VIRUS TODAY: Black Friday shoppers stay home

VIRUS TODAY: Black Friday shoppers stay home
— The coronavirus pandemic kept crowds thin at malls and stores across the country on Black Friday, but a surge in online shopping offered a small beacon of hope for struggling retailers after months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy.

— Some colleges and universities are rethinking plans for next semester as coronavirus cases surge around the country. A growing number of campuses will offer only virtual learning, but others are assessing how they would bring students back, which might mean adjusting testing protocols, introducing new screening systems and eliminating spring breaks to discourage students from travelling to help keep campuses open.

— The Walt Disney Co. has announced plans to lay off 4,000 more workers at its theme parks in California and Florida due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has been limiting attendance at its parks and changing protocols to allow for social distancing.

THE NUMBERS: More than 12.9 million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and more than 263,500 deaths have been attributed to the virus since the start of the pandemic. The country is averaging more than 1,650 deaths per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

QUOTABLE: “My biggest concern is probably that people will become more relaxed with their individual social distancing/quarantining measures over winter break,” University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella said by email. “I can only hope that people will remember how important these safety measures are, and will continue to practice them for the sake of their health and for the sake of our education.”

ICYMI: Letters pouring by the tens of thousands into Santa’s mailbox offer a glimpse into the worries and hopes of children awaiting a pandemic Christmas. The postal sorting office in France’s Bordeaux region has been handling his mail since 1962, but this year, along with usual pleas for toys and gadgets, kids are asking for vaccines, for visits from grandparents, for life to return to the way it was.

ON THE HORIZON: Christmas tree growers who have faced increased interest in artificial trees in recent years say demand for fresh-cut evergreens is strong this season. Wholesale growers and small farms alike say customers are showing up earlier than normal and there are more of them. More Americans are staying home for the holidays amid virus restrictions and want a new — or renewed — tradition to end a dreary year on a happier note.
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