Florida Rescue Efforts, COVID-19 Surge In Missouri, Biden's Climate Policy: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published June 29, 2021 at 12:01 PM EDT
Search and rescue teams fill buckets with crumbled concrete in Surfside, Fla.,  as they continue to search for survivors at the site of the collapsed condo building.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images North America
Search and rescue teams fill buckets with crumbled concrete in Surfside, Fla., as they continue to search for survivors at the site of the collapsed condo building.

Good Morning, hope you're having an excellent start to your Wednesday. Here are the stories we're following today:

— The Morning Edition live blog team
(Emily Alfin Johnson, Rachel Treisman, Joe Hernandez, Nell Clark, Casey Noenickx and William Jones)

    Before You Go

    This New NPR Music Blog Is Like Getting Music Recommendations From Your Cool Friend

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 10:31 AM EDT

    We want to finish off by telling you about a new project, which we think you'll enjoy. NPR Music just launched "#NowPlaying" a blog that makes it easy for you to keep track of the songs NPR Music and public radio stations are digging.

    Check it out here.

    One of the latest: Listening to "Lots of Nothing" by Spacey Jane feels like rediscovering the best summer of your youth.

    Hope you have a good Wednesday.

    Just In
    NYC Mayoral Race

    New York City Election Officials Mistakenly Counted Thousands Of Test Votes In The Mayoral Primary

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 10:26 AM EDT

    New Yorkers headed to the polls last Tuesday to make their picks for the city's next mayor. As we noted at the time, because this primary uses rank-choice voting, preliminary results weren't expected until at least this week.

    The first ranked tally of the Democratic primary results was released last night, and it came with an additional wrinkle. The New York City Board of Elections says there was a 'discrepancy' in the tally because it erroneously included some 135,000 pre-election test votes.

    Officials will recount those votes and provide an update today. As WNYC's Brigid Bergin explains, it appears to have been an issue of human error but may still diminish voters' views of the elections board — or ranked-choice voting — going forward.

    Bergin reports that:

    • The elections board typically does pre-election testing to make sure their systems work, especially this year with the new ranked-choice voting system and tabulation software. It seems they didn't reset those systems, accidentally including practice votes in the result.
    • Last night's tally showed that the race is tightening, with Eric Adams' lead shrinking from about nine points to two. But that's a moot point, since it will be redone today with the correct vote input.
    • And those numbers weren't supposed to be the final count anyway. Last night's tally only included the in-person votes from primary day and the early voting period. Another roughly 124,000 absentee votes will be included in the next tally, which is expected next week.

    More from New York Public Radio's Gothamist here.

    Today I Learned

    It's Legal To Be Naked In Seattle

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 9:55 AM EDT
    Twp people walk along the shore at Alki Beach in Seattle, Washington. An excessive heat warning remains in effect a day after record-breaking temperatures hit the region in Seattle, Washington on June 29, 2021.
    Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images
    People walk along Alki Beach in Seattle, Wash., on Tuesday, a day after record-breaking temperatures hit the region.

    As the West Coast is caught in a record-breaking heat wave at the moment, many in the region are looking for ways to stay cool.

    That's when this gem from the archives of member station KUOW in Seattle caught our attention. Apparently, nudity became legal in the city of Seattle in 1990 (though indecent exposure remains illegal.)

    Back in 2018, KUOW's Anna Boiko-Weyrauch took a trip to Howell Park (or Hidden Park as the locals in the know call it) on the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle, "known as a safe and welcoming place for all bodies and sexualities, with or without clothing."

    Consider this your friendly reminder to hydrate and wear sunscreen.

    The area is now cooling off, according to the National Weather Service, but the heat has left its mark. For more on how to stay safe, click here.


    'Zola': The Movie Inspired By A Tweetstorm

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 9:43 AM EDT
    Six individuals, in two rows of three, hold IMDb microphones as they pose on stools against a wintery backdrop reading "Sundance Film Festival."
    Rich Polk
    Getty Images
    From left to right: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, A'Ziah King, Janicza Bravo and Colman Domingo promoted their movie "Zola" at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020. It's coming out today, and NPR's Sam Sanders spoke with Keough about her role as the anti-hero.

    It all started in 2015 when A’Ziah “Zola” Wells King took to Twitter to share her harrowing — and darkly funny — story of a weekend of exotic dancing gone wrong. The nearly 150-tweet thread went viral instantly and remained iconic.

    Several years and a pandemic later, "Zola" is finally out in theaters today.

    Check out our review from Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Aisha Harris

    Here’s the premise: Zola, a waitress, hits it off at work with an exotic dancer named Stefani.

    Stefani convinces Zola to join her on a road trip to Florida, setting in motion a 48-hour roller coaster of increasingly wild events.

    Riley Keough plays Stefani, who she describes as a "walking, inappropriate nightmare."

    Keough spoke with It's Been A Minute host Sam Sanders about portraying a white woman on screen whose entire objective is to get Zola, a Black woman, to do things that will jeopardize her own safety.

    Keough said she put her trust in director and co-writer Janicza Bravo's vision of portraying the performance of Blackness (even by a white woman) seriously.

    For Keough, that included special training on how to play a white woman trying very offensively to sound like a certain type of Black. It involved running lines with a cork in her mouth.

    🎧 Listen to their full conversation on the latest episode ofIt's Been A Minute With Sam Sanders.


    World Health Organization Official: Wear Masks Where The Delta Variant Is Spreading

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 9:27 AM EDT
    Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove serves as the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Technical Lead.
    Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove serves as the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Technical Lead.

    The delta variant of the coronavirus is changing how the world fights COVID-19, forcing new lockdowns and public health restrictions in a number of countries.

    Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease specialist at the World Health Organization, says the WHO is tracking the variant in 96 countries now.

    While many countries and localities no longer require masks for people who are fully vaccinated, places like Israel and Los Angeles County are now asking people to mask up indoors in light of the highly infectious variant. (Check out this helpful FAQ about masks and vaccines from NPR's Goats and Soda team for more.)

    Van Kerkhove, who serves as the WHO's COVID-19 technical lead, spoke to NPR's Noel King about the continued importance of mask-wearing.

    "We do need to continue to do what we can to drive transmission down," Van Kerkove said. "Masks are part of that. It doesn't mean that masks need to be worn everywhere, all the time. It's really in areas where the virus is transmitting. If you're in enclosed spaces, if you're with others that haven't had vaccinations."

    Despite the threat posed by the delta variant, Van Kerkhove remains cautiously optimistic.

    "I do see an end in sight and we will get out of this pandemic," she says. "You've heard this phrase, 'the light at the end of the tunnel,' but that tunnel is dark and dangerous so far. Not everybody has that bright shining light yet. Vaccines and vaccinations are an incredibly powerful, additional tool that we have. But not everybody around the world has access to the vaccine."

    Listen to the full interview here.

    Just In

    What Happens After The Eviction Moratorium Ends?

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 9:07 AM EDT

    The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-to-4 yesterday to leave in place a nationwide ban on evictions for tenants unable to pay rent during the pandemic.

    That means the existing moratorium will stay in place until July 31.

    But then what?

    Today, the White House is hosting a summit to highlight available assistance for both renters and landlords.

    Gene Sperling is a senior adviser to the president and the coordinator of the American Rescue Plan, which among other things provides $21.5 billion for emergency rental assistance during the pandemic.

    Sperling says the U.S. Department of Justice has sent a letter to officials around the country encouraging what he calls "anti-eviction diversionary strategies."

    "If you can reach people and get them to talk to each other, landlords can be made whole, they could get all their back rent paid, and it could keep more people in their homes," Sperling says of the model.

    So far, it's been hard to get aid to those most in need

    As NPR has reported, the money approved by Congress for emergency rental assistance has been slow to get to those who need it most.

    Sperling says that even before the pandemic, the U.S. was lacking a national policy to protect against unnecessary evictions. The pandemic funding from Congress was designed to be dispersed at the community level, and many states and localities just didn't have programs in place to get it out into the community right away.

    The White House, Sperling says, is pushing states and communities to create programs and highlight models that have seen success in parts of the U.S. already.

    He says today's summit will bring together 50 cities from across the country to help them "hurry up, empower and fund their efforts to help divert evictions into new, better solutions."

    Listen to his full conversation with NPR's Rachel Martin here.


    Overtly Queer Characters Are Getting More Of The Spotlight In Kids' TV

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 8:52 AM EDT
    Two animated characters clasp hands at a wedding ceremony. One characters has red skin and wears a white dress, the other one has long hair and wears a suit.
    Screencap by NPR/Cartoon Network
    The wedding of Ruby and Sapphire, from "Steven Universe".

    In 2018, two feminine-coded characters (who, OK, yes, technically are living rocks) said "I do" and made history as the first LBGTQ+ wedding in a kids' television series. The marriage of Sapphire and Ruby on the show Steven Universe marked a giant milestone for the genre.

    Kids' media used to only offer queer-coded characters for viewers to extract whatever representation they wanted to see. Think Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

    But these days, children's cartoons are having a renaissance moment for LGBTQ+ representation. A new database from Insider finds that 250 LGBTQ+ characters have appeared in children's cartoons since 1983. And the representation of overtly queer characters in kids' media has skyrocketed in the last five years especially.

    NPR's Victoria Whitley-Berry examined why this representation matters, and who exactly is creating it. They spoke with Steven Universe showrunner Rebecca Sugar about what kids' television was missing during their childhood.


    Sugar says she wanted to create a show that her younger self didn't have, like one where two women — two feminine-coded rocks — could get married.

    🎧 Listen to the full story or read it here.

    Just In
    Miami-Area Condo Collapse

    ‘A Blanket Of Grief All Across Florida’: Miami Beach Mayor Speaks On Tragedy Next Door

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 8:32 AM EDT
    Members of the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue team look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 27, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.
    Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images
    AFP via Getty Images
    Members of the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue team look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 27, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

    The tragedy of the Florida condo collapse is reverberating throughout the local community, including into neighboring Miami Beach, which shares a border with Surfside.

    “There’s an immense amount of people that are one degree of separation or much less to the building,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told NPR’s Morning Edition. “There really is almost a blanket of grief all across Florida.”

    As more information comes to light about long-standing structural issues with the Champlain Towers South, which collapsed suddenly last week, Gelber said residents in his town have begun raising concerns about structures in Miami Beach.

    “People are feeling the pain, watching the pain of these folks, but they’re also wondering about their own buildings,” he said.

    Miami-Dade County has a 40-year recertification process to ensure buildings remain safe. More than 500 buildings are currently undergoing that process in Miami Beach, Gelber said, noting that the city dispatched officials to do visual inspections on the aging structures as early as Friday.

    Also speaking to NPR this morning is Leon Roy Hausmann, a board member at the global rescue organization Cadena International.

    Cadena dispatched a seven-member volunteer team from Mexico -- including a rescue dog -- to help with the rescue efforts in Surfside.

    “Of course we want to save as many lives as we can,” Hausmann said, “but even saving one life, to rescue somebody with life at this moment, would be such a blessing.”


    A High School Graduation Season Like None Other

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 8:20 AM EDT

    This was an unprecedented school year. And for high school seniors, that's meant an extraordinary graduation season.

    At the Washington Latin Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., this year's ceremony took place at a drive-in theater. Families crammed into cars and set up lawn chairs and picnic blankets for a tailgate. Cheering was allowed, honking was not.

    Graduating seniors gather for a class photo before the graduation ceremony.
    Tyrone Turner/WAMU
    Tyrone Turner
    Graduating seniors at the Washington Latin Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., gather for a class photo before the graduation ceremony.

    Head of school Peter Anderson put it this way: "What you're seeing here today is that in the midst of all the challenges, in the midst of all the chaos, there was joy."

    That sentiment was shared by class speaker Amaya Tatum. Because graduation was the first time her class had gathered all year, she wanted to convey this message to her peers:

    "We survived a pandemic. We are survivors and if we’re able to survive a pandemic, we shouldn’t let the smaller things get to us."
    Amaya Tatum, graduating senior at the Washington Latin Public Charter School in D.C.

    Then a severe thunderstorm watch hit the area and cut the ceremony short. The rest of the diplomas had to be handed out the following morning.

    As the rain started and families scrambled into their cars, a message from a school official came over the loudspeaker: "I am so sorry. This is a fitting end to this year. Thank you everybody."

    This is just one example of the many extraordinary high school graduations taking place across the country. Education reporters Elizabeth Miller, Debbie Truong and Aubri Juhasz take us to some of them in Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.

    Read or listen to the full story — and check out the powerful photographs — right here.

    Picture Show

    What Pride Month Means To Black Women Photographers

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 8:08 AM EDT
    "Pride means to me being able to be undeniably yourself and accepting who you are even if others don't. Accepting yourself is the most important part," says photographer Lindsay Perryman, who submitted this photo of Matthew in Williamsburg, Va.
    Lindsay Perryman
    "Pride means to me being able to be undeniably yourself and accepting who you are even if others don't. Accepting yourself is the most important part," says photographer Lindsay Perryman, who submitted this photo of Matthew in Williamsburg, Va.

    What does Pride mean to you?

    NPR posed that question to the Black Women Photographers community this year and came away with a powerful collection of images showcasing LGBTQ-focused stories and past Pride celebrations.

    This community of photographers reaches around the world and aims to create a space where like-minded individuals can share their stories and empower each other.

    Alongside their photos, they shared their thoughts on freedom, love, self-acceptance and the work that still needs to be done.


    "For me, Pride is about celebration and the acts of thriving and building intentional kinship," wrote Cindy Elizabeth. "As a queer Black woman, this means thriving in the face of homophobia, racism and misogynoir and building intentional community with Black queer folks as well as other queer people of color. After this past year of isolation, this feels more important to me now than it ever has."

    Explore all of the photos and reflections here.


    Progressives Fear The Biden Administration Is Turning Its Back On Climate Change

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 7:55 AM EDT
    Individuals wearing "Green New Deal" t-shirts protest outside of the White House, holding signs calling for climate change and a large banner that reads "Our Future Is Not Negotiable."
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
    Getty Images
    Young climate activists rallied on the north side of the White House on Monday to push the Biden administration to include more climate change measures in its infrastructure package.

    Climate change is posing an urgent threat, with a record-breaking heat wave currently scorching the Pacific Northwest and experts warning of another dangerous wildfire and hurricane season ahead.

    President Biden is meeting today with governors of western states to discuss how the federal government will handle wildfires this summer.

    He's expected to announce several efforts aimed at helping states and firefighters on the front lines, including giving bonuses for federal firefighters, extending the seasonal hiring window and training more federal workers and military personnel to respond to wildfires.

    Climate has been at the center of Biden's agenda, but progressives worry that agenda is changing.

    As NPR's Scott Detrow explains:

    • The infrastructure plan that Biden rolled out in the spring included historic major climate proposals, but the bipartisan deal that came together last week is missing most of them.
    • The White House has been calling the package a "down payment," and points out it still includes money for things like electric vehicle charging stations and capping oil and gas wells. It says Biden will press for more climate policies in the Senate reconciliation process that would allow the bill to pass along party lines.
    • Progressives say they need more. They'd like to see the plan include measures like a clean energy standard, 10-year clean energy tax credits for wind and solar appliances and money for a Civilian Climate Corps.

    Climate activists, who have worked with the Biden administration on policy, actually protested outside the White House earlier this week. They're pressuring Biden to take action they say is long overdue, noting the (slim) Democratic majority on Capitol Hill.

    "When the next climate disaster hits — the next wildfire comes or the next hurricane comes — it won't be bipartisanship that saves us all," said 18-year-old John Paul Mejia, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement who was at the protest. "It'll be a historic investment of $10 trillion in all of our communities that will keep us resilient."

    🎧 Listen to the full story here.

    Just In
    Miami-Area Condo Collapse

    As Surfside Rescue Efforts Continue, Loved Ones Face 'Torture' Of Awaiting Answers

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 7:39 AM EDT
    A woman puts her hand on another's shoulder in front of a chain-link fence covered with photos and flowers, serving as a makeshift memorial for victims of Surfside condo collapse.
    Tayfun Coskun/ Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Family members have been holding vigils for the missing victims of the Surfside condo collapse.

    Twelve people are now confirmed dead in the Florida condo collapse, according to authorities. For the loved ones of the 149 people still missing, the excruciating wait for answers goes on.

    Meanwhile, questions continue to circulate about the condition of the Champlain Towers South building before the collapse and what local officials knew about potential structural issues.

    NPR’s Greg Allen spoke with Morning Edition about the latest in Surfside. Here are the highlights:

    • As rescue efforts enter day seven, people are trying to hold on to hope. Some people are finding it hard to cope with the protracted length of the search for victims. “One family member told me that the worst thing after losing your loved one is the torture of not knowing what’s going on,” Allen said.
    • Rescue crews say the conditions are among the most difficult they’ve faced. “Typically these urban search-and-rescue crews go into neighborhoods and into flooded or small collapsed buildings,” Allen says, “but in Surfside the crews are sifting and collecting tons of pulverized concrete from this massive pile.” State authorities have asked the federal government to send in a search team to give local workers some relief.
    • Officials knew of structural damage for years, documents show. A 2018 building report detailed extensive damage to Champlain Towers South and recommended repairs. It was sent to Ross Prieto, Surfside’s former top building official, who told residents the building was in “good shape,” according to meeting minutes. Prieto has stopped taking questions from the media, Allen reports, and has taken a leave of absence from the Doral, Fla., company that employs him.

    In related news, more Champlain Towers residents have sued their condo association, alleging negligence regarding the major structural issues facing the building.


    COVID-19 Cases Are Surging In Missouri As Vaccination Rates Drop

    Posted June 30, 2021 at 7:37 AM EDT

    Many states continue to see steep drops in COVID-19 cases. Missouri is not one of them.

    Infections there are up 62% since June 7, and vaccination rates are down. Public health experts are especially worried about what that means for rural parts of the state, as the highly infectious delta variant becomes more dominant.

    The COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. seem to protect against variants, experts say. But they only work if they’re getting into arms.

    Amanda Hedgpeth is a vice president at CoxHealth, a hospital system based in Springfield, Mo. She says the number of COVID-19 patients at the local hospital has quadrupled in the last six weeks, and is trending much younger - mostly unvaccinated people in their 30s and 40s.

    "Patients that are less likely to get the vaccine tend to live in more rural areas, tend to live in more red areas, or red states, those without a college education, and those that are evangelical, and when you really look at the makeup of southwest Missouri, that is a lot of our patient population."
    Amanda Hedgpedth - Vice President of Hospital Operations, CoxHealth

    Dr. Andrew Pekosz, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, warns that hotspots with low vaccination rates – like southwest Missouri – can enable the virus to keep mutating and become even more infectious, posing a threat far beyond state lines.

    “If we don't really make an effort to boost the vaccination rates in this country, we will be setting up for a larger surge in the fall,” he says.

    So what exactly does that effort look like in Missouri? Listen to the story.