Across the United States on Tuesday, voters cast ballots in a presidential election in which the uncontrolled coronavirus pandemic was both a top issue and a threat.
As millions of Americans turned out to vote, the nation was facing a rapidly escalating pandemic that is concentrated in some of the very states seen as critical in determining the outcome of the presidential race. From Wisconsin to North Carolina, infections were on the rise as the nation barreled toward 10 million total cases.
More than 92,000 cases were announced across the country on Tuesday, one of the highest totals of the pandemic, along with more than 1,120 new deaths. Hospitalizations also topped 50,000 for the first time since Aug. 7.
The virus that has left millions of people out of work and killed more than 230,000 people in the United States will be one of the most significant challenges for the winner of the presidential race, and it loomed over every chapter of the election, down to the final ballots.
In the last hours of campaigning, President Trump — who, regardless of the election outcome, will be in charge of the nation’s response to the pandemic for the next two and a half critical months — was at odds with his own coronavirus advisers and suggested that he might fire Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told voters in a final pitch that “the first step to beating the virus is beating Donald Trump.”
In Virginia, voters’ temperatures were taken at some polling sites. In Wisconsin, the mayor of Wausau, a small city where cases are spiking and tensions are high, issued an order banning guns at polling places. And in Texas, an election judge did not wear a face covering, prompting accusations of voter intimidation and such intense heckling that the judge called the local sheriff to report that she felt unsafe.
On Tuesday, five states — Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania — set single-day case records. Twenty-two states have recorded more cases in the past week than in any other seven-day stretch.
The pandemic, which drove record numbers of Americans to cast ballots early or by mail, rarely strayed far from voters’ minds.
“I just don’t want another shutdown,” said Rachel Ausperk, 29, a first-time voter who said she chose President Trump in Ohio.
As the United States faces a dual national crisis — a monthslong pandemic and economic devastation — voters were deeply divided on what mattered more: containing the coronavirus or hustling to rebuild the economy, according early exit polls and voter surveys released Tuesday.
Their opinion of which was more important fell along starkly partisan lines, with those who viewed the pandemic as the most pressing issue favoring Joseph R. Biden Jr. for president, while those who named the economy and jobs broke overwhelmingly toward re-electing President Trump.
Reflecting a pervasive pessimism, nearly two-thirds of voters said they believed the country was heading in the wrong direction, according to an Associated Press canvass of those who had cast ballots — and those voters overwhelmingly picked Mr. Biden. And while Mr. Trump had attempted to focus the campaign on anything other than the pandemic, it remained a defining issue: More than four in 10 voters said it was the most important problem facing the country, far more than any other issue.
A separate survey — the traditional exit poll, conducted by Edison Research — asked the question differently; it found that, as important as it was to them, only about one in five voters considered the virus the top issue affecting their vote. More said the economy was, and a similar share said racial inequality decided their ballots.
The overwhelming majority of Trump supporters called the economy excellent or good while an equal share of Biden supporters said it was doing poorly.
Views of the virus also cleaved to politics: Roughly four in five Trump supporters called it at least somewhat under control, while as many Biden voters said it was “not at all under control.”
Those who reported that the pandemic had taken a personal toll tended to back Mr. Biden. More than a third of all voters said they or someone in their household had lost a job or income over the past eight months, and most of those voters favored Mr. Biden.
The Northeast held back the coronavirus tide this summer after enduring the worst of America’s catastrophic first wave in the spring. But now states like Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut have all reported records for new daily cases in the past week.
The summertime decline seen in the Northeast led to early expectations that its strict lockdowns had given it an upper hand against the virus, as other states that reopened quickly experienced a summer surge.
Then as October came, it became apparent that many Northeastern states had won only a temporary reprieve. A second wave of infections had come, forcing state and local officials to reinstate restrictions on businesses, schools and mass gatherings.
Connecticut has been averaging over 800 new cases per day, approaching its April peak of over 1,000.
Maine is well above its May peak with a seven-day average of 88 new cases per day as of Tuesday, when the state set a record with 127 new cases.
Rhode Island, with fewer people than Maine, has been averaging over 400 new cases per day, above its spring peak.
The New England states’ number of cases per 100,000 residents in the past week remains much lower than those in North Dakota (151), South Dakota (131.2) and Wisconsin (82.9), which lead the nation.
In Massachusetts, where additional restrictions on businesses and public gatherings have gone into effect to fight rising coronavirus infections, Gov. Charlie Baker has indicated that he will keep schools open. Schools “need to stay open,” he said, adding that in-person learning is “hugely important for the educational and social development of kids.”
On Monday, a judge in Connecticut ruled against a conservative group’s emergency request to block Gov. Ned Lamont’s requirement that students wear masks in the classroom. “There is no emergency danger to children from wearing masks in school,” the judge wrote, adding, “Indeed, there is very little evidence of harm at all and a wide ranging medical consensus that it is safe.”
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has ordered that incoming travelers from non-neighboring states must be tested for the coronavirus before and after entry, eliminating a more complicated earlier policy that mandated 14-day quarantine periods upon arrival. Those from New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Pennsylvania will be exempt, as will essential workers. The requirement took effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, and its enforcement will be left to local boards of health and airports.
The order seemed simple enough: Close down restaurants, bookstores and other “nonessential” businesses. Let supermarkets, electronics chains and online retailers like Amazon keep operating so that consumers can work and shelter at home.
But in France such measures for the country’s second national lockdown, which started Friday, have ignited a backlash. Small businesses are revolting against what they say is unfair competition from dominant retailers — especially Amazon — that continue to sell items the shopkeepers can’t. Politicians and trade groups have joined the outcry, forcing President Emmanuel Macron’s government to come up with a new plan.
On Tuesday, the government announced its solution: Supermarkets such as the retail giant Carrefour must drape giant plastic tarps over items considered nonessential, including books, clothes, toys, flowers and even dishes, to put them off-limits to consumers during the monthlong lockdown. Since smaller stores can’t sell such items, the thinking goes, big stores shouldn’t be allowed to, either.
The order set off a fresh round of chaos.
“It’s a mess,” Michel-Edouard Leclerc, head of the E.Leclerc supermarket chain, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “In all the hypermarkets of France, thousands of products must be removed from the shelves in two days.”
As for Amazon, the French government isn’t imposing any restrictions. But Amazon France agreed to cancel its pre-Black Friday ad campaign after Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the minister for industry, called it “inappropriate at a time when 200,000 merchants are having to close their doors.”
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, went further: “I’m really imploring Parisians: Do not buy on Amazon,” she said on French radio Monday. “Amazon is the death of our bookstores and our neighborhood life.”
France is already suffering one of the worst downturns in Europe. While the current lockdown is less stringent than the total confinement in the spring, it is expected to knock the economy into another recession after a mild recovery in summer, according to forecasts issued this week by the International Monetary Fund.
Those We’ve Lost
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
“I’ve never known a more patient and loving mother,” Scott Wells said of his partner, Amanda Bouffioux, who died of the coronavirus at age 44 on Sept. 8 in Anchorage.
Ms. Bouffioux, an Inupiaq Alaska Native, worked as an administrative assistant for the Anchorage management services office of NANA, a corporation owned by more than 14,000 Inupiaq shareholders. When the pandemic began, she and her family had stayed home.
But after a family day trip to the port city of Seward in mid-August, Ms. Bouffioux started to feel sick. Mr. Wells insisted she go to a hospital, where she tested positive for the virus. She was sent home and isolated herself in their bedroom, away from their children, Chris, 8, and Terrisa, 9.
When her condition worsened, Mr. Wells took her back to the hospital. On Aug. 19, she was intubated and put on a ventilator.
“She called the day they were going to intubate her,” Mr. Wells said in an interview. “I told her I loved her, not to worry about the kids, just work on getting better. That was the last time I talked to her.”
For her family and friends, Ms. Bouffioux’s death was a stark reminder of the unpredictability of the virus; at one point the state had the lowest mortality rate in the country, but cases are now on the rise, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Alaska Native people are particularly affected, said Dr. Joseph McLaughlin, an epidemiologist for the department. From the beginning of the pandemic through Oct. 15, Alaska Native people were hospitalized five times more often than white Alaskans, and the mortality rate for them was more than four times higher.
With the virus still raging, much of Mexico closed graveyards and canceled public festivities on the Day of the Dead this week, robbing many of the chance to collectively grieve those they’ve lost.
But one city, adapting to the pandemic, put its annual tradition of selecting the best mourner in the country online — and in doing so, gave Mexicans the chance to share in a good, cathartic, soul-cleansing cry.
San Juan del Río, in central Mexico, takes the country’s unique approach to death, which is embraced as a part of life, very seriously. One of its main attractions is a Museum of Death. And its annual competition for best mourner, created to honor the ancient practice of hiring weeping women to witness burials, drew hundreds of spectators.
Normally, the contestants would take turns crying in front of a live audience, but the risks posed by people wailing before a crowd of hundreds were too great. The virus has killed more than 92,000 in Mexico and cases continue to rise.
After checking with the contest’s sponsor, a local funeral home, the tourism bureau announced last month that they would accept video entries by email. Participants were invited to submit videos of themselves sobbing for up to two minutes, to be evaluated by a panel of judges. Twenty-seven contestants sent entries — double the number who took part last year.
Many of the participants took a melodramatic approach, setting their allotted two minutes of weeping at a grave site and scream-crying with the gusto of a telenovela star. Others went the comedic route, such as a woman from Aguascalientes who bawled about the apparent onset of menopause, addressing her tears to her wayward period.
“You were always so punctual,” she wailed. “And then one day, without saying anything, you never came back.”
“Laughing at death is part of Mexican culture,” said Eduardo Guillén, the head of the city’s tourism bureau. “It’s a way of confronting the problem and feeling less vulnerable.”
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