my friends, and flagrantly attractive people I follow on Instagram who aren’t my friends, started picking up hobbies. Some grew plants. Others began knitting. People were reading and hiking and baking and binge-watching, seemingly making the best of a bad situation. As much as I wanted to enjoy these appropriate pandemic hobbies, I found myself wanting to pass the time only one way: dancing to the disco hit “Rasputin” in a crowd of people — preferably, but not limited to, gay men. This has been an elaborate yearning in my soul. Previously, I wasn’t that deeply invested in going out. I don’t know how this desire started, or why, beyond the addictive hook, “Rasputin” is my song of choice. I can’t explain the logistics of this intense personal fantasy. But I think it goes back to the concept of never appreciating what you have until it’s gone. In 2020, nightclubs and bars were shut down abruptly to slow the spread of Covid-19. Had I known the speed at which it was going to happen, I might have gone out at least one more time. A year and a half later, I have the option. Nightlife — clubs and bars — has come back. New York City, where I live, has more than a few really great disco parties, provided you are fully vaccinated. Lawmakers and public health experts have loosened messaging and restrictions, even as warnings about the delta variant continue. But the question that lingers is, if nightlife was shut down so urgently at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, should we be going out at all while it continues? Is there really a responsible way to dance to “Rasputin” in a nightclub full of sweaty people? The strict and simple answer from public health experts is no, not yet. But if people were strict and simple when it comes to following public health advice, the US would probably be having a different conversation regarding Covid-19. ​​The answer to these questions then involves understanding personal risk and recognizing our own responsibility to the communities we belong to. This past summer, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, public health experts reported an outbreak that was connected to nightlife and affected many people who were already vaccinated. Very few of those vaccinated people appeared to get severely ill, but it was a real-life illustration of the risk that remains. And on the flip side, some scientists say that outbreak displayed a real-life example of a community coming together and mitigating harm, not only with vaccinations but also by proactively protecting one another. In turn, it provided us a model that we could all use when we think about risk assessment. What to think about if you’re going to go out In an epidemiologist’s ideal world, no one would be going out. All of the epidemiology professors I spoke to — including from UCLA, Columbia, NYU, and the University of Washington — said they would not personally partake in a night at a crowded indoor nightclub or bar right now. Nightlife venues are risky because they satisfy everything Covid-19 needs to thrive. They’re indoors and ventilation isn’t usually great. They’re crowded with people in close proximity to one another. Those people are usually yelling to be heard over the music — yelling propels droplets into the air, which is both gross when you think about it and unnerving when you consider that’s how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is spread. Throw the virus into a place with all those combined factors and it could spread quickly and easily. That’s why the epidemiologists I spoke to wouldn’t be going out. “Epidemiologists are often the buzzkills of the party,” Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at NYU’s School of Global Public Health, told me. “But we are the buzzkill so you can continue having fun. We’re all about harm reduction and let’s have fun in a way where there aren’t consequences. “ Ompad said that on a spectrum of risk assessment, epidemiologists and public health officials skew toward the very careful end. She recently went to a homecoming celebration for her alma mater and said that even with capacity restrictions and vaccination requirements, she still kept her mask on and maintained distance from unmasked partiers. Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images Australians drinking in a bar on October 11, after 106 days of Syndey’s lockdown. They are happy. But a huge part of public health is understanding that humans are going to be human, the epidemiologists also noted. Some will make mistakes. Some won’t follow every rule. Some won’t listen to every piece of advice. On top of that is the year-and-a-half of shutdowns, restarts, and disruption to normal life — things that can affect decision-making, especially impulsive decisions. Hence the emphasis on harm reduction. Nightlife establishments are open, across the US, so epidemiologists understand that the human inclination is to go to them. They also understand that an idyllic world of regular and extensive testing, masking, and reduced capacity is pretty far from the world we have. All that in mind, there are a few things epidemiologists say we should consider if we do partake in nightlife. Barun Mathema, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, explained that there are three general factors to think about with regard to risk: the level of community transmission and vaccination, what precautions a venue is taking to ensure safety, and personal vaccination status. What you’re looking for is high vaccination and corresponding low Covid-19 positivity rates and cases per capita, within your community; venues that take precautions like reduced capacity, vaccination checks, and ventilation; and making sure you are fully vaccinated. Triangulating those three factors, Mathema explains, can help make something as fluid as risk easier to grasp. “Risk is a very difficult concept to understand, even as somebody who studies risk for a living,” Mathema told Vox. “If you are fully vaccinated, are healthy, have no underlying reasons to be put in a higher risk bracket, and your environment and community is in near or full vaccination compliance — you can say that’s a fairly low personal risk environment at that point.” The wrinkle in this risk calculus is, Mathema explains, that there are still a lot of variables. For example, even if everyone presents vaccination records at the door, the efficacy of vaccines generally wanes over time, meaning the people present may have slightly different levels of immune protection. There are also stories popping up about fake vaccine cards. Breakthrough infections do occur and have occurred at nightlife venues. So while these guidelines can help you assess risk in going out, the risk present in nightlife — or really any activity — will never be at zero. The completely safe activity would be staying home alone. What makes Covid-19 precautions so complicated is that our personal decisions don’t just affect us. The coronavirus is contagious. It spreads via airborne droplets. If you get sick from visiting a nightlife venue, you could put the people around you — at the grocery store, at the cleaners, at a restaurant, etc. — at risk. Conversely, you could have a situation in which you contract Covid-19 without even being at a nightclub — you just happen to come into contact with someone who was. “That’s always been the problem with these types of respiratory-based diseases. It’s not just about your risk. You can’t just say, ‘I don’t care’ or ‘I’m young and healthy,’ because you may be unfairly and unknowingly putting other people at risk,” Mathema said. To fully grasp the personal risk of going out to bars or clubs during Covid-19 means not just thinking about if this kind of risky activity presents a danger to you, but also how it affects the people around you. It means thinking about the communities and social circles you belong to, and how to keep people within those spheres safe. If you’re going out, protect the people around you While partaking in nightlife and fun might be optional for many of us, there are a lot of people in the service and entertainment industry where it’s their livelihood. Terence Edgerson, a nightlife producer based in New York City, saw the pandemic shut down the city that never sleeps and then watched it slowly reawaken in recent months. “I would say it’s been a roller coaster without any stops,” Edgerson told me. “Usually you have the option of getting on or off. But this was one where I didn’t have any options. It’s different when your work is your life and that it’s also your livelihood.” Edgerson credits his friends with helping him while nightlife was put on pause. Slowly, outdoor events — New York City allowed outdoor dining and drinking with social distance restrictions in June 2020 — were allowed to happen again. But it wasn’t until around June 2021 that Edgerson’s parties were happening full-time again, with proof of vaccination, for Pride. (New York City announced a vaccine mandate for indoor venues in August, but many businesses, including Edgerson’s parties, were already implementing similar restrictions over the summer.) “All of our parties have been vaccine-only and we’ve gotten no pushback and no blowback from it,” Edgerson explained. The fragility of New York City nightlife in 2020 changed the way Edgerson and many in his cohort looked at vaccination mandates and safety measures. Instead of viewing them as hindrances, he sees them as ways to keep his friends safe and keep his livelihood intact. In epidemiology-speak, Edgerson was thinking about protecting his community. Any pushback against vaccination checks and safety precautions such as reduced capacity, Edgerson asserts, would be dwarfed by the backlash if a party was the epicenter of an outbreak. New York City nightlife, especially gay nightlife, is intensely interconnected. An outbreak at one party could hypothetically set off a chain reaction in which parties, clubs, and bars around the city could get shut down again. “It’s our mental health escape. It’s so vital that we take care of it and take care of each other and ourselves.” An outbreak did happen around the Fourth of July, about 200 miles north of New York City in Provincetown. P-town and its indoor venues, including nightclubs, bars, and live shows, saw an estimated influx of over 60,000 people over the holiday weekend, and with it saw a surge of more than 1,000 Covid-19 cases, according to the Washington Post. Many were alarmed that the coronavirus spread in a town with vaccination checks and in a county with a high vaccination rate. That 1,000-case figure might seem like a startling number, especially for a town that had just a handful of cases prior to July 4. But it’s less than 2 percent of the estimated 60,000 people who visited over the weekend. Further, thanks to vaccinations, many of those cases were asymptomatic or mild. Only seven people were hospitalized, and no one from that cluster died. Instead of being a nightmare scenario, some public health officials are looking at Provincetown’s outbreak as a community success. The vaccination rate and the vaccination checks at the venues are evidence that these pre-emptive precautions help keep people safe, they argue. But there’s also another element: the way in which people in P-town, gay men especially, were proactive about testing and public health measures. This, some experts say, can be traced to the way the gay male community responded to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially when the American government failed to act in its early stages. “In P-town, I think that there was a community of gay men who understand the importance of contact tracing,” Pamina Gorbach, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA who has an expertise in HIV. Gorbach explained that in the absence of tools and structural support, the gay male community had to come together to protect one another. Those important lessons are being reflected and praised in this pandemic. “I think being public about infection, letting people know — that’s a great example of community care,” Jennifer Balkus, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, said. “Talking about testing openly is one of the key ways to help reduce stigma. And that is super important to promote testing and eventually isolating, and quarantining if they need to.” Balkus, Gorbach, and epidemiologists I spoke to said that masking at venues would be ideal, as would treating each outing like a possible exposure and following CDC guidelines. This means that if you go out on a weekend, you would then get tested three to five days after, wear a mask in public, and limit your exposure to people in the meantime. Epidemiologists also stressed the importance of regular testing and communicating the results, especially with the lack of robust contact tracing here in the US. That might be as simple as shooting a text to your friends or anyone who was out with you or calling the venue if you test positive. Or in the social media age, it’s posting to your followers. Ilker Eray/GocherImagery/Universal Images Group via Getty Images Here are some people dancing in Istanbul. Are they dancing to “Rasputin”? I’m not sure, but I hope so. Edgerson explained to me that in the wake of P-town, and in rare cases of breakthrough infections, he’s seen friends post about testing positive and telling people who they were with to go get tested. He said he gets tested often, and he urges his followers, friends, and fellow partiers to get tested regularly — before and after his parties. “If one of us gets sick, you know, many more can get sick — it affects us all,” Edgerson said. “And dancing, and queer dancing especially, is so vital to us. It’s our mental health escape. It’s so vital that we take care of it and take care of each other and ourselves.” The response to the Provincetown outbreak offers lessons about personal accountability to the people around us and perhaps a model for anyone who’s going out. Hopefully, there will be a day when we can, if the spirit moves us, dance to “Rasputin” in a sweaty nightclub without a worry in the world. For now, it’s helpful to know how to think about those worries, and how to act responsibly in the meantime.
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