Simone Biles And Valuing Mental Health, Mask And Vaccine Guidance, Child Tax Credit Options: Today's Top Stories

Published July 28, 2021 at 6:56 AM EDT
Four Olympic gymnasts from Team USA stand on the podium with their silver medals.
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Jordan Chiles, Simone Biles, Grace McCallum and Sunisa Lee of Team United States react on the podium after winning the silver medal during the Women's Team Final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Good morning ☕️

Happy Wednesday! There's lots of news out of Tokyo from Team USA this morning, as well as developing guidance on how to best handle the delta variant.

Here's what we're watching:

🎧 Plus, on Up First, our morning news podcast, an update from the Capitol riot hearings in Congress.

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

COVID-19 Relief

Should You Opt Out Of The Next Child Tax Credit? You Have Until Monday To Decide

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A man and a woman in a yellow suit stand in front of a podium in front of a blue sign reading "child tax credit." Above their heads is a large rainbow mural depicting a girl holding a diploma, boys playing basketball and the back of a person wearing a jersey reading "barrio action youth."
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks as Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) looks on at a press conference on the newly expanded Child Tax Credit at the Barrio Action Youth and Family Center in Los Angeles, California on July 15.

The first monthly payment of the expanded child tax credit landed in bank accounts last month, and the next is coming in mid-August.

But not every parent wants that money now — they might prefer to get the full sum when they file taxes next year, as in typical years. If you want to stop the next payment, you have to opt-out by Monday.

NPR's labor and workplace correspondent Andrea Hsu explains why you might want to do that, and how to go about it.

You should consider opting out if...

  • You count on getting the money each spring, either as a way to offset taxes owed or as a reliable refund
  • Your income increased significantly in 2021
  • You're divorced and taking turns claiming the credit
  • Your child turns 18 anytime this year

If you want to opt out now...

  • Go to the IRS portal and create an account with the third-party app ID.me
  • And have patience: It's not the most user-friendly app — and unenrolling by phone is even trickier

If you want to opt out later...

  • From now through December, you can choose to unenroll before the next month's payment. The deadline is three days before the first Thursday of every month.

For more on what to consider before you decide, check out Andrea Hsu's reporting.

National Security

Biden Pushes Cybersecurity Upgrades For Critical Infrastructure

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An aerial view shows two tall fuel tanks on a dirt patch, surrounded by green grass and grey roads, at Colonial Pipeline's Dorsey Junction Station in Maryland.
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Colonial Pipeline's Dorsey Junction Station in Woodbine, Maryland pictured in May 2021, the month that a cyberattack disrupted gas supply to the eastern U.S. for several days.

President Biden just signed a national security directive aimed at boosting defenses against ransomware attacks and the hacking of critical infrastructure like energy, food, water and power systems.

The directive sets performance standards for technology and systems used by private companies in those sectors — though it can't force those companies to comply.

The memorandum follows a series of high-profile attacks on a major pipeline and the country's biggest meat supplier (those have been linked to groups operating in Russia, and Biden says he raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met last month).

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the new standards will be voluntary.

For reference, almost 90% of the country's critical infrastructure is owned and run by the private sector, and the government has limited authority over their cybersecurity requirements.

But the official says the Biden administration may pursue legislative options, with help from Congress, to require the kind of technological improvements that would defend against such cyberattacks.

“Short of legislation, there isn’t a comprehensive way to require deployment of security technologies and practices that address the threat environment that we face,” they added.

For now: The government may draw up the standards, but it's up to private companies to decide whether to follow them.

Tokyo Olympics 🥇

Athletes Are Dominating Olympic TikTok. Here's Who To Watch Out For

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For all the socializing that can't happen this year at the Olympic village because of COVID-19 restrictions, Olympic TikTok is giving everyone (those in Tokyo and those stuck at home) a socially distanced way to connect.

Hashtags like #olympictiktok #tokyo2020 and #tokyoolympics are filled with videos from Olympians chronically their experiences in Tokyo (cardboard beds play a starring role), as well as from fans shipping their national team and favorite athletes from the comfort of home.

Here's a few of our favorite athletes to follow ⤵️

🏉 Ilona Maher, Team USA Rugby

Vermonter Ilona Maher has been carrying #teamusa on #olympictiktok. Starting with her highly scientific review of the cardboard beds, and carrying right on through to her relatable struggle to socialize during a pandemic (and of course her earnest curiosity about how Team USA skateboarders manage to be so cool,) Maher is a joy that's gotten us all hyped for Olympic rugby.

🏉 Cody Melphy, Team USA Rugby

Hot on Maher's heels is fellow rugbier and Coloradoan Cody Melphy. He's been chronicling his journey to Tokyo and the behind-the-scenes of Olympic Village life, as well as answering followers' questions about the Games.

@codymelphy

Yes we talk to each other! But sometimes we can’t because of language barrier! ##2020olympics ##tokyo2020 ##olympicvillage ##olympics

♬ Dville Santa x Laboratory o - 𝙅𝙪𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙣

👟 Laviai Nielsen, Team GB Track & Field

British sprinter Laviai Nielsen has been chronicling her Olympic adventure since the team left the U.K., filling us all with joy and running knowledge ever sense.

@laviainielsen

“How are you preparing for the Tokyo Olympics?” 🤧

♬ super rich kids - shaun

👟 Raven Saunders, Team USA Track & Field

A shot-put superstar and South Carolinian, Raven Saunders is in Tokyo for her second Olympics and is sharing joy and hilarity from behind the scenes, including her review of the food at the athletes' dinning hall.

And of course, honorable mention to Laurie Hernandez, 2016 Olympic gymnast for Team USA, who is missing this year's competition due to a knee injury but traveled to Tokyo to cover the games for NBC.

Capitol Attack

After Emotional Testimony, What's Next For The House Investigation Into The Capitol Riot?

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U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn testifies before the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021 at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC.

More than six months after a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, four of the police officers who defended the building testified before a House committee about the physical and psychological trauma they endured.

Here are four takeaways from the emotional hearing, where the officers detailed the physical injuries and verbal abuse they experienced.

Multiple officers said they thought they would die that day. At one point, U.S. Capitol Police Pfc. Harry Dunn — who is Black — described rioters calling him racial epithets, while Officer Daniel Hodges of the D.C. Metropolitan Police talked about being crushed in a doorway as someone tried to gouge his eye out.

As NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas reports, the officers refuted claims that the rioters were peaceful and unarmed. They shot down conspiracy theories that it was actually antifa, Black Lives Matter protesters or the FBI who staged the attack. And they said many rioters told them that Trump had sent them.

The officers also expressed their frustration with the lawmakers downplaying the events of Jan. 6.

"The same people who we helped, the same people who we gave them the borrowed time to get to safety, now they're attacking us. They're attacking our characters."
- Sgt. Aquilino Gonell of the U.S. Capitol Police

What happens next? The Democratic-led committee hasn't said who else it wants to hear from — they could call on members of Congress or members of the Trump White House, though those subpoenas could get caught up in legal challenges.

They haven't yet said when they will meet again, but chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson has said they may try to hold their next hearing as soon as next month.

Listen here.

NPR Newscast
Pass The Tea

Rooibos Joins The European Union's List Of Protected Products

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A farm worker in the Rooibos tea Skimmelberg farm grades and treats Rooibos tea leaves before packaging in the Clanwilliam district of South Africa in Feb. 2017.

The European Union has added a South African tea to its register of products with a protected designation of origin.

Rooibos ("red bush" in Afrikaans) joins France's Champagne, Greece's feta cheese and Colombian coffee on the list. The tea is said to have numerous health benefits.

The rooibos-producing community in South Africa is justifiably excited about the certification.

"It protects the product against would-be producers outside of the rooibos region in South Africa."
- Dawie de Villiers, legal director of the South African Rooibos Council

The listing means only rooibos from the South Africa region can use the EU's red and yellow "protected designation of origin" (PDO) logo.

The status protects consumers from any fake teas labeled rooibos. It also should result in premium pricing for the tea, which should benefit farmers. It's the first African food to be added to the exclusive list.

Tokyo Olympics 🥇

Keep Your Eye On Jordan Chiles: Entrepreneur, Washingtonian And Olympic Gymnast

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Gymnast performs a pose in her floor routine.
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Jordan Chiles of Team United States competes in the floor exercise during the Women's Team Final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.

Yesterday was eventful for the U.S. women's gymnastics team. But it does give us a chance to further highlight the incredibly talented, Jordan Chiles.

The 20-year-old, named after basketball great, Michael Jordan, is competing in her first Olympics for Team USA , and stepped in to fill Simone Biles' spot on balance beam and uneven bars after Biles withdrew.

The two teammates are also friends in real life, with Biles posting a photo of the two last night to Instagram. Chiles also relocated from Vancouver, Washington, to Biles' Texas gym to train at Biles' urging.

NPR's Laurel Wamsley has more on the silver-medal winning athlete and her journey to the Olympics here.

Music

Rapper Mach-Hommy Wants To Remind You Of Haiti's Resilience

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It's been an especially tumultuous time for Haiti. The country was plagued by violence and political turmoil even before the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and the events of the weeks since have been painful for Haitians there and around the world.

Mach-Hommy, a Haitian American rapper from New Jersey, told NPR's Michel Martin that it's the norm for Haitians abroad to split their energy and thoughts between two places.

Hommy's latest album, Pray For Haiti, was released in May by Griselda Records and is already being hailed as one of this year's best. (Listen here.)

In his interview with Martin, Hommy talks about these two realities — his success and his country's crisis. He acknowledges that Haiti inherited social and political problems from its forefathers but says the resilience of people there (and the next generation) give him hope.

"I'd like the conversation to be about the resiliency of these people and the untapped wealth of skill, thought, language, art. I want people to know that that's there, even through all the trauma and assassination attempts and ... successful assassinations. And even through all of that, these people are still willing to share their culture. And they look to everyone else, not for a handout but for recognition and acknowledgement for what they've contributed, as a culture, to the book of humanity. It's very valuable to me."
- Haitian American rapper Mach-Hommy

Click here to listen to the full conversation or read excerpts.

Coronavirus

What These New Mask Policies And Vaccine Requirements Mean For You

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially reversed course, and now says everyone — regardless of vaccinations status — should wear a mask indoors in public spaces if they live in an area where COVID-19 cases are surging.

That's most places, except for the Northeast and parts of the Upper Midwest, but you can check on your county's level of community transmission on this CDC map.

Plus, use NPR's case tracker and vaccination tracker to see how your state is doing.

The new guidance also recommends universal masking at K-12 schools.

As NPR's Allison Aubrey explains on Up First, the new guidance is prompted by two changes: the slowing vaccination rate and the spread of the delta variant. ⤵️

About 30% of U.S. adults are not vaccinated, kids under 12 still can't get the shot and some people with compromised immune systems don't get full protection from the vaccine. Plus, new data suggests that vaccinated people who get breakthrough infections could transmit the virus to others.

The CDC has said masking is a simple step people can take to protect themselves in the immediate term, until more Americans get vaccinated. One way to increase those numbers?

Vaccine mandates, which are on the rise across the U.S. City workers in New York City must either get vaccinated or tested weekly, and California just enacted a similar policy for state employees and health care workers.

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs is requiring front-line health care workers to get vaccinated in the next two months. And President Biden is reportedly weighing new vaccine or testing mandates for federal employees — more on that here.

While erring on the side of caution can't hurt, you may be wondering where and when to mask up in certain situations. Here's a handy guide to making those decisions.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner and current Pfizer board member, spoke to Morning Edition about the new masking recommendation.

“I think the bottom line is people who are vaccinated shouldn’t assume that they’re completely impervious to the infection, they can get a mild infection or asymptomatic infection, so if they’re around people who are at high risk — young children, elderly individuals — they should be mindful of that," he said.

🎧 Listen to the full conversation here.

Just In
Coronavirus

The Wrong Kind Of Olympic Record: COVID-19 Cases In Tokyo Are Surging

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People wearing face masks stand on a street corner in front of a brightly-lit storefront.
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People wait to cross a street in Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday. COVID-19 cases have been rising there all month, reaching an all-time record of daily positive cases today.

For the first time in four days, no Olympic athletes tested positive for the coronavirus in the preceding day.

But 16 Olympics-related personnel did test positive, including two members of the media. Since July 1, 169 Olympic-affiliated personnel — including at least 17 athletes — have tested positive.

Unfortunately, Tokyo also set an all-time record of daily positive cases: 3,177, eclipsing the record it set just yesterday.

On July 1, when Olympics personnel began to enter the country, the coronavirus count was 673.

Immigration

The U.S. Is Changing How It Manages Asylum Cases To Address The Substantial Backlog

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Silvia Portillo, 34, of Honduras is interviewed by Robert Vivar, of the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Resource Center, about her experiences living in Tijuana. Small numbers are allowed into the U.S. every day under a murky system that the Biden administration cobbled together to start opening back up the asylum system in the U.S.

The Biden administration is moving forward on a plan to shift who is allowed to process future asylum cases at the southern border.

The change would allow asylum officials from the Department of Homeland Security to rule on asylum cases instead of immigration judges. As NPR's Franco Ordoñez reports, this would vastly expand the number of people able to work on these cases.

The White House hopes the move will improve the U.S. immigration system that was already slow before Biden became president and has become more overwhelmed since his inauguration.

The situation is dire. Right now, there are nearly 1.3 million cases being handled by only about 540 immigration judges. That means it can take years for immigrants to know if they're granted asylum.

Asylum officials were already doing this for non-border asylum-seekers already in the U.S. But some immigration advocates fear the plan could be used to speed up asylum cases too much, denying immigrants due process.

Listen to more on the change here.

Tokyo Olympics 🥇

The 168 Openly LGBTQ Olympians In Tokyo Have Already Won More Medals Than Brazil

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As NPR's Vanessa Romo reports, if all of the publicly out LGBTQ athletes at the Olympics represented a country under a single rainbow flag, they would have already won six Olympic medals. This ties them with Switzerland and Chinese Taipei.

Some medal-winners have already shared messages of hope and inspiration to LGBTQ youth watching the games from home. Here's what they had to say.

Tokyo Olympics 🥇

Simone Biles Is Cheered For Prioritizing Her Mental Health. Here Are More Resources

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Simone Biles
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Simone Biles, of the United States, waits to perform on the vault during the artistic gymnastics women's final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. The American gymnastics superstar has withdrawn the all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being.

Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, will not compete in the individual all-around gymnastics final at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday.

Biles is the defending champion for the sport's marquee individual event. She won by a huge margin at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

The announcement comes after she pulled out of the team final after a rocky opening vault on Tuesday, saying she needed to take care of her mental health.

"I've just never felt like this going into a competition before," she said. "I tried to go out here and have fun ... but once I came out here, I was like, 'no, the mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.' "

USA Gymnastics was supportive of her decision to withdraw from Thursday's event and applauded "her bravery in prioritizing her well-being" in a statement. "Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many," the organization added.

Jade Carey, who came to Tokyo as an event specialist, will take Biles' place in the all-around individual event. The 21-year-old had an exceptionally strong showing at the qualifying event, placing ninth overall. However, she was not chosen as a member of the U.S.' four-person team and did not compete in the team event on Tuesday after Biles' withdrawal.

The announcement does not mean this is the last we'll see of Biles; she could still compete in the individual event finals. USA Gymnastics said she'd be evaluated every day to determine whether she'll take part. She qualified in all four of the events.

Biles is one of several Olympic athletes garnering praise and support after speaking openly about the stress of the Games and the importance of prioritizing mental health — others include legendary American swimmer Katie Ledecky and Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka.

As Mandalit del Barco reports from Tokyo, Olympic organizers and Team USA brought mental health resources for athletes and staff in an especially stressful year.

"Besides the pressure to be the best, and besides the global pandemic, there's also the fact there are no spectators allowed to watch the Games in person," she explains. "There aren't any family members to hug after they win, there are no friends or family or fans to cheer them on from the stands."

Stress affects all of us, even if we're not Olympic athletes. Here are some more resources and suggested reading:

International Dispatch
China

Meet China's New U.S. Ambassador, Who Made His Name As A Colorful Foreign Ministry Spokesperson

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Qin Gang, pictured in Beijing, China in Feb. 2007 during one of his two terms as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

As a spokesperson, he delivered excoriating one-liners and helped pioneer a brash, sharply confident communication style from the Chinese foreign ministry's pulpit.

Now, as the next Chinese ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, 55, will need to straddle an increasingly nationalistic audience back home while contending with the most fraught U.S.-China relationship in more than 40 years.

'All the competence of Sean Spicer and the charm of Sarah Huckabee Sanders'

Qin, who has served in various attaché and senior foreign ministry positions in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, is not an expert on American affairs — and that sets him apart from his predecessors.

Instead, he made his name as a two-time spokesperson for the foreign ministry, establishing a more acerbic style of communication with the foreign press and diplomats as China began to gain geopolitical and economic prominence.

"He was wholly contemptuous of the [foreign] press corps, and he made no bones about it," says Ed Lanfranco, who reported from Beijing for the UPI news agency for nine years, until 2009. "Qin exhibited all the competence of Sean Spicer and the charm of Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the White House when dealing with the press."

Qin's legacy is evident among the more recent, outspoken foreign ministry spokespeople who have become social media stars in their own right.

Behind the scenes, Qin has also struck a tough line in his current post as a vice minister overseeing European affairs. During his tenure beginning in 2018, he oversaw the Chinese response to coordinated British, American and European Union sanctions on four senior Chinese officials over human rights abuses in the region of Xinjiang.

He is reportedly scheduled to arrive in the U.S. to begin his new post this week.

For more on Qin and what his role may mean for U.S.-China relations, read or listen here.

Tokyo Olympics 🥇

Swimmer Lydia Jacoby's Hometown In Alaska Is Adorably Excited About Her Olympic Gold

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Tuesday, 17-year-old Olympic swimmer Lydia Jacoby took gold in the 100-meter breaststroke.

In and of itself — awesome news. But Jacoby is also the first person from the state of Alaska to make the U.S. swim team, and folks back in AK were pumped.

As Alaska Public Media's Lex Treinem and Sabine Poux report, her hometown of Seward, Alaska, gathered hundreds in a railroad terminal to watch Jacoby's race.

Equally adorable? The photos of a young Jacoby shared by her local swim club.

International Dispatch
Vatican City

The Vatican's Biggest Criminal Trial In Modern History Just Started

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The Vatican is holding its biggest criminal trial in modern history. The case alleges that 10 people defrauded the Holy See of tens of millions of dollars, and the list of suspects includes a once-powerful cardinal.

It's a very complicated case. At the heart of it is a botched real estate deal in London. The Vatican lost tens of millions of dollars in the purchase of a warehouse, which was to be converted into luxury apartments. The purchase was allegedly going to be bankrolled by charity funds that the Pope earmarks for the poor.

The key defendant is Cardinal Angelo Becciu. He was the third-highest ranking official in the Vatican and he's accused of crimes including embezzlement, abuse of office, money laundering and fraud. He denies all wrongdoing. The other defendants include Italian financiers and former Vatican financial officers.

Vatican officials say the trial marks a turning point for greater credibility in the Holy See's affairs. The fact that a cardinal is on trial for the first time in the Vatican's modern history is a sign that nobody is untouchable. The Pope is determined to clean up Vatican finances after decades of scandal.

Pope Francis fired Cardinal Becciu from his post. The Pope required him to renounce all privileges of being a cardinal — including taking part in a conclave to elect the next Pope.

The lawyers representing the accused in this case are pushing back, arguing that the Vatican is overstepping its judicial rights. You can hear how they're making their argument by listening here.

From The Science Desk
Before You Go...

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Bring Hope — And Controversy — To The Fight To End Malaria

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An Aedes aegypti mosquito is seen through a microscope at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation laboratory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 14, 2019.

For the first time, scientists have used a new type of genetic engineering to wipe out a population of malaria-spreading mosquitos in a lab.

The discovery could be revolutionary for the campaign to eliminate malaria, but critics say the technology is too dangerous.

The results of the landmark study were published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications. The scientists genetically modified mosquitos, giving them a mutation that prevented them from being able to bite and reproduce, and therefore spread malaria.

The study inspired excitement and deep concern because of its use of a type of genetic engineering called a "gene-drive", which propels a desired gene change throughout future generations of an organism.

Many are worried if improperly used the science could upset the delicate balance of ecosystems, and scientists themselves are studying gene-drives under strict conditions. Critics say it isn't enough.

NPR's Rob Stein has more here. Plus, you can see a video of genetically modified mosquitos here.