Retailers, Restaurants and Theme Parks Lift Mask Rules: Live Updates

Here’s what you need to know: Starbucks has announced that masks will be optional for vaccinated customers as of Monday, unless lo...

Starbucks has announced that masks will be optional for vaccinated customers as of Monday, unless local regulations require them.
Credit…Eze Amos for The New York Times

Target on Monday joined a growing list of retailers, restaurants and theme parks that will allow fully vaccinated customers to go mask free, following new coronavirus safety guidance from the federal government last week that said vaccinated people rarely transmit the virus.

[Answers to your questions about vaccines and masks at work.]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took many businesses by surprise when it said on Thursday that people who are vaccinated could go maskless in most places, including indoors. For businesses, the announcement was complicated by the fact that C.D.C. guidance does not override state and local rules. But several major companies have already moved to relax mask requirements. Businesses for the most part have not said they would require customers to show proof that they have been vaccinated.

Here’s the latest on companies that are changing their mask policies.

Costco, which has more than 500 U.S. stores, said it would allow fully vaccinated customers to go mask-free where state and local guidance allowed. The retailer said it would “not require proof of vaccination” but would ask for its customers’ “responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy.”

Publix, which has 1,270 grocery stores in the Southeast, said “face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated individuals inside Publix stores,” subject to local regulations.

Starbucks, which has 32,000 cafes worldwide, said facial coverings would be optional for vaccinated customers beginning on Monday, unless local regulations required them. Employees at Starbucks locations in the United States and Canada will still be required to wear masks.

Target, which has 1,909 stores in the United States, said it would no longer require fully vaccinated customers and employees to wear face coverings, except where required by local ordinances. The retailer said that it masks would still be “strongly recommended” for both shoppers and staff members who were not fully vaccinated.

Trader Joe’s, which operates 517 grocery stores across the country, said customers who were fully vaccinated no longer needed to wear masks in its stores. It will not require proof of vaccination “as we trust our customers to follow C.D.C. guidelines,” a spokeswoman, Kenya Friend-Daniel, said in an email. Masks are still required for store employees.

Walmart said vaccinated customers were allowed to go maskless starting May 18 in areas that did not have stricter mandates. A spokesman for the company, which operates more than 4,000 Walmart and nearly 600 Sam’s Club stores in the United States, said it expected its customers to abide by the honor system. Employees can also go mask-free by answering “yes” to a vaccination question that is part of a daily health assessment.

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida said that it was no longer requiring visitors to wear masks in most outdoor areas as of this weekend, though masks are still required in indoor locations. Disneyland in California continues to require masks indoors and out because of state mandates. Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, said on an earnings call Thursday that the company had begun to increase capacity and that the C.D.C.’s new guidance “is very big news for us, particularly if anybody’s been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on.” About 150 million people visited Disney’s parks in 2019.

Hershey Park in Pennsylvania said it would no longer require masks nor social distancing for fully vaccinated guests. The theme park, which drew 3.4 million visitors in 2019, said it would rely on its guests to “accurately follow the guidelines based on their vaccination status.”

Universal Orlando Resort said masks were no longer required when outdoors but still must be used in “all indoor locations.” Its theme park in California will still require masks both outside and inside because of the state rules.

MGM Resorts, a casino and hotel operator, said masks were no longer required for vaccinated guests, and that employees could go maskless if they provided verification of vaccination.

Families waited for food donations in Bradenton, Fla., last year. Nearly a quarter of respondents to a Federal Reserve survey said they were worse off financially compared to a year earlier.
Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

American households had sharply different economic experiences in 2020 as pandemic lockdowns threw workers out of jobs and left many less financially secure, a Federal Reserve report on household economic well-being released Monday showed.

“A clear pattern from the survey is that financial challenges in 2020 were uneven, and frequently left those who entered the year with fewer resources further behind,” according to the Fed’s annual Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households report.

The divergences arose even as Congress and the White House rolled out an enormous spending response meant to keep families financially afloat during a trying period. The data provide evidence that those programs helped — but they did not totally ameliorate the damage for vulnerable households.

The Fed’s online survey, which traces the experiences of U.S. adults older than 18, found that nearly a quarter of respondents said they were worse off financially compared with a year earlier — up from 14 percent in 2019. That came as job losses swept the nation, with roughly one in seven adults reporting that they experienced a layoff at some point in 2020.

“People who kept their jobs during the pandemic generally had stable or improving finances in 2020,” the report said. “However, those who suffered a layoff and an extended period of unemployment saw a deterioration of their financial circumstances.”

Less than a quarter of those who lost jobs had returned to their old positions by late in the year, even though more than 80 percent of laid-off workers had said in April 2020 that they expected to get their jobs back, the survey said.

The economic cost inflicted by state and local lockdowns, while widespread, was far from even. The share of households who reported doing “at least OK financially” held steady over all, but the gap between those with a bachelor’s degree reporting financial comfort and those with less than a high school diploma widened sharply last year — increasing 44 percentage points in 2020 from 34 percentage points in 2019. That happened as the pandemic shuttered service providers like restaurants and shopping malls, costing jobs that require less formal education.

Disparities also played out along racial lines. Black and Hispanic families were far less likely than white and Asian households to report coping financially, the survey showed. Under two-thirds of Black and Hispanic adults said they were doing “at least OK,” versus 80 percent of white adults and 84 percent of Asian adults.

A large share of households took advantage of government relief in 2020. As Congress expanded eligibility and enhanced the generosity of benefits for those experiencing job loss, the report found that 14 percent of adults said they had received unemployment income, up from 2 percent in 2019.

The report said that “many aspects of government stimulus measures” appear “to have blunted the negative financial effects of the pandemic for many families.”

The Internal Revenue Service delayed the tax filing deadline by a month, to May 17.
Credit…Susan Walsh/Associated Press

It’s May 17 and it’s Tax Day, the deadline for filing your 2020 taxes. The Internal Revenue Service in March said that Americans who needed it could take extra time to file their taxes. That time has arrived.

The one-month delay from the usual April deadline did not offer as much extra time as the I.R.S. gave people last year, when the filing deadline was pushed to July 15. But the aim was the same: to make it easier for taxpayers to get a handle on their finances — as well as tax changes that took effect this year with the signing of the American Rescue Plan.

Still have questions? Here are some articles that might help.

How the Pandemic Has Changed Your Taxes

New rules for a new reality, from stimulus payments to retirement withdrawals to unemployment insurance, could cut your bill or even generate extra refunds.

The Tax Filing Deadline Was Delayed, but Read the Fine Print

The federal government and most states pushed back the date to May 17, but others have gone their own way. It’s a good idea to double-check deadlines.

The Tax Headaches of Working Remotely

“Each state has its own rules,” one tax expert says. So if you worked in a state other than your usual one in 2020, here are some tips on dealing with the tax season.

For Gig Workers and Business Owners, Taxes Are Even Trickier Now

Filing taxes has never been simple for freelancers and business owners, but the pandemic has made it far more complex.

A Break for Working Families

The government is allowing people who qualify for the earned-income tax credit to use income from either 2020 or 2019, whichever will result in a bigger credit.

One of the 40,000 DVD-rental kiosks operated by Redbox in the United States.
Credit…Stuart Isett for The New York Times

Redbox, the company best known for its DVD-rental kiosks, is going public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in a deal that values the company at $693 million, the DealBook newsletter was the first to report.

Redbox’s parent, Outerwall, was acquired by the private equity firm Apollo Global Management in 2016 at a $1.6 billion valuation; it later separated the group’s businesses, which included Redbox, Coinstar and ecoATM. Apollo is rolling over all of its equity in Redbox as part of the deal, which also includes a $50 million investment led by Ophir Asset Management.

Redbox has some 40,000 kiosks across the United States, more than there are McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. Are they needed in the age of Netflix? Redbox gets its DVDs long before many movies arrive on subscription services, said its chief executive, Galen Smith, and its customers are more value-conscious than the typical Netflix streamer. Many are also late adopters to streaming, perhaps because they can’t afford broadband access, Mr. Smith said.

The physical rental business was in decline at the time of Apollo’s acquisition, and revenue from DVDs fell more than a third last year, to around $500 million, as the pandemic held up new releases. As the backlog clears, the company is expecting a rebound. There is a “very long tail for the physical business,” Mr. Smith said.

Redbox is also hoping to convert loyal customers to its own streaming business, which accounted for about 8 percent of its revenue last year. It partners with brands like Showtime and is also creating its own content. Once seen as a threat to the studios, Redbox is now considered an important buyer. “We can create value in helping these studios reach consumers that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach through our platform,” Mr. Smith said.

  • U.S. stocks fell on Monday, with technology stocks leading the decline.

  • The S&P 500 fell about half a percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped nearly 1 percent.

  • Traders are watching inflation data closely because if it shows signs of a substantial and sustained rise central bank policymakers might pull back on monetary stimulus. On Wednesday, the central bank will publish minutes of its April policy meeting.

  • Shares of AT&T and Discovery were down as investors processed the news that they would merge their media businesses to create a new giant company. After climbing more than 3 percent in early trading, AT&T was down more than 1 percent by the afternoon. Discovery erased an early rally of as much as 8 percent and was down more than 5 percent in the afternoon.

  • The FTSE 100 in Britain fell 0.2 percent even as England entered the next stage of its exit from lockdown. Indoor dining and hotels reopened as well as entertainment venues such as museums and cinemas. But an increase in the number of cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in India has raised concerns about the easing of restrictions.

  • Taiwan’s stock index dropped 3 percent as the island battles its worst coronavirus outbreak. Its government imposed tougher restrictions, including closing cinemas and limiting the size of gatherings, and encouraged people not to panic buy essentials.

  • Oil prices rose slightly. The West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, rose 1.4 percent to about $66.25 a barrel.

Jason Kilar was hired to run AT&T’s media group only last year.
Credit…Allison V. Smith for The New York Times

Jason Kilar has hired a legal team to negotiate his departure as chief executive of WarnerMedia, according to two people briefed on the matter. AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia, said on Monday that it had agreed to spin off the division and merge it with a rival media company, Discovery Inc.

Mr. Kilar was kept in the dark about the deal until recent days, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

A spokeswoman for WarnerMedia declined to comment.

The new company will be run by David Zaslav, 60, a media veteran and the longtime chief executive of Discovery. Mr. Zaslav and AT&T’s chief executive, John Stankey, had met over the last few months “secretly from my brownstone in Greenwich Village,” Mr. Zaslav said on a call with reporters on Monday.

Mr. Kilar, 50, was hired to run AT&T’s media group only last year. He formerly held senior jobs at Hulu and Amazon.

“Jason is a fantastic talent,” Mr. Zaslav said on the call with reporters following the announcement.

Mr. Stankey noted on the call that Mr. Kilar remained the chief executive of WarnerMedia, though he added, “David’s got a lot of decisions to make on personnel.”

Mr. Kilar on Monday morning sent a rallying-the-troops memo to WarnerMedia staff that called the merger “momentous news.” He did not get into his own future at the company.

“I recognize it will take all we’ve got to keep our collective focus on the mission,” the memo concluded. “We can do it.”

He added a smiley face emoticon.

John Koblin contributed reporting.

The paper’s conclusions suggest that economic programs embraced by President Biden may be useful in raising wages.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Two economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute conclude in a new paper that the government is to blame for the fact that pay for middle-income workers has increased only slightly since the 1970s.

“Intentional policy decisions (either of commission or omission) have generated wage suppression,” write Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens.

Included among these decisions are policymakers’ willingness to tolerate high unemployment and to let employers fight unions aggressively, trade deals that force workers to compete with low-paid labor abroad and the tacit or explicit blessing of new legal arrangements, like employment contracts that make it harder for workers to seek new jobs.

Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens argue that a decades-long loss of leverage largely explains the gap between the pay increases that workers would have received had they benefited fully from rising productivity, and the smaller wage and benefit increases that workers actually received, Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times.

Drawing on existing measures of the relationship between unemployment and wages, Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens estimate that excess unemployment lowered wages by about 10 percent since the 1970s, explaining nearly one-quarter of the gap between wages and productivity growth.

They perform similar calculations for other factors that undermined workers’ bargaining power: the decline of unions; a succession of trade deals with low-wage countries; and increasingly common arrangements like “fissuring,” in which companies outsource work to lower-paying firms, and noncompete clauses in employment contracts, which make it hard for workers to leave for a competitor.

Together, Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens conclude, these factors explain more than three-quarters of the gap between the typical worker’s actual increases in compensation and their expected increases, given the productivity gains.

The C.D.C.’s new guidance on masks comes with caveats.
Credit…Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

Are companies responsible for making sure that every employee without a mask is vaccinated against the coronavirus?

What if unvaccinated employees infect their co-workers — is the company potentially liable? Will companies ask their employees to take Covid-19 tests?

Millions of office workers who have been able to do their job from home during the pandemic are now thinking seriously about returning to work. The prospect raises myriad health safety and workplace protocol questions for employees and companies.

Lauren Hirsch of The New York Times’s DealBook team spoke to lawyers, employers and human resources professionals about some of the questions.

Generally, employers are allowed to require employees to be vaccinated. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance in December stating that vaccine mandates are legal. But this is complicated by proposed legislation in a number of states that would restrict companies’ abilities to set such requirements.

Whether executives are prepared to follow through on the implications of a vaccine mandate is also up for debate.

“If they want to permit employees to remove masks indoors, yes, I believe it does put the burden on the employer to verify,” said Kristin White, a lawyer at Fisher Phillips who specializes in workplace safety regulations.

The White House is also reviewing a new emergency standard on Covid workplace protections from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Labor groups have been pushing for new rules for about a year. OSHA suggests social distancing and masks in the workplace — but a temporary standard would establish requirements. Any new standard now needs to consider the new C.D.C. guidance.

As vaccination numbers rise and the number of Covid-19 cases drop, it’s natural for companies to rethink their workplace plans, said Joseph Allen, who is the director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program and advises companies on Covid-19 strategy.

“What was state-of-the-art last year is not state-of-the-art right now,” he said. “The science has changed, the plans should change.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Retailers, Restaurants and Theme Parks Lift Mask Rules: Live Updates
Retailers, Restaurants and Theme Parks Lift Mask Rules: Live Updates
Newsrust - US Top News
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