Start your day here: Chicago teachers refuse to work in person; CDC holds firm on isolation guidance; Macron gets harsh on the unvaccinated

Published January 5, 2022 at 8:05 AM EST
People wait in line in their cars to be tested for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing site at Zoo Miami on Monday.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
People wait in line in their cars to be tested for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing site at Zoo Miami on Monday.

Good morning,

We're following these top stories today:

COVID-19 isolation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated its new guidelines for leaving isolation five days after a COVID-19 diagnosis without requiring a negative test result, despite criticism from some public health experts.

Chicago teachers: More than 300,000 students have the day off after the teachers union voted to switch to remote learning inresponse to the current COVID surge.

Macron gets testy: The French president told a newspaperhe wanted to "piss off" the country’s unvaccinated by limiting their access to almost everything.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, groups of amateur detectives have been scouring social media to help track down Jan. 6 rioters.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Danny Nett)


A Missouri county asks for help designing a new seal after old one turns heads online

Posted January 5, 2022 at 1:05 PM EST
St. Francois County

In theory, the seal of St. Francois County, Mo., has all the trappings of a normal, classic government seal: A bald eagle soars across a waving American flag, with a Bible, cross, shovel and pickaxe all encircled by the text “The Great Seal of St. Francois County” and “In God we trust.”

But, to some, the St. Francois County seal comes off as, perhaps, a tad “free clip-art,” as one user of Reddit’s “CrappyDesign” subreddit put it on a viral post that picked up nearly 17,000 upvotes over the weekend.

Where most official seals use simple, line-drawn symbols or drawings to depict subjects of importance, the St. Francois County seal instead uses full-color photographic images of the eagle, flag and other objects on the seal.

“Adobe photoshop free trial,” one user wrote. “Strong ‘Made in powerpoint’ vibes,” wrote another.

Now, commissioners in the county — a small, rural county in eastern Missouri roughly halfway between St. Louis and Cape Girardeau — say they will change the seal, most likely through a public contest.

“There’s a fever pitch, I understand, on social media about the seal of the county,” said Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher at a county commission meeting on Tuesday.

Social media users’ impression that the current seal was designed by an amateur in simple software is, well, correct: Gallaher, who is in his 70s, designed the county’s current seal in 2018. “I’ve said a 5-year-old kid with a high fever could do a better job than I did,” he said Tuesday.

At that time, it had not been updated “in years,” Gallaher said at its unveiling in 2018, according to theDaily Journalnewspaper. “So, with some simple software, I brought up this new one, and we’ve adopted that now as our county seal,” he said then.

On Tuesday, Gallaher agreed that it was time for something new, joking that the current seal is “proof positive that I am not artistically inclined.”

Gallaher laid out a handful of requirements for any new seal: It should include all of the symbols on the current seal, along with a new symbol alluding to the county’s many parks, he said. It should also include less of the color red (“It fades too quickly,” he said).

Perhaps most importantly, it should be “better than the seal we have now,” Gallaher said to a round of laughs.

According to the Daily Journal, the parameters of the contest will be announced at the next county commission meeting next week.

California officials say a tree falling on electrical line caused last year’s massive Dixie Fire

Posted January 5, 2022 at 12:57 PM EST
FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2021 file photo long exposure photo, flames from the Dixie Fire spread in Genesee, Calif. A Pacific Gas & Electric troubleshooter spent nearly two hours in federal court Monday, Sept. 13 fielding questions about whether the beleaguered utility could have turned off the electricity flowing to a power line suspected of sparking the monstrous Dixie Fire that started two months ago. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope, File)
Ethan Swope/AP
FR171736 AP
Flames from the Dixie Fire spread in Genesee, Calif, last August. California's fire emergency agency, Cal Fire, has concluded that a tree falling on a PG&E power line triggered the massive blaze that burned for more than three months.

Last year’s Dixie Fire, the second-largest in California’s history, was caused by a tree contacting power lines operated by the nation’s largest electric utility, the state’s emergency fire management agency said Wednesday.

Cal Fire said that after a “meticulous and thorough investigation” its investigators had determined that the Dixie Fire, which broke out in Butte County on July 13 and consumed nearly a million acres before finally being extinguished more than three months later, “was caused by a tree contacting electrical distribution lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) located west of Cresta Dam.”

Cresta Dam is located about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Cal Fire said the results of its investigation were being forwarded to the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.

The Dixie Fire virtually destroyed the historic Gold-Rush-era town of Greenville as it swept through five counties in the state, including Shasta and Tehama. One firefighter was killed in the blaze, which destroyed more than 1,300 buildings.

In a statement on Wednesday, PG&E referred back to its initial findings in July acknowledging the cause of the Dixie Fire.

“[A] large tree struck one of our normally operating lines. This tree was one of more than 8 million trees within strike distance to PG&E lines,” the utility said.

“Taking a bold step forward, PG&E has committed to burying 10,000 miles of lines in addition to the mitigations included in PG&E’s 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan,” it said. “Regardless of today’s finding, we will continue to be tenacious in our efforts to stop fire ignitions from our equipment and to ensure that everyone and everything is always safe.”

In January 2019, the utility, which serves more than 5 million customers in the northern two-thirds of California, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after it was found liable for multiple blazes, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people in the town of Paradise. The utility emerged from Chapter 11 in 2020.

A colorful affair

This woman loves the color pink so much she actually married it

Posted January 5, 2022 at 12:25 PM EST

Kitten Kay Sera has been in a relationship with the color pink for more than 40 years. And they finally made things official this weekend at a chapel in Las Vegas, which appears to make Sera the first person to marry a color.

Sera, who is known as "The Pink Lady of Hollywood," has dressed exclusively in shades of pink since 1980. She lives in a multi-hued pink palace and uses beet juice to color the fur of her dog, Pinkaboo.

"On my birthday ... I was in head-to-toe pink and I just said, 'You know what, I'm going to live a pink lifestyle,'" she recalled in a video clip posted to Instagram. "And I just got rid of everything that was not pink, and now my life is all pink!"

Sera wrote on her website that she was inspired to tie the knot a few years ago during a visit to Los Angeles. Spotting her pink outfit, a kid on a skateboard marveled at how much she appeared to love pink — and offered up the classic refrain: "If you like it so much, then why don't you marry it?"

"I just nodded .. that was when I knew I would indeed marry the color! I will be the first person in the WORLD to do such a thing," Sera wrote.

And on New Year's day, she did.

Pink-clad guests joined Sera at the famous A Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, where she celebrated with pink-flowered cakes and cupcakes decorated with flamingos. She wore a pink fur coat, oversize earrings, sparkling tiara and poofy pastel dress.

The blushing bride perched on the pink Cadillac once owned by Elvis Presley as she read her vows. She clutched an oversized pink color swatch — with shades of bubblegum, flamingo, carnation and neon — to symbolize her new spouse.

Video footage from Fox affiliate KVVU shows Sera embracing her jubilant guests and posing with the color swatch.

"I would never want another color," she told the station. "I can pinky promise you I will be in pink 'til I die."


Kazakhstan is in turmoil after massive protests prompt the government to resign

Posted January 5, 2022 at 12:13 PM EST
Protestors stand packed together on a street at night.
Protesters attend a rally in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 4, 2022, after energy price hikes.

Powerful anti-government protests are rocking Kazakhstan after a sudden hike in fuel prices drew intense public condemnation over the weekend.

The entire presidential cabinet has resigned in response to the unrest and a state of emergency has been extended throughout the country. Protesters have seized the airport in largest city, Almaty, and stormed public buildings as protests spread.

Thousands of citizens have been protesting in cities and towns around the Central Asian country since Sunday when the government lifted a price cap on liquefied petroleum gas, used by many to power vehicles in the oil-rich nation. Kazakhs were outraged when oil prices doubled overnight.

Protests originally sparked in the western part of the country where much of the nation's oil is produced. Outlets report the current unrest originated in the western city of Zhanaozen, the site of a police massacre in 2011 where at least 15 people were killed during acrackdownonoilworkers.

NPR's Russia correspondent Charles Maynes says protesters aren't only fed up with the fuel price increase but are also taking to the streets to decry the post-communist politics of the former Soviet republic.

In a bid to defuse tension, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the removal of the country's longtime strongman, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as head of the nation's Security Council. Nazarbayev led the country for almost 30 years as president and maintained significant power even after leaving that role. Accused of frequenthuman rights abuses, he used autocratic methods to amass power and influence elections.

"Now, Nazarbayev is seen as the real power in the country and the object of protesters' ire; with protesters chanting 'Leave old man, leave' as they storm the streets," Maynes reports.

Outlets report security forces have fired tear gas canisters in clashes with protesters and several hundred people have reportedly been injured, including security forces, Maynes says.

As of last night, the country is experiencing a nationwide internet outage, according to the watchdog group NetBlocks, limiting press coverage, watchdog access and communications within and outside the country.

President Tokayev has reinstated the price controls and urged the public to stop the demonstrations. Reports from the region seem to indicate the protesters do not yet have any universal demands.

Required listening

NPR's new podcast, 'The Limits with Jay Williams,' is about the art of the rebound

Posted January 5, 2022 at 11:19 AM EST
A Black man sits smiling against a blue background, with the words NPR: The Limits with Jay Williams added on top.
New episodes of The Limits come out every Tuesday.

NPR's latest podcast launched yesterday. It's called The Limits with Jay Williams, and you can check it out here.

And yes, it's that Jay Williams, former NBA player and current ESPN analyst. He was drafted second overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2002 after a phenomenal basketball career at Duke, with a $16 million rookie contract and Michael Jordan's old locker. But a motorcycle accident the summer after his rookie year dashed his pro hopes and set him on a journey of rebound and reinvention.

That's one of the focuses of his new podcast, in which he'll talk to big names in sports, entertainment and pop culture to learn how they defined and pushed their own limits. The series aims to get beyond these celebrities' resumes and dig deeper into their motivations and strategies.

Williams explained toMorning Edition's A Martínez that he sees the show as playing an important role in a world of quick hits and first impressions. He notes that it's common for people meeting for the first time to ask each other what they do, and then walk away from that conversation with just an idea of who the other is.

But, he says, there are more layers to these stories, and he hasn't made all of his public.

"This is what this show is all about, pushing yourself to the limits and sometimes what comes along with those limits, right — imposter syndrome, feeling like you don't belong," Williams says. "You're talking to super successful people who have struggled with that stuff that everyday people do, and to bring that journey together and to build that bridge, that's what The Limits is all about."

The first episode is a conversation with Maverick Carter, one of the architects of LeBron James' business empire (and his childhood friend). Listen to it here. You can find new episodes every Tuesday on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.


What does 'fully vaccinated' mean? Depends on which country you're in

Posted January 5, 2022 at 10:53 AM EST
A man wearing a shirt with Hebrew lettering gives a vaccine to a man in a t-shirt and face mask.
Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images
A resident of a private nursing home in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya receives a fourth Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus on Wednesday.

What does it mean to be fully vaccinated? Different countries have different definitions, and many are currently in the process of adjusting their guidance in light of the omicron surge.

Morning Edition brought together three NPR correspondents from different countries to provide a snapshot of how vaccination and booster campaigns are playing out around the world.

Click here to listen to the roundtable with Rob Stein in the U.S., Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, or keep reading for the quick hits.

What's the state of the pandemic in each country?

U.S.: Cases are surging in the U.S., which reported more than 1 million new infections on Monday. The biggest problem it faces is the unvaccinated, with 35 million Americans yet to get their first shot and millions of vaccinated people (including vulnerable groups like the elderly) still without their boosters. Hospitals are facing the strain.

Israel: Case counts are exploding in Israel, which yesterday set its own record for the highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic. It was the first country to get a majority of citizens vaccinated with two shots, and the first to roll out boosters on a wide scale. But it faces its own challenges with vaccine hesitancy among Palestinian Arab citizens, ultra-Orthodox Jews and the general population: Only 64% of Israelis are double vaccinated, and about 30% have yet to receive their first dose.

France: France just hit another all-time European record of new daily cases with 270,000, leading the continent. Some 76% of the French population is vaccinated.

How many doses are required, and who can get boosted?

U.S.: There is talk about changing the official definition of fully vaccinated, but at the moment it still means two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or one of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Biden administration considers boosting the vaccinated a top priority and has been aggressively expanding the pool of people eligible for boosters — just this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer boosters for kids ages 12 to 15.

Israel: Israel wants to protect its older population, and has just started offering a fourth shot to people 60 and up, residents of eldercare homes, immunosuppressed people and medical teams. It's currently conducting trials on the fourth shot, with some preliminary results showing that it increases antibodies fivefold within a week.

France: In November, the government reduced the waiting period between the second vaccine and booster shot from 6 to 3 months and required everyone over the age of 65 to get a booster by Dec. 15 if they want to keep their vaccine pass valid — so if you're over 65, you're only considered fully vaccinated with three doses. Boosters are now available to everyone 18 and older, and the government is pushing for more young people to roll up their sleeves.

What policies are under discussion now?

U.S.: Some experts say it may be time to make another booster available to specific groups like the elderly, healthcare workers and the immunocompromised, but Stein says most of the officials he's spoken with say we're just not there yet, since vaccinated and boosted people are still protected against severe disease. He says there are even some possible downsides to launching another round of boosters. For instance, it could distract from the top priority of vaccinating the unvaccinated and boosting those who have only had their primary dose(s). And some experts worry that with too many shots, the original vaccine could start to lose its power, and that it might make more sense to go with a variant-specific booster if that's ever needed. Stein says the bottom line is that U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on what's happening at home and abroad, and is not closing the door to another round of boosters if the science shows that it would be necessary.

Israel: The government is trying to incentivize vaccinations through "green passes," which people need in order to enter restaurants, concerts and other venues. The green pass expires 6 months after a person's last shot, which would ideally encourage people to get their boosters. But Estrin says there are ways for unvaccinated people to keep going about their lives — you can get a green pass if you've recovered from the virus in the last 6 months, or a 24-hour pass if you test negative. The omicron surge has convinced a little bit more of the Israeli population to get their first vaccine, but Estrin says it's not enough to really move the needle.

France: The government aims to administer 25 million vaccines in the next five weeks, which Beardsley describes as "a huge challenge." Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron's party is pushing a strict law through parliament that would make it impossible to enter restaurants, cafes and cultural venues with a negative test, which has been allowed until now — it would require proof of full vaccination only.

The measure was on track to become law by the middle of this month but may have been derailed last night after Macron gave an explosive newspaper interview saying he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated. The French parliament was debating the law when those remarks came out, and angry opponents suspended the session. More on his comments here.

North Korea conducts a provocative ballistic missile test — its first in months

Posted January 5, 2022 at 10:19 AM EST
People watch a TV screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Kim vowed to further bolster his military capability, maintain draconian anti-virus measures and push hard to improve the economy during a speech at a key political conference this week, state media reported Saturday. The Korean letters read "The messages about South Korea were not be revealed." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Ahn Young-joon/AP
South Koreans watch a TV screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party on Jan. 1.

The State Department on Wednesday condemned the latest launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea, saying the hardline communist state posed a threat to its neighbors.

It's the first such test of the new year and the first since Pyongyang fired a submarine-launched missile in October. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff described it as a single projectile fired from an inland area, eastward into the sea. Japan and the U.S. also confirmed the launch.

"The United States condemns the DPRK’s ballistic missile launch," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement carried by Reuters, referring to the country by its official title – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The spokesperson called for renewed dialog with Pyongyang and said that the test violates multiple United Nations Security Council sanctions, Reuters says.

The Associated Press quoted Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, as saying the test may have involved a hypersonic missile or one of Pyongyang’s nuclear-capable short-range KN-23s.

The test comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to strengthen the country’s military capabilities. It is being interpreted as an indication that Kim has no interest in re-entering talks on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. It followed remarks on Tuesday by State Department spokesman Ned Price that the U.S. remains “committed to achieving lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK.”

“To that end, we’ll continue to seek engagement with the DPRK, part of a calibrated, practical approach in order to more – to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces,” Price said.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the North’s repeated missile tests were regrettable.

In an address to a ruling Workers Party plenum last week, leader Kim Jong Un committed to strengthening his country’s military, but unlike last year, he didn't say anything about developing specific new military capabilities.

But some analysts believe Pyongyang is likely to test weapons this year to provoke Seoul, which has presidential elections in March, and Washington, which has midterms in November.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul contributed to this report.

Australian P.M. says Djokovic will be turned away if his vaccine exemption doesn’t add up

Posted January 5, 2022 at 9:50 AM EST
Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during the Davis Cup semi-final against Marin Cilic of Croatia at Madrid Arena in December.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Getty Images Europe
Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during the Davis Cup semi-final against Marin Cilic of Croatia at Madrid Arena in December.

In normal times, Novak Djokovic would be warmly welcomed to the Australian Open, as the world No. 1 and the tournament’s defending champion. But Djokovic avoided the country’s strict vaccine requirements by getting an exemption, prompting many Australians, including the prime minister, to say the tennis star shouldn’t get special treatment.

“Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday after reporters asked him about the case.

“If he's not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Morrison said of the Serbian, adding that the federal government is waiting to see what evidence Djokovic will provide to support his request.

“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won't be treated any different to anyone else and he'll be on the next plane home,” Morrison said, hiking his thumb in the air for emphasis. “There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”

IN FULL: PM Scott Morrison delivers a COVID-19 update following National Cabinet | ABC News

During the pandemic, Djokovic has aired his skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine, but he has also refused to confirm his vaccination status publicly. In recent months, Australia’s vaccine requirements prompted Djokovic’s father to say his son would likely not play there. On Tuesday, Djokovic announced that he had been granted an exemption to compete in Melbourne after all. Tournament and state health officials confirmed the development.

Among Australians, many are furious that an elite athlete whose fitness is legendary and who holds or shares many of the top records in tennis is seemingly flouting their rules by claiming a special medical condition. The federal government says more than 91.6% of Australians age 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

"We have been taken for fools,” said Kevin Bartlett, the Australian rules football legend and broadcaster.

Others said that giving a special exemption to Djokovic sends a message that undercuts vaccination drives and shows a lack of respect — for anyone who is vulnerable and for those fighting the global pandemic, as Australia's ABC reports.

When Djokovic arrives in Australia, any exemption he's granted by medical professionals “will have to stack up,” Morrison said.

The prime minister added that while the amount of scrutiny on Djokovic is unusual, he isn’t alone in seeking a vaccine exemption. In the past two years, he said, many other people have shown proof that they qualify for the accommodation.

“So the circumstance is not unique,” Morrison said. “The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for that exemption.”

Race in America

American Girl's first Chinese American 'Girl of the Year' doll aims to combat AAPI hate

Posted January 5, 2022 at 9:33 AM EST

Meet Corinne Tan.

The Aspen, Colo., native loves skiing and training her rescue puppy. She's adjusting to life with her new blended family. She has dark hair with turquoise highlights. And she's an 18-inch tall doll.

Corinne is American Girl's latest "Girl of the Year," and the first ever of Chinese descent.

“While filled with outdoor adventure and fun, Corinne’s message is, ultimately, about the power of love—between families, friends, and communities—and the strength and courage that comes from it," American Girl general manager Jamie Cygielman said in a statement. "We created Corinne to be a positive role model our fans can look up to and learn from as we all work toward a world where everyone is treated fairly and with respect.”

The Mattel-owned doll company introduced her at the start of the year, and also announced a partnership with student-led nonprofitAAPI Youth Rising in an effort "to help amplify young voices like Corinne's."

The nonprofit aims to raise awareness about the rise in xenophobia and anti-Asian racism in America, and calls for positive change through education. American Girl says it is donating $25,000 to the group's ONE/180 pledge, which asks schools and teachers nationwide to include at least one classroom lesson about Asian American and Pacific Islander history and culture each year.

According to American Girl, Corinne's story aims to teach kids about embracing family change, sharing their feelings, tackling problems one step at a time and standing up to racism.

Bringing Corinne and her family to life was a group effort.

A five-person advisory team of various academics and athletes weighed in on Corinne's development, offering feedback on the authenticity and accuracy of the doll's features and key accessories (which include knitwear, ski accessories and a plush puppy).

American Girl puts out books that feature stories about their dolls. In Corinne's books, she's proud to be Chinese American, but is too stunned to respond when a boy at the skating rink tells her she has "Kung flu." In another incident, Corinne and her sister hear a man make a racist joke outside their mom's restaurant — and watching her mom confront him gives Corinne "the words and courage she needs to stand up to her own racist bully."

"Although surefooted and brave on the mountain, Corinne must find her balance as she adjusts to her new blended family and the courage to speak up when faced with xenophobic comments," the company says. "Through Corinne’s stories, young readers learn that home means being surrounded by the people they love and to be proud of who they are, while advocating for positive change."

Author Wendy Wan-Long Shang and illustrator Peijin Yang created two books featuring Corinne and her little sister Gwynn — the first-ever Girl of the Year companion doll, according to the company.

“What I really hope is that there is some part of Corinne’s story that makes readers feel seen, whether it’s because they are Asian American, or they love skiing, or because they’re part of a blended family," said Shang, who wrote most of the series during the pandemic. "I think when readers feel seen, they realize that they matter and their experiences matter, and that they are meant to be the stars of their own stories!”

Girl of the Year dolls date back to 2001 and, unlike traditional American Girl dolls, are based on contemporary rather than historical characters.

The company has released other Asian American dolls in the past, as CNN notes. Those include Jess Akiko McConnell, a biracial Japanese American who was the 2006 Girl of the Year, and Ivy Ling, a Chinese American doll set in the 1970s who was discontinued from its historic line in 2014.


Macron comes under fire for saying he wants to ‘piss off’ the unvaccinated

Posted January 5, 2022 at 9:06 AM EST
French President Emmanuel Macron during departures at the end of an EU Summit in Brussels, last month.
Stephanie Lecocq/AP
Pool EPA
French President Emmanuel Macron during departures at the end of an EU Summit in Brussels last month.

French President Emmanuel Macron is being condemned by political opponents following an interview this week in which he employed a vulgarity to say that he wants to aggravate people who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off,” Macron told Le Parisien. “And so, we're going to continue doing so until the end. That's the strategy.”

While not exact, the translation of the slang phrase was widely picked up by French media publishing in English.

Macron also called unvaccinated people "irresponsible" and said such people “are no longer citizens.”

Macron’s impolite and arguably impolitic comment caused the French parliament to halt debate on legislation to require a vaccine pass to do pretty much anything, such as using public transportation or visiting a cinema or café. The mandate was meant to go into effect Jan. 15.

"No health emergency justifies such words," said Bruno Retailleau, head of the right-wing Les Républicains in the Senate, according to France24. “Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them. We can encourage vaccination without insulting anyone or pushing them to radicalization.”

The party’s chairman, Christian Jacob, also expressed outrage. "I'm in favor of the vaccine pass but I cannot back a text whose objective is to 'piss off' the French."

Macron’s comments come just four months before national elections. He is expected to seek a second five-year term in what would likely be a close-fought reelection bid.

Reuters speculates that “Macron may have calculated that enough people are now vaccinated — and upset with those who have not been vaccinated — for his comments to go down well with voters."

With more than three-quarters of France vaccinated, the nation has one of the highest rates in the European Union. However, it also has had its share of protests against government efforts to mandate vaccines and social distancing measures.


Chicago cancels classes after teachers vote to go virtual over COVID

Posted January 5, 2022 at 8:45 AM EST
An empty playground with a brick school building behind it.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Playground equipment sits outside an elementary school in Chicago last year.

More than 300,000 public school students in Chicago are off school today after the school district canceled classes due to a row with the city's teachers union over COVID-concerns.

Last night, 73% of the 25,000-plus members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to refuse orders to work in person, opting for remote work only. The school district doesn't want to allow teachers to work remotely during the current COVID surge and canceled all classes in the district today in response.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the union action an "illegal work stoppage"; the union said the decision was made with a heavy heart. This sets two groups up for a standoff over when classes will resume — and how. This isn't the first time the Chicago Teachers Union and the school district have clashed over COVID rules and how to instruct students safely.

"Educators of this city want to be in buildings with their students. We believe that classrooms are where our children should be," the union tweeted after the vote. "But as the results tonight show, Mayor Lightfoot and her CPS team have yet to provide safety for the overwhelming majority of schools."

The union plans to continue rejecting in-person work until cases substantially subside or school leaders sign an agreement with the union establishing conditions for return.

WBEZ's Sarah Karp reports that under the union's measure, remote-only teaching would extend until Jan. 18, or until Chicago no longer meets the metrics agreed upon last year for schools to move to remote learning, whichever comes first. Last year's agreement between the union and the school district included switching to remote learning if the city's positivity rate for coronavirus testing rose above 15%. Currently, the city's positivity rate is at 23%, up from 14% last week.

At the heart of the issue is COVID concerns. The union is pushing for more safety measures as the highly contagious omicron variant shoots case numbers up across the country, while the school district and mayor's office argue added health and safety protocols aren't necessary.

"Our schools are safe," Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said during a press conference yesterday after the results of the vote were announced. "There is no evidence that our schools have ever been unsafe this school year," Martinez said. He added that Chicago schools rarely saw any evidence of any major transmission.

School buildings still remained open today for other services, including meals and vaccination clinics. The district says it will provide families with more information about school the rest of the week by tonight.

Man's best friend

This heroic dog traversed the interstate to lead police to her injured owner

Posted January 5, 2022 at 8:24 AM EST

A one-year-old Shiloh Shepherd named Tinsley is getting praise — and extra treats — after she saved her owner's life by leading New Hampshire police to the site of his vehicle rollover.

According to New Hampshire State Police, a state trooper and several police officers responded to a report of a canine loose on Interstate 89 in Lebanon, near the border with Vermont, around 10 p.m. ET on Monday. When they tried to approach her, she ran north on the highway into Vermont.

A short time later, police said, the responders found a damaged section of guardrail at a nearby junction. They spotted a "badly damaged pickup truck that had rolled over," and realized that two passengers had been ejected from it. Both were suffering hypothermia and serious injuries and were later treated at a local hospital.

While at the scene, the officers learned that Tinsley — who did not appear to be hurt in the crash — belonged to one of the vehicle's occupants.

"It quickly became apparent that Tinsley led Trooper Sandberg and the Lebanon Police to the crash site and injured occupants," the police wrote.

Lt. Daniel Baldassare of the New Hampshire State Police told My NBC5 that it was unclear how long the two men had been outside of the vehicle, adding that Tinsley had evidently been outside for "a little bit," since her fur was wet.

"This was almost like a real-life Lassie situation," Baldassarre said, according to CNN. "It's really quite remarkable. This dog definitely saved their lives. I don't think they would have survived the night given the temperatures."

Officers on the scene called EMS, who credit their fast response to Tinsley. Captain Jack Hedges of the Hartford Fire Department told the station that while responders were tending to the passengers, the dog "sat there nice and calm, right next to its owner."

Cam Laundry, Tinsley's owner, described her as his "little guardian angel" and "co-pilot," who frequently rides with him in his now-wrecked truck.

"It's a miracle how she has that kind of intelligence to do what she did," he told the station after being released from the hospital.

He said she would likely be getting some venison burger as a reward. Some heroes get medals, others get meat.


Omicron will make for a dark January, but things may be looking up by March

Posted January 5, 2022 at 7:58 AM EST
People wearing coats and face masks walk on a city street, with a tent reading "COVID-19 testing" visible behind them.
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
People walk past a COVID-19 testing station on Tuesday in New York.

The U.S. is dealing with a staggering rise in COVID cases, a widespread shortage of tests and a fair amount of mixed messaging as the highly transmissible omicron variant surges.

NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joined Morning Edition to make sense of the latest updates. Here's what we know:

The CDC is holding firm on its isolation recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got pushback from public health experts last week when it revised its recommended isolation time for COVID-19 patients from 10 to five days. It directs people to wear a good mask for the next five days but doesn't require them to get a negative test result in order to end their isolation. Critics slammed the guidance as confusing and reckless, especially given the omicron surge, and public health leaders like Dr. Anthony Fauci and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy had hinted in recent days that the CDC would revise it accordingly.

But the agency is holding firm. Last night the CDC essentially reiterated the new guidelines, maintaining that a negative test is not needed for people who are fever-free and whose symptoms have improved. It said people can test if they want to, but don't have to, and also said that tests after five days are not reliable (which critics strongly dispute). Read more here.

Cases are skyrocketing, and the vast majority are believed to be omicron

The U.S. reported a record-shattering 1 million-plusnew infections on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. While the massive number could be due in part to a lag in reporting from the holiday weekend, Stein says it still underscores how fast the omicron surge has soared.

New CDC data puts a finer point on how quickly the variant has taken over. The agency estimates omicron accounts for more than 95% of all new infections in the U.S., and as many as 98% in some parts of the country.

A new projection shows the surge is still accelerating

A new projection from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub estimates that by the middle of March, as many as 822,000 more people will be hospitalized with COVID-19 and as many as 104,000 will die from the disease.

Researchers still stress that there's a lot of uncertainty about how bad things could get, Stein said.

"But they're pretty confident about one thing: The eye-popping trajectory of this surge is still accelerating, and because so many people are catching omicron so fast all at once, we haven't seen the worst of it yet, even if omicron tends to be somewhat milder."

With so many people getting sick, even moderate hospitalization rates can stress already-overwhelmed healthcare systems.

There's still cause for hope

There may be hope on the horizon.

In South Africa, where the variant was first identified, numbers are waning and restrictions are being lifted.

"The good news is that the surge is hitting so ferociously, it could well peak relatively quickly like it did in South Africa," Stein said.

If that is the case, things could start to calm down by the end of January.

Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a recent Twitter thread that "we could be in good shape, maybe even great shape, in 6 to 8 weeks."

He spoke to NPR's All Things Considered about the case for COVID optimism, despite a dark January and a couple of caveats.

"So the short-term risk, and we're seeing it all over the country, is the hospitals will get filled with patients with omicron. A fair number of doctors and nurses will be out sick with omicron. And so we have a pretty miserable month, even though the average patient has a lower chance of ending up in the hospital than he or she would have had if they had a case of delta, particularly if they're vaccinated," he explained.

"But very importantly, for the people that chose not to be vaccinated — I think a very terrible choice — but who made that choice, there's a pretty good chance they're going to get a case of omicron, which will give them some immunity. And it's those two things combined — the fact that the average case is going to be milder and more and more people are going to be immune to this virus — that gets us out of this pickle, I think, in February."

Hear the full interview.