Fauci Says The Immunocompromised Need Booster, What's Next For LeVar Burton, 'Horrific' Battle In Afghanistan: Today's Top Stories

Published August 12, 2021 at 7:00 AM EDT
The side profile of Dr. Anthony Fauci as he speaks into a microphone against a dark blurry background.
Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in July.

Good morning and happy Thursday ☕

These are the stories we're following this morning:

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, new data from the 2020 census drops today. Here's what it can (and can't) tell us about America.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

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

Before You Go

Fifty Years Later, 'The Lorax' Is More Relevant Than Ever

Posted August 12, 2021 at 10:28 AM EDT
An illustration shows green sludge coming out of faucets into a pond whose yellow fish are fleeing towards the nearby green grass. The sky is gray and cloudy, with a box of text in one of the clouds reading: "You're glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed! No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed. So I'm sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary. They'll walk on their fins and get woefully weary in search of some water that isn't so smeary."
Random House Books for Young Readers
After Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) published "The Lorax" in 1971, it became an icon of the environmental movement and spawned adaptations on the stage and screen.

It's the 50th birthday of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, the beloved children's book with an ominous environmental warning.

So it's only fitting that this milestone anniversary coincides with the release of a landmark United Nations report on the dire consequences of human-induced climate change.

"The conflict between the industrious, polluting Once-ler and the feisty Lorax who 'speaks for the trees' feels more prescient than ever," writes NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

She brings us a thoughtful story on the inspiration behind the book, its parallels with this week's climate report and the importance of hope. Read or listen here.

COVID-19 Vaccines

Vaccines Are 'Akin To Body Armor' For The Military, A Pentagon Official Says

Posted August 12, 2021 at 10:12 AM EDT

COVID-19 cases are on the rise, and so too are vaccine requirements.

A growing number of higher education institutions, businesses and local governments are requiring that workers show proof of vaccination — and the Department of Defense announced earlier this week that it's moving to mandate vaccines for all service members.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby explained that decision — and how such a mandate would work — in a conversation with Morning Edition's A Martínez.

"The vaccines we see as akin to body armor," Kirby said. "You wouldn't want to go into a firefight without making sure that your troops have as much protection as possible, and so we issued them body armor, and we're looking at the vaccine in the same sort of light."

The mandate would extend to the National Guard and reserves, he said. When asked what kind of consequences service members would face if they refuse the vaccine, Kirby replied those would be case-specific, but that, "quite frankly, we don't anticipate this being a widespread major issue."

He also noted that President Biden has already directed additional rules for unvaccinated federal employees, troops included.

"So between now and making them mandatory, we will put into place additional restrictions and constraints, and some of those restrictions and constraints could have a deleterious effect on the ability of an individual to perform the job that they were enlisted or commissioned to do in the military, and could affect a unit's ability to deploy them, to put them into the field and the fleet."

Listen to the interview here.

International Dispatch

The Situation In Afghanistan Is Dire

Posted August 12, 2021 at 10:11 AM EDT
Children sit in the foreground in a tent-filled park in Kabul.
AFP via Getty Images
Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit inside their temporary tents at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul on August 11, 2021.

As of this morning, the Taliban now has control of 10 provincial capital cities — effectively putting them in control of two-thirds of Afghanistan.

This morning we spoke to Lynne O'Donnell, a journalist based in the capital city Kabul for Foreign Policy.

Continue below to read her dispatch from the ground, and please be warned it includes descriptions of violence.

O'Donnell says things on the ground in Kabul "feel like a city under siege in a besieged country":

  • People are flooding into Kabul from neighboring regions.
  • Public parks in Kabul have become camps for displaced people.
  • Food and fuel prices are rising as the Taliban blocks off import routes.

Conditions in the Taliban-controlled parts of the country are "brutal":

  • The Taliban is rounding up people who have worked for the U.S. Military or Afghan government.
  • O'Donnell said the atrocities on the battlefield are "horrific" and include bodies being mutilated and other things O'Donnell wouldn't go into on air.
  • Women are being told to stay in their homes, unless accompanied by a male relative.
  • Women are also being told they'll be rounded up and married off to Taliban fighters.
  • Girls in those regions are being taken out of school, and girls schools are closed.

O'Donnell says there's a very real fear that Kabul might be the next city to fall under Taliban control.
In an interview this morning with Morning Edition, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby says what's next for Kabul is up to Afghan forces.

"It doesn't have to be that way," Kirby said. "It really depends on the kind of political and military leadership that the Afghans can muster to turn this around."

Afghan forces just appointed a new Army chief and a new head of the special operations command. O'Donnell says it's difficult to know now what will come from these appointments.


To Lure New Grads, Wall Street Is Lifting Its High Starting Salaries Even Higher

Posted August 12, 2021 at 10:02 AM EDT

Junior bankers just out of college can already make more than $100,000 a year — more than two times the median household income in the U.S.

But this year, banks are facing the same kind of competition for new workers that the restaurant and retail sectors have encountered.

Now some investment banks are willing to pay a graduating senior $150,000 or even $170,000 — about five times the per capita income in the U.S.

NPR business reporter David Gura spoke to Cornell Business School professor Drew Pascarella, who says Wall Street is in the midst of a "talent war."

"I think the investment banks are watching each other, and they’re also watching other highly competitive industries," Pascarella said.

To earn that kind of money, junior bankers have to work sometimes double the normal 40-hour workweek, Pascarella says.

Gura reports that the pandemic has made some wonder if it's worth it.

🎧 Listen to hear the Faustian bargain one recent graduate made to work at J.P. Morgan, and what she did when the job disappointed.


COVID Latest: Overwhelmed Hospitals, Vaccine Requirements, Booster Talk

Posted August 12, 2021 at 9:52 AM EDT

Coronavirus news is coming fast and furious, as the delta variant fuels another surge in cases across the U.S.

Here's what we're learning more about this morning:

Across the country

Boosters for those with compromised immune systems

Earlier this morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci toldMorning Edition that an additional vaccine dose is needed for people with compromised immune systems. He says official guidance on that is"imminent."

That decision would come from the Food and Drug Administration, which could extend its emergency use authorization to booster shots as early as this week.

CDC is urging pregnant people to get vaccinated

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is strongly urging all pregnant people get vaccinated (read more).

More spaces are requiring vaccinations (or penalizing you for not)

The Department of Defense is moving to require vaccines for service members. Several small colleges say they will charge unvaccinated students an extra fee.

Keep your vaccination card handy

Current vaccines protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death. Here's how to keep your vaccine card on you at all times.

State-specific news

With different rules and regulations in place in every state, the fight to control COVID-19 looks a little different depending on where you live.

Below are some state-specific updates ⤵

You can also find a state-by-state breakdown the latest case numbers and vaccination rates here.


California just became the first state to require all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.


Residents in Brevard County, Florida, are being asked to "consider other options" before calling 911

Officials in Brevard County, on Florida's east coast, are urging residents to "consider other options before taxing ambulance services with non-emergency calls and showing up at the ER for a COVID test when other test sites are available," according to its emergency management office.

All three of the county's hospital systems are already over capacity and have had to implement surge plans that involve canceling elective procedures and converting regular rooms into COVID-19 spaces, said Brevard County Emergency Director John Scott.

He noted that hospital emergency rooms are seeing "comparable surges" in patients with COVID-19 symptoms who are not necessarily experiencing emergencies, which puts other patients — like those seeking care after accidents or heart attacks — in danger.

The county's fire department is also overwhelmed with calls from COVID-19 positive and symptomatic patients, which means slower turnaround time for ambulances too.

Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer said his department is seeing an increase in patients that "equals, if not exceeds, the height of the pandemic in 2020. He is asking residents to save the emergency room visits and ambulance trips for those who urgently need those services.

Statewide, 90% of Florida's intensive care beds are full. A Tampa-based epidemiologist spoke to Morning Edition about the gravity of the situation.


Hospital leaders at the University of Mississippi Medical Center say the state's medical system is on the verge of failure due to an influx in COVID-19 patients, staff shortages and dwindling ICU capacity.

UMMC Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones said at a press conference Wednesday that hospitals across the state are full, and offered this stark warning:

"Since the pandemic began, I think the thing that hospitals have feared the most is just total failure, total failure of the hospital system. And if we track back a week or so when we look at the case positivity rate, the number of new positives that we're seeing, the rate of testing positives and the rate of hospitalizations based on what we are seeing — if we continue that trajectory within the next five to seven to 10 days, I think we’re going to see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi."

The UMMC system is preparing to construct a field hospital on the bottom floor of a parking garage, as the Mississippi Free Press reports, and has requested federal support to boost its staffing.

Read more from Mississippi Public Broadcasting.


Arkansas set a new record for hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic

The state reported 1,376 new hospitalizations on Monday, surpassing a record it set in January. Health officials said there were just eight intensive care unit beds available in the entire state.

Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, told NPR's Debbie Elliott yesterday that the average COVID-19 patient was over 60 a year ago, but is now 40. Some 20% of the medical center's patients have been pregnant moms, he added.

He said the situation is exacerbated by nursing shortages and widespread skepticism of the vaccine and health care system generally, which he attributes to multiple causes. He says it's essential to work with community partners to try to boost vaccination rates.

"Frankly, though, at the end of the day, we know that mandates work," Patterson said. "And if we can't have a statewide mandate, then maybe individual industries can do it. And we can do it piece by piece. But you know, getting vaccinated is going to be our off-ramp for COVID-19 here in Arkansas."

    Just In

    Fauci Says Boosters For Immunocompromised People Are 'Imminent'

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 9:26 AM EDT
    A side view shows a man sitting with his hands clasped under his chin, in front of a microphone and looking off-camera.
    Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images
    Getty Images North America
    Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pictured at a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 26, 2021.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce soon whether immunocompromised people need COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, told Morning Edition's Noel King that extra doses for this limited population are "imminent," not because their protection against the virus is waning but because they never fully had it in the first place.

    When it comes to other high-risk populations, like people in nursing homes, Fauci said a potential booster is "not as imminent as what we've been discussing about the immunocompromised people, but we will be prepared, if necessary, to give the booster to those people."

    He also weighed in on what the U.S. should do to ensure vaccine equity among countries, how to protect kids from the delta variant and the crucial role of vaccines in preventing additional variants.

    🎧 Listen to the full conversation or read more here.

    Baseball ⚾

    MLB's First Game In Iowa Is At A Specially-Built 'Field Of Dreams' Stadium

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 9:18 AM EDT
    Kevin Costner in the 1989 film, 'Field Of Dreams'

    The Chicago White Sox will play the New York Yankees tonight — but it's not the big-city matchup that's attracting buzz: It's the setting. The two teams will play on a custom-built field in Dyersville, Iowa, — at the same property the 1989 baseball classic, Field Of Dreams, was filmed.

    The movie was filmed in the small town over 30 years ago and stars Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. (Even if you missed the movie, you likely heard one of its most famous lines: "If you build it, they will come."⤵)

    Dyersville has a population of about 4,000. The stadium has space for 8,000. And while the small Iowa town has long been a tourist attraction for fans of the film, tonight's game required special consideration, especially given COVID-19 and the delta variant.

    MLB built the field with the intention of playing the Field Of Dreams game last year — but the event was delayed due to the pandemic.

    The single-night event is part of a bigger effort the MLB is making to reach new audiences.

    As Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters reports, a ticket lottery for Iowans was made available last month — but for those watching at home, tonight's game will be on FOX.


    Rep. Ilhan Omar: Dems Can Work Together On Infrastructure And Budget Bills

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 8:55 AM EDT
    A woman wearing a blue hijab and large silver hoop earrings stands in front of a blurry background of the U.S. Capitol dome against a blue sky.
    Drew Angerer/Getty Images
    Getty Images North America
    Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., pictured at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on March 11.

    Now that the U.S. Senate has approved a historic $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, it's over to the House of Representatives, where Democrats hold a majority. But passage of the bill isn't a done deal, as different wings of the party are favoring different approaches:

    Moderate Democrats — and President Biden — want to vote on that infrastructure bill first, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and progressives want to pass that bill alongside the costlier (and more politically tricky) social spending package known as the budget reconciliation bill.

    Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a leader of the progressive wing, spoke to NPR's Debbie Elliott about why she believes it's necessary to pass the bills together and how Democrats are working together despite their differences. Listen to the conversation here.

    "We made a promise to the American people that we are going to make sure we have a package that fully meets the moment, and addresses the dire investments that our country needs and has neglected for a really long time," Omar says. "And doing the packages together assures that we are not prioritizing one over the other."

    She called her conversations with moderate Democrats "productive," adding that despite their disagreements, she believes much progress will be made after lawmakers are called back to the House on Aug. 23.

    "I just don't want people to walk away, hearing this conversation, thinking we are divided as a caucus in delivering our priorities," she says. "We might be divided on ways that we might achieve our priorities, but we are united in delivering that priority and we are going to continue to find common ground and work through our differences. Because at the end of the day, our constituents gave us this opportunity to deliver for them, and we must deliver on their behalf."

    Here are five hurdles Democrats now face on the $3.5 trillion budget framework.


    China Wants Couples To Have More Kids. Working Women Fear More Gender Discrimination

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 7:54 AM EDT

    Earlier this year, April Wu thought about leaving her job as an auditor at a Big Four accounting firm. She thought it would be easy to find another, better-paying finance job in Beijing. She was wrong.

    “Your gender is equally as important as your education background, your work experience and your professional certification,” Wu told NPR. She’s been unable to even apply to most of the finance jobs available, because of her gender.

    Here are the sorts of job openings Wu has found so far:

    A securities firm is looking for someone with two to five years of auditing experience, CPA-certified prioritized; must be male. Another: IPO experience needed, male required

    The gender discrimination in hiring is because employers, under China's new three-child policy, fear they will have to pay for maternity leaves. As a result, they prefer to hire men, or women who are past their childbearing days.

    To do so, employers ask for “only male applicants” on hiring notices, using the Romanized word for “male” to skirt recruitment website algorithms mean to prevent discriminatory advertising. And companies employ more subtle methods during the interview process to weed out unsuspecting female applicants.

    “For instance, during the interview, the female applicant gets only irrelevant questions, clearly not meant to evaluate her candidacy,” says Huang Yizhi, a lawyer who litigated one of the first successful workplace discrimination lawsuits in 2015.

    Now that the three-child policy is in effect, Huang says existing prejudices against hiring women will only increase — because employers think women's child-raising responsibilities will overtake their professional ones.

    “It would be very difficult to change the reality of what we women face. All I can do is to prepare myself mentally,” says Mara Li, a finance worker in Shanghai who says she has resigned herself to lower-level jobs and lower pay because of her gender.

    Labor experts say the share of female employment in the Chinese workforce has declined since the 1980s, inversely to global trends.

    “One of the key factors seem to be the withdrawal of state support for care, in particular child care, which put pressure on women,” says Jeni Klugman, the managing director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

    China's cabinet has said they're encouraging local governments to better fund maternity leaves and give child tax credits. There's talk of funding more public childcare centers. After all, having more babies means more future workers China can rely on to generate economic growth.

    But right now, it's usually up to companies to fund gender workplace equality. “If the firms don't want to pay for the [maternity] leave, they may well prefer not to hire women in their 20s and 30s,” says Klugman.

    Ninety percent of Wu’s current colleagues are men, and none of the women are in management positions. She's starting to think she might just be better off not having any children.

    Listen to the story.


    The Delta Variant Is Likely The Most Contagious Respiratory Virus Currently Known

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 7:39 AM EDT

    As the delta variant sends COVID case counts — and indoor mask mandates — skyrocketing, we’re all parsing a lot of information about how it spreads and how to stay safe.

    You may have heard that delta is as contagious as the famously fast-spreading chicken pox, a claim that originated in a document recently leaked from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    But as NPR’s Michaeleen Doucleff reports, that’s not actually true. She walks us through how scientists measure transmissibility and what the numbers really mean.

    Even though the CDC’s comparison wasn’t exactly accurate, experts say the takeaway remains the same: The delta variant is much more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus, and people who are not vaccinated are at a very high risk of catching it.

    "It's probably the most contagious respiratory virus that we know, for the moment," says evolutionary biologist and biostatistician Tom Wenseleers, one of the first scientists to formally calculate the transmission advantage of the alpha and delta variants over the original versions of SARS-CoV-2.

    Read or listen to the full debunking here


    The Perseid Meteor Shower Is Peaking This Week 🌠 Here's How To Watch

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 7:10 AM EDT
    In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the night sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia.
    Bill Ingalls
    In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia.

    NASA calls the Perseid meteor shower the "best meteor shower of the year" because of its fast, bright and plentiful meteors that can be easily viewed outside during the warm summer months. It peaks this week, but will be visible through Aug. 24. .

    A meteor streaks down across the night sky.
    Bill Ingalls
    A meteor streaks down across the sky in this 30 second exposure taken Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia.

    Up to 100 meteors an hour can be caught shooting across the sky at 37 miles per second, leaving long streaks in their wake.

    Here's how you can see it:

    • Pick a spot with a clear, dark sky. Use NASA's meteor calculator and the International Dark Sky Association's dark sky finder to find the best viewing spot for you.
    • Ditch screens for a bit in preparation. NASA also recommends not looking at your phone while watching so your eyes adjust more easily to the dark. Plus, photos will be hard to snag without special exposure settings, so enjoy the moment IRL.
    • Not a clear night? Not an early riser? Meteors can also be seen as early as 10 p.m. on any night the shower is happening before or after the peak,

    The Perseid shower happens when Earth makes its way through the trail of cosmic debris left behind by 109PSwift-Tuttle.

    More on that here.

    Josie Fischels is a summer 2021 NPR intern. Follow her work here.

    NPR Newscast

    The Dixie Fire Is Less Than A Third Contained, As Other Large Fires Burn In 14 States

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 7:10 AM EDT
    A brick building is shown shattered, bricks scattered across the ground in the foreground, as the smoke yellow haze obscures the background.
    Justin Sullivan
    Getty Images
    Bricks lay on the ground in front of a property that was destroyed by the Dixie Fire on August 11, 2021 in Greenville, California.

    The Dixie Fire in Northern California continues to expand: It's now burning 780 square miles, amid high temperatures and dry conditions.

    Containment remains at less than a third. It's the largest wildfire in California, having destroyed more than 500 homes and most of historic downtown Greenville.

    In Montana, several thousand people remain under evacuation orders in the state's southeast. That's where the Richard Spring Fire is threatening dozens of small communities, including the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.

    Large fires are burning in 14 states, mostly in the Western U.S.


    'Jeopardy' Has New Hosts ... And A New Show May Be In The Works For LeVar Burton

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 7:09 AM EDT
    A Black man wearing a black turtleneck, plaid blazer and silver necklace speaks into two small microphones against a red backdrop reading "Star Trek," while looking off-camera.
    David Livingston/Getty Images
    Getty Images North America
    Fans of actor LeVar Burton are disappointed that he was not chosen to replace the late "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.

    After months of speculation and celebrity tryouts, Sony Pictures Television has named its next two Jeopardy! co-hosts: executive producer Mike Richards and actor Mayim Bialik.

    Richards will host the daily syndicated program, and Bialik will host primetime specials and new spinoffs. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, each comes with their own share of controversies. (Read the story or listen here).

    They were chosen over Reading Rainbow star LeVar Burton, a fan favorite for the gig. Disappointed supporters have been quick to express their displeasure online — and at least one high-profile fan is promising to take action.

    Hollywood director Ava DuVernay tweeted that she's considering a new show just for Burton.

    And Burton hinted he may be all-in.


    What The New U.S. Census Data Can't Tell Us About Race And Ethnicity

    Posted August 12, 2021 at 7:03 AM EDT

    We're finally getting the biggest trove — so far — of 2020 census results, delayed for months because of the pandemic and interference by former President Donald Trump’s administration.

    This new demographic data is significant: It will be used to redraw voting districts across the country, enforce anti-discrimination laws and inform the next decade of research and policymaking. But it also paints an incomplete picture of race and ethnicity in the United States.

    NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers the people, power and money behind the U.S. census. He explains that every national headcount — dating back to 1790 — has been a flawed measure of the country's diversity, and this one is no exception.

    To learn exactly what these latest race and ethnicity numbers can — and can’t — tell us, check out the full story.