Start your day here: Mark Meadows referred for contempt; Pfizer COVID pill protects against severe disease; the search for survivors in Kentucky

Published December 14, 2021 at 7:45 AM EST
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection votes to refer former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for contempt on Monday.
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The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection votes to refer former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for contempt on Monday.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Mark Meadows contempt referral: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol voted last night to recommend a criminal contempt of Congress charge against former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, after reading out panicked text messages he got from Fox News personalities, Republican lawmakers and Donald Trump, Jr. during the events of Jan. 6.

Pfizer's COVID pill: The company released more data that shows the pill is effective in preventing hospitalization and death when taken by people with mild to moderate illness within a few days of first symptoms. Pfizer said it has submitted the results to the Food and Drug Administration.

Searching in Kentucky: Crews are combing through the debris after dozens of tornadoes whipped through the South and Midwest over the weekend. An NPR reporter joined recovery efforts in Kentucky, where at least 74 people were killed and more than 100 remain missing.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, abuse survivors reach a settlement with USA Gymnastics and the Olympic committee.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)

Religion

The share of U.S. adults with no religious affiliation continues to grow

Posted December 14, 2021 at 11:50 AM EST

The percent of U.S. adults who identify as Christian is going down while the percentage of adults with no religious affiliation continues to rise, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

A strong majority of U.S. adults, 63%, say they are Christians. However, this number has been falling since Pew began asking its current question about religious identity in 2007. At that time 78% of adults said they were Christians.

Meanwhile, Pew researchers found that 29% of adults are what they call “religious nones”: atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular.” Their share has been on a general upward trend since 2007, when they made up 16% of respondents.

People who affiliate with all other religions made up 6% of respondents, though this number has been relatively stable since 2007.

Pew says the decline among Christianity comes mostly from a decline in those identifying as Protestants. Today, 40% of U.S. adults say they are Protestants, which Pew tracks as anyone saying they are “just Christian,” Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian or another included denomination. That number is down from 52% in 2007.

Among Protestants, evangelicals dominate. Sixty percent of Protestants say they are “born-again or evangelical Christian.”

Catholics were 24% of U.S. adults in 2007. Their numbers had been on a slight decline through the 2010s, though had a small rebound in 2020. This year they are 21% of U.S. adults.

The results come from 3,937 respondents to the Pew Research Center’s National Public Opinion Reference Survey, conducted online and by mail between May 29 and Aug. 25, 2021.

Music

In happy news, Megan Thee Stallion is now Megan Thee Graduate

Posted December 14, 2021 at 11:42 AM EST

Megan Thee Stallion — this year's Grammy's-designated "Best New Artist" and the inventor of Hot Girl Summer, among other accolades — added another title to her growing list this weekend: college graduate.

The rapper, whose legal name is Megan Pete, graduated from Texas Southern University on Saturday with a degree in health administration. It was a goal a long time in the making and one that she and her legions of fans rightfully found worth celebrating.

Megan Thee Stallion told NPR Music back in 2019 that she was inspired by three generations of strong women — her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother — to pursue her degree even after her music career took off. And she's had big post-grad plans, too.

"I want to take my rapper money and start my own assisted living facilities in Houston," she said at the time, "because I see what it looks like when you got your grandparents take care of your great-grandparents."

CNN notesthat her late grandmother was a teacher, and her mother died of brain cancer in March 2019.

The official countdown to graduation started on social media last week when Twitter released a custom emoji of Megan Thee Stallion in a mortarboard and tassel.

Megan Thee Stallion also posted the livestream link to the graduation ceremony so "Hotties" could watch her accept her diploma in real time. Here's that moment, later shared by her school's official Twitter account:

Messages of congratulations poured in all weekend from her fans (here they arecompiled in a video), including some very high-profile admirers.

Texas Southern University — a historically Black university in Houston — tweeted a photo of the rapper standing next to the school's president. Cardi B congratulated her in a tweet, writing, "I know your Parents are super proud of you." And Education Secretary Miguel Cardona conveyed his support in a video message.

A day later, Megan Thee Stallion received the 18th Congressional District of Texas Hero award by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who said during the ceremony that the honor is only presented rarely, and to those who "exhibit humanity" and "have helped without asking."

The rapper has notably supported various local causes, from funding home repairsfor senior citizens and single moms after Texas' winter storm to a recent six-figure donation to the nonprofit Houston Random Acts of Kindness in collaboration with the chicken franchise Popeye's.

She shared photos from the award ceremony on Instagram, writing: "Though I appreciate the recognition I’m just happy that I am able to give back to and put smiles on the faces of the people in my city."

Kentucky tornados

Disasters no longer stick to their seasons, says Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas

Posted December 14, 2021 at 11:31 AM EST
Emergency response workers dig through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., on Saturday.
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Emergency response workers dig through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., on Saturday.

Tornadoes are known as warm-weather menaces, but the rash of twisters that ripped through the nation's middle blew past that norm.

Researchers hesitate to draw a direct link between tornadoes and climate change. But natural disasters in general have been ranging far beyond their normal time zones, said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“There used to be a cadence to the response to disasters," Mayorkas told Morning Edition. "There used to be seasons for hurricanes and fires and the like. And quite frankly, that cadence has changed dramatically. It is now a year-long process of disaster response and recovery.”

Mayorkas visited the mound of debris that used to be the candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., on Saturday. At least 8 workers died in the factory. Owned by Mayfield Consumer Products, the factory is a major employer in the small town: NPR's David Schaper reports on All Things Considered that most people seem to either work there or know someone who does.

Mayorkas said the average per capita income in Mayfield is $18,000. People were working the night shift to fill Christmas orders and make extra money.

He said his visit to the wreckage was heart-wrenching.

"We arrived at the scene of what was once that factory and is now just rubble," Mayorkas said. "And the search and rescue teams were working, and one officer had pulled from the rubble an individual's backpack, one shoe that could be recovered, and a cell phone.

"And on that cell phone were 27 missed messages, meaning a loved one had called to see whether their family member had survived. And we don't know the answer to that question, but the scene is ever-present in my mind.”

You can listen to more from Mayorkas at this link.

Coronavirus

California implements a new indoor mask mandate as COVID-19 cases sharply increase

Posted December 14, 2021 at 10:53 AM EST
Two signsposted  at an outdoor mall prohibit large gatherings and require people to wear face masks and keep 6 feet apart.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
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Signs with social distancing guidelines and face mask requirements are posted at an outdoor mall amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, on June 11, 2021.

California is joining New York in imposing new temporary indoor mask mandates to combat an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul implemented the rules there on Friday. California Gov. Gavin Newsom followed suit on Monday.

California’s restrictions, which go into effect on Wednesday, require masks “for all individuals in all indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status."

New York’s mandate requires masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, at healthcare and adult care facilities and schools. Masks are also required at indoor public places that don’t require proof of vaccination.

Both states have seen a steep increase in coronavirus infections just as more cases of the omicron variant have been detected across the country. In California, the per capita rate of cases has jumped 47% in the past two weeks, according to The Associated Press.

New York and California, whose mandates will remain in effect until Jan. 15, join Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii, which already have similar restrictions in place.

In a statement last week, Hochul alluded to many people in her state who have refused vaccination.

"We shouldn't have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers' frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet," she said.

California is also ordering unvaccinated people who attend indoor events of 1,000 or more people to have a negative test within one or two days, depending on the type of test.

Canada

Canada pledges $40 billion in talks over rampant abuses of Indigenous children

Posted December 14, 2021 at 10:43 AM EST
A makeshift memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School honors the 215 children whose remains were found near the facility, in Kamloops, Canada, on September 1, 2021.
COLE BURSTON/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
A makeshift memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School honors the 215 children whose remains were found near the facility, in Kamloops, Canada, in September.

The Canadian government will set aside $40 billion — more than $30 billion in U.S. currency — to compensate Indigenous people who faced abuses as children in the country’s residential schools, officials announced Monday. The funds will also be used to reform the country's troubled child welfare system.

The pledge comes amid ongoing negotiations between Canadian authorities and First Nations groups over how to make amends for the historical mistreatment of Indigenous children.

“We have been unequivocal throughout these historic negotiations: we will compensate those harmed by the federal government’s discriminatory funding practices and we will lay the foundation for an equitable and better future for First Nations children, their families and communities,” Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said in a joint statement.

From 1831 to 1998, the government separated some 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and sent them to residential schools where they routinely faced physical and sexual abuse. At least 6,000 students died, though officials say that number could be higher.

The money will be used to settle a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order and two class action lawsuits as well as pay for longer-term improvements to the Indigenous child welfare system, the CBC reported.

“While the Government of Canada’s promise to put $40 billion towards ending ongoing discrimination and compensating the children and families who were hurt is an important step, there are more legal steps to take before victims get the compensation they are owed and First Nations children get the services they deserve,” Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada, said in a statement.

Blackstock noted that many Indigenous children and young adults in Canada still face challenges in attaining basic public services.

Negotiations are continuing, but both sides have agreed to a deadline of Dec. 31, according to the CBC.

Health

Read this if you haven't gotten your flu shot or booster yet

Posted December 14, 2021 at 9:54 AM EST
A person in protective gear stands in a white tent in a parking lot, with signs reading "Free mobile flu shots."
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A nurse waits to administer flu shots during a COVID-19 testing and flu shot event at the Tacoma Dome on November 2020 in Tacoma, Washington.

It's been exactly one year since the very first COVID-19 shot was administered in the U.S., to healthcare worker Sandra Lindsay. She spoke to NPR about how her life has changed and her tips for encouraging hesitant people to get vaccinated.

Zooming out: A lot has happened since then, with the emergence of new variants, the rollout of boosters, a surge in cases and new therapeutics poised to hit the market.

So where exactly do things stand today?

The U.S. is on the cusp of hitting 800,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The delta variant is circulating — especially in the Northeast and Great Lakes region — and hospital admissions are up more than 20% over the last few weeks. Plus, as scientists learn more about the threat of the omicron variant, they're urging everyone to get boosted and debating whether to redefine "fully vaccinated."

And on top of it all, flu season is approaching, and experts warn it could be a tough one.

As NPR's Allison Aubrey explains, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warns the risk of flu remains low nationally but continues to increase.

The worst of flu season typically happens later, in January and February, but CDC surveillance data shows that cases are rising a bit, especially on college campuses.

They're also starting to pick up A type of influenza, or H3N2, which in prior years has been associated with more hospitalizations. And that's especially worrying because fewer Americans have gotten their flu vaccine compared to previous years.

"I do think there's a bit of what we call 'vaccine fatigue,' and that's unfortunate. And it's especially concerning because the flu activity that we are seeing now, that's just starting to pick up, has been mostly H3N2, and H3N2 influenza is often associated with more severe seasons, particularly in folks who are more vulnerable."
Dr. Michael Jhung of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Aubrey notes that the current flu vaccine does protect against that strain, and it's not too late to roll up your sleeve now.

Here are even more reasons to get a flu shot this year. And here are some tips on how to keep your guard up against flu and COVID-19 this winter.

Listen to more of Aubrey's reporting on today's episode ofShort Wave, NPR's daily science podcast.

Education

Organizers of the South Dakota teacher 'dash for cash' are apologizing and paying up

Posted December 14, 2021 at 9:24 AM EST

A South Dakota hockey team and mortgage lender are apologizing for a widely-panned event in which schoolteachers scrambled to grab dollar bills off the ice during a game's intermission.

The Sioux Falls Stampede, a junior league team, had billed Saturday's event as its inaugural "Dash for Cash." It involved dumping $5,000 in $1 bills around a carpet at center ice, then inviting 10 teachers from local schools to scoop it up as fans cheered. Videos of the educators, wearing hockey helmets and stuffing cash into their shirts and pockets, went viral over the weekend.

The teachers' hauls ranged from $378 to $616, according to theArgus Leader.

Organizers said all the money the teachers could grab would be used for their own classrooms and school programs, and had billed it as a way to help educators amidst the stressors of the pandemic.

Instead, as NPR's Bill Chappell reported, it drew widespread condemnation from critics and shone a national spotlight on South Dakota's low teacher pay.

The Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct, which donated the cash for the contest, are now offering teachers an apology and an additional $500 each.

"Although our intent was to provide a positive and fun experience for teachers, we can see how it appears to be degrading and insulting towards the participating teachers and the teaching profession as a whole," organizers said in a statement on Monday. "We deeply regret and apologize to all teachers for any embarrassment this may have caused."

They reiterated that the promotion was aimed at raising funds for local teachers and classrooms, and explained that they had randomly selected the 10 participants from a pool of 31 applicants. The team said it is giving them all more money, totaling an additional $15,500 for area teachers.

"Together with CU Mortgage Direct we will be providing an additional $500 to those teachers that participated in the event as well as providing $500 to those additional 21 applicants that were not able to participate," it said.

It also promised to work with the South Dakota Teachers Association on future events that will support teachers and "funding for our next generation."

As Chappell reported, South Dakota ranks toward the bottom of the country for spending on education, both in terms of average teacher salary and the average amount it pays per student.

Climate

The U.N. says it has verified a new record high temperature for the Arctic

Posted December 14, 2021 at 8:55 AM EST
A person stands next to a truck on the side of a road surrounded by green pine trees, against a hazy yellow sky.
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Men repair their truck in smoke from a forest fire on a road near Magaras, in the republic of Sakha, Siberia, on July 27, 2021.

The United Nations has officially recognized a new record high temperature for the Arctic, confirming a reading of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) taken in June of last year.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a statement on Tuesday calling the temperature reading “more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic.”

The high reading, taken on June 20, 2020, in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk, came amid a prolonged Siberian heatwave that year in which the region reached as much as 10 degrees C above normal for much of the summer.

“This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations reported to the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate,” WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

In 2020, there was also a new temperature record (18.3°C) for the Antarctic continent,” said WMO,” he added.

The WMO said the Arctic “is among the fastest-warming regions in the world” and that the unprecedented temperatures caused it to add a new climate category for “highest recorded temperature at or north of 66.5⁰, the Arctic Circle” to its archives.

The high temperatures were “fueling devastating fires [and] driving massive sea ice loss” that played “a major role in 2020 being one of the three warmest years on record,” it said.

As NPR’s Rebecca Hersher reported in June of last year, 20,000 tons of diesel spilled in northern Siberia when storage tanks collapsed, likely because of melting permafrost.

The WMO said the new Arctic record high was just one of many record high temperatures in 2020 and 2021 that it was working to verify — including a reading of 54.4 C (129.9 F) in Death Valley, Calif., the world’s hottest place, and 48.8 C (119.8 F) on the island of Sicily.

“The WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has never had so many ongoing simultaneous investigations,” Taalas said.

Tornadoes

After a spate of tornadoes, Kentuckians search for survivors and answers

Posted December 14, 2021 at 8:35 AM EST
Debris covers an area in this areal image.
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AFP
Tornado debris in Mayfield, Ky., is seen from above after extreme weather hit six states over the weekend.

Search-and-recovery operations, power outages and damage surveys continue today after dozens of tornadoes hit the South and Midwest over the weekend. Authorities say 74 people in Kentucky were killed and dozens remain missing.

President Biden will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday to survey damage and offer support.

Here's the latest on the tornadoes' aftermath:

Questions linger in tragedy at the Mayfield candle factory

At least eight people died when the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Mayfield, Ky., collapsed during the tornadoes; crews have been searching the site for those still missing.

Factory workers who tried to leave before the tornado were told "If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired," factory worker McKayla Emery told NBC News.

The factory, which produces scented candles, was reportedly working around the clock to meet demand for the holiday season when warnings of dangerous weather began to come in.

NBC reports as many as 15 people asked to shelter at home but were told by managers they could be fired if they left.

NPR hasn't been able to independently verify those allegations and the company denies workers were threatened with firings.

Pictures show the factory was decimated by the storm. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear visited the site.

"I was there yesterday, and it's even worse than the images," Beshear told NPR. "It's 15-plus feet of steel, of cars that were in the parking lot that went through the roof, of drums of corrosive chemicals."

On the ground in Kentucky

Search-and-recovery crews across the state are continuing to comb through debris today looking for survivors.

NPR's Brian Mann joined a team of volunteers and National Guard members as they searched a devastated neighborhood in Dawson Springs, Ky. He reports the team sifted through fields and woodlands and went house-to-house searching the destruction with sticks and leather gloves.

Mann reports for some of those on the crew, mentally navigating such a traumatic experience requires skill.

"I was a nurse for several years," said Bobbie Brown. "Unfortunately, I've learned to shut my brain off when it comes to these types of situations."

But many of the search-and-recovery workers are uniquely vulnerable to the pain and loss of this disaster, reports Mann.

"We have family here, as well," said Ryan Linton, a member of the Dawson Springs Volunteer Fire Department. "So everybody's trying to make do with what's going on.

Listen to more of Mann's reporting here.

Looking to help? Member station WFPL hasthis list of how to support victims and the recovery effort.

Coronavirus

Data shows Pfizer's vaccine protects less against omicron but still cuts severe disease

Posted December 14, 2021 at 8:16 AM EST
A person wearing a green polo shirt with the South African flag on the sleeve sits at a table with syringes, vaccine vials, bandages, a calculator and other materials.
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AFP
A member of the Western Cape Metro EMS prepares vaccines from a converted ambulance at a COVID-19 vaccination event in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday.

A major new study out of South Africa shows that Pfizer's mRNA vaccine offered just 30% protection against infection by the omicron variant, compared to around 80% against the delta variant.

Researchers at Discovery Health, South Africa's largest private health insurer, and the South African Medical Research Council analyzed data from some 78,000 people likely infected with omicron, nearly half of whom had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

(While the Moderna shot isn't available in South Africa, NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff explains that "the two vaccines have behaved quite similarly against new variants, with the Moderna vaccine slightly more effective.")

Here's more on the study.

Its findings mean that the omicron variant, which appears to be highly transmissible, will likely lead to more breakthrough cases of COVID-19.

But there's some encouraging news, too. Two shots of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine were estimated to offer about 70% protection against COVID-related hospital admissions, which suggests the vaccine protects well against severe disease (including in older people and those with conditions like diabetes).

It comes with a huge caveat: South Africans have had high exposure to COVID-19, with some studies estimating that up to 90% of the population has been infected over the course of the pandemic — which the study didn't take into account.

It's also worth noting that the study didn't look at the impact of boosters, though other recent research suggests that an additional dose could increase levels of protection among those who haven't already had the virus.

Doucleff walked us through the details on Morning Edition. Listen here.

Politics

Jan. 6 panel recommends a contempt charge for Mark Meadows, reads his texts from the day

Posted December 14, 2021 at 7:41 AM EST
A man with white hair, wearing a black suit and red tie, stands outside looking down.
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AFP
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the media at the White House in October 2020.

Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows could soon face criminal charges.

In the latest chapter of a long-running saga, the Democratic-lead House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol voted last night to hold Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress. The full House could approve that contempt referral as early as today, and then the Justice Department will decide whether to prosecute — if so, Meadows could face a year of jail and fines.

🎧 NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales explains how we got here.

Meadows — who himself served in the House as a representative for North Carolina for more than seven years — was one of the first former Trump administration officials to be subpoenaed. He had initially cooperated with the panel's investigation, which is how it got hold of thousands of emails and text messages. (More on those in a moment.)

But Meadows abruptly reversed course a day before his scheduled deposition last week, and even sued the committee, calling its subpoenas "overly broad and unduly burdensome" and claiming that executive privilege prevents him from cooperating further (though, as Grisales notes, the fact that he just released a memoir about his time in the White House hurts that argument).

At that point, he had already turned over thousands of emails and text messages to the committee, including some he received during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The panel's ranking Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, read many of those text messages out loud ahead of last night's vote.

Fox News' Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade, as well as unnamed Republican lawmakers and even Donald Trump, Jr. texted Meadows urging him to get then-President Donald Trump to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol.

Read those messages here.

In an appearance on Hannity's show last night, he called the vote "disappointing but not surprising." Meadows is expected to vigorously fight any charges, saying through his attorney that the committee's referral is "unwise, unfair and contrary to law."

Read more from Grisales on Meadows' defense and what else the committee is pursuing.

Law

Insurer for Boy Scouts agrees to contribute $800 million to sexual abuse victims’ fund

Posted December 14, 2021 at 7:38 AM EST
A person wearing a tan shirt with an American flag patch on the arm salutes an American flag on a flagpole outside.
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A Boy Scout salutes the American flag at camp Maple Dell on July 31, 2015 outside Payson, Utah.

An insurer representing the Boy Scouts of America says it will contribute $800 million to settle more than 82,000 sexual abuse claims.

Chubb Ltd.’s Century Indemnity Company released a statement Monday saying that under the proposed agreement, “Century Indemnity Company and other Chubb companies will pay $800 million and obtain a broad release for all Chubb companies from BSA-related abuse claims.”

The tens of thousands of claimants who say they were abused as Scout members decades ago have until Dec. 28 to vote on the Boy Scouts bankruptcy reorganization plan under an order issued in August by a judge in Delaware.

The judge’s decision was initially opposed by insurers, attorneys for some of the victims and church denominations that have sponsored local Boy Scout troops.

The contribution by the insurer would bring the amount of money in a proposed trust to more than $2.6 billion, making it the largest sexual abuse settlement in U.S. history, according to The Associated Press.

Under the settlement, the Boy Scouts and its 250 local councils would be released from further liability for sexual abuse claims, the AP says.

"This is an extremely important step forward in the BSA's efforts to equitably compensate survivors, and our hope is that this will lead to further settlement agreements from other parties," the BSA said in a statement on Monday.

Just In
Coronavirus

Pfizer's data shows its COVID-19 pill is effective against severe disease

Posted December 14, 2021 at 7:36 AM EST
A black sign with "Pfizer" is silver letters sits outside.
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The Pfizer Headquarters sign on November 10, 2020 in Tadworth, England.

Pfizer released additional data about its pill to treat COVID-19 that shows it was effective in preventing hospitalization and death when taken by people with mild to moderate illness within a few days of first symptoms.

The medicine, called Paxlovid, is taken twice a day for five days in combination with a second medicine called ritonavir, a generic antiviral.

The results from a study involving more than 2,200 people at high risk for developing serious COVID-19 found the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%, compared with a placebo, when taken within three days of first symptoms of illness. When taken with five days, the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 88%.

“If you would treat 100,000 patients of this type with Paxlovid, you would prevent more than 5,500 hospitalizations and save some 1,100 lives,” Pfizer’s Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten tells NPR.

Preliminary results from a second study showed a 70% reduction in hospitalization risk among several hundred people at lower risk for severe disease.

The company also looked at the effect of the drug on suppressing the amount of virus in the body, the so-called viral load, and found it led to a 10-fold drop compared with a placebo. A reduction in viral load could reduce people’s infectiousness.

Reactions to drug and placebo were similar and most were mild, Pfizer said.

Pfizer said it has submitted the results to the Food and Drug Administration. If the agency authorizes the medicine, the U.S. government has a contract with Pfizer to buy 10 million courses for $5.3 billion.