Only 8 ICU Beds In Arkansas, New Sanctions On Belarus, Venus Gets A Fly-By: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published August 10, 2021 at 7:13 AM EDT
The ICU Covid-19 ward at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro, Ark., last week.
Maranie R. Staab
The ICU Covid-19 ward at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro, Ark., last week.

Good morning.

Here are the stories we're following today:

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, as Taliban fighters gain ground, what is the global community doing?

— The Morning Edition live blog team

Emily Alfin Johnson, Nell Clark, Nicole Hernandez, Casey Noenickx, Carol Ritchie and Rachel Treisman

Before You Go

Scientists Say They May Have Found The Remains Of A Nonbinary Ancient Warrior

Posted August 10, 2021 at 10:31 AM EDT
An illustration of a person in a grave. They wear a blue cloth wrapped around them pinned with a bronze brooch. A sword is placed next to them.
Veronika Paschenko/University of Turku
A reconstruction drawing of the Suontaka grave from 1,000 years ago that is now thought to be the final resting place of a nonbinary warrior.

Before you go, you should know that a team of European researchers discovered that an early medieval warrior's remains, previously thought to be female, actually may be nonbinary.

The new findings challenge previous ideas about gender roles and expression and suggest that nonbinary people were valued and respected members of their communities, researchers concluded in their study, published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Archaeology.

The findings are a reminder that "biology does not directly dictate a person's self-identity," said Ulla Moilanen, the study's lead author and an archaeologist at Finland's University of Turku.

Read the full story here.


Jon Stewart And Pete Davidson Are Doing A 9/11 Anniversary Comedy Show For Charity

Posted August 10, 2021 at 10:19 AM EDT
A side view of two men wearing face masks, sitting in black folding chairs facing to the left and looking off-camera.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Jon Stewart and Pete Davidson sit court-side at a New York Knicks game on April 21 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They will hold a comedy special to benefit 9/11 charities there next month.

Two New York City comedy icons — and several of their famous friends — are holding a show to raise money for charities benefitting victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their families.

Jon Stewart and Pete Davidson will host "NYC Still Rising After 20 Years: A Comedy Celebration” at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 12, a day after the attacks' 20th anniversary. The special aims to honor the city's resilience, the comedians said in a joint statement.

Its star-studded roster also includes the likes of Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon, Colin Jost, Michael Che, Bill Burr, John Mulaney and Wanda Sykes.

Tickets go on pre-sale starting Wednesday, with general tickets available starting at noon on Friday. Proof of vaccination is required.

The event honors a cause close to both headliners' hearts.

Davidson was 7 when his dad, a firefighter, died while responding to the attack on the World Trade Center.

That loss is a recurring theme in Davidson's work, including his 2020 movie, The King Of Staten Island.

He toldFresh Air'sTerry Gross that year that comedy has helped him process tragedy, describing it as "healing."

"It really just frees my mind from focusing on things that might be upsetting to me," Davidson said. "And I think it really helped me grow as a person. And I'm really grateful for comedy and having it in my life."

Stewart has long advocated for 9/11 victims and first responders, and frequently appeared on Capitol Hill to push for more financial support for those who suffered illnesses and injuries as a result of the attack.

He memorably confronted lawmakers at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in June 2019, criticizing them for not extending the program and the poor turnout at the hearing.

"They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility," he said, his voice breaking. "Eighteen years later, do yours."

The committee unanimously voted to approve the funds the next day.

🎧 Learn more about the comedy specialhere.

Member Station Reports

COVID-19 Cases Are Rising In Louisiana. So Are Concerns About Unvaccinated Healthcare Workers

Posted August 10, 2021 at 10:11 AM EDT

Louisiana has the country’s highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita. And even as vaccination rates tick up, they’re still among the nation’s lowest.

Use NPR’s case tracker and vaccination tracker to see how your state is doing.

As Rosemary Westwood of WWNO in New Orleans reports, public health officials are especially concerned about the significant percentage of healthcare workers who remain unvaccinated.

Many health care workers question the vaccine’s safety — despite the rigorous trials and millions of doses administered with only rare instances of serious side effects. Louisiana’s largest health system, Ochsner Health, reports that about one third of employees are not vaccinated (though rates are much higher among doctors than other staff members).

Officials are pleading with healthcare workers to get the shot as the delta variant rages across the state. 🎧 Here’s what they’re saying.


House Majority Whip James Clyburn Calls The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal A 'Down Payment'

Posted August 10, 2021 at 10:01 AM EDT
A Black man wearing a dark suit, paisley tie and eyeglasses stands in front of a microphone while speaking, gesturing with his hands in front of him and looking off-camera.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) pictured at an event in Cleveland, Ohio on July 31.

House Democrats are divided over the bipartisan infrastructure bill and larger budget bill we've been hearing so much about.

On the one hand, there's criticism that the bipartisan deal doesn't go far enough in fulfilling Biden's infrastructure agenda.

On the other, there's concern about potential overreach or alienating voters who are more preoccupied with issues like inflation and the delta variant surge.

House progressives have said they will withhold support for the bipartisan deal unless they have assurance that the more comprehensive $3.5 trillion package will become law.

So what has to happen next?

Democratic representative and House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina says it's simple: "Do the 3.5 trillion-dollar deal."

Speaking to NPR's Debbie Elliott on Morning Edition, Clyburn described the bipartisan infrastructure package as a "down payment."

"[This] bipartisan deal is one leg of a three-legged stool, the $3.5 trillion program is the second leg, voting [is] the third leg," he said. "I just believe that in order for this stool to be balanced correctly those three things need to be done, irrespective of what it may cost the party, because I think it's what's necessary to preserve the democracy."

🎧 Listen to the interview or read excerpts from their conversation below.

On whether concerns about overreach could jeopardize the future of both bills: "I don't think so," Clyburn said. "All you've got to do is look at the fires that are raging across this country, you look at the heat waves that are out there, the flooding ... Man has not been a good steward of this earth, and we've got to do something about it."

On whether the party's focus on a massive spending bill could cost it votes in the midterms: "Well, it may cost. I hope it won't. But look, I should be the last one to worry about that. I know what it cost my party when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, but it was the right thing to do. And, if it cost the party to protect this earth, it is the right thing to do."

On whether Democrats are willing to accept a scaled back version of a voting rights bill, which compromises on voter I.D.:
"We see all of these nullification efforts taking place — and I don't know why people are reluctant to use the word — but nullification is running rampant throughout the South. For you to have the ability to overturn the results of an election, that they're doing in Georgia, they're proposing that down in Texas, that cannot be. And we have got to do more than just compromise on voter ID. And I want people to still remember, there's a big difference in voter ID and photo ID. We do not oppose voter ID."

Must Read
Planet Money

Yes, We're Putting Way More Energy Into Our Dogs Than We Used To. Here's Why

Posted August 10, 2021 at 9:50 AM EDT
Two dogs sitting in a dog stroller.
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Getty Images
Dogs in bows and pearls ride at The 5th Annual World Dog Day at West Hollywood Park on Saturday, in West Hollywood, Calif.

Recently, I was cleaning up the Narnia of dog toys, specialist-appointment reminders, treats, leashes, bowls, brushes, bags and random "stuff" my two beloved pups have spread across our home — and I realized just how out of hand dog care has gotten of late.

At 15, I spoiled my first dog rotten — or at least I thought I did — but that was nothing compared to all the dog care available and expected today. Seriously, we sent our now 1.5-year-old puppy to sleep-away-dog camp for training earlier this year.

On the left, my dog Echo the day we got her. On the right, Echo surviving Vermont winter burritoed in a *down* comforter.
Emily Alfin Johnson
On the left, my dog Echo the day we got her. On the right, Echo surviving Vermont winter burritoed in a *down* comforter.

And it's not just me, As Greg Rosalsky reports for this week's Planet Moneynewsletter:

Dogs now sleep inside on orthopedic beds. They get top-notch healthcare and visits to psychiatrists who prescribe them antidepressants. They see acupuncturists and psychics. They get massages and spa days. They wear sweaters.

All of which raises the question: How did canines go from underdogs living bleak lives in backyards and shelters to our pampered little overlords?

A new book, Pet Nation, goes looking for answers. Here's what Greg found out 🐶

A Jeffrey Epstein Accuser Sues Prince Andrew, Saying He Sexually Assaulted Her At 17

Posted August 10, 2021 at 9:35 AM EDT

Lawyers for Virginia Giuffre, who has accused Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell and others of sexually abusing and trafficking her when she was a minor in the early 2000s, filed a lawsuit against Prince Andrew in Manhattan federal court Monday.

In a statement released Monday, Giuffre said, "I am holding Prince Andrew accountable for what he did to me. The powerful and rich are not exempt from being held responsible for their actions. I hope that other victims will see that it is possible not to live in silence and fear, but to reclaim one's life by speaking out and demanding justice."

Giuffre pressed for the public release of a 2016 deposition Maxwell gave on the matter. A redacted version of the deposition was made public in 2020.

During an interview in 2019, Andrew denied the allegation that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl in the early 2000s. Just days later, he stepped back from his public duties as a member of the British royal family.

Maxwell faces sex trafficking charges in Manhattan federal court. She has pled not guilty. Her trial is expected to start in November. Epstein took his own life in August 2019, after being arrested on sex trafficking charges.

From The Science Desk

Here's How To Keep Kids Safe From The Delta Variant, According To Experts

Posted August 10, 2021 at 9:17 AM EDT
1st graders sit at colorful round tables, one student per table in a classroom. They are masked and six feet apart.
Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Masked students sit socially distanced in a classroom at Medora Elementary School in March in Louisville, Ky.

Across the country, bookbags are being carefully packed, fresh outfits (both in laundering and style) curated and inspiring classrooms lovingly readied. It's all because in-person school is starting back up for many students. But returning to the classroom also has lots of parents, teachers and kids worrying about the coronavirus.

Around the U.S.infections are rising, spurred by low vaccination rates and the ultra-contagious delta variant.

Experts agree: The best protection out there is to be fully vaccinated. But kids under 12 aren't able to yet (although that might change soon.)

So NPR's Pien Huang talked to experts — many of them parents themselves — about how to keep kids protected from the delta variant.

And there's good news: Even in kids who do get COVID-19, usually it's a milder illness than in adults, and severe cases or death are rare.

Here's the quick study guide:

  • If a child wakes up sick — keep them home, consult the pediatrician and test for COVID-19, when warranted.
  • Even if symptoms turn out to be "just a cold," try not to spread it.
  • Make sure kids mask up: That means any mask that fits well — with no gaps around the mouth, nose or chin — and is comfortable.
  • Know ahead of time who will can help in the event a child gets COVID-19.
  • And if you're alerted of a coronavirus exposure and your child's unvaccinated: Quarantine them, wear masks, watch for symptoms and test.

Click here to read the full recommendations.


Cruise Ships Are Finally Docking In Alaska Again, But Don’t Call It A Comeback

Posted August 10, 2021 at 9:05 AM EDT
An aerial view of a large cruise ship docked in blue waters, with blue mountains and grey clouds in the distance. The port has a few green-roofed buildings and dense green trees.
Claire Stremple/KTOO
Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas waits at the Icy Strait Point dock in Hoonah, Alaska on July 22.

Cruise ships are returning to Alaska, bringing with them tourists and a much-needed boost to the economy.

Even a ship that’s one-third full doubles the population of the village of Hoonah for the few hours it’s docked there, as KTOO’s Claire Stremple reports from Juneau.

The nearly two-year-long pandemic hiatus cost the state some $3 billion and more than 40,000 jobs. And those losses are felt most acutely in southeastern Alaska, where cruise ships are essential for ferrying large numbers of visitors to remote destinations.

So even though cruise companies are expected to operate at a loss this year, the fact that they’re open for business at all is a sign of hope for the local communities that depend on them.

“We're gonna get through to 2022. That is what a lot of the businesses down here are looking for, it's to try to get … enough money in the bank to get through the winter.”
- Scott Bergman, an owner of Alaska Fudge Company in Juneau

Listen to the story here. Plus, read more from KTOO and learn how cruise towns are navigating the arrival of COVID-19 on ships.

NPR Newscast

Teachers Unions Are Weighing Vaccine Mandates

Posted August 10, 2021 at 8:48 AM EDT
A person stands at a podium in the middle of a group of people holding signs that say "For The People Act".
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in June. Weingarten is changing her tune on a vaccine mandate, telling NBC's Meet The Press the AFT will be revising last year's mandate policy, which said mandates should be negotiated at a local level.

Two of the nation's largest teachers unions are weighing vaccine mandates for teachers.

American Federation of Teachers

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, now says she backs a vaccine mandate for teachers.

Weingarten told NBC's Meet the Press her stance is now a matter of personal conscience.

"I think that we need to be working with our employers, not opposing them, on vaccine mandates and all their vaccine policies," Weingarten said Sunday.

She added that this week, AFT leaders will be revisiting last year's policy, which said mandates should be negotiated at a local level.

National Education Association

Separately, the executive director of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher's union, tells NPR it's looking at the question of a mandate now.

Most teachers are vaccinated anyway, according to White House data.

As of now, fewer than one-third of kids ages 12-15 are fully vaccinated. Children under 12 are not yet eligible.


Only 8 ICU Beds Remain In The Entire State Of Arkansas As Delta Variant Cases Spike

Posted August 10, 2021 at 8:30 AM EDT
A healthcare worker walks through the ICU Covid-19 ward at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro, Ark., last week.
Houston Cofield/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A healthcare worker walks through the ICU Covid-19 ward at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro, Ark., last week.

Arkansas, among the states hardest-hit by a new wave of coronavirus cases linked to the highly contagious delta variant, says it is down to eight unoccupied ICU beds statewide with which to care for COVID-19 patients.

Gov. Asa Hutchison, in a tweet on Monday, said the latest report highlighted “startling numbers.”

"We saw the largest single-day increase in hospitalizations and have eclipsed our previous high of COVID hospitalizations,” the governor wrote. “There are currently only eight ICU beds available in the state.”

“Vaccinations reduce hospitalizations,” he added.

Hospitalization of COVID-19 patients jumped by 103 to 1,376, the report cited by Hutchison shows. It’s the biggest daily jump and total in the state since the start of the pandemic.

"This tells us that the virus is spreading rapidly," Meg Mirivel, Health Department spokeswoman, said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "People are getting very sick with it and our hospital systems are strained."

Arkansas has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with fewer than 43% of adults fully immunized.

In April, Hutchison signed into law a statewide ban on further mask mandates. However, in a news conference last week, the governor said he regretted signing the measure, which has complicated his state’s efforts to control the spread of the virus.

"In hindsight, I wish that it had not become law,” he said. “But it is the law, and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation.”

Foreign Policy

The U.S. Just Slapped New Sanctions On Allies Of Belarus' Authoritarian President

Posted August 10, 2021 at 8:16 AM EDT
A man wearing a suit and burgundy tie holds a piece of paper while speaking into a microphone, seated behind a wooden table against a blue backdrop and green and red flags.
Nikolay Petrov/BELTA/AFP via Getty Images
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed international criticism during a press conference in Minsk on Monday.

The Biden administration has imposed new sanctions on Belarusian government officials and wealthy allies of President Alexander Lukashenko amidst ongoing political repression and corruption.

The move comes exactly a year after Lukashenko was elected to his sixth term in a vote that the U.S. and European Union deemed fraudulent, as NPR's James Doubek reports. That sparked mass protests as well as the exile of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it was sanctioning 23 people and 21 entities linked either to the violent crackdown on peaceful protests, the forced landing of a Ryanair flight carrying an opposition journalist in May or efforts to finance the regime "at the expense of the Belarusian people."

NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen notes that the administration also sanctioned the Belarus Olympic Committee, saying it failed to protect athletes who participated in anti-government protests.

The U.S. is calling on Lukashenko to release political prisoners and hold new elections, and also wants an international investigation into the Ryanair incident.

But Lukashenko has dismissed international criticisms and claims that last year's election was fair.

He spoke defiantly at a marathon news conference yesterday, lashing out at sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom in coordination with the U.S. "You can choke on your sanctions," he said at one point, and referred to the British as "American lapdogs."

Listen to Kelemen's reporting here.

NPR Newscast

On Its Way To Mercury, A European Space Probe Will Say A Quick 'Hi!' To Venus This Morning

Posted August 10, 2021 at 7:59 AM EDT
The afterglow of a space launch at night.
AFP via Getty Images
The European Space Agency's first mission to Mercury blasts off with a trio of crafts on October 19, 2018. BepiColombo is expected to pass by Venus on its way to Mercury Tuesday morning.

The European Space Agency probe BepiColombo is scheduled to go into orbit around Mercury in 2025. But to reach the innermost planet in the solar system, BepiColombo needs a gravity assist from neighboring Venus, so it will fly within 350 miles of the planet today at around 9:48 am ET on its way to Mercury.

Earlier this week, another European space probe, called Solar Orbiter, also had a brush with Venus: That spacecraft came with 5,000 miles of the planet.

Neither probe will train its main science cameras on Venus during the fly-bys.

The Solar Orbiter had to remain facing the Sun, and BepiColombo's camera won't be deployed until it reaches Mercury.

Two engineering cameras on that probe will be able to send black and white pictures back to Earth in the coming days.


Officials Are Making Moves To Mandate Vaccines For The U.S. Military

Posted August 10, 2021 at 6:57 AM EDT
Two men walk on a tarmac, one in a suit, one in a military uniform, while others are seen in the background.
Alex Brandon
Pool/Getty Images
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in July at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says he's going to ask President Biden for permission to require all members of the U.S. military get vaccinated. Because of the delta variant, infections are rising in the military — along with much of the rest of the country.

Here's what we know ⤵

Why hasn't the military ordered this already? The military can't force troops to take a vaccine that isn't approved by the Food & Drug Administration. The current vaccines only have emergency authorization at the moment.

So to make vaccination mandatory for troops, President Biden would have to issue a waiver based on national security needs.

According to a memo, Austin is seeking that waiver. The official ask is expected mid-September.

Why now? Up until now, the military had wanted troops to buy into the value of the vaccine on their own — without a formal mandate.

There was also some thinking that FDA approval for the vaccine was right around the corner, which would make it easier for the military to mandate vaccination. It also took them some time to work through some legal questions with this process.

But currently the vaccination rate among the military is roughly the same as the national average, which according to officials, is not good enough. And so we're seeing steps now to take action.

That said, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says Austin's memo is a reminder to the troops to get vaccinated asap:

"What he's asking for in this message to the force today is: don't wait," said Kirby. "They're safe, they're effective, they work. They make us a more ready force, a more lethal force, and there's no reason to wait for the mandate."

Despite a vaccination rate that isn't where the military wants it to be, there have been fewer than 30 COVID-19 deaths among the 1.3 million active-duty forces.

NPR Newscast
Western Wildfires

Firefighters Are Now Making Progress Containing California's Dixie Fire

Posted August 10, 2021 at 6:56 AM EDT

Crews battling the Dixie Fire in California say they made progress yesterday in their effort to contain the blaze.

They were able to cut thousands of acres of fire lines to try and slow the spread. The Dixie Fire is the largest of more than 100 wildfires burning in 15 states, mostly in the western U.S. More on the Dixie Fire here.

How do wildfires get their name? Josie Fischels explains.


The Senate Is Poised To Pass Its Infrastructure Bill Today. Here's What Comes Next

Posted August 10, 2021 at 6:50 AM EDT
The white dome of the U.S. Capitol is visible against a blue sky, framed by leafy green trees.
Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
The U.S. Capitol Building pictured in Washington, D.C on Sunday.

After weeks of discussion, debate and negotiations, the U.S. Senate is at last poised to approve its $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

Here is what's in it.

Democratic lawmakers say this is just the beginning: They plan to move straight on to a partisan spending bill, which will cost about $3.5 trillion and, as they see it, go further in fulfilling Biden's promises.

🎧 NPR Congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell explains

About half of the bipartisan bill constitutes new spending on infrastructure investments. That includes money for things we traditionally consider infrastructure, like roads, bridges, airports, ports, waterways, as well as broadband and electric vehicles.

Parties did find some common ground. The bipartisan group of lawmakers worked together for months to come up with a deal — which is ultimately a fraction of the size of Biden's initial proposal. Still, Democrats are divided over it and not all Senate Republicans are on board.

Democrats are looking ahead to their own budget blueprint. Lawmakers unveiled the text of their $3.5 trillion budget framework, which includes money for things like climate initiatives, Medicare expansion and an enhanced child tax credit. They plan to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the program without the threat of a Republican filibuster.

"Their basic message is that the road someone takes to work is just as much an infrastructure issue as knowing that, if they have kids, that they're cared for in an affordable way while they're working, or that the elderly people in their family are cared for, or the systems of education that bring someone into the economy are accessible for most people."
- Congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell

The exact timeline is unclear. Once Democrats vote on their framework, committees will write legislation to fulfill their spending targets. They want it done by Sept. 15.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won't hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes its larger partisan spending bill, which Snell says will likely take months — so she's not expecting to see either bill on Biden's desk anytime soon.