Guantánamo Bay Detainee Released, U.S. COVID Cases Are Rising Fast: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published July 17, 2021 at 1:41 PM EDT
A U.S. Army soldier stands outside the entrance of Guantánamo Bay on October 22, 2016. Today, the Biden administration transferred a Guantánamo detainee to Morocco, marking the first time a prisoner there has been released since President Biden took office.
John Moore/Getty Images
Getty Images South America
A U.S. Army soldier stands outside the entrance of Guantánamo Bay on October 22, 2016. Today, the Biden administration transferred a Guantánamo detainee to Morocco, marking the first time a prisoner there has been released since President Biden took office.

Good morning. We hope everyone had an excellent weekend. Here are the leading stories we're bringing you to kick off the week:

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, a judge in Texas ruled DACA was illegal. A look at what that means for the future of the program.

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

Tokyo Olympics🥇

The Latest From Tokyo: Athletes Test Positive, 'Anti-Sex Beds' Debunked, What It's Like To Cover The Games

Posted July 19, 2021 at 8:25 AM EDT
A sign reading "Tokyo 2020" and five international flags are visible above an empty set of bleachers, in front of a skyline of grey high-rise buildings.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Getty Images AsiaPac
The long-awaited 2020 Olympic Games kick off in Tokyo, Japan on July 23.

The Tokyo Olympics are nearly upon us, with the opening ceremony set to kick things off on Friday.

But there's already been a lot of action, as athletes — and their COVID-19 test results — arrive in Japan. Here's what we're watching:

The coronavirus has breached the Olympic Village. At least two players on the South African soccer team tested positive over the weekend. These were the first cases to appear in athletes, though 45 people affiliated with the Games — mostly contractors — have tested positive since the start of July.

And just this morning, we learned that an unnamed alternate on the U.S. women's gymnastics team has also tested positive for the coronavirus. We don't yet know what that means for the rest of the team.

Coco Gauff will miss the Games after testing positive for the virus. The 17-year-old U.S. tennis star, who was tapped earlier this month to lead the team, announced the result yesterday and said she will no longer be competing.

The beds are getting a lot of attention. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reported earlier this month about the Olympics' efforts to be eco-friendly, which include using sustainable materials like recyclable cardboard beds. Those beds are back in the spotlight after an American distance runner speculated on Twitter that the less-study frames were intended to discourage intimacy — but the myth of the "anti-sex" beds has been officially debunked.

NPR's Merrit Kennedy is in Tokyo, but getting there was no easy feat. It involved days of check-ins ahead of takeoff, several COVID-19 tests and three days of strict quarantine in a hotel room "that barely has enough floor space to open a suitcase." She detailed her experience here. Kennedy says it's an honor to cover the Games in person, and we're excited to follow her coverage in the days to come.

Just In
Guantánamo Bay

The Biden Administration Has Transferred Its First Detainee From Guantánamo Bay

Posted July 19, 2021 at 9:51 AM EDT

The Biden administration has transferred a Guantánamo Bay detainee to Morocco, marking the first time a prisoner there has been released since President Biden took office.

The move signals an effort by Biden to steadily shrink the prisoner population and perhaps eventually close the U.S. military prison.

The transferred prisoner, 56-year-old Moroccan citizen Abdul Latif Nasser, had been cleared for release by a parole-like board since July 2016, but was held for another five years. In total, he spent 19 years at Guantánamo without being criminally charged or put on trial, making him one of the so-called "forever prisoners."

Nearly 800 people have been detained at Guantánamo since the prison opened in 2002. Nasser's release reduces Guantánamo's remaining prisoner population to 39.

Only one Guantánamo prisoner was transferred to another country by the Trump administration.

Since taking office, Biden has cleared another half-dozen prisoners for transfer but must still find countries to take them.

Radiolab has an entire series on who Abdul Latif Nasser is and how he ended up at Guantánamo Bay. It's called The Other Latif and you can head here for that reporting.

Britney Spears

The Latest On Britney Spears' Conservatorship Battle

Posted July 19, 2021 at 10:17 AM EDT
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 18: Protesters attend the #FreeBritney March starting in Plummer Park on July 18, 2021 in West Hollywood, California. The group is calling for an end to the 13-year conservatorship lead by the pop star's father, Jamie Spears and Jodi Montgomery, who have control over her finances and business dealings. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Protesters attend the #FreeBritney March starting in Plummer Park on July 18, 2021, in West Hollywood, California.

Today, we're expecting to hear a ruling on whether the temporary conservator who oversees Britney Spears' medical care will be granted security. This is just the latest update since the case went back in front of a Los Angeles judge on Wednesday.

So far:

Spears' case has attracted international attention, with celebrities, public officials and waves of folks online weighing in.

    Weekend Roundup

    The Stories You May Have Missed This Weekend

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 9:05 AM EDT

    Hopefully you got a chance to relax and recharge over the weekend. And if you did, you may have missed a few stories.

    Don't worry — we're here to bring you up to speed.

    Three side-by-side portraits of Latina journalists Kristen Aguirre, Lori Lizarraga and Sonia Gutierrez.
    Juan Diego Reyes for NPR; JerSean Golatt for NPR; Michele Abercrombie/NPR
    In one year, a Denver TV station ousted three Latina journalists: (from left) Kristen Aguirre left in March 2020, Lori Lizarraga left in March 2021 and Sonia Gutierrez left last November.

    Powerhouse Denver television station KUSA 9News let go of three Latina journalists in the span of a year.

    Their ouster has renewed criticisms of the station — and its parent company, Tegna — and calls for the firing of its top executives.

    Sonia Gutierrez, a former DREAM-er, was told she could only report on immigration if she stated her own immigration status on air in every relevant story. Kristen Aguirre's contract was not renewed some five months after she returned after having a stroke. Lori Lizarraga left the station after pushing unsuccessfully for editors to involve Black and Latino colleagues in more decisions about news coverage.

    NPR's David Folkenflik shares their stories and looks at what might happen next.

    Three people were wounded in a Saturday night shooting outside Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. — while the stadium was packed for a Nationals-Padres game.

    Police said the shooting was an exchange of gunfire between people in two cars. As shots rang out during the sixth inning, some spectators hid behind their seats or fled to the Padres dugout for safety. A loudspeaker announcement instructed fans to remain inside the park, then told them it was safe to exit after a few minutes. The game resumed the following afternoon. Get more details here.

    Germany's soccer team walked off the pitch during a game, citing racist abuse.

    Germany's Olympic team ended a test game against Honduras early after German player Jordan Torunarigha alleged a racist insult from an opposing team member. The Honduras Football Federation said in a statement that the situation was "a misunderstanding on the pitch." Per ESPN, German coach Stefan Kuntz said Torunaringha was "terribly upset because he said he was repeatedly racially abused," and that the matter was resolved after the whole team apologized.

    Biden Celebrated National Ice Cream Day In The Most Biden Way Possible 🍦

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 8:45 AM EDT

    If there's one thing Joe Biden loves, it's ice cream.

    So, of course, the president couldn't let National Ice Cream Day go by without commemorating it.

    This is the photo he posted on Twitter to mark the occasion yesterday.

    It shows him with a large cone one hand, while he snaps a selfie with the other.

    Biden has made no secret of his penchant for ice cream.

    Remember the time in 2016 when, as vice president, he visited the HQ of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream in Ohio and began his remarks this way?

    "My name is Joe Biden, and I love ice cream. You all think I'm kidding — I'm not. I eat more ice cream than three other people you'd like to be with, all at once."


    How To Protect Yourself As COVID-19 Cases Surge (Hint: Get Vaccinated)

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 7:29 AM EDT
    A person sitting down on the sidewalk holds a yellow sign reading "VACCINE" as a woman passes by.
    Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
    A man advertises a vaccine clinic in Los Angeles, California on Friday, amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases.

    U.S. coronavirus cases are on the rise again, with new daily cases up by 70% in just a week.

    Infections are concentrated in places with low vaccination rates, but cases are also ticking up in places like New York City and Los Angeles County, where residents are once again required to wear masks indoors.

    As we've been hearing, the highly contagious delta variant is spreading fast— and 97% of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Listen to the latest.

    "Most people will either get vaccinated or have been previously infected, or they will get this delta variant. And for most people who get this delta variant, it's going to be the most serious virus they get in their lifetime, in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital."
    Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, speaking on CBS News' "Face The Nation" yesterday

    How much more contagious is the delta variant? It's about 225% more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain. That's why it's so important for the roughly 30% of unvaccinated American adults to roll up their sleeves.

    If I've been vaccinated already, will I need a booster shot? The CDC and FDA are getting as much data as they can, including by tracking the immunity levels of people enrolled in clinical trials. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday that the administration is ready for the possibility of boosters "if and when" the science warrants it.

    Should I keep — or resume — wearing my mask in public? While local public health officials can reinstate mask mandates, it's unlikely to happen nationally. But that doesn't mean it's not a good idea: Many public health experts say it makes good sense to stay masked up in crowded indoor settings, both because fully vaccinated people can still get infected and because masking helps protect children.

    You probably have a few more questions, like: What does all of this mean for those wedding invitations? The kids in your life? Your grocery store trips? Check out this handy FAQ.

    Just In

    One Of China's Most Famous Celebrities Has Been Accused Of Sexually Assaulting 8 Women

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 10:05 AM EDT

    Chinese Canadian singer Kris Wu is a megastar in China. But one woman, Du Meizhu, claims Wu used that star power to lure her into his home, then raped her while she was unconscious.

    Another woman in the entertainment industry corroborated aspects of Du's account, claiming Wu often approached attractive women online and in-person and was known for his predatory behavior.

    Wu's team denied all allegations.

    These allegations are unsupported, though Du says she will provide proof she obtained from seven other women Wu allegedly assaulted.

    Several Chinese brands have preemptively cut ties with Wu.

    Online, Wu's tens of thousands of fans have mobilized to support their star by posting positive messages about him.

    Morning Edition Staff

    A Martínez Is Ready To 'Geek Out' As Morning Edition's Newest Host

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 9:22 AM EDT

    A Martínez is joining the Morning Edition family as the show’s newest host. He comes to us from NPR’s member station KPCC in Los Angeles, where he hosted the show Take Two since 2012. The show provided extensive coverage of the region's challenges, including homelessness, climate change and systematic disparities in health and education.

    Before getting into public radio, Martínez worked as a sports radio host at 710 KSPN. He’s a self-proclaimed sports geek, with a love for baseball and an even bigger love for the Dodgers. He hopes to bring Morning Edition listeners a new perspective of sports news on air.

    “There’s so much of a cultural connection to a sports team in a city or region and what it means to bring people together that maybe wouldn't be brought together under any other circumstance,” Martínez said. “So I think that's what I want to really try and do, is to show how much of a unifier sports can be and how much of a cultural difference it can make in people's lives.”

    Today was A's first day hosting. 🎧 He spoke with his co-host Noel King this morning about his excitement for the role and when he's planning to get some sleep. Something Morning Edition staffers spend a lot of time talking about!

    And we put together this Q&A so you can get to know Martínez:

    Tell us a little about yourself.

    A Martínez: [I was] born in downtown Los Angeles, raised in Koreatown, went to Cal State Northridge and worked in sports radio mostly. At the start of my career, traveled with the Dodgers for 10 years, going to the spring training sites, spending time on the team plane, the bus, the hotel and really being embedded with them for for a decade. Then went to ESPN, did kind of the same thing, doing a pre- and post-game show for the Lakers before going to KPCC. And now NPR.

    What was it like working at KPCC?

    It was the first time I'd ever worked in public radio, the first time I'd ever really heard of public radio. I hadn't heard any public radio. I'd heard of NPR. But I can't say that I'd ever listened to anything on NPR. And we did a lot of a lot of cool interviews with people from L.A. and Southern California, just tried to let people that live in L.A. and Southern California get to know their neighbors and their neighborhood.

    What stories at KPCC are you most proud of?

    We did a series called "Eighty-Eight Cities." LA County is made up of 88 cities. And we would put it out there for listeners to invite us to their city to tell us what makes their city so great. So that was a nice series that we were able to do for a while until the pandemic stopped that. We're about to do Burbank, which is where I live. And that that ended that. One of my first field interviews for KPCC, we went to a very secret location where they have what's called alcoholic chocolate milk. You take a cup, you go right to a goat, you squeeze the milk out of a goat, you put some rum or tequila in it, mix it with chocolate powder and drink it. And that's what a lot of people that go out of work in the fields in this area in Southern California drink in the morning to kind of warm themselves up and get going. And I was actually able to go to a goat and do what they do. So just stuff like that, that would kind of give a nice flavor of Southern California, that's all around everyone but maybe people don't know about.

    What are you most excited for about Morning Edition?

    Introducing me, Southern Cal, I know that Morning Edition does stories about California, but I think it's different when you have someone that grew up here and knows this place better than anything else in the world to be able to showcase these kinds of stories. I think I could put a touch that maybe hasn't been done in the past years. I come from sports, but I think public radio sometimes thumb their nose a little bit at sports and thinks it's such a low brow. But there's so much of a cultural connection to a sports team in a city or region and what it means to bring people together that maybe wouldn't be brought together under any other circumstance. I think that's what I want to really try and do, is to show how much of a unifier sports can be and how much of a cultural difference it can make in people's lives.

    What else do you want listeners to know about you?

    I'm super excited to be here coming from where I came from, you know, just eight years ago, I didn't know, I couldn't tell you what an NPR show was, I couldn't tell you a single name of an NPR show. I'd never listened to public radio. I came from the planet. But for the average public radio listener, the worst place possible: sports radio, sports, talk radio that's like the lowest of the lowest, and to be able to like now be part of this, it just feels good that your work gets noticed and that there's an opportunity to grow into something more than from where you started. I still can't believe that I'm here and it's going to be annoyingly geeky for however long I manage to be here.

    The Biden Administration

    How The White House Is Approaching Immigration After A Federal Judge's Ruling On DACA

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 9:44 AM EDT

    The Senate is expected to start voting on the Biden administration's infrastructure plan this week and the White House would like to keep the focus on infrastructure.

    But, on Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled against the Obama-era DACA program. It has kept hundreds of thousands of people who were brought to the U.S. as kids, safe from deportation. And new numbers show that border apprehensions are up significantly.

    As NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports:

    President Biden and his administration have aimed to show that their immigration policy is more humane than former President Trump's. But they have been criticized for struggling to manage a surge of unaccompanied minors.

    Border apprehensions are way up:

    • In June, agents stopped more than 188,000 migrants trying to cross the southern border. That's a 21-year high.
    • 34% of the people who tried to cross the border last month, had tried at least once before in the past year.

    The administration doesn't want people making the dangerous journey, and they certainly don't want the bad headlines of so many border apprehensions. They want people to come here through legal channels but the legal immigration system is pretty broken.

    In terms of the future of DACA, the president says it's really up to Congress to act. Biden is even urging Democrats to use a process known as reconciliation, which would only require the support of Democrats and not Republicans to act.

    And Democrats are considering that, trying to make immigration part of the $3.5 trillion budget plan they're considering. But it's not at all clear that Senate rules will let that happen.


    Body Armor For Female Soldiers Is Both Lifesaving And More Inclusive

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 7:51 AM EDT
    United States Marine Corps recruits from Lima Company take part in training on April 21, 2021, before officially becoming U.S. Marines. Lima Company is the first gender integrated company with a female platoon training alongside male platoons.
    PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
    United States Marine Corps recruits from Lima Company take part in training on April 21, 2021, before officially becoming U.S. Marines. Lima Company is the first gender integrated company with a female platoon training alongside male platoons.

    Pundits and politicians have recently made light of today’s military, mocking efforts to be more inclusive. But some of those efforts aren’t just about a more modern military — they’re also potentially lifesaving.

    As Jay Price of member station WUNC reports, you just have to ask a female soldier. At Fort Belvoir in Virginia, he met with Maj. Melissa Elledge, who helps the Army develop body armor. Elledge was deployed to combat zones twice and became deeply familiar with how body armor failed women.

    She saw how bad fits left potentially lethal gaps, and as she sat in trucks or aircraft, the heavy ceramic plates would cut off circulation. The plates also took up vital time to shove aside before she could shoulder and aim her rifle.

    "For each of us, soldier first, we're a rifleman. And so to seat that weapon, and to take that first shot is vital to my survivability."
    Army Maj. Melissa Elledge

    Elledge says the new modular body armor, with better shaping and new sizes, solves these problems. Part of the push to pressure the Pentagon to make these changes is coming from Congress.

    That includes Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who is a combat veteran. She says that when she served in Iraq in 2004, the only body armor sizes available were large and extra large male sizes. And she was told by a former combat doctor of cases where gaping, ill-fitting armor gave snipers a clean shot at soldiers.

    The body armor redesign is part of a wave of changes in clothing and gear to better accommodate women. You can find out more about the body armor and how service members are responding to the changes by listening to this story.

    Race In America

    Advocates Say A Big Boost In Federal Funding For Indigenous Language Programs Still Falls Short

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 7:29 AM EDT

    The newest coronavirus relief package allocates funding for Indigenous programs, setting aside $20 million for revitalization efforts. That’s $8 million more than in recent years.

    But as The Mountain West News Bureau’s Savannah Maher reports from New Mexico, many people in tribal communities see that as an insufficient investment after generations of linguistic trauma.

    Take the story of 11-year-old Mililani Suina for example. She’s a student at Keres Children's Learning Center in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, where she takes classes in the Keres language.

    “I feel very lucky that I learned it at a very young age and I’m still speaking our sacred language, because some of our relatives don’t really know about our own language.”
    - Mililani Suina, 11

    But her mom, Phoebe, has struggled to communicate with relatives in Keres. She notes they’re survivors of the Indian boarding school system, where they were taught that they needed to speak English in order to succeed academically.

    Advocates say that federal investment in Indigenous languages is long overdue, considering how many years the government spent trying to eradicate them.

    And while the American Rescue Plan includes extra funding for these efforts, they worry it will be spread too thin between the hundreds of language programs that are applying.

    Curtis Chavez, the development director of Keres Children’s Learning Center, notes that the most effective tools for language revitalization are typically the most expensive to operate. He believes federal support should be easier to access.

    “I think it’s owed. Owed to our people, from stolen land and resources and such it’s owed to us.”
    - Curtis Chavez, development director of the Keres Children's Learning Center in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico

    Listen to Maher’s reporting here, or read more from member station KUNM.

    Just In

    'The Water Is Coming. We're Going To Drown.' Stories From The Catastrophic Flooding In Germany

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 8:12 AM EDT
    A destroyed bridge over the Ahr River in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler
    Rob Schmitz/NPR
    A destroyed bridge over the Ahr River in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler

    Entire towns are destroyed and more than 150 people are dead after catastrophic flooding in western Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel toured some of the affected areas and has called the past several days "terrifying".

    NPR's Rob Schmitz spent a day in one of the worst hit towns, Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. You can hear his powerful reporting on today's Morning Edition. He says the town looks like a tidal wave hit it:

    The Ahr River flows through the town and the tiny creek went from inches deep to 25 feet deep within just a couple of hours. Waves of water carried cars, parts of houses, and uprooted trees into this valley, slamming them into other homes and bridges.

    One of the town's residents, Claudia Krah, was busy cleaning up debris.

    "It is so truly sad because we Ahrweiler people love our hometown, and it’s gone. It’s gone. Historical buildings, no restaurants, no businesses running. it’s over," she said.

     Martin Larsson stands by the debris in front of his damaged home.
    Rob Schmitz/NPR
    Martin Larsson stands by the debris in front of his damaged home.

    Martin Larsson lives a few houses down from Krah. When he noticed water gushing out of the storm drains, he and his wife woke up their three kids and ran for safety in their pajamas through the rising water. That’s when they realized they left his mother-in-law and his wife’s grandmother inside their house, next door. So they called the house.

    "We said where are you, how are you doing? And she said, well, the water's coming. And fifteen minutes later, the last call we got was from her. She was standing on the second floor screaming in panic in the mobile phone, saying: ‘The water is coming. We're going to drown,’ and then it cut."
    Martin Larsson - Resident of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler

    Fortunately for Larsson, his mother-in-law and his wife’s grandmother survived by holding out on the third story of their home.

    But dozens of people died in this village. And authorities still don't know many people are still missing, as many of those labeled missing have not been reachable by cell phone because towers are down.

    Before You Go
    Must Listen

    They Had Dreamed Of A Cross-Country Drive. After He Died, She Took The Road Trip With His Ashes

    Posted July 19, 2021 at 10:28 AM EDT

    We have a particularly lovely listening recommendation for you today. It's both heartbreaking and heartwarming, so buckle up.

    Middle school teacher Nancy Marino dreams of visiting all 50 states, and before the pandemic had planned to drive from Virginia to California with her friend Bob Folstad.

    On previous road trips together, they'd assembled playlists with location-specific songs: John Denver's Rocky Mountain High for Colorado, Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for Kansas, Bruce Springsteen's Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

    Folstad died of liver disease in January. Marino says her grief was so great, she got depressed and had to be hospitalized.

    "And when I got out, one of the things I realized was I still wanted to partake in this. You know, I didn't want to just sit around and, you know, feel bad. I wanted to continue with what our plans had been."
    Nancy Marino

    She ended up taking that road trip after all, and brought Folstad's ashes with her. She says the journey brought her connection as well as closure.

    Marino spoke to NPR's Scott Simon about the bittersweet experience. 🎧 Hear about her road trip, including the soundtrack that accompanied it.