Start your day here: A new Texas abortion law; omicron in the U.S.; 100 of NPR's favorite songs
Abortion rights: A day after the Supreme Court heard arguments to reverse Roe v. Wade, a new Texas law imposes criminal penalties on prescribing the pills used in medication abortions via telehealth, and sending them to patients through the mail.
Omicron battle plan: President Biden will announce that insurance plans will soon reimburse costs for at-home COVID-19 tests. It's part of a White House plan to "pull out all the stops" to prevent a surge of winter infections as the omicron variant hits the U.S.
The best songs of 2021: Treat yourself to seven glorious hours of NPR's favorite 100 songs, in which booties were called, muffins were buttered and bloody revenge was contemplated. We hope it makes you feel human again.
🎧 Listen to more on these stories on Up First, our daily news podcast.
— The Morning Edition live blog team
(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Nicole Hernandez)
Germany's Merkel will leave office with pomp, circumstance and an unexpected punk-song sendoff
Germany’s military is holding a “Grand Tattoo” for outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel this evening to mark the end of her time as head of state after four terms and 16 years in office, as NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Berlin:
"The official handover to incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to take place next week after the Greens, the SPD, and the FDP parties hold party conferences and vote on the coalition agreement.
"Merkel has chosen three pieces of music to be played at the ceremony, one of which is a curious choice: Nina Hagen’s 1974 Schlager hit “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen," which tells the story of a young East German couple where the woman berates the man for forgetting the color film on a local trip."
The punk rock song has left some Germans wondering how well they really knew their longtime chancellor, The Guardianreports. For one, the song was a hit on the East German charts before Hagen moved west and became a preeminent punk figure of the 1980s. It was also interpreted at the time as a subtle criticism of the socialist republic, "and its grey and drab everyday."
The Guardian notes that some commentators have offered another speculative theory about the song's contemporary meaning: "A howl of frustration with men neglecting to do their job properly could also be designed as a parting shot from Merkel to her male colleagues."
Schmitz adds that before all the pomp and circumstance tonight, though, Merkel is hard at work today in her final meeting with state leaders to decide concrete measures to curb the rocketing hospitalization rate in Germany from the latest wave of the pandemic.
Merkel and Scholz announced that the States will ban unvaccinated people from all non-essential businesses, and more measures will follow if COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb. The tighter restrictions follow growing calls for a nationwide vaccine mandate similar to the one recently announced in Austria.
The German government is planning legislation that will make vaccination mandatory early next year. So far, about 70% of Germans have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Philippines says it vaccinated more than 7 million people in just three days
The Philippines has shattered its daily vaccination rate this week, administering more than 7.5 million doses in just three days.
The National Vaccination Drive ran from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. It saw Filipinos queuing in long lines to take advantage of the mass inoculation, in which the Philippines appears to have turned a corner in its battle against COVID-19.
Conky Quizon, a field epidemiologist and member of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, said the government missed its goal of vaccinating 9 million Filipinos over the course of the brief campaign, but still called the turnout “a big, big deal.”
Quizon said widespread access to the vaccine — there were some 11,000 centers set up across the Philippines — and a bandwagon effect all contributed to the unprecedented numbers of people who came out and rolled up their sleeves for either the Pfizer, Moderna or Astra-Zeneca vaccine.
“I think it's something cultural in the Philippines that when you see so many people participating you think, 'It must be good. It must be safe. It must be efficacious if so many people are queuing,'" Quizon added. "So I think that made a difference.”
This week, the government managed to more than double the normal daily rate of immunizations, topping 2 million vaccinations in each of the three days of the campaign.
Elmer Balanoyos, 33, drives for a towing company and said he was hesitant about the vaccines, but said he saw no one experience bad side effects.
“One of the reasons why I came [to be vaccinated] is because of the new variant," he added. Omicron has not yet been detected in the Philippines.
The country has lagged behind in the region in terms of its low vaccination rate and high number of coronavirus infections. Now, more than a third of the country’s eligible population is vaccinated, and the number of new infections has drastically fallen off.
The government reported 564 new cases on Thursday and 40 deaths, a vastly different showing from just three months ago when there were 22,570 new cases reported amidst a surge on Sept. 6.
Guido David, a fellow at the University of the Philippines OCTA Research Center who monitors the pandemic, acknowledged that the week marks “a certain milestone” for a government that has suffered fits and start in its response to COVID-19.
Minnesota confirms an omicron case in a resident who traveled from New York City
Minnesota officials say they have identified an omicron COVID-19 case in the state, marking the second confirmed case of the highly transmissible variant in the U.S. in as many days.
Lab testing identified the case in a Hennepin County resident who had recently returned from New York City, the Minnesota Department of Health announced on Thursday.
"This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise," Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. "We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world. Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now — get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and get a booster."
Officials said the individual is an adult male who had been vaccinated and took a COVID-19 test on Nov. 24 after developing mild symptoms (which have since resolved) on Nov. 22.
The individual reported traveling to New York City and attending the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19-21, officials said, adding that Minnesota epidemiologists will continue investigating the case in collaboration with New York City and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health department officials said that Minnesota's surveillance program is one of the strongest in the nation, making it likely that it would be among the first states to find the variant.
Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said the discovery further underscores the importance of taking steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the state. Those include getting vaccinated and boosted if eligible, wearing well-fitting masks in indoor public settings and crowded outdoor settings, getting tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 and frequent handwashing.
Minnesota's announcement comes a day after California reported the first omicron case in the U.S., in an individual who had recently returned from South Africa.
This holiday season brings supply chain woes. Here's how to work around them
Savvy planning can help you avoid late deliveries this holiday season as global supply chain disruptions pop up everywhere.
NPR's Jonathan Franklin dug into the best time to ship to avoid late deliveries.
The message from the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS is this: Mail earlier rather than later to ensure holiday packages and cards arrive by De. 25.
If you're using ground shipping, UPS has an online calculator to help you determine when your package will arrive, or check the list below to find the last day you can drop something in the mail and reasonably expect it to arrive on time.
For sending packages at the very last minute for Christmas, Franklin notes FedEx might be the way to go: The company says it will offer same-day delivery on Christmas Eve.
Last month, inflation reached the highest rate since 1990.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports inflation has even reached a few classic gifts — three French hens and two turtle doves will cost your true love more this year. Listen here to his report on how this year's inflation is affecting the price index of items from the "12 Days of Christmas."
And read below to check holiday shipping dates.
U.S. Postal Service
2021 Holiday Shipping Dates for the Contiguous U.S.
- December 15: USPS retail ground service
- December 17: First-class mail service (including holiday greeting cards)
- December 17: First-class packages
- December 18: Priority Mail
- December 23: Priority Mail Express
2021 Holiday Shipping Dates for Alaska and Hawaii
- December 2: USPS retail ground service
- December 18: First-class mail service
- December 18: Priority Mail
- December 21: Priority Mail Express
- December 17: First-class Mail
- December 17: Priority Mail
- December 21: Priority Mail Express
For more information on international and military shipping deadlines, check out USPS and their full list here.
In order for your packages to be delivered by Christmas Day, UPS is urging customers to ship their packages by the following deadlines:
- December 21: 3-Day Select
- December 22: 2nd Day Air services
- December 23: Next-day Air services
For a full list of shipping options, including international shipping, click here.
- December 9: Ground & Freight Economy
- December 15: Ground & Home Delivery
- December 21: Express Saver
- December 22: 2Day & 2Day-AM
- December 23: Overnight services
- December 24: Same-day services
Germany announces a lockdown for unvaccinated people
The German government imposed tighter restrictions today on people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and plans legislation to make vaccination mandatory early next year.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, made the announcement after a meeting with German state leaders and their health advisors in Berlin. They said the states would ban unvaccinated people from entering all businesses except essential ones, like grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries, and that more measures would follow if Covid infection rates continued to climb.
About 70% of Germans have been vaccinated against Covid, a relatively low figure among major Western countries. Infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have increased sharply in recent weeks, and are expected to worsen as the winter progresses and the Omicron variant spreads.
The southern German state of Bavaria and the eastern state of Saxony have been particularly badly hit, with hospital intensive care units already at capacity.
The 'Home Alone' house could be yours for one night only
Calling all fans of Christmas movie classics: The iconic house from the 1990 film Home Alone will be available to rent on Airbnb for one night only this holiday season.
Up to four lucky mischief makers will be able to stay in the McCallister family's house on the night of Dec. 12 for just $25, the rental company announced on Wednesday. Renters can request to book the suburban Chicago property beginning Dec. 7 at 1 p.m. CT.
That's thanks to elder brother Buzz, aka actor Devin Ratray, who is hosting the stay — even though he and his family (everyone except the pet tarantula, this time) will be out of town on their annual holiday trip.
“You may not remember me as particularly accommodating,” 'Buzz' said in a statement. “But I’ve grown up, and I’d be happy to share my family home — my pizza, even — with you this holiday season. Just try not to let my tarantula, Axl, loose this time.”
It is not clear who owns the house, or how exactly it made its way to Airbnb. The family who owned the property at the time of filming sold it to the current owners in 2012 for $1.5 million, according to the Chicago Tribune.
While the house is certainly the main attraction, it's not the only advertised perk of the overnight stay (no Kevin included though, sorry).
Ratray toldPeople that anything fans could possibly remember from the first movie will be available — short of paint cans in the face. He said he hopes it will be snowing like it was in the film, and is excited about giving fans the opportunity to experience the house for themselves.
"You've seen the movie so many times, you've seen the Christmas tree in the front room, you've seen the staircase, people running up and down, you've seen the kitchen where Buzz lovingly barfed up all the cheese pizza. Now you get to walk through that," he said, adding that the mess has long since been cleaned up.
Airbnb says it will welcome its guests with a "cozy holiday scene" including twinkling lights and a Christmas tree, as well as a meet-and-greet with a real tarantula, a LEGO set to take home and "all of the '90s favorites their hearts desire," from Chicago pizza to a candlelit dinner of microwavable mac and cheese.
It also promises booby traps ("but don't worry — you'll be setting them, not sidestepping them!") and "surprisingly searing splashes of aftershave and ample opportunity to scream into the mirror."
"This holiday season, we’re playing by my little bro’s rules, so feel free to eat junk food, watch rubbish on TV, borrow my dad’s aftershave and choose your own adventure with a legendary battle plan as a guide," Buzz writes in the property listing. "Just stay out of my room, okay?"
Guests will wrap up their night of hijinks with a screening of the franchise's latest installment, Home Sweet Home Alone. The new film, out now on Disney+, follows a married couple trying to steal an heirloom from a resourceful kiddo whose family left him behind on a holiday trip to Japan.
And, like the best presents, this gift also gives: Airbnb says it will make a one-time donation to Chicago’s La Rabida Children’s Hospital, though does not specify the dollar amount.
The listing also describes the 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom house as being tucked away on a picturesque street in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, noting that the neighborhood is a friendly one "despite past encounters with crooks and folklore about Old Man Marley."
Airbnb adds that guests are responsible for their own travel to and from Chicago, and those hoping to reserve the home must adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines and company safety practices.
It's also monitoring local infection rates and mandates as the omicron variant spreads, and says it will offer guests a $1,000 travel credit if the stay ultimately has to be cancelled.
Here's hoping these lucky renters will be able to safely get — and stay — home alone after all.
NPR Music just dropped its rankings of the best songs and albums of 2021 🎵
Happy Spotify Wrapped week to all who observe.
If you're anything like us, your social media feeds are probably flooded with friends' and acquaintances' screenshots of the albums, artists and songs they spent the most time listening to this year (and perhaps the ensuing memes poking fun at everything from the app's chaotic graphic design and use of slang to the sometimes-embarrassing deeper meaning behind those listening numbers).
The annual campaign offers insights into Spotify users' listening habits and preferences — and potentially, a golden opportunity to roast yourself and others (you're in the top 2% of listeners for which artist?!).
But it's by no means the only place to go for a musical year in review. In fact, if you're looking to discover new favorites, see how critics' tastes align with your own or replay the soundtrack to a very memorable year, look no further than the good folks at NPR Music.
And these aren't just bullet-point lists. They include writeups by music journalists and critics, as well as music videos, audio files and links so you can listen to them right on the page or open them up in your streaming service of choice.
They can offer you some familiar favorites and brand new finds. It's a great time to walk down audio memory lane, compile new playlists and find more artists to follow.
Plus, there's a playlist! Click here to listen to the 99 best songs of the year (one of them is only commercially available as a download, intriguingly).
Before you dive in: A la Spotify Wrapped, which albums and EPs from 2021 spoke most to you? The All Songs Considered team wants to hear your favorites. You can vote for up to five here, and the results will be released in an upcoming episode of the podcast.
The House is one step closer to averting a partial government shutdown
The House has inched closer on a deal to avert a partial government shutdown.
The chair of the House Appropriations Committee said Thursday that an agreement has been reached on a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government through Feb. 18, 2022.
Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement that the House will consider the measure later today. The CR includes no changes to existing funding or policy – except for an additional $7 billion for Afghanistan evacuees.
“While I wish it were earlier, this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement which addresses the needs of the American people,” DeLauro said.
It is unclear whether the measure has support in the Senate, where some Republicans are holding up support citing their opposition to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates. Government funding runs out Friday.
The Supreme Court appears inclined to roll back Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court seems poised to seriously curtail abortion rights nationwide after arguments Wednesday in a Mississippi case.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, tests whether laws that ban pre-viability abortions are constitutional.
All of the court's past abortion decisions have upheld Roe's central framework: That pregnant people have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy when a fetus is unable to survive outside the womb — roughly the first 24 weeks, reports NPR's Nina Totenberg.
In this case, Mississippi is asking the court to reverse its prior decisions guaranteeing abortion rights and throw the question back to individual states.
Unlike the last major case concerning Roe v. Wade, today's supermajority of six conservative justices all have a history of opposing abortion rights. Those justices' questions suggested they were open to siding with Mississippi and significantly rolling back Roe v. Wade.
None of the court's six conservatives defended the notion of a pregnant person's rights when it comes to childbearing, as Totenberg reports.
A decision in the case is expected next summer. In the meantime, abortion rights debates will play out in state legislatures in preparation for the court's ruling, and undoubtedly will come up in the 2022 midterm elections, reports NPR's Sarah McCammon.
If the court decides to overhaul precedent and give the decision of abortion back to states, many would likely enact restrictive abortion laws or already have, such as Texas.
Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, including a law that went into effect today adding new criminal penalties for prescribing the pills used in medication abortions via telehealth and sending them through the mail.
Almost all abortions have been outlawed since September in Texas, but KUT's Ashley Lopez reports even though the new restrictive laws have little legal impact right now, experts say they're part of a larger strategy.
Baseball owners lock players out after their bargaining agreement expires
Major League Baseball owners and players failed to reach a deal on a new work agreement, triggering a lockout — the owners' version of a strike. It's the first MLB work stoppage since a 1994 strike cut the season short and canceled the World Series.
The agreement expired at 12:59 p.m. Wednesday.
The sides have about two months before spring training to try to resolve their differences over pay structures and other issues. For now, the lockout halts offseason roster trades like free agency signings and some minor player preseason work.
Owners say the players' demands for better pay for younger players would hurt their ability to stay competitive. As NPR's Becky Sullivan reports, teams have been leaning on younger, cheaper players over whom they have more control. The median salary has dropped about 30% since 2015, according to the Associated Press.
Many fans won't sympathize with either side, as NPR's Tom Goldman explains, especially after teams spent a reported $1.4 billion on player salaries Wednesday — a one-day record — in a rush to beat the lockout.
Sullivan also cites a new study by Business Insider that accuses the league of using two different baseballs during the 2021 season — without the knowledge of players or teams. Changes in the ball can mean the difference between an outfield fly and a home run, and can have other big impacts on player stats.
The league acknowledged in a statement yesterday that it had used two different balls, blaming production difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Michigan authorities consider charges against the school shooting suspect's parents
The parents of a teenager accused of killing four students and wounding seven others at a high school in Michigan this week could themselves face charges.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said she is considering charges against the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, the suspect in Tuesday’s mass shooting at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit.
Prosecutors allege the 9mm handgun Crumbley used in the shooting had been bought by his father days before the massacre.
“The parents should have kept the gun and ammunition well away from a minor like their son and the fact that they did not has her contemplating the unusual step of charging them with a crime as well,” Quinn Klinefelter of Detroit member station WDET told Morning Edition. Listen here.
McDonald hasn’t elaborated on the exact nature of the charges under consideration against the parents.
Meanwhile, the 15-year-old suspect, who is being charged as an adult, faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of terrorism.
That last charge — under Michigan’s 2002 anti-terrorism statute — is also unexpected, and McDonald acknowledged as much, saying it was “not a usual, typical charge.”
“What about all the children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now, who can’t eat and can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school? Those are victims, too, and so are their families and so is the community," McDonald said. "The charge of terrorism reflects that.”
According to The Associated Press, the terrorism charge has been used before in the state — in 2012 against a man who fired from his car at passing vehicles along a Michigan interstate and in 2005 against a teen who plotted a school shooting.
Omicron is now in the U.S., and Biden has a new plan for fighting COVID this winter
Cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in some two dozen countries — including the U.S., after officials identified one in California yesterday.
Health officials had said it was only a matter of time before the highly transmissible new variant appeared in the U.S., and they expect to see more confirmed.
While the discovery of the first omicron case may remind some of us of the panic-inducing reports of the first U.S. COVID-19 cases in January 2020, experts point out that have many more public health tools at our disposal than we did then, from vaccines to testing to therapeutics.
In fact, President Biden is poised to announce a new plan for fighting COVID-19 this winter in remarks later this afternoon.
NPR's Pien Huang and Tamara Keith joined Morning Edition to walk us through what we know. Listen here or read on for highlights.
What we know about the U.S. omicron case, and what it could mean
The case was found in a San Francisco resident who had traveled to South Africa and returned on Nov. 22. The person felt sick around Thanksgiving and got tested on Nov. 28, after which a California lab and the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the case was caused by omicron.
The individual is fully vaccinated with two doses of the Moderna shot, but did not have a booster since it had not been six months since their most recent dose. They have not been hospitalized, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that their close contacts are not known to have tested positive.
Omicron has a lot of mutations, so researchers are looking at its genetic code to see if it might be more contagious. And they're stressing the importance of measures like masking, distancing, quarantining and getting boosted to slow what they describe as a pretty inevitable spread.
Huang has been talking to public health experts about what they're wondering and predicting, and says Dr. Anthony Fauci — the president's chief medical adviser — thinks we'll know more about how transmissible the virus is and how much protection vaccines offer in about two or three weeks. Dr. Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington predicts that if omicron is able to compete with delta, it will become the main variant circulating in the U.S. within 6-8 weeks.
The Biden administration's winter COVID plan focuses on vaccines and testing
Biden's plan to fight the virus this winter is a "battle of increments," Keith reports.
One of the steps he is set to announce today is that private insurance companies will reimburse the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests (they already cover tests done at pharmacies, doctor's offices and labs, and will be required to cover home rapid tests in the new year). The hope is that more people will take those tests and, depending on the results, isolate as needed.
Here are some of the other steps Biden is expected to announce:
- The government will buy another 25 million tests to give out at community health centers and rural clinics.
- It will also open family vaccine clinics, where parents can get their boosters and their kids vaccinated in a single visit. (More here on when kids under 5 will be eligible.)
- The Biden administration will also prepare strike teams to help states when there are outbreaks.
- It's also pushing vaccinations by encouraging businesses to require vaccines and working with groups like pharmacies and the AARP to urge the roughly 100 million adults without boosters to roll up their sleeves.
- Travelers will have to get tested for COVID-19 within a day of leaving to come to the U.S. (the rule applies to all Americans regardless of vaccination status, and foreign travelers who must be vaccinated).
- The mandate requiring masks on planes and other forms of public transportation will be extended into March.