Federal Vaccine Requirements, U.S. Economy Grows, Extreme Weather: News You Need To Start Your Day
Good morning ☕️
It's Thursday and we've got a close eye as always on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. You can follow along with NPR's Olympics live blog, which includes reporting on Sunisa Lee's stunning gold medal performance for the U.S. in the all-around gymnastics final.
And here are the other big stories we're following for you:
- New numbers show that the U.S. economy grew sharply in the spring, but economists believe we've marked a peak with the risk of the delta variant looming.
- The Senate has voted to advance the bipartisan infrastructure deal that negotiators have been working on for weeks. It's got money for roads, bridges, rail and water infrastructure.
- Wendy Sherman became the top Biden administration official to visit China this week. She tells NPR how she's navigating a U.S.-China relationship defined by competition, cooperation and challenges.
- It's been a deadly few weeks for flooding, heat waves and wildfires. Climate scientists say the Earth has warmed enough to make these extreme weather events much more likely.
— The Morning Edition live blog team
Emily Alfin Johnson, William Jones, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark, Dana Farrington and Casey Noenickx
Biden Is Expected To Announce Guidance On Vaccines For Federal Employees Today
President Biden is set to announce today he wants all civilian federal employees to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus or face additional testing and mask requirements.
He's acting now because vaccination rates have stalled in parts of the U.S. and the delta variant is spreading rapidly. As NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports:
- There are about 2 million federal employees who will be impacted by this move. Biden is expected to announce that they'll need to be fully vaccinated or wear a mask at all times and get tested for COVID-19 regularly.
- The administration is shying away from calling this a mandate. But this policy will have the effect of making it inconvenient to be unvaccinated, which could force some people to go ahead and get the jab.
The expected move from the Biden administration comes the same week Los Angeles and New York City rolled out new mandatory vaccine requirements for public employees. And the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough has already confirmed that the department will require front-line health care workers to get vaccinated.
Biden is also expected to address the new CDC guidance on mask wearing that was released this week. The advice is to mask up indoors if you live in a place with "substantial" or "high" coronavirus transmission.
Not sure what that means for your community? We have a county-level guide for you here.
Team USA's Sunisa Lee Just Won Gold In The Women's Gymnastics All-Around Final
Sunisa Lee has won Olympic gold in the marquee individual competition of women's gymnastics, proving that Team USA has more than one superstar.
As NPR's Merrit Kennedy reports from Tokyo, the competition was initially defined by who wasn't competing, after Simone Biles withdrew to prioritize her mental health.
That made Lee, an 18-year-old from Minnesota, the highest-qualifying U.S. gymnast for the all-around final. And today she brought it home.
Lee bested 23 other gymnasts in the four-competition event (balance beam, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise). Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade took silver and Angelina Melnikova of the team from Russia won bronze.
It was the fifth straight Olympic gold medal for the U.S. in the individual all-around competition dating to the 2004 Athens Games. Read the full recap here.
Controversial Trading App Robinhood Makes Its Wall Street Debut Today
The stock trading app Robinhood debuts on the Nasdaq today, amidst growing pressure from regulators who are challenging its core business practices.
The company allows people to buy and sell stocks, commission-free.
You may remember that it faced questions and criticism over its decision to restrict buying of GameStop shares during that whole frenzy back in January.
As NPR's Bobby Allyn explains, more than 80% of its revenue comes from a controversial arrangement in which it gets a kickback every time a Wall Street firm completes its transactions.
That's raised questions about conflict of interest, with the Securities and Exchange Commission saying the setup may be unethical.
Some 22.5 million people have accounts linked to their banks. The startup is allocating more than a third of its shares to users during its initial public offering — and says that unusually high proportion reflects its mission to empower average investors.
Is the app democratizing Wall Street trading or exploiting unsavvy investors? Depends who you ask. Read or listen to Allyn's reporting here.
Wendy Sherman Is The Highest Ranking Biden Official To Visit China So Far
China’s latest ambassador to the United States arrived in Washington last evening. Qin Gang gave a brief statement to reporters at his official residence, expressing hope that he could help improve U.S.-China relations.
“The world today is going through major changes unseen in a century,” he said. “China and the United States are entering a new round of mutual exploration, understanding and adaptation.”
One big change in the past century was that the United States, having already become the world’s largest economy, emerged also as the world’s preeminent power. Now China’s economy has grown within range of someday passing that of the United States, and U.S. officials believe China expects in time to lead the world.
The Biden administration talks instead of strengthening the “rules-based international order” that has prevailed under American leadership since the end of World War II. And neither side just now is backing away from pressuring the other.
Their conflicting visions were on display when Wendy Sherman, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat, conducted a visit to China this week. Top Chinese diplomats received her in the port city of Tianjin, having made the capital, Beijing, off-limits due to coronavirus concerns.
In two long meetings, Sherman accused China of breaking its commitments — such as following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and observing a treaty promising a more democratic system in Hong Kong.
Sherman also spoke of uniting U.S. allies to insist on a common set of rules for the world, in effect urging China to follow the rules or face isolation. The Chinese pushed back.
Sherman spoke to Morning Edition about the meetings and how she's navigating a U.S.-China relationship defined by competition, cooperation and challenges. Listen to that here.
Six New Books To Read Next Month
Somehow it's almost August already.
And whether you're braving the outside world or just staying inside under the AC, we’ve got you covered with some great reads coming up next month.
- Afterparties by Anthony Veasna
- The Prisoner by Hwang Sok-yong
- Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria
- Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko
- The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang
- Pastoral Song by James Rebanks
The Economy Is Growing Strongly But The Delta Variant Threatens Its Recovery
New numbers just out show that the U.S. economy grew 6.5% in the April-June quarter. That number is below forecasts, with analysts expecting a figure around 8%. But it still marks a strong pace of growth.
The rollout of vaccines has allowed some semblance of normality to return. Americans started going out again, to restaurants and baseball parks. They also started traveling more and shopping at stores.
However, economists expect this second quarter to have marked a peak in growth as GDP is expected to slow. The question is by how much. Several risks loom.
As NPR's Business Correspondent David Gura reports:
- The biggest concern for economists in terms of the continued economic recovery is the delta variant. They're watching the spread of this new variant very closely, but at this point they're not adjusting their forecasts for growth.
- Economists widely believe this isn't deja vu. For one thing, half the population is vaccinated against COVID-19 and they don't think we'll see shutdowns again.
- There is a chance though that new variants could change spending habits. Some might postpone trips they planned to take and avoid crowded places, like stores and restaurants.
- On top of the delta variant, there are three other key things to watch out for in the months ahead: High inflation, the debate over workers and supply chain struggles.
Send Us Your Weird, Random, Wonderful Questions About The Olympics
The four years between Summer Olympics is just enough time for us to forget everything we thought we knew about the games.
So we're answering your questions! To start, we tackled a few about diving, swimming and gymnastics. Find those answers here.
What's stumping you?
Tweet us your question with the hashtag #NPRanswers and we'll look into it.
Here’s What's In The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal
The Senate voted to move forward on a bipartisan infrastructure deal last night. This is a small but noteworthy step in a long process before final passage.
The vote is a sign of progress after an attempt to move forward last week failed. It advances one of President Biden’s major legislative priorities.
Here are some of the highlights of what’s in the deal:
- Topline numbers: $1.2 trillion in spending over eight years with roughly $550 billion in new spending
- $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major projects;
- $73 billion in power infrastructure and clean energy transmission;
- $66 billion in rail;
- $65 billion for broadband deployment;
- $39 billion in transit modernization and improved accessibility;
- $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle chargers.
So... how do they plan to pay for all of that? Lawmakers point to a combination of tools, including reallocating unspent COVID-19 relief money and combating fraud in unemployment aid programs.
The deal leaves out what Biden calls “human infrastructure,” like child care and health care. Democrats hope to separately pass a massive budget resolution with those initiatives, since that sweeping approach doesn’t have Republican support (even getting all the Democrats on board is challenging).
Feds Are Making HIV Prevention Treatment Free — With A Catch
The federal government is making it much easier for Americans to get their hands on a potentially life saving treatment, if you have health insurance.
It’s called PrEP, a once-daily pill that is 99% effective at preventing HIV infections.
PrEP has been around for nearly a decade, and health officials have long advocated for high risk people to take it, but usage has been limited due to the costs. Truvada, one of the medications authorized for PrEP, recently went generic, but used to cost upwards of $1,800 a month. The doctor’s visits and lab tests can cost hundreds more.
“You have to go to the doctor basically four times a year, at least per CDC guidelines, and get a checkup to make sure that you don't have HIV and that everything else kind of looks OK,” James Krellenstein of the advocacy group PrEP4All told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “A lot of health insurance wouldn't cover it. People would be stuck [paying for] laboratory bills and clinic visits.”
Recent federal guidance says health insurance companies must cover all of the costs for the treatment, including the medication, doctor’s visits, and lab tests.
Krellenstein says for those who have health insurance, this removes a major barrier to getting on PrEP. But for those without insurance, issues remain.
“We don't have universal health insurance in the United States,” Krellenstein said. “So the real challenge today, the next challenge in prep access, is going to figure out what policies the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services can put into place to ensure that those people can also access PrEP as easily as people with insurance.”
The CDC tells NPR it is working on "multiple fronts" to ensure access to PrEP — including "focused funding to help deliver" the treatment to those who need it the most.
The Tokyo Games Has Given Us An Adorable New Olympic Tradition
Pandemic protocols have kept Olympic venues primarily fan-free, required extra precautions and testing for athletes and staff and prevented many loved ones from cheering their teams on in-person.
But one COVID concession may actually make for a beautiful new Olympic tradition.
Athletes on the podium are helping each other don their medals.
In years past, dignitaries would place medals around each winner's neck on the podium.
This year, officials are presenting athletes with their medals on a tray, from which they can then theoretically put them on themselves. But with the flowers and the masks, it can be a lot to juggle.
So some Olympians are giving each other a hand, in what might just be the most pure example of teamwork at this year's Games.
Climate Change Is Driving Deadly Weather Disasters From Arizona To Mumbai
Heat waves. Floods. Wildfires. It's been a destructive summer so far, and forecasts for droughts, fires and hurricanes are looking downright bleak.
We know that climate change is to blame. But how exactly is global warming driving dangerous weather?
Lauren Sommer and Rebecca Hersher from NPR's climate team walked us through it on Morning Edition.
🎧Take a listen or read on for details ⤵️
The country is experiencing yet another heat wave this week. Is it just us or is this summer unusual?
It's not just our memories — this past June was the hottest June recorded in the U.S. in more than a century, about four degrees hotter on average. Heat waves (like in the Pacific Northwest) can be deadly, and many cities are just realizing now how underprepared they are to deal with them.
What's the connection between these extreme heat events and climate change?
There's been about two degrees Fahrenheit of warming so far worldwide. The number sounds small, but it's enough to "profoundly shift the statistics of extreme heat events," according to Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University. He says these "dangerous thresholds of really high temperature and high humidity" could potentially happen twice as often as they have in the past.
What does this mean for wildfires?
About 95% of the West is in drought right now, and there's a clear cycle where heat dries out land and vegetation. So when wildfires do happen, they burn hotter and even create their own weather systems in which huge pyrocumulus clouds can generate lightning strike — in turn causing even more fires.
What does a hotter Earth have to do with flash flooding?
It's been a wild few weeks for flash flood disasters, from Central China to western Europe to Mumbai to Arizona. These fast-moving waters have killed hundreds of people, but they're not a surprise to climate scientists, who have been sounding the alarms for years.
Even though these floods happened around their world, their root cause was the same: extreme rain. And it's getting more common as the Earth heats up (hot air + hot water = moisture in the air).
Plus, as the planet heats up, some climate models show winds in the upper atmosphere slowing down in certain places, which would mean that extreme weather would linger there longer.
Scientists are working hard to predict how common these disasters will be in the years to come. After all, lives are on the line.
💜 ‘It’s Mutual’: This Is How BTS’ Fans Put Their Money And Hearts Behind The Band
How do these seven Korean men generate about half a percent of the entire South Korean economy? No, it isn’t the boxes and boxes of hair dye BTS members must go through.
The answer: They do it through their intensely devoted fans.
NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money went searching for what’s behind the world-conquering k-pop band’s massive influence. They found it all comes back to the symbiotic relationship between BTS and their fanbase, called ARMY.
And if you need a “Spring Day” rendition to get you through this Thursday, we’re partial to this Tiny Desk version. 💜
Coronavirus Infections In Tokyo Hit Record Highs Again
For a third-straight day, Tokyo is reporting record-breaking coronavirus cases. As chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato put it, "We have never experienced the expansion of the infections of this magnitude."
- Tokyo government officials said that 3,865 people tested positive in the past day. This breaks the record set yesterday (3,177). It continues a surge of cases since July 1. These latest numbers are double that of a week ago.
- Another 24 people linked to the Games tested positive for the coronavirus in the past day. Those include three athletes. In addition, two people are in the hospital. Organizers declined to say whether it’s due to coronavirus infection. The total number of Games-related infections is 193 since the beginning of the month.
- The two-time world champion in the pole vault, American Sam Kendricks, won’t compete in the Olympics because of a positive coronavirus test. He’s been sent to a Tokyo hotel to remain in isolation. Australia briefly put its entire 54-member track and field delegation into quarantine to await test results because of close contacts with Hendricks.
This New Book By Indiana's Former Poet Laureate Was Inspired By David Bowie And Others
Music plays a huge role in Adrian Matejka’s new book Somebody Else Sold The World. The former poet laureate of Indiana is also a former DJ, and spent much of the pandemic going through the archives of his favorite artists.
“I think that other than poetry, music is the most direct conduit for emotion and memory,” he says. “And so I think one of the things I was trying to do in this last year when things were so, you know, ambiguous was[try] to figure out ways to maintain memory.”
You know when you hear a song on the radio and are immediately transported back to the first time you heard it in high school? Or how a song reminds you of a first kiss or an emotional breakup? That’s what Matejka is talking about.
And his new poetry collection — which looks at how so many of us felt betrayed this past year because of how the pandemic was handled — is uplifted by this use of music throughout.
Matejka riffs off of songs by popular artists like Talking Heads, Travis Scott, and Lana Del Rey. All his verses follow a very apparent rhythm, like in this poem "Highest," motivated by Travis Scott's 2019 song "HIGHEST IN THE ROOM."
I am risen like the blood pressure of anybody
Black mimeographed in the textbook
of this monochromatic year. That’s infant
mortality rate high. That’s high-top fade high.
In The Most Heartwarming Tweet You'll Read This Morning, Simone Biles Shares A Powerful Update
After pulling out of two events earlier this week, Simone Biles shared that the decision was in the name of protecting her mental health. Last night, she gave an update on how she's doing.
"[T]he outpouring love & support I've received has made me realize I'm more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before."— Simone Biles
The response from fellow athletes in Tokyo and around the world has been swift, echoing the power of Biles' choice. Here's some of what they've had to say.
Before You Go (Away), Here's How To Pack Like A Pro 🧳
Has anyone else completely forgotten how to pack to leave the house after a year-plus of staying close to home? End up bringing way too much (or worse, forgetting super obvious essentials)?
Thankfully, Life Kit once again comes to our rescue. Here's three things to do to pack a carry-on bag with everything you need.