The Delta variant is making clear what the Administration should have done back in January: mandate vaccines, mandate passports and crack down on the denialists. Now time is running short.

Why is it taking the Delta variant to get the Biden administration to do what it should have done in January?

Why is this administration so hesitant about saving American lives? And the American economy?

Confusion about mask rules is now so great that enforcement anywhere but on airplanes will be impossible. Requiring weekly tests as a substitute for vaccination is doomed to fail because the Delta variant can turn someone from healthy to superspreader in less than four days.

The key to saving lives is vaccine. The key to reopening offices and factories is vaccine. The key to reopening…


Is it really easier to remember that the British variant is now named “Alpha” instead of B.1.1.7? And does Britain really need Geneva’s protection?

To make life easier for all of us confused by all the new viral variants, the World Health Organization has decided to call them by the letters of the Greek alphabet.

As in: the British or U.K. variant will henceforth be known as Alpha.

Feel better? I don’t.

I know the W.H.O. means well. But this is a classic example of the agency spotting a problem, debating it for weeks — and then making it worse.

True, “Alpha,” as in alpha dog or Alpha Centauri, is easier to remember than B.1.1.7 or Gr/501YV1 or 20I/S:501Y.V1, the monickers used for the…


The tone of some recent writing about this pandemic has seemed — to me, anyway — strangely defeatist.

Friends keep asking me questions like: “Is what I’m hearing true? We’ll never reach herd immunity?”

The subtext is we’ll never really be safe, we dare not demask, the pandemic will never leave us. It’s almost as if some writers are reluctant to let go of the biggest disaster (and biggest story) of our lives.

We should be clear about this: our Great National Misery is ending.

All epidemics end, vaccine or no vaccine. The Spanish Flu ended. The Black Death ended.


In early spring 2020, I reported an article for The New York Times on which I put the tentative headline: “New Coronavirus Is ‘Clearly Not a Lab Leak,’ Scientists Say.”

It never ran.

For two reasons.

The chief one was that inside the Times, we were sharply divided. My colleagues who cover national security were being assured by their Trump administration sources — albeit anonymously and with no hard evidence — that it was a lab leak and the Chinese were covering it up. …


The Biden administration is shying away from vaccine passports. That’s a mistake — it will leave us in the same state vs. state mess we are in with gun laws. And let’s not pretend that passports will destroy our privacy; it doesn’t exist.

I now have one vaccine passport — and I’m trying for more.

Because I got my shots at a New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation site, I now have a New York State Excelsior Pass. It is stored as a QR code in my iPhone wallet.

Right now, it gets me only into Madison Square Garden and a few other venues. But soon, I hope, it will help me get onto airplanes and into movies and restaurants without having to take a Covid test, quarantine or even surrender all my contact details to the restaurant.

I tried to get…


What may be the most effective way to stop huge surges in infections during a pandemic?

Ground the planes.

Just do it. Tell the airlines: “No. You’re not booking hundreds of extra flights to Florida this week.”

I wish I’d written this a month ago, because now it’s too late to stop the new crisis that spring break may hand us.

Last Thanksgiving, I actually did write a note suggesting this to the editors of The New York Times editorial page. It was deemed a bit crazy.

I don’t think it is. Taking charge of air travel and throttling it…


First Covid shot, 2:14 AM January 29, Brooklyn Army Terminal

One year ago this week, I went into hiding from the coronavirus.

On March 12, I taped one episode of The Daily inside a studio at The New York Times. With the help of a slightly nervous producer who lived a short bicycle ride away, I did the the next on March 13 from my Brooklyn living room, describing my own Lockdown, Day 1.

(That was the week the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, flights from Europe were cut off, and Americans were urged to stay home. Life suddenly got simpler — and a lot scarier.)

Now, exactly…


As has been described elsewhere, this was a Times “Student Journey” arranged by Putney Student Travel in Vermont. They’re expensive, and most of the students are from private schools. Some go to Oxford or Florence. The Peru trip’s theme is rural public health, and included towns in the Sacred Valley, a couple of mountain villages, a day of first aid training, visits to salt-making ponds and ancient farming terraces and a full day of hiking in and around Machu Picchu.

My job was to deliver three talks about global health and also make myself available to the students as much…


On August 8, 2019, I wrote this note to my friend Jan Benzel, the retired New York Times editor who recruited Times experts for the Putney student trips:

Hi Jan

Do you know that I’ve been hauled up before Charlotte Behrendt, Chris Biegner and the rest of the newsroom legal and human resources department for an “investigation of my behavior” on the Peru trip?

The Guild is pissed off and ready to arbitrate over this.

I’m outraged. I did EVERYTHING according to the contract: I delivered my three lectures, I joined all meals and activities, I “connected with” and “gave…


At 11:17 A.M. on January 28, I got an email from the Daily Beast. It was from Lachlan Cartwright, and said:

Hi Donald,

The Daily Beast is preparing to publish a story about you, and we wanted to give you an opportunity to comment.

We will report:

**Following a 2019 “student journeys” trip to Peru hosted by the New York Times in conjunction with Putney Student Travel, a number of students and their parents complained that you made wildly offensive and racist comments.

**Several students complained that you also used the n-word, questioned the notion of white privilege, and argued…

Donald G. McNeil Jr.

New York Times, 1976–2021. Last beat: lead reporter on pandemic. 2020 Chancellor Award; 2021 NYT Pulitzer donaldgmcneiljr1954@gmail.com

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