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The Atlantic Daily: 7 Poems to Read This Spring
April is National Poetry Month. Writers from around our newsroom share the poems they’re turning to as the nation defrosts.
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Prince Philip, a Man of His Time
Like other members of the British Royal Family, Prince Philip’s reputation is now defined by his portrayal in The Crown: a stern father, a reluctant consort, a man’s man who struggled to play second fiddle to his wife. It could be worse.The Queen’s husband has died two months short of his 100th birthday, and his death inevitably invites comparisons between the world he was born into and the one which he has left behind. He was born a prince on the island of Corfu, in the line of succession to both the Greek and Danish thrones, but his uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, abdicated when Philip was just a year old, and the family had to escape to France. (The baby Philip was famously carried away from his home in a fruit box.) His four elder sisters all married German princes, and he saw them only sporadically as he was raised at boarding schools. His mother was committed to a mental institution when he was 9, and later joined a religious order.The First World War had already created an awkward distance between the British royals and their German cousins: George V renounced all his German titles in 1917, and the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas became the Windsors. The outbreak of hostilities against Nazi Germany two decades later prompted another schism in the royal families of Europe. The Queen’s uncle, the former Edward VIII, was known to be sympathetic to the Nazis, and so was dispatched to the Bahamas for the duration of the war. Philip had been educated in Germany until the Jewish founder of his school fled the Nazis, moved to Scotland, and set up a new boarding school called Gordonstoun. Philip followed him there, and when the call came, the prince served in the British navy.This fractured youth left Philip restless, isolated, and independent. When he married Princess Elizabeth, in 1947, his German relatives were not invited to the ceremony. Still, the match looked to be perfect: Back then, tradition held that an heir to the British throne should not marry a “commoner.” Philip was not just royal, but handsome and brave. And unlike the man Elizabeth’s sister, Margaret, fell in love with, he had not been married before.He was also a man who had to take second place to his wife—a phenomenon experienced by more and more men as the 20th century wore on, but still an unusual one. Even today, less than a third of men in straight couples earn less than their wives, and less than 3 percent of men take their wife’s surname on marriage. At their wedding ceremony, Princess Elizabeth had promised to “love, honour, and obey” Philip, but she was adamant that the Windsors would remain the Windsors, rather than becoming the Edinburghs. (Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles before the wedding, and was granted the British title of Duke of Edinburgh.) He felt this humiliation acutely, once describing himself as a mere “amoeba.” When Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, it meant the end of his career in the navy. He was a kept man, a consort, No. 2 in the pecking order.[Read: The Crown’s majestic untruths]Philip was partly mollified by his wife’s decision to defer to him on family matters, although that sometimes had poor consequences. He chose to send Prince Charles, his eldest son, to his beloved Gordonstoun. But the sensitive Charles hated the dour, disciplinarian Scottish school. Indeed, the parenting styles of the Royal Family reflect a broader shift in upper-class British attitudes toward children: Like the Queen’s cut-glass accent, they have softened over the years. Once the belief was that children needed to toughen up, that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Now Charles’s sons, William and Harry, are pictured hugging their children. It’s hard to imagine who would have hugged the young Philip, alone in a strange land, with an absent father and troubled mother.The latest season of The Crown focused on the relationship between the Queen and Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. The untold story is that of Thatcher’s husband, Denis. Like Prince Philip, he faced a challenge few alpha males had confronted before: How would a traditionally minded man cope with the very nontraditional role of support act to his wife? Denis found solace in sports. He was a rugby referee for many years, and then turned to golf. Meetings at the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers, would be interrupted by the sound of Denis using the lawn as a putting green. He carved a new type of masculine persona, in contrast to his wife’s bluebottle diligence: supremely relaxed, self-assured, a man who enjoyed a drink and a fast car.Philip found that challenge harder, but he applied himself to it. In 1956, he founded the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which was designed to teach young people self-reliance. Medals were given for serving one’s community, starting a business, or trekking for miles across Britain’s rainiest moors, armed only with a map and compass. Sent around the world as a representative of Britain, Philip became known for puncturing pompous diplomatic events with aristocratic bluntness. He developed a reputation for what were then referred to as “gaffes,” but what we would now call casual racism. (“If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed,” he told a group of British students in China in 1986, and while looking at an electrical circuit a few years later, he remarked: “It looks as if it was put in by an Indian.”) When I was growing up in the 1990s, this was the popular perception of Philip: Britain’s Poshest Racist. He was a staple target of left-wing comedians and a hero to those who felt “political correctness” was going too far. Even now, Amazon is full of books with titles such as Do You Still Throw Spears at Each Other?: 90 Years of Glorious Gaffes From the Duke.[Read: Meghan, Kate, and the architecture of misogyny]His reputation has improved since then, because he took the Denis Thatcher route: a vow of silence. Philip gave up many of his royal duties on his 90th birthday, in 2011, and retired entirely from public life in 2017. By then, he had completed 22,219 solo royal engagements. At the time of his death, he and Queen Elizabeth II had been married for 73 years. He might have been a reluctant consort, but he was also an energetic one. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who conducted Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding ceremony, recently described royal duties as a “life sentence without parole,” and Britain came to respect Philip’s decades of public service.Once the initial, respectful tributes are over, Philip’s reputation will be as contested as that of Britain’s great wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, whose early colonial career makes for uncomfortable reading. Philip was a man of his age. He was born into a world of deference and tradition that no longer exists: Greece has been a republic since 1973, while the heir to the Danish throne is married to an Australian marketing consultant. In 1937, the 16-year-old Philip walked through German streets for his sister’s funeral as onlookers gave Nazi salutes. His grandson Harry, meanwhile, married a biracial American actor, moved to California, and launched a podcast.The 20th century was a hell of a ride, and one in which men’s expectations for their lives changed as dramatically as women’s. No one encapsulated that quite as strangely, or as remarkably, as a man who lived for nearly a century himself.
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The Books Briefing: Miss the Movies? Read the Books.
After I became a parent, I created a secret ritual: Once a year, I would take a vacation day from work, tell absolutely no one in my family about it, and go see the latest Marvel blockbuster. In the mostly empty theater, I’d forget about the long hours commuting in standstill traffic, the dark circles that had formed under my eyes after a child woke me up multiple times a night, and all the other mundane sources of suburban exhaustion. The movie theater was my refuge, and for a few hours every year, nothing mattered except the buttery popcorn between my fingers and the outcome of the epic battle on the big screen.That changed in 2020. Like many Americans, I didn’t step inside a theater last year. But I signed up for free trials of almost every streaming service out there—and read more books. As it turned out, good streaming went hand in hand with good reading: Many of last year’s acclaimed new releases were based on notable works. Director Autumn de Wilde’s charming if “rather routine translation” of Jane Austen’s Emma was “told with just enough flair and attention to detail to make it stand out,” my colleague David Sims wrote last spring. It’s now a contender for two Academy Awards in the costumes and makeup/hairstyling categories. News of the World—nominated for four Oscars—is based on a 2016 National Book Award finalist. Nomadland, the director Chloe Zhao’s adaptation of a nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder about seniorAmericans living out of their vans and RVs, earned six nominations, including best picture. The Personal History of David Copperfield didn’t receive any nominations, but perhaps it should have: The director Armando Iannucci “knows in a couple of places better than Dickens himself what David Copperfield is about,” my colleague James Parker argued last summer. Even the blockbuster Wonder Woman 1984 has an equally fascinating origin story, as relayed by Jill Lepore.I miss the movie theater—but the books have filled my time. Streaming isn’t so bad, either. ​Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email. What We’re ReadingFOCUS FEATURESThe Delicate and Demanding World of Emma“Austen’s story chronicles Emma’s growth beyond silliness and selfishness, but it’s also a celebration of froth, anchored by a character whom the author thought ‘no one but myself will much like.’”
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Mitch McConnell Learns It Isn’t Personal—It’s Strictly Business
The long marriage between Republicans and big business hits a rough patch.
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Polaroid Portraits
Street photography as collaboration
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4 Principles for Reopening the Economy
America has entered a confusing stage of the pandemic. It is vaccinating its citizens at an impressively fast clip. COVID-19 cases have come down precipitously since the start of the year. The daily number of new infections is less than a quarter of what it was at its peak in mid-January. But the pandemic is not yet over. Far from it. Hundreds of Americans are still dying of COVID-19 every day. Case numbers are creeping up again. New, more infectious strains of the virus are taking over. Herd immunity is still a long way off.This confusion raises questions about the next weeks and months that are as complicated as they are pressing. Should states open schools, lift the remaining restrictions on businesses, and get the country moving again? Or should they maintain, or even reimpose, restrictions on daily life to minimize the number of people who will contract COVID-19 in the last stretch of the pandemic?The only way to answer these questions is to examine whether the original justifications for restrictions still hold, and then distinguish between what governments should do and how private individuals should act.[Annie Lowrey: America failed at COVID-19 but the economy’s okay. Why?]Americans should not pretend that we have vanquished the virus. To minimize suffering, we should continue to take key precautions, such as wearing masks. But many state restrictions on the lives of ordinary citizens may no longer be proper.In early March 2020, cases of COVID-19 were growing exponentially in the United States. Medical professionals did not yet know how to treat the sickest patients, or just how deadly the disease would prove. With barely any tests available, health authorities could not monitor the severity of the situation. Medical systems in some European countries were nearing their breaking point.Faced with that dire situation, I wrote an article arguing “that anyone in a position of power or authority, instead of downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, should ask people to stay away from public places, cancel big gatherings, and restrict most forms of nonessential travel.”These measures were supposed to have two goals. At a minimum, they would help to avert the catastrophic situations that were then playing out in France and Italy. Social distancing would “flatten the curve,” ensuring that intensive-care units would not be overburdened, and that the health-care system could continue to function.Government restrictions were also supposed to realize a second and more ambitious goal: They would buy public-health authorities time to implement a mass test-and-trace apparatus and a quarantine protocol for anyone who might be carrying the virus. The ultimate goal was to eradicate the virus or, failing that, to cut community transmission radically.America has largely accomplished the first goal. Over the past year, ICUs were stretched perilously thin at some points in some places. Hospitals postponed nonessential surgeries. Many doctors and nurses worked unspeakably hard. But America’s health-care system survived the winter surges and provided assistance to the neediest.Nor are hospitals likely to buckle over the spring or summer. Cases are at a lower level than they were three months ago, and the occupancy rate across the nation's hospital stands at a very healthy 70 percent. A large share of those Americans most likely to have required hospital treatment if they contract COVID-19 are already vaccinated. Millions more are getting their lifesaving shots every day. And with flu season at its end, Americans won’t see a “twindemic.”The second goal is now moot—but for a very different reason: America gave up on it. By the end of the first series of lockdowns, the United States had not made any remotely serious attempt to trace the contacts of those who had been infected, much less to ensure that they would be effectively quarantined. Unlike countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, America never succeeded in ending community transmission of the virus.[Derek Thompson: What's behind South Korea's COVID-19 exceptionalism?]The new administration has been much more serious about combatting the pandemic than the last. Its success in getting millions of vaccine doses into the arms of Americans every day has been remarkable. But neither the White House nor anyone else in America is working on a realistic plan to test, trace, and isolate patients. Until the country reaches herd immunity, community transmission will continue.Pandemic-related restrictions vary widely from state to state, from county to county, and even from city to city. In some parts of the United States, such as Texas, mask mandates and restrictions on venue capacity have mostly been lifted. In other parts of the country, including Washington, D.C., restrictions on both indoor and outdoor activities remain in place.What intrusions into the lives of Americans are still legitimate even though the original justifications have weakened or disappeared? Four broad principles can help answer that question, and guide how public authorities should act during the remainder of the pandemic—or, for that matter, if they face another pandemic in the coming years.1. Restricting Fundamental Rights Requires Extraordinary ReasonsTo protect fundamental rights, Americans are usually willing to tolerate all kinds of serious drawbacks. Even during wartime, newspapers are allowed to criticize the government. Even when guilt is evident, a perpetrator may escape a prison term if prosecutors acquired the necessary evidence in an illegitimate manner. And even though forcing people to stay at home would save thousands of lives during flu season every year, Americans may go about their business freely.Last year, the threat posed by COVID-19 was sufficiently extreme to justify a time-limited restriction of basic liberties. Averting a breakdown of the country’s medical system, in particular, did qualify as what constitutional scholars call “a compelling state interest” in suspending some fundamental rights for a brief period.But that brief period is now over. The compelling interest that motivated those restrictions—a breakdown of the medical system—is no longer valid. Restrictions on fundamental freedoms, such as the right to worship or assemble, are no longer justifiable.2. Resist the Status-Quo BiasGovernments, like individuals, suffer from a strong “status-quo bias.” If a policy is already on the books, they give great weight to its positive effects and concentrate on the potential downsides of changing it. If it has not yet been implemented, they give much less weight to its positive potential, and much more to the problems it might create.Last year, this status-quo bias made virtually every government around the world reluctant to impose restrictions that could have slowed the spread of the pandemic and allowed them to contain the virus. Now the same bias is tempting governments to sustain extraordinary restrictions. Because lifting restrictions may well result in some additional deaths, public officials are hesitant to give Americans back their basic freedoms.Relatedly, some who argue in favor of continued restrictions have come up with a new justification for keeping the old rules. We finally have lifesaving vaccines, they say, so we might as well put up with far-reaching restrictions until we achieve herd immunity. But that rationale would imply that the state can restrict basic rights whenever the lives of some of its citizens are at stake—a principle that would give governments an excuse to curtail fundamental freedoms at just about any juncture.[Zeynep Tufekci: 5 pandemic mistakes we keep repeating]The blatant moving of the goal posts is a worrying precedent for future emergencies. Governments should not keep extraordinary restrictions on liberty after the original justifications expire.In balancing fundamental rights against the demands of public health, governments should not err on the side of perpetuating unprecedented intrusions.3. Focus on What You Can Achieve Without Restricting Fundamental RightsNot all rules and regulations are made equal. Mask mandates are one example of a restriction that can do a lot of good without imposing life-altering changes or interfering with basic rights. However cumbersome or annoying Americans may—understandably—find mask wearing, rules requiring masks are far less intrusive than those imposing a curfew or restricting indoor worship. Mask mandates make a comparatively large contribution to public health while placing a comparatively small burden on the freedom of individual Americans. States can legitimately keep them in place until the number of cases declines significantly from current levels.Stricter-than-usual regulations on how businesses can conduct themselves are also legitimate. Restaurants and gyms have always had to comply with basic safety standards. During a pandemic, these safety standards should be more demanding. States are justified in requiring that such businesses test their staff for infections, ensure that indoor spaces are properly ventilated, and ask customers for their contact information so they can be informed of any potential exposure to COVID-19.4. Trust Your CitizensNew evidence indicates that those who have been fully vaccinated are not only unlikely to fall seriously ill from COVID-19; they are also highly unlikely to contract the virus and spread it to others. This is excellent news, and it suggests that those who are vaccinated can resume something close to normal life.[Julia Marcus: Vaccinated people are going to hug each other]Those who have not yet been vaccinated, however, do remain at substantial risk of suffering from serious disease or spreading the virus. Even as some restrictions are lifted, these people should—both for their own sake and for that of others—continue to be careful. If possible, they should abstain from such activities as indoor dining, attending dinner parties, and worshipping in crowded spaces.The debate about which restrictions to lift has almost entirely focused on what the state should command its citizens to do or not to do. State authorities can also encourage their citizens to do the right thing. As the vaccination program speeds up, governments should move away from imposing the same rules on everyone. But instead of introducing a “vaccine passport,” which is likely to meet with enormous resistance, they should simply advise citizens as to what’s safe depending on their vaccination status.Translating principles into concrete policies is never easy, and I do not mean to pretend that the four guiding principles I have outlined here will magically save local authorities from having to make choices that are genuinely hard. Like any large-scale emergency, pandemics present terrible trade-offs. No amount of clever moral reasoning can make them disappear. And because the pandemic is much worse in some parts of the country than in others, and because states should respond to conditions on the ground, governments will reasonably make different decisions in different places. The rules should not be identical in Texas and Michigan. But these four principles do have concrete implications for the future.Governments should keep mask mandates in place so long as they are driving down transmissions, keep strict rules about ventilation, and require restaurants and entertainment venues to keep track of their customers. Meanwhile, governments should lift many of the restrictions that do represent a fundamental imposition on citizens. Remaining restrictions on houses of worship are no longer justifiable. Every child in the country must finally be able to attend school in person. And because outdoor gatherings do not seem to have driven major spikes in infections over the past year, they should lift many of the restrictions on the size of those events. In general, governments should recall that the decrease in mobility and business activity followed changes in case numbers more closely than it did the imposition of legal restrictions. Americans have the capacity to heed common sense.Let’s stop pretending that the rules that made sense in April 2020 still make sense in April 2021—and lift those restrictions that no longer have a compelling justification.
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Vaccine Passports Are Inevitable
Every day, millions of Americans’ immune systems are reprogrammed by sophisticated strands of frozen nucleic acid. They teach our cells to detect and destroy a virus that was totally unknown to our species 18 months ago. The occasion is commemorated with a scribbled-on piece of paper.The American proof-of-vaccination system is, to put it generously, archaic. It hasn’t been a priority amid the crisis. But now some lawmakers are trying to create a more sustainable system to keep track of shots. For example, last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a vaccine passport for residents, consisting of a website and smartphone app. The state bills it as “a free, fast, and secure way to present digital proof of vaccination.” Similar systems are already in place in Israel, China, and the United Kingdom, and are being considered elsewhere.Republican leaders have aligned themselves against any such thing. Governors such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Texas’s Greg Abbott, and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem have promised to prohibit vaccine passports. Noem, for example, made a stunning comparison to voter-ID laws, accusing those who oppose Georgia’s new voting-rights restrictions but favor vaccine passports of “‘woke’ left” hypocrisy. An opinion piece this week in The Wall Street Journal warned, “Restaurants in most parts of the U.S. have already reopened, at limited capacity in some places. A vaccine passport would prohibit entry by potential customers who haven’t received their shots.” (Emphasis the authors’.)To be clear: Vaccine passports don’t prohibit people from entering restaurants; cities, states, and restaurants do. And a vaccine passport is not like a voter-ID law; it’s more akin to an ID. No one is suggesting you’d need it in order to vote.Falsely conflating the documentation itself with a vaccine requirement is a pervasive argument, but it’s usually either disingenuous or inane. Putting a system in place to help people document their vaccination status is not the same thing as demanding that everyone get vaccinated. Focusing on the very existence of vaccine passports is a distraction that risks dividing people at a moment when unity is crucial.[Read: The threat that COVID-19 poses now]Vaccine requirements have been the subject of heated arguments for as long as inoculation has existed. There is a genuine, important debate to be had. People who support mandatory vaccination cite the collective nature of infectious diseases: If you forgo vaccination, you put your community at risk. It’s not like forgoing sunscreen and getting skin cancer. But for others—even those who support vaccination generally—strict requirements represent a breach of individual bodily autonomy: For the state to mandate an injection of anything (much less something produced by a multinational corporation profiting from the transaction) is simply unconscionable.The American approach has been, historically, to let people do what they want. Individuals have the right to forgo vaccination, just as they have the right to forgo operating a motor vehicle if they don’t want to get a driver’s license. But if they choose not to get vaccinated, they will face limitations on what they can do.Hospitals, for example, can require employees to get particular vaccines; people who don’t want them are free to refrain from working where they could transmit an infectious disease to patients undergoing chemotherapy. School systems can require children to be vaccinated; parents who don’t want their kids to get shots are free to homeschool. The armed forces require personnel to get certain vaccines in order to attend basic training and prior to deployment, to avoid an outbreak in the ranks and potentially putting everyone they defend in peril. In instances when shots are required, private institutions have traditionally required a signed note from a doctor, and recorded their employees’ vaccination status in a database.[Read: The vaccine line is an illusion]The ongoing, expansive distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has prioritized speed and safety over documentation. Instead of being administered exclusively at pharmacies and primary-care offices, shots have been given by podiatrists in empty stadiums, convention centers, and casinos. There is no single, centralized electronic medical record linking these places, no one cloud in which your vaccination status is noted. Your own doctor (if you have one) may have no way of verifying whether you’ve been vaccinated. So far the paper cards handed out at vaccine sites serve as the only evidence.These cards aren’t meant to last long or be carried around. They’re for personal reference. Some people have laminated them, but I wouldn’t know how to go about getting something laminated. Nor would I want to take a big, laminated card with me everywhere I go. Plus, it’s paper with handwriting on it. As official documents go, forgery wouldn’t exactly require a master. (You can already buy one online.)This disjointed system presents a challenge as the United States reopens. Some places—such as hospitals and schools—will inevitably require staff or students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Already, Brown University and Rutgers have announced that all students must be vaccinated in order to attend the fall semester in person. The hope is that these sorts of requirements will allow schools to return to the normalcy that everyone so desperately wants. Given the unique circumstances of the moment—a still-acute crisis that continues to kill nearly 1,000 Americans every day—COVID-19 vaccine requirements will likely extend beyond schools and hospitals. In Israel, gyms and hotels already require proof of vaccination for employees and patrons. In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated that people will soon need proof of vaccination in order to enter a soccer stadium or pub. Enforcing such rules fairly requires a system for verifying vaccination status.President Joe Biden has not endorsed vaccination requirements. In the U.S., such mandates will exist, but will be determined by individual businesses, industries, institutions, cities, and states. This patchwork approach will make reliable documentation only more necessary. If you travel domestically, you may need to prove your vaccination status to go into, say, a theater in New York City, even if your usual theater in Philadelphia doesn’t have such a rule. The people taking tickets at the door will need a centralized registry to check.[Sonny Bunch: Is it safe to go back to the movie theater?]That registry may take the form of an app, a card, or a website. Ultimately, different areas and entities in the U.S. may end up using all three. While the federal government could offer an app that people might use if they wanted—particularly people who travel often between states—White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that the federal government will not maintain a centralized database of who has been vaccinated.Vaccine passports, in some form, are going to be a basic necessity as the United States begins to crawl its way out of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the idea has staunch opponents. The recent Wall Street Journal op-ed called the idea of issuing vaccine passports “unjust and discriminatory,” and suggested that it would somehow lead young, healthy people to jump the line and snap up limited doses of vaccines so they could go to the movies. Such fraud and abuse may be incentivized in the very near term, but that potential will grow more far-fetched as the vaccines become available to more Americans. If passports are likely to incentivize anything, it’s vaccination. The perks of vaccination—say, free Krispy Kreme donuts for the rest of 2021—might be more appealing if a user-friendly system made them easier to claim each morning.The op-ed makes a broader argument, too, that vaccine passports contribute to “a coercive scheme to encourage vaccination.” This is a common strain in conspiracy theories intended to turn vaccination from a public-health tool to a political wedge. But a tool is not inherently coercive. Could it be misused? Sure. Could records of people’s immune status fall into the hands of a scheming demagogue and be used for authoritarian ends? Well, conceivably. Could they be used to divide societies, disenfranchise people, and exacerbate disparities? Theoretically. Could you go to jail if you run a red light and don’t have a vaccine passport? These things are all hypothetically possible. But they would hinge on a malevolent, unchecked government abusing its authority and passing unconstitutional laws. It’s far more likely that vaccine passports would simply help societies reopen and hasten the end of the pandemic.[Listen: The crime of refusing vaccination]Vaccine documentation has a long historical precedent, dating back to the 18th century, and hasn’t resulted in this sort of nightmare before. If you had not been evidently disfigured by smallpox, or did not have an apparent-enough scar on your arm from the primitive inoculation process of the time, then you needed documentation of your immunity in order to enter the U.S. Various states required such proof in order to work or attend school. Privately owned social clubs and businesses also asked for proof, and cities drew quarantine boundaries that could be crossed only with documentation. But the documentation itself was not what restricted individual autonomy. If anything, having a way to demonstrate proof of vaccination gave people more freedom, not less. To this day, federal and state authorities in the U.S. can and do impose quarantine requirements and issue lockdown orders during emergencies. A document proving vaccination could free people from such restrictions.For those who are genuinely concerned about the existence of passports leading to vaccine-based discrimination, the target of debate should be the requirement for vaccines, not for certification once they’re received. If your favorite restaurant institutes a ban on unvaccinated patrons, you could argue about how it is trampling your liberties. Or you could just not eat there.As divisive as vaccination policy can be, a voluntary system for documenting your own vaccination status should be uncontroversial. We should be debating how best to deploy such a system; instead, a basic tool has been misrepresented to fuel a culture war. We are moving toward a vaccine-stratified society, and we will have to work continuously to prevent and minimize the inequities that can arise in any such scenario. This will require a fair, equitable, widely available system for accessing one’s own documentation. As the bioethicist Arthur Caplan explained to me recently on The Atlantic’s Social Distance podcast, we’re likely entering a world where certain establishments may have signs that say something like No shirt, no shoes, no shot, no service. Many people will feel safer inside as a result. Others will object. When division does arise, it will not be helped by having a faction of people who carry around self-laminated certificates.[Listen: No shirt. No shoes. No shots. No service.]While many Americans will inevitably balk at vaccine mandates and sharing health data with elected officials, as a country, we’ve historically proved willing to share that information in exchange for free stuff. Nudges like free donuts may ultimately be what makes Americans comfortable with the idea of a vaccine passport. It’s not just Krispy Kreme. Instacart is now offering a $25 coupon if you’ve been vaccinated. Employees of Target, Amtrak, and McDonald’s get several hours of additional pay.All these measures would likely be more efficient and more fairly executed with a simple vaccine passport. As more and more people are inconvenienced by trying to prove they’ve been vaccinated, the need for an app will become clear. We’ll wonder why this was ever a debate.The Atlantic’s COVID-19 coverage is supported by a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
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It Only Took a Pandemic to Get Americans to Go on Vacation
Here’s a cool trick for blowing any American’s mind. Tell us that in France, so many boulangeries shut down for vacation every summer that it can be tough to snag a baguette. Bakers aren’t the only ones who get time off. In August, up to half of the country’s salaried employees have been known to take at least a full week off from work. Half!Americans are good at lots of different things, but going on vacation is not one of them. Every year in parts of Europe, summer turns into a mini-sabbatical. In Norway, during the tradition of fellesferie, the nation simply shuts down for a few weeks of July fun. In Italy, so many people take the last two weeks of August off that Rome’s transit system runs on a reduced “festivi” schedule. Meanwhile, guess which industrialized country is the only one that doesn’t guarantee time off to its workers? Guess which country left 768 million vacation days on the table in 2018? Guess which country … arghhhhhhhh.The pandemic has not been great for America’s vacation malaise. When there are few new places to go and few new things to do, what’s the point of asking for time off? Yes, many Americans who have made it through without losing their jobs have taken a break to discover nature or their apartment balconies, but largely, we do not seem to be PTO-ing our way through this god-awful year. In February, time-off requests on the HR platform Zenefits were down 26 percent from the year before, a spokesperson told me, in line with what the company has seen since July.But something weird is about to happen. This summer, the stars seem to be aligning for vaxxed-up Americans to go PTO wild. After a year in which everyone was cooped up indoors, domestic-travel bookings are going bonkers as people put in their day-off requests and get pumped for some sort of normalcy. It might have taken a global pandemic, but Americans for once seem poised to summer like the Europeans do—that is, if our bosses will let us.[Read: Workism is a making Americans miserable]The roots of what may bloom this summer have been growing all throughout the pandemic. “The pent-up demand is a fire hose that is trying to burst through,” Glenn Fogel, the CEO of, told me when I asked about his expectations for post-pandemic travel. On the flight-finding site Kayak, which owns, searches for summer travel have been rising as much as 27 percent every week since early March, a spokesperson told me, even as business flyers remain grounded at home and many international destinations remain out-of-bounds for Americans. We can still fly to Mexico, and on, reservations for trips there are up 230 percent from 2019, according to the company.The same vacation boom—sorry, I mean the vacci-cation boom—has struck lodging. “Some hotels, airlines, and travel agencies are telling me that they are seeing double-digit growth on a day-over-day basis,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst, told me. January broke the record for most new short-term rental bookings, according to AirDNA, an independent analytics firm that tracks Airbnb and its competitor Vrbo. February broke it again. Jamie Lane, AirDNA’s vice president of research, told me that demand for Airbnbs has been so strong that he expects some areas in the United States to be totally booked up for the summer by April or May. Travel trends might continue to creep up, now that the CDC has okayed travel for the vaccinated. (Because the pandemic is very much not over, the CDC still recommends that the unvaccinated avoid all nonessential travel.)All that vacation is possible only because people, intentionally or not, have been hoarding time off for the past year. Generally, Americans don’t have that many days off to begin with—just 10 on average for new workers, compared with a minimum of 20 days in the European Union—and many businesses make those days “use it or lose it,” meaning they expire at the end of the year. But when the pandemic hit, a third of companies made a fateful decision: letting their workers carry more days over than usual. By sitting on so much time off, workers have functionally jerry-rigged their own version of all those late-summer weeks that many Europeans automatically get off. “We’re in for a summer surge of PTO,” Howard Metzger, the president of MBL Benefits Consulting, told me. “People want out.”In fact, so many people might soon request PTO that some offices could just go full Europe and close for a week, John Dooney, an HR adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management, told me. Other offices might need to engage in a bit of black-belt scheduling jiu-jitsu to make room for the rush of Zoomed-out employees aching for hikes in Shenandoah and tasting menus in San Francisco. American cities are not about to shut down, European-style, to let employees do their thing for weeks on end, but a summer of a million shorter, weeklong trips and four-day holidays still might feel different. If you’re stuck working in an office, you might send an email blast only to be met with an avalanche of “OOO” auto-replies. Your boss might wrangle you back to the cubicle life only to realize in horror that the rest of the office is still empty, because so many people have gone on vacation. Across the U.S., vacation bliss maybe, just maybe, will settle in for a few months—a shared sense of relief in merely having to worry about awkward tan lines again.But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The coming PTO crunch will almost certainly be tempered by managers seeking to stop it from happening. Even bosses in more flexible jobs might not want to deal with the logistical headache of keeping the office running with a hollowed-out staff, summer be damned. And the allure of normalcy won’t entirely rid Americans of one of the reasons we don’t take time off in the first place: fear. “The fear of asking for time off from your boss, the fear that taking time off will impact you economically—that is all very palpable,” says Jamie McCallum, a Middlebury College sociologist and the author of Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock-Work Is Killing the American Dream. If your boss wants you back at your desk rather than in Delray Beach, not even your primal urge for a little post-pandemic junket will get in the way.PTO has always been unequal—and as with everything else in this pandemic, the working class is about to have it a whole lot worse. Low-wage workers have disproportionately gotten sick with COVID-19 and have disproportionately lost their jobs. Now they are disproportionately in a position where they won’t be able to take advantage of the summer vacci-cation boom, whenever it finally hits. Less than 40 percent of low-wage workers in the private sector get any paid time off, and although they work fewer hours than C-suite suits, they work more total weeks, complicating the possibility of taking an extended break.At the same time, some sectors are about to get welcomely busier than before the pandemic. All the activities that the professional class is aching to do again will need workers to make them happen—a rush that can’t come soon enough for some line cooks and hostesses. “You’re going to have a situation where some people are going to say, Thank God I can go on vacation, and others will say, Thank God I can go back to work,” McCallum told me.[Read: Only your boss can cure your burnout]For the chunk of Americans who will get a work rumspringa, big questions are waiting for them on the other side of vacation nirvana, about whether they want to return to the norms of yore. If workers can take PTO this summer, why not again in the fall? And next summer? And whenever else they please? The pandemic has already made all sorts of impossible things possible. Maybe actual, sustained time off from work will be next. It’s not the craziest idea ever: A year in which a third of Americans lost someone to the coronavirus, and everyone was hit with deprivation, might be the thing that brings about a mass reckoning over how work has consumed over our lives.Or, uh, maybe not. A more disturbing possibility is that the pandemic has made Americans even more addicted to our jobs. Now that WFH-ers have emulsified work and leisure into one, a remote-friendly future might fully sever the link between travel and time off. Of all the summer spikes playing out on Priceline, the biggest is a 165 percent bump in bundled flight-and hotel-bookings compared with summer 2019, a trend that the company’s CEO, Brett Keller, says is likely driven by workers hunting for the best deals on extended stays during which they can vacation and work. Many Americans can now log on from anywhere, but they still can’t escape logging on.“There is no separation anymore,” Howard Metzger told me. When we spoke, he reminisced about the summer trips he would take as a kid in the ’80s, during which his parents would totally unplug from work. Metzger took my call from Copper Mountain, a ski resort in Colorado. He was supposed to be on vacation.
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