Vacant retail shops in Columbus, Ohio. The rate of jobless claims has been rising as coronavirus cases remain high across the country.
Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

The economy’s ability to withstand a surge in coronavirus cases will become clearer Thursday morning when the government reports the latest figures for new jobless claims.

Applications for unemployment benefits have risen in three of the last four weeks, an indication of the toll that consumer caution and new restrictions on businesses have taken on economic activity even as vaccines to combat the virus are being rolled out.

Indoor dining was halted on Monday in New York City, paralleling new limits in California and other large states. At the same time, health advisories against travel have crippled airlines, hotels, rental car agencies and other service industries, and the situation is not expected to improve until vaccinations are more widespread in the spring.

“There is some underlying weakness in the labor market that has come across in the last few weeks, and it is tied to the pandemic,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “It’s rising caseloads, it’s consumer reluctance to go and spend, and it’s government restrictions.”

With the weakening economy as the backdrop, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress continued talks on Wednesday on another pandemic relief bill, something that economists have warned is overdue. Without action, two key programs for unemployed workers will expire this month, underscoring the predicament of the jobless.

Data released on Wednesday showed a 1.1 percent drop in retail sales in November, a disappointing start to the crucial holiday season. Mr. Faucher expects economic growth to be weak for the next few months before picking up later in 2021.

“Until we get a lot of people vaccinated, the economy will face a difficult test,” he said. “I don’t know if we will see an outright contraction or the loss of jobs, but the pace of improvement will slow markedly.”

There remains widespread confusion about a key element of the plan to protect some of the most vulnerable Americans against the coronavirus, report Rebecca Robbins and Jessica Silver-Greenberg for The New York Times: how nursing homes will get consent to vaccinate residents who aren’t able to make their own medical decisions.

Some states are starting vaccinations in their nursing homes this week, but a broader nationwide effort will start in earnest on Monday as CVS and Walgreens employees begin to arrive at tens of thousands of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to vaccinate staff and residents.

A CVS executive said such residents’ legal representatives will be able to provide consent to nursing homes electronically or over the phone, but officials at multiple large nursing home chains said they were not aware of that.

If residents or their representatives have not given consent before CVS or Walgreens employees show up, it is not clear whether or when they will have another chance to be inoculated.

There is no federal requirement for people to give consent before getting vaccinated, but it is standard practice and is often needed for billing purposes. States have different requirements about how medical consent can be given and what information needs to be provided to the person who is consenting. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that residents or their representatives should receive a fact sheet about the coronavirus vaccine and then consent to receiving it.

Executives from CVS and Walgreens said in interviews that they had been planning the vaccination campaign for months and were confident it would work. “If there are concerns or challenges, we certainly are open to work with facilities to try to minimize any disruption that they may have,” said Rick Gates, a Walgreens executive leading the company’s planning.



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