Start your day here: COVID-19 cases plummet, hospitalizations rise and a new version of omicron emerges

Published January 31, 2022 at 8:25 AM EST
Joggers run past social distancing tents outside of a restaurant on the Georgetown Waterfront in Washington, D.C., on Saturday
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
Joggers pass by social distancing tents outside of a restaurant on the Georgetown Waterfront in Washington, D.C., on Saturday

Good morning,

We're following these stories today:

Omicron dips: New COVID-19 cases are falling dramatically even as hospitalizations remain near pandemic highs, but a variant related to omicron may extend the tail end of the current wave.

Ukraine crisis response: U.S. allies have different responses to Russian troops at Ukraine's border. The U.K. is taking an aggressive stance; Germany is holding back.

Weekend blizzard: States throughout the Northeast are recovering from a storm that brought wind gusts of up to 99 mph and as much as 2 feet of snow.

🎧 Hear more on all three of these stories on Up First, our daily podcast.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

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

Baby news

Rihanna is pregnant, and the internet is understandably abuzz

Posted January 31, 2022 at 11:53 AM EST

Rihanna has brought the world many gifts. She's an influential musician, actress, cosmetics and lingerie mogul, billionaire and national hero of her native Barbados.

And now she's poised to add another title to that list: parent. The global superstar is expecting her first child with rapper A$AP Rocky.

Photos of the couple walking hand-in-hand in New York City are making the rounds on Twitter, with news of their announcement spreading like wildfire across social media and celebrity-focused media outlets.

The power couple's exact relationship timeline is unclear, but they reportedly went official in the summer of 2020. They made their red carpet debut at the 2021 Met Gala in September, which made headlines while simultaneously being very casual.

"We weren't even sure if we were going to go, so separately we were planning our looks just to be prepared," Rihanna later told E! News. "We ended up getting ready together and going and I didn't even realize we were on a carpet together until somebody said, 'You're making your debut,' and I was like, 'Oh, s**t.'"

A$AP Rocky spoke about their relationship in an interview withGQ in May 2021, in which he called Rihanna "the love of my life" and "the One."

When asked whether he was ready to be a father at some point, he said he thought he would be an "incredible, remarkably, overall amazing dad."

"I would have a very fly child," he said. "Very.”

For her part, Rihannatold British Vogue in May 2020 that she wants to have three or four kids and would do it on her own if she didn't meet the right person.

“I feel like society makes me want to feel like, ‘Oh, you got it wrong …’ They diminish you as a mother if there’s not a dad in your kids’ lives," she said. "But the only thing that matters is happiness, that’s the only healthy relationship between a parent and a child. That’s the only thing that can raise a child truly, is love.”

Boris Johnson apologizes for lockdown parties as a report cites 'failures of leadership'

Posted January 31, 2022 at 11:48 AM EST
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons following the publication of the Gray report, in central London on January 31, 2022.
Tolga Akmen
AFP via Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing St. to make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on Monday following the publication of the report on parties during pandemic restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has again apologized for parties held on government property in 2020 and 2021 as the British public was facing COVID-19 health restrictions and, in some cases, lockdowns.

His comments in the House of Commons came hours after the Cabinet Office released an update on its investigation into the gatherings, reports of which had prompted calls for Johnson to resign as head of the UK government.

"I'm sorry for the things we simply didn't get right and also sorry for the way this matter has been handled," said Johnson, who vowed to get on with the work of government. "Mr. Speaker, I get it, and I will fix it."

Johnson announced several changes his office was planning to implement in response to the report, such as reviewing codes of conduct and improving communication between government offices.

The report by civil servant Sue Gray found that some of the behavior around the gatherings was "difficult to justify" as people across the country were grappling with pandemic-related restrictions. It questioned the "appropriateness" of some of the parties given what was unfolding across the U.K. and concluded that "a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did."

"There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times," the report stated.

Johnson previously apologized for hosting a happy hour party at 10 Downing St. in May 2020 amid a strict nationwide lockdown, though the apology did little to stop critics from calling for him to step down.

The Metropolitan Police has launched a separate investigation into potential breaches of COVID-19 regulations at events "in Downing Street and Whitehall," but no results of that inquiry have been announced.


Mayor suspends officers involved in investigating the deaths of 2 Black women

Posted January 31, 2022 at 11:46 AM EST

Mayor Joe Ganim of Bridgeport, Conn., has suspended two police officers involved in investigating the deaths of two Black women, after weeks of increasing scrutiny over the department's handling of the cases.

Ganim said in a statement shared with NPR on Sunday that he was "extremely disappointed" with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and called "actions taken up to this point unacceptable." After further review, he said he had directed the department to put detectives Angel Llanos and Kevin Cronin on administrative leave.

Both detectives are the subject of an internal investigation and possible disciplinary action for "lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy," Ganim said, and will remain on leave until those reviews have been completed.

In addition, an unidentified supervisory officer who was "in charge of overseeing these matters" retired from the department on Friday, he said.

Both officers were involved in investigations into the deaths of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, Black women who were both found dead on Dec. 12 and whose families have for weeks accused police of not taking their cases seriously.

The two cases remain under active investigation and have been reassigned to other police officers, Ganim said.

"The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member," he added. "It is an unacceptable failure if policies were not followed. To the families, friends and all who care about the human decency that should be shown in these situations in this case by members of the Bridgeport Police Department, I am very sorry."

The police department declined to comment on the two cases, citing the internal investigations.

"As this has become a personnel matter, the department has no additional statement," said Scott Appleby, director of the city's office of emergency management.

Lauren Smith-Fields' family has slammed police for their handling of the case

The department has faced mounting criticism for its handling of the investigation into the death of Smith-Fields, a 23-year-old college student who was found dead in her apartment after spending the night with a man she had met on a dating app.

Smith-Fields' family says they learned of her death not from police, but from a note her landlord left on her apartment door when they came by after she didn't return their calls.

They also accuse the police of failing to process potentially key pieces of evidence — like bloody sheets, a used condom and a pill — on the scene, refusing to interview her date (who called for help after he says he found her unresponsive in bed) and being similarly dismissive in subsequent phone calls from her concerned loved ones.

The family's attorney, Darnell Crosland, has said they intend to sue the city over the police department's "racially insensitive" handling of the case. Their calls for justice have picked up steam in recent weeks, aided by social media users, rapper Cardi B and an in-person rally on what would have been Smith-Fields' 24th birthday earlier this month.

After the medical examiner's office ruled Smith-Fields' death an accidental overdose of "Fentanyl combined with prescription medication and alcohol" last week, Bridgeport police said they had opened a criminal investigation into "the factors that led to her untimely death."

In his statement, Ganim thanked Crosland, the victims' families and the thousands of other people who had asked questions that "still need answers."

"I as mayor, but also as a father, cannot fully comprehend what you must be going through," he said. "I can only pledge my continued support to try to ease your pain by getting answers and holding those responsible accountable."

Rawls' death has received less attention

Rawls' family is also alleging that Bridgeport police have not adequately investigated her death, though her story has been slower to make headlines.

Dorothy Rawls Washington told NBC News that her 53-year-old sister, Brenda, told family members that she planned to go to the home of a male acquaintance who lived down the street on Dec. 11. They weren't able to reach her for the next two days.

She said that when two of her sisters, her niece and her niece's boyfriend showed up at the man's house on Dec. 14, he told them that he was unable to wake Rawls up and that she had died.

"He gave me the clothing that she had on and her shoes," Angela Rawls Martin, another sister, told NBC. "I don't understand why that was left behind."

Rawls' family said they had to conduct their own investigation to figure out where she was, trying police, hospitals and funeral homes before getting their answer from the state's medical examiner.

"They never took any opportunity to look for next of kin," Washington said. "The next time we saw our sister, she was in a funeral home."

Rawls' family — like that of Smith-Fields — is accusing police not only of failing to notify them of their loved ones' death, but also of mishandling the subsequent investigation into its cause.

Martin said that when she asked a police sergeant whether officers had searched her sister's apartment or the man's residence, he told her it was not in the police report. She told NBC News that same sergeant also apologized and told her that police had "dropped the ball." Washington also said that police department gave them the name of a detective to contact, but that she never heard from him even after calling him four or five times.

"It's almost like they're not aware of her death, or they just don't care and that made us angry," Washington told CNN, referring to city and police officials. "She was raised and born in Bridgeport, Conn., paid her taxes, voted and they treated like she was nothing. Like she was roadkill."

In a statement to NPR, a city official said Ganim conducted a review of how death notices were handled for both Rawls and Smith-Fields "and found that in both cases officers did not follow the proper policy."

"As a death notification is not just a procedure, but a matter of humanity, he found that NOT following the policy was also insensitive to the deceased and their families," the statement read.

Ganim has previously said that he will work with police leadership to make immediate changes to the department's policies around notifying family members of a death.

"I want to be clear to members of the public and the department that insensitivity, disrespect in action, or deviation from policy will not be tolerated by me or others in this administration," he said on Sunday. "My disappointment and demand for accountability in these and any other matter brought to my attention will remain until all the questions are answered to the satisfaction of all."


Deputy national security adviser says Russia has enough troops at the Ukraine border to invade

Posted January 31, 2022 at 11:06 AM EST

Russia continues to move troops to the border with Ukraine despite declaring publicly that it has no intention of invading, U.S. deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told NPR's Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition.

Russia has enough troops there to launch an invasion, Finer said.

“I think the president has been quite clear that, at this point, we believe that Russia could take military action on Ukraine at any time," he said. "That doesn't mean it's going to be today or tomorrow. But we've entered a window now in which Russia has enough forces massed along the border of Ukraine and now increasingly in the nation of Belarus, as well, where they could take the actions that we've been concerned about for many months at this point.”

Finer said the U.S. is still working toward a diplomatic solution.

"We are continuing to be quite concerned and making clear there is a diplomatic path if Russia chooses it," he said. "But if they don't, and they go down the path of another military invasion of Ukraine, we will be ready with pretty severe consequences.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week downplayed the threat of invasion and said the economy had been damaged by what he said was a false perception that Ukraine is on the brink of war.

"They're saying tomorrow is the war. This means panic in the market, panic in the financial sector," Zelenskyy said. "How much does it cost our country?"

Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk also told NPR last week that the force Russia has amassed — about 127,000 troops — "is not even close to what you need to occupy Ukraine."

But Finer asserted Monday that Russia is ready.

“We've been saying for some time at this point, though, that they have entered the period in which they could launch an attack on Ukraine. And, you know, I think that has been the case for some time now, and it is why we are increasingly concerned about the necessity and the urgency of the diplomatic effort that we've been trying to launch.”

Read below for more of Finer's conversation with Inskeep.

On Ukraine’s messaging after the country’s president slightly downplayed the Russian threat:

“You'd have to ask the Ukrainians about the way in which they're choosing to message this. I will say that we are very much aligned with the government of Ukraine. President Biden has spoken three times in recent weeks with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. Our national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has probably spoken 10 times with his Ukrainian counterpart during that same period. Our embassy in Kyiv remains day in, day out, deeply engaged with the Ukrainian government.”

On the idea that NATO should not threaten the security of other countries, he says:

“The United States and NATO stand by all the commitments that we have made collectively in a range of foundational agreements about European security. And we believe that the negotiations and the discussions with the Russians should proceed from the perspective of getting back to those fundamental principles. By the way, those principles include nations respecting other nations’ borders and sovereignty. And it is our view that in recent years, frankly, it is Russia, that has posed the greatest threat to those fundamental principles.”

On Russia’s concerns over NATO expansion in its backyard:

“NATO is fundamentally a defensive alliance.”

“The massing of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine and now in Belarus, which borders three NATO countries, is destabilizing and is threatening to NATO countries, and so any deployments by NATO would only be defensive, would only be reassuring to our partners and allies, would have no offensive intent vis-a-vis Russia.”

On a possibility of a compromise with Putin that prevents Ukraine from joining NATO:

“One of the other fundamental principles that we stand behind 100% is for countries to be able to choose who they associate with. That is another one of the foundational principles is that has led to a much higher degree of security across Europe than was ever the case in a previous era, one of the principles that came into play in the aftermath of World War II. And so whether that is Ukraine or any other country in Europe, we will stand for their sovereign right to decide what alliances they choose to make, what countries they choose to associate themselves with, and it is not for Russia or any other country to dictate to the Ukrainians.”

On U.S contribution to preserve democracy in Ukraine:

“The United States has provided a tremendous amount of support to the government of Ukraine, much more intense support since 2014, when Russia first began militarily intervening in Ukraine. That's included a high degree of economic assistance. It's increasingly included a significant amount of security assistance in response to the fact that Russia has not stopped its aggressive actions in parts of Ukraine and again is now broadly threatening much more of the country with its deployment.”

It's official

Today is Leila Fadel's first day hosting 'Morning Edition' 🎉

Posted January 31, 2022 at 11:03 AM EST
A woman with curly, light brown hair smiles at the camera.
Courtesy of Leila Fadel/NPR
Leila Fadel is replacing Noel King as the newest host of "Morning Edition" and "Up First."

Happy Monday!

It is an exciting day, despite all the chaos in the world, because it's Leila Fadel's first day as the new co-host of Morning Edition.

In fact, we can't think of a better person to help us make sense of it all.

Fadel has been with NPR for a decade, first as an international correspondent based in Cairo and then covering the American Muslim community, race and policing, identity and inequality as a national correspondent in Los Angeles. Her move to the host chair was announced in late December.

Click here to learn more about Fadel's track record and hear Morning Edition hosts Steve Inskeep, Rachel Martin and A Martínez welcome her to the show.

She says she's most excited to continue her mission of holding up a mirror "so that people can see themselves and see people who they might think are very different than them."

Fadel's already had a busy first day. She's brought us updates on the Northeast's weekend blizzard, the state of the pandemic, cyberattacks in Belarus, Joe Rogan's response to the Spotify protests and more.

And, as she tweeted earlier, it's a bit of a full circle day as well:


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tests positive for COVID-19

Posted January 31, 2022 at 10:17 AM EST
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shown here at the White House last November, said Monday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he has tested positive for COVID-19.

“I’m feeling fine — and I’ll continue to work remotely this week while following public health guidelines,” Trudeau said in a tweet on Monday morning. “Everyone, please get vaccinated and get boosted.”

One of Trudeau’s children tested positive last week, and he has been in quarantine since then, as CBC reported. At the time, he said that he took a rapid test that came back negative.

The prime minister is expected to hold a press conference later Monday morning over the controversy surrounding vaccine mandates, which has prompted major protests in the capital, Ottawa.

Like the U.S., Canada has been battling a major spike in coronavirus cases, which peaked in early January but is rapidly declining.


Russia cancels war games off the Irish coast after fishermen vow to protest

Posted January 31, 2022 at 9:50 AM EST

Russia has pulled the plug on naval exercises planned for off the coast of Ireland after outcry from a group of Irish fishermen.

The Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation had vowed to continue fishing in an attempt to protect biodiversity and highlight the danger the exercises posed to their livelihoods, despite suggestions from Russia that their concerns about marine life were overblown, the BBC reported.

But over the weekend, after reports of negotiations among Russia, the Irish government and the fishermen, Russia announced it was calling off the exercises.

Yuriy Filatov, the Russian ambassador to Ireland, said in a statement that the country's defense minister had decided to relocate the exercises planned for early February as a "gesture of goodwill" toward Ireland and the fishermen.

"You wouldn't expect the Russian nation to listen to a couple of fishermen," Patrick Murphy, head of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation, told CNN. "Doesn't it show that a simple little conversation can change things? It's huge. The power of words is a lot better than the power of the gun. I'm chuffed."

Simon Coveney, Ireland's minister for foreign affairs and minister for defense, said in a tweet that he "welcome[d] this response."

The cooling of tensions around the naval exercises off the Irish coast came as the crisis at Ukraine's border was ratcheting up. Russia continued to amass more than 100,000 troops at the border while Western nations such as the U.S. vowed to impose sanctions and other countermeasures if Russia invades Ukraine.


A school district's ban on 'Maus' may put it into the hands of more readers

Posted January 31, 2022 at 9:40 AM EST
A copy of the book "The Complete Maus," with two illustrated mice on the cover against a red background showing the partial view of a swastika.
Maro Siranosian
AFP via Getty Images
Online sales of the graphic novel "Maus" are skyrocketing, and multiple bookstores are giving away free copies to students after a Tennessee school district banned it.

A Tennessee school district's controversial ban on the Holocaust graphic novel Maus appears to have spurred efforts to get copies into the hands of more readers nationwide.

News of the McMinn County School Board's unanimous vote to remove Maus from its curriculum — and replace it with something else — earlier this month made headlines last week as the world was preparing to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells the story of author Art Spiegelman's relationship with his father, a Holocaust survivor, by depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. The school board reportedly objected to eight curse words and nude imagery of a woman, used in the depiction of the author's mother's suicide.

Spiegelman told NPR and WBUR'sHere and Now that the board's decision is "not good for their children, even if they think it is."

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and other groups have criticized the ban, noting the important role the book — which was originally published in serial form beginning in the 1980s — plays in teaching students about the Holocaust.

Maus now appears to be in even greater demand, and, in some cases, supply, in Tennessee and beyond. Online sales are skyrocketing, and multiple bookstores are giving away free copies to students.

Spiegelman told CNBC that he was heartened by the response, noting it's not the first of its kind.

"The schoolboard could’ve checked with their book-banning predecessor, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin," he wrote. "He made the Russian edition of Maus illegal in 2015 (also with good intentions — banning swastikas) and the small publisher sold out immediately and has had to reprint repeatedly."

Backlash to the ban has spurred book sales and donations

As criticism of the ban spread across the internet, it appears that many readers rushed to order copies for themselves.

The Complete Maus had been the No.1bestseller on Amazon's online bookstore as of Monday morning, moving up from the seventh spot on Friday. The top three bestsellers in the "Literary Graphic Novels" section are The Complete Maus, Maus I and Maus II.

Other booksellers are taking steps to get the book and its important message into the hands of more readers.

Ryan Higgins, the owner of a California comic book shop, offered via Twitter to donate up to 100 copies of The Complete Maus to families in the McMinn County area. Illustrator Mitch Gerads and screenwriter Gary Whitta have made similar offers.

Fairytales Bookstore and More in Nashville is partnering with school librarians to give away free copies of Maus to local students, with patrons encouraged to donate to the cause at a discounted price.

Nirvana Comics in Knoxville announced last week that it had started a program to loan or donate a copy of the book to any student who requests it and, within a day, had received donations from all over the world.

It later started an online fundraising page to support the purchase of copies for students locally and nationwide, and has nearly quadrupled its financial goal with more than $79,000 raised as of Monday morning. Organizers said all extra funds will go to local and state organizations to help support untold stories.

"We thought this would be a local support to help a magnificent piece of literature stay in the hands of students in the McMinn county," they wrote on Saturday. "But … this has become a global priority!"

Rich Davis, who owns the bookstore and has led the campaign, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that because the county is only home to about 50,000 people, the outpouring of support could potentially make it possible “to donate a copy of ‘Maus’ to every kid in McMinn County.”

Educators and community institutions are also taking action

Others are making an effort to help the community grapple with the lessons of Maus and what its removal from the curriculum represents.

Scott Denham, a Holocaust and German studies professor at North Carolina's Davidson College, is offering a free online course for McMinn County eighth-graders and high school students who are interested in reading the Maus books.

"I have taught Spiegelman’s books many times in my courses on the Holocaust over many years," he wrote on a website created for the course.

Denham referred to the course as "a work in progress" that will only be open to McMinn County students who apply. It will involve asynchronous tools like a discussion blog and video mini-lectures, as well as live spaces like Zoom meetings.

Denham expects the primary texts to be Maus I and Maus II but says it might also include Metamaus if there is availability at the county's E.G. Fisher Public Library, which "has begun receiving donated copies of the books thanks to many generous people."

Author Nancy Levine posteda note on Twitter that she said was from the public library and that it had received many offers to purchase Maus and expects to see "several copies arriving in the coming days."

In lieu of additional copies, the library is asking for monetary donations in support of its "collection, educational programming and access to the internet and technology."

There are other community events in the works.

Spiegelman told CNBC that his lecture agent is trying to coordinate a public Zoom event for the McMinn area, in which he will "talk and take questions about Maus with local citizens (hopefully teachers, students, clergy, etc.) in the next couple weeks.”

In the meantime, St. Paul's Episcopal Church in McMinn County is planning to hold a discussion event of its own on Thursday.

Organizers told NBC affiliate WIBR that many churches may see the events the book depicts as "not their concern," despite the prevalence of antisemitism in and beyond Tennessee.

"We are committed to standing against hatred and harm," they said. "Together, let's dive into this story so that we might better live out that call in our time and community."

A previous version of this post misspelled Ryan Higgins' last name as Higgings and incorrectly identified the E.G. Fisher Public Library as the E.C. Fisher Public Library.

Protests against COVID-19 measures continue to roil Ottawa despite official pleas to end

Posted January 31, 2022 at 8:43 AM EST
Protestors show their support for the "Freedom Convoy" of truck drivers who were making their way to Ottawa to protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates by the Canadian government on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, in Vaughan.
Arthur Mola
Protesters show their support for the "Freedom Convoy" of truck drivers who were making their way to Ottawa to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates by the Canadian government Thursday.

Protesters who have descended on Ottawa, Canada, say they have no plans to leave despite pleas from public officials to move on after several days of major demonstrations in the country’s capital city.

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" was originally set up to oppose the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers but has since evolved into a broader protest against COVID-19 public health measures, the CBC reported.

Media reports and social media posts indicate that thousands of people — including many truckers driving their rigs — were clogging downtown roads and making noise throughout the weekend in the city of more than 1 million residents.

"Quite frankly, [residents] feel they're prisoners in their own home. And so my hope is that at some point, the police reach the conclusion that it's time to have a serious discussion about moving these people on,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told the CBC. "You have the right to protest, you've had your protest, please move on. Our city has to get back in normal stead."

The Ottawa Police Service on Sunday urged residents to avoid traveling to the city’s core on Monday and said it was costing the department around $800,000 per day to staff the protests.

“Police have avoided ticketing and towing vehicle[s] so as not to instigate confrontations with demonstrators. Still, confrontations and the need for de-escalation has regularly been required,” the department said in a press release.

The largely peaceful demonstrations have produced several incidents inciting the ire of public officials and others, including video showing a protester dancing on Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and another report that protesters harassed staff at a homeless shelter. Police say they've opened several criminal investigations.


After this weekend's blizzard, the Northeast begins to survey the damage

Posted January 31, 2022 at 8:33 AM EST
Cars are covered under a smooth mound of snow on a residential street lined with red brick rowhouses.
Scott Eisen
Getty Images
Vehicles in Boston are buried under snow after the past weekend's severe winter storm.

States throughout the Northeast are recovering Monday after a major winter storm over the weekend brought severe coastal erosion, hurricane-level wind gusts and blizzard conditions to some areas.

The winter storm affected states from Maine to the Carolinas, dumping more than 2 feet of snow on some places and causing power outages for more than 100,000 customers. Utility companies say they expect power to be back on by the end of Monday.

Stoughton, Mass., got the highest level of snowfall recorded, at 30.9 inches.

The nor'easter brought powerful surf and coastal erosion along the East Coast, including in Nantucket and the Cape Cod area in Massachusetts.

Eve Zuckoff covers climate in Cape Cod for member station WCAI. She joined Morning Editionto report on the storm's aftermath.

During the worst of the storm, high tides brought flooding in some of the area's lowest-lying coastal communities, reports Zuckoff.

Even as the storm has receded, these coastal communities are worried about erosion.

Sand dunes protect coastal areas by acting as a buffer between big waves and the surrounding community, but storms like this weekend's can damage dunes and make it harder for areas to weather the next big storms.

"Storms like this underscore that sea-level rise, more frequent and intense storms — all these impacts of climate change are forcing some in these towns to ask whether we need to rethink where we're building and whether we need to retreat altogether in some areas," Zuckoff reports.

A large winter storm is expected to impact much of the central U.S. near the middle of this week. More snow and freezing rain are possible from the Plains to northern New England.


U.S. allies in Europe are taking different approaches to the crisis in Ukraine

Posted January 31, 2022 at 8:24 AM EST
People in camoflauge jackets, pictured from behind, look at triangles on the snow-covered land stretching out against a gray sky.
AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian troops attend a military drill on Friday with anti- tank weapons at the firing ground of the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security, near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

The world is watching as Ukraine prepares for a potential attack by Russia. And some countries are doing more than just observing — they're ready to take action.

NATO allies say they're united in promising massive sanctions if Russia invades, though some appear less eager than others. Germany, for example, is seen as hesitant, while the U.K. is largely following the U.S. approach by preparing to send soldiers to Eastern European countries.

The U.K. says it's considering offering to double their troop deployments through NATO and Eastern Europe and Baltic states, but those are still very low numbers, as NPR's Frank Langfitt tellsMorning Edition from London. The British are also providing Ukrainian troops with sniper training, as well as thousands of anti-tank weapons.

NATO has said it doesn't want to send forces directly into Ukraine because it's not a member of the alliance — which, as Langfitt puts it, "is what this is all about: Putin has been demanding guarantees that Ukraine will never become a NATO member and NATO's saying no."

He adds that the key idea is to put soldiers on the border with Russia to make sure any potential fighting doesn't spill over into the territory of a NATO ally.

"The U.K.'s been deploying trip-wire forces to indicate that if Russia enters these countries that are NATO allies, they will immediately have to face the choice of fighting and killing British troops, bringing Britain into the war," Atlantic Council's Ben Judah told Langfitt. "That's why they're there and that's why they're there in these low numbers."

Asked why the U.K. is taking a more aggressive stance than a country such as Germany, Langfitt points to three factors: genuine concern, the fact that the U.K. is not as reliant on Russian energy so it has more flexibility, and the "opportunity to define itself post-Brexit as no longer being in the European Union but still being central to the security of Europe."

Check out more recent coverage on the situation in Ukraine:


Omicron cases drop even as deaths rise. Plus, a new variant has arrived in the U.S.

Posted January 31, 2022 at 8:16 AM EST
A healthcare worker wearing a face mask, face shield and blue gown walks between lanes of cars at a COVID-19 testing site.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
Workers wear protective equipment at a COVID-19 testing site in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles on Wednesday.

It's Monday, which means it's time for our regularly scheduled COVID-19 update from NPR's Allison Aubrey.

This week, we're looking at a dramatic drop in cases, a continuing rise in hospitalizations and deaths, and the emergence of a new variant that Aubrey describes as a "relative of omicron."

Hear her onMorning Edition or read on for details.

Cases are dropping in many parts of the U.S., but deaths are a "lagging indicator"

New cases are falling significantly nationwide as the omicron loses steam, but hospitalizations are still near pandemic highs.

New infections have fallen more than 30% since mid-January, but Aubrey says it's still a "pretty intense scene" in the places that are just now experiencing their peak.

Nearly 18,000 people with COVID-19 are being admitted to hospitals every day, and about 2,300 people are dying a day nationwide.

"It's completely expected ... that deaths and hospitalizations would lag behind the peak in infections, but the number of deaths ... is quite high and that number has been rising," Aubrey says.

Even if a small percentage of people infected become very ill, she explains, the numbers are so high because of the sheer number of infections.

Vaccines are crucial

But vaccines — especially booster shots — really do help.

Aubrey points to the numbers the U.S. reported last January when most people weren't yet vaccinated. Deaths peaked at around 3,400 a day.

And she notes that a new study found that a third shot of a COVID-19 vaccine boosted protection against death "pretty dramatically" in people ages 50 and up in the U.K. who were infected during the omicron surge.

Omicron isn't the only variant experts are looking at, though.

"At this point, the consensus is that we will be coexisting with COVID for a very long time," Aubrey says. "Variants will come, variants will go, some may be consequential, others not."

The latest emerging variant is omicron BA.2

The new variant, which has been circulating in Denmark and elsewhere, has officially been identified in several U.S. states.

Read more here on why BA.2 has scientists on alert.

Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CBS on Sunday that it's possible the variant could extend the tail of the current wave of infections. He also said that vaccinated and boosted people should be protected, and that it doesn't appear to be a more virulent strain based on preliminary data from Denmark and the United Kingdom.

A new analysis from the U.K. Health Security Agency found that vaccines appear to be about as effective against his new strain as they are against the original omicron variant, Aubrey adds.

What happens as one variant ebbs and another one emerges? Listen to NPR'sConsider Thispodcast for more on what it could mean for public health, hospital systems and workplaces across the country.