France's Macron flies to Moscow as a new round of talks over Ukraine begins

Published February 7, 2022 at 8:04 AM EST
The Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, with the St. Basil's Cathedral in the background, in Moscow on Monday. French President Emmanuel Macron is headed first to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and then on to Kyiv.
Thibault Camus
French President Emmanuel Macron is headed to Moscow, home to the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge and St. Basil's Cathedral, to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin before heading to Kyiv, Ukraine.

Good morning,

We're following these top stories today:

The standoff in Ukraine: French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to avert an invasion of Ukraine. In Washington, D.C., German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with President Biden. Officials warn of a potentially devastating toll in Ukraine if Russia invades.

Russian figure skater makes history:Kamila Valieva became the first woman to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics, and she did it twice — at age 15 — in the free skate part of the team event.

NFL running back Alvin Kamara arrested: Las Vegas police charged Kamara, who plays for the New Orleans Saints, with battery that resulted in substantial bodily harm. Kamara was in Vegas to play in Sunday’s Pro Bowl.

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, a federal hate crimes trial starts Monday in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

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


New Jersey and Delaware set timelines to end mask mandates for schools

Posted February 7, 2022 at 12:15 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy talks to three and four year old students in a pre-K class at the Dr. Charles Smith Early Childhood Center, Sept. 16, 2021, in Palisades Park, N.J.
Mary Altaffer
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy talks to pre-K students in September in Palisades Park. Starting March 7, the state won't require them to wear those masks.

Both New Jersey and Delaware will lift their statewide mask mandates for schools in a sign that the two Northeastern states are changing how they manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Garden State will lift its mask mandate in schools for both students and employees beginning on March 7, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's office confirmed Monday, though districts will still be able to require masking to control any spikes in infections. The news was first reported by The New York Times.

“Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy. But we can responsibly take this step due to declining COVID numbers and growth in vaccinations,” Murphy said in a tweet.

New Jersey was among the hardest-hit states early in the pandemic, and Murphy implemented a variety of strict public health measures to control the virus, garnering both praise and criticism for the aggressive approach to controlling COVID-19’s spread.

Murphy is expected to share more details about the decision during his afternoon COVID-19 press briefing.

Delaware's indoor mask mandate for public and private K-12 schools and child care facilities will end on March 31, Gov. John Carney announced on Monday as well.

He said the date would give districts and schools time to consider local masking requirements and allow the state to update its quarantine and contact tracing guidance.

“We’re in a much better place than we were several weeks ago in the middle of the Omicron surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Carney said in a statement.

“I want to be clear about this point — COVID is still circulating in our communities. And the virus still poses a risk of serious illness, particularly among those who are not up to date on their vaccinations," he added. "But we have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe."


Both CVS and Walgreens are lifting limits on how many rapid tests you can buy at once

Posted February 7, 2022 at 11:55 AM EST
An iHealth COVID-19 antigen rapid test box sits on top of a shipping envelope.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Free iHealth COVID-19 antigen rapid tests from the federal government sit on a U.S. Postal Service envelope after being delivered in San Anselmo, Calif.

Both CVS and Walgreens are lifting their limits on the number of rapid COVID-19 tests customers can purchase at one time.

Representatives from both chains told NPR over email that they were able to change their policies after working with vendors to increase their inventory. They originally instituted the limits in December, as the omicron variant surged and demand for at-home tests skyrocketed.

"Due to the improved in-stock conditions of at-home COVID-19 testing products, we have removed the purchase limit and we’ve reinstated Same Day Delivery and Pickup solutions for customers," wrote a spokesperson for Walgreens.

"We’ve worked with our vendors to increase inventory of OTC COVID-19 tests and have removed all product limits on those products at CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide and on," said a CVS spokesperson.

The news, which was first reported by The New York Times, comes as COVID-19 cases are dropping across the U.S. The country just crossed the threshold of 900,000 recorded COVID-19 deaths, though the rate of new cases is slowing.

The U.S. reported an average rate of nearly 300,000 new cases a day last week, compared with more than 800,000 three weeks ago, according to NPR's case tracker.

Private insurers must cover the cost of eight rapid tests per month under a new policy that took effect in January. Here's how reimbursement works. Plus, each household canorder four free rapid tests from the federal government.

And the Biden administration announced last week that Medicare and Medicare Advantage recipients will be eligible for free, over-the-counter COVID-19 tests — also up to eight per month — beginning in early spring.

The CVS spokesperson said customers should contact their insurance provider to confirm their eligibility and clarify their specific claims submission process.

"Particularly, in the early stages of this program, we strongly encourage customers to save their receipt(s) as they may need to submit them to their insurer," he added.

Olympics 2022

U.S. skater Vincent Zhou bows out of the Beijing Olympics after positive COVID-19 test

Posted February 7, 2022 at 11:51 AM EST
Vincent Zhou skates during the team event on Sunday. Zhou tested positive for COVID-19 and won't be able to compete in the men's single competition.
Harry How
Getty Images
Vincent Zhou skates during the team event on Sunday. The U.S. skater tested positive for COVID-19 and won't be able to compete in the men's single competition.

Figure skater Vincent Zhou won’t get a chance to add to his team silver medal at the Beijing Winter Olympics after a second test came back positive for COVID-19. He had been slated to compete in the men’s short program, which begins Tuesday.

Zhou, 21, announced the setback in an emotional video posted to Instagram.

“It seems pretty unreal” to test positive for the coronavirus, Zhou said. “I have been doing everything in my power to stay free of COVID since the start of the pandemic,” he added, citing the isolation and loneliness he’s endured.

“The enormity of the situation, the — just the pain of it all, is pretty insane,” he said.

Zhou finished third in the men's free skate on Sunday, helping the U.S. secure silver in the team competition.

“While it was always my dream to medal on an Olympic stage — which I did accomplish before this happened — the over-arching dream was just to skate,” Zhou said. “If I didn’t love this, I wouldn’t still be doing it. I know I love this. That passion goes a long way.”

In the individual competition, Zhou came to Beijing hoping to improve on his sixth-place finish in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. With that goal now out of reach, he said, he hopes to help represent Team USA at the World Figure Skating Championships, which begin in March.


Australia will reopen to fully vaccinated travelers in 2 weeks

Posted February 7, 2022 at 11:49 AM EST
A plane facing the camera on a tarmac, against blue skies.
Kelly Defina
Getty Images AsiaPac
A plane sits at Melbourne Airport in December. The return of international travel will be a boon to Australia's struggling tourism industry.

Australia will reopen to fully vaccinated travelers beginning Feb. 21, officials announced Monday.

The move comes nearly two years after it first closed its international borders to slow the spread of COVID-19 and several months after beginning a gradual reopening that allowed certain tourists and foreign workers to enter the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted at a news conference that Australia has progressively opened its borders through programs with New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and South Korea, and also began welcoming international students and economic migrants late last year. That welcome will soon be extended to visa holders and international tourists, on one condition.

"The condition is, you must be double vaccinated to come to Australia," Morrison said. "That's the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it."

He added that quarantine requirements and cap arrangements on arrivals will continue and will be up to state governments to alter as they see fit.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said visa holders who are not fully vaccinated will still require a travel exemption to enter and will be subject to relevant state and territory quarantine requirements upon arrival. They also will need to provide proof that there is a medical reason they can't be vaccinated, she added.

Officials acknowledged that they are seeking to balance public health with the country's economic recovery. The return of international travel will be a boon to Australia's struggling tourism industry, which has been largely reliant on domestic travelers.

"Australians have stepped up and traveled when they can, but international tourists will be welcome relief," Andrews said.

The Business Council of Australia praised the decision in a statement as "the light at the end of the tunnel" for small businesses, tourism operators and the events industry. But it wasn't entirely celebratory, noting that the move doesn't apply to the entire country.

Western Australia is still inaccessible to travelers from the rest of the country and the world after delaying its domestic border reopening late last month, as Bloomberg notes. The reopening plan was delayed indefinitely because of omicron, the BBC reports.

“In two weeks’ time, it will be easier for a Londoner to visit the Great Barrier Reef than it will be for a Melburnian to travel to Perth," the council said. "This is a blight on our international reputation and devastating to WA’s ability to attract both investment and talent."

Western Australia is the last state with a COVID-zero approach to the pandemic, as NPR has reported, with strict rules and border closings keeping cases relatively low.

Australia as a whole has seen a drop in COVID-19 cases since it hits its peak in early January. About 80% of its population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The announcement also comes less than a month after the country's dramatic legal battle with Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic, who was ultimately deported after he attempted to play in the Australian Open despite not being vaccinated.

Morrison appeared to reference the high-profile saga in his remarks on Monday, in which he stressed the importance of proof of double vaccination for international travelers.

"I think events earlier in the year should have sent a very clear message, I think, to every[one] around the world, that that is the requirement to enter into Australia," he said.

Rescue on the rocks

The Coast Guard rescued 18 people stranded on an ice floe in Lake Erie

Posted February 7, 2022 at 11:17 AM EST

The Coast Guard is reminding winter thrill-seekers to "take precautions, not chances" after it rescued more than a dozen people who got stranded on a floating piece of ice in Lake Erie over the weekend.

The large sheet of ice — known as an ice floe — broke away from northern Ohio's Catawba Island while people were there snowmobiling, the Coast Guard said in a tweet. The rescue effort involved a helicopter, an airboat and a local good Samaritan who also had an airboat at the scene.

According to the Coast Guard, a helicopter from Air Station Detroit spotted the crowd of people on a drifting piece of ice around 1 p.m. local time on Sunday, as well as several ATVs "looking for a route back to land."

"The helicopter lowered its rescue swimmer and began hoisting operations while Station Marblehead’s airboat got underway," it explained.

The helicopter hoisted up seven people, the Coast Guard airboat rescued four others and the remaining seven were transported to shore by the good Samaritan.

No one required medical attention, the Coast Guard added. But not all stories have such a happy ending, and officials are urging anyone seeking recreational opportunities on the ice to be careful.

They advise dressing appropriately for the water temperature — as opposed to the air temperature — wearing a life jacket, carrying a reliable form of communication and bringing icepicks or screwdrivers that can help them "self-rescue if they go through the ice."

Great Lakes ice is unpredictable, and conditions can change fast, said Lt. j.g. Jeremiah Schiessel from Coast Guard Sector Detroit.

“There’s no such thing as safe ice, but people can mitigate their risks,” Schiessel added. “Always be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

Food safety

New Englanders, check your freezers for these recalled ice cream flavors

Posted February 7, 2022 at 11:07 AM EST

It may be winter, but ice cream is always in season.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking dessert lovers in Massachusetts and Connecticut to check their freezers for specific batches of ice cream from the Royal Ice Cream Company that are being recalled because of possible listeria contamination.

The Manchester, Conn.-based company is recalling some of its Batch Ice Cream vanilla, ginger and mocha chip products after FDA sampling found the presence of listeria monocytogenes on processing equipment.

No illnesses have been reported, the FDA said in a statement, and the two entities are still investigating the source of the problem.

The impacted products were distributed to Market Baskets and Roach Brothers Markets in Massachusetts, as well as Big Y Stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut. They come in black paper 16-ounce pints with white tops, with "Batch Ice Cream" and the flavor name displayed on the front.

On the bottom of the cup, look for the manufacture date of 1/19/22 and a best by date of 7/19/23.

Here's what they look like:

If you have any of these flavors in your freezer, the FDA advises returning them to the place of purchase for a full refund. You can also contact the company with questions on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST at 860-649-5358.

The ice cream recall came just days after the FDA announced that a listeria outbreak linked to Dole packaged salads — which were voluntarily recalled in December — had killed two people and sickened 17 others across two states. NPR has reported that food recalls dropped during the pandemic, though experts aren't sure why.

Listeria can cause serious and potentially deadly infections in young children, elderly people, pregnant people and others with weakened immune systems. Otherwise healthy individuals may experience short-term symptoms including fever, headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.


More than 66,000 people in Memphis still don’t have power after last week’s ice storm

Posted February 7, 2022 at 10:55 AM EST
A large tree that fell due to ice accumulation blocks off North Cooper Street on February 3, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Brad Vest
Getty Images
A large tree that fell due to ice accumulation blocks off North Cooper Street last week in Memphis, Tenn.

More than 66,000 customers in Memphis, Tenn., still don’t haveelectricity after an ice storm swept through the area last week and caused widespread outages.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water said that it expected to restore power to 90% of customers by midnight Monday but that a full restoration wouldn’t occur until midnight Thursday.

“We will continue to work around the clock until all customers are restored,” the company said.

All Memphis-Shelby County public schools were closed Monday, Superintendent Joris M. Ray announced.

Some residents took to social media to express their outrage at the situation, as people entered a fifth day without power while overnight temperatures dipped below freezing levels.

Christopher Blank, news director with Memphis member station WKNO, told NPR's Morning Edition that many of the city’s trees became “encased” in ice and then were knocked down by the storm’s strong winds, leading to extensive power outages.

MLGW President and CEO J.T. Young said Sunday that some outages were reoccurring, which was slowing down overall restoration efforts, local TV news channel WREG reported.

Olympics 2022

She's the 1st woman to land a quad in Olympic history. And she's only 15

Posted February 7, 2022 at 10:41 AM EST
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva skates wearing a black and red outfit, with red gloves and long black tights.
Matthew Stockman
Getty Images
Kamila Valieva skates during the Women Single Skating Free Skating Team Event. She is the first woman to land a quad jump in Olympic history.

At 15, Kamila Valieva's hobbies include dancing, drawing — and setting world records.

On Monday, the teenage elite athlete landed one of the hardest jumps in figure skating — a jump that is so difficult, no other woman had ever landed it at an Olympics before — then she did it a second time.

The 15-year-old skater for the Russian Olympic Committee team landed a storied quadruple jump twice during the free skate portion of the team event Monday. Her performance helped her team nab the gold medal, the United States won silver, and Japan took the bronze medal.

Quadruple jumps require at least four, but fewer than five, revolutions and although they've become increasingly a staple in elite men's figure skating, one had never been successfully accomplished by a woman at the Olympics before Valieva's showing in Beijing.

She landed a quad salchow first, a jump in which a skater must lift off the ice with the inside edge of one skate, execute four revolutions in midair, then land cleanly on the outside edge of their other foot. Next, Valieva completed a quad toe loop with a triple-toe combination. She attempted a third quad but fell on the landing.

Valieva performed a difficult triple axle as well, making her only the fourth woman to ever land that jump at a Winter Olympics.

Valieva also completed quad jumps during the ISU Grand Prix Rostelecom Cupin November of last year, where she set a world record score. She holds nine world records in the sport.

For more news from the Beijing Winter Games, read on.

Other news from the Olympics this weekend

American alpine ski star Mikaela Shiffrin suffered a rare fall during the giant slalom, knocking her out of one of her best events. She still has four more Olympic events.

"The snow was just incredible to ski on. Oh my gosh, it's just really nice, but if you do any small errors, you really can't get away with it," Shiffrin said after the fall. "As you can see, I got the worst of it on that turn."

The snow is all man-made this year, and athletes are getting adjusted to its feel and consistency, all while competing on the highest levels.

It's relatively novel now, but artificial snow at the Olympics might soon be entirely the norm. Past Olympics in Pyeongchang, Sochi and Vancouver deployed artificial snow after unseasonably un-snowy weather. As climate change intensifies, experts say human-made snow is likely going to be a part of all future Olympic alpine events.

Members of the U.S. figure skating team celebrated their silver medals in the team event without American men's figure skater Vincent Zhou, who tested positive for COVID-19, officials announced Monday. Zhou helped earn the medals by competing in the team event on Sunday, before his positive test. He announced Monday that he will be unable to compete in the men’s competition and will have to isolate until he tests negative on two consecutive PCR tests.

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai appeared in a carefully managed interview during the Olympics last week, her first sit-down interview since last November when she accused retired Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault during an on-and-off-again relationship. In the interview with French sports magazine L'Equipe, Shuai denied accusing Zhang of assault and announced she is retiring from professional tennis.

As NPR's Emily Feng reports, fans and officials globally became concerned about Peng's personal safety and freedom after she published her accusation against Zhang on social media, then disappeared for a while and couldn't be reached by tennis officials outside China. Zhang is a top Communist Party official and was crucial in securing Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.


Ottawa declares a state of emergency over truckers' growing anti-government protests

Posted February 7, 2022 at 10:24 AM EST
A crowd of protesters carrying Canadian flags blocks a city street.
Minas Panagiotakis
Getty Images
Demonstrators opposed to the Canada's COVID-19 mandates block the streets of Ottawa as they continue to protest on Saturday.

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" that arrived in Ottawa more than a week ago to protest the Canadian government's vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers has been honking horns, blocking downtown streets and disturbing residential neighborhoods.

They faced little pushback from law enforcement until this weekend, when officials in the Canadian capital ramped up their response by ticketing protesters, confiscating their fuel and declaring a state of emergency.

Mayor Jim Watson told the CBC that the emergency declaration will help police and city staff get the resources they need faster.

"We're in the midst of a serious emergency, the most serious emergency our city has ever faced, and we need to cut the red tape to get these supplies available to our police officers and to our public works staff," he said.

Police have seemed largely unprepared to deal with the unusual protest, NPR's Emma Jacobs toldMorning Edition from her base in Montreal on Monday (between reporting trips to Ottawa). Authorities have largely hesitated to confront protesters and their massive vehicles, not wanting anyone to get hurt, police have said.

But the situation appears to be growing increasingly untenable, with residents reporting harassment and defiant demonstrators unwilling to budge.

Thousands of protesters in tractor-trailers and other large vehicles have been running their engines and honking their horns day and night since descending on the city late last month.

"This is the seat of government, where Parliament meets and government offices are, but it's also a residential neighborhood full of apartments where people have been going about their lives in what the mayor called 'a living hell,'" Jacobs explained.

Jacobs said it's clear why the noisy protests have been so hard on residents, many of whom have said they are being confronted by convoy supporters for wearing masks.

The protesters represent a range of ideologies and priorities, she added, with the initial anti-vaccine protest evolving into a broader demonstration against COVID-19 measures.

Many in attendance say they'll stay put until all public health mandates are lifted, while others have called for more extreme outcomes like the dissolution of the current government. QAnon followers and people with far-right ties are also in the mix.

"Many members of the convoy and their supporters, they insist the worst behavior and the right-wing views are really a tiny part of the movement," she said. "At the same time, many protesters repeated misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines and COVID-19."

A number of Canadian provinces require vaccine passports to access certain public spaces, and because the federal government can't lift those mandates, Jacobs said, "It's tough to see how this protest will end."

This weekend, protesters arrived in a few other cities, like Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and Quebec City. But Jacobs said police there had learned from Ottawa's example and were able to clear people out by the end of the weekend.

Here's what else we know.

Police interrupt protesters' supply lines and issue tickets

The convoy is well-supplied with food, firewood and fuel to keep their vehicles running.

Armed police seized hundreds of gallons of fuel from the protesters' staging area — a baseball stadium parking lot — over the weekend, as protesters chanted, "shame, shame, shame."

Police warned that anyone trying to bring fuel or other "material aid" to protesters could be arrested.

Officers have also been handing out tickets and making more arrests in recent days.

The Ottawa Police Service said on Sunday that it had issued more than 450 tickets since the previous morning, after "demonstrators exhibited extremely disruptive and unlawful behaviour, which presented risks to public safety and unacceptable distress for Ottawa residents."

The violations included excessive noise, use of fireworks, driving on the sidewalk, red-light violations, stunt driving and suspended licenses.

And on Sunday, the police ticketed 100 people, seized vehicles and arrested seven individuals primarily for mischief. The other notices were issued for excessive honking, driving the wrong way, not wearing seat belts, having alcohol readily available and other traffic violations.

Police added that they had responded to more than 650 calls for service since the protest began and have opened 97 criminal offense investigations — primarily involving mischief, thefts, hate crimes and property damage. The hotline for hate-motivated crimes had received more than 200 calls, which detectives are investigating.

"Intelligence and evidence gathering teams continue to collect financial, digital, vehicle registration, driver identification, insurance status, and other related evidence that will be used in criminal prosecutions," it said, adding that police are also working with Canadian, U.S. and international security agencies to "investigate email-based threats to public officials."

Protesters draw outrage from many Canadians, and support from some in the U.S.

The protesters have also outraged many onlookers with their crude behavior and symbols of hate. Some have urinated and parked on the National War Memorial, while one danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and others carried flags with swastikas, according to PBS.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations — which represents 70 First Nations in Saskatchewan — has spoken out against the protests, as Indian Country Today has reported.

In a statement, the group said it “opposes the actions and tactics of the Freedom convoy protesters, some of whom have been openly sharing ignorant acts of cultural appropriation of First Nations culture and spirituality publicly and online."

"The FSIN condemns such open acts of racism and ignorance which are being committed across our traditional treaty territories," it said, adding that the pandemic has hit Indigenous communities particularly hard.

Some of the Freedom Convoy supporters reportedly set up a teepee, held a pipe ceremony and burned a "sacred fire" in Confederation Park, which First Nations leaders called unacceptable.

The Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council and the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg said in a statement that they did not give consent to the ceremonial practices — which it said could "cause more harm to who we are as First Nations/Algonquin people" — or the convoy that is happening on their Traditional Unceded Territory.

They added that if such actions continue, they will have no choice but to support Ottawa police in their efforts to stop the protest.

Other Indigenous leaders have criticized not only the protesters' behavior but also the government's response.

In the western province of Alberta, where another trucker blockade turned violent last week, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said he had no doubt that the government would have responded quickly to dismantle the blockade if it had been organized by Indigenous people.

Still, the standoff — and the movement it represents — has galvanized many conservative leaders in Canada and the U.S., with figures like former President Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene praising the convoy and championing its cause.

Trump praised the movement in a statement issued Friday, in which he called Canadian President Justin Trudeau a "far left lunatic ... who has destroyed Canada with insane COVID-19 mandates."

As Jacobs reported over the weekend, polling shows that Canadians are becoming more supportive of lifting certain public health measures — "but that doesn't equal support for protesters' methods or some of the other far-right causes of the organizers in Ottawa."

Members of the opposition federal Conservative Party in Canada are split on how to respond, she added. Party lawmakers are largely supporting the convoy, and some have posed for photos with demonstrators. But two have broken with the party and called for the protest to end, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford saying it had "become an occupation."

Trudeau, who is recovering from COVID-19, has said that engaging the military in response to the protests is "not in the cards right now."

GoFundMe is withholding and refunding donations for the protesters

The online fundraising platform GoFundMe is no longer collecting or distributing money to the protesters, saying on Friday that the fundraiser violated its rules around promoting violence and harassment.

"GoFundMe supports peaceful protests and we believe that was the intention of the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser when it was first created," it said in a statement. "We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity."

The page had raised some $10 million in Canadian dollars, or nearly $8 million USD, according to the BBC.

GoFundMe said that protest organizers had provided a distribution plan for the initial $1 million that was released early last week, in which it confirmed funds would be used "only for participants who traveled to Ottawa to participate in a peaceful protest."

As the situation evolved, however, GoFundMe said it would no longer distribute any funds to Freedom Convoy organizers. GoFundMe first said it would work with organizers to send the remaining undistributed funds to "credible and established charities" chosen by organizers and verified by the platform, with donors able to request a full refund using an online form.

The following day, the company said it was simplifying the process due to donor feedback and would be automatically refunding all contributions within seven to 10 business days.

GoFundMe's announcement sparked a backlash from several conservative U.S. states, with the attorneys general of West Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas promising to investigate the platform for allegedly deceptive practices.

The CBC reports that convoy organizers are pointing potential donors toward a Christian fundraising site called GiveSendGo, which had received more than $2.5 million USD as of Sunday morning.

GiveSendGo was the platform used to raise thousands of dollars for the legal defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was tried and acquitted in the killings of protesters in 2020. NPR has also reported on the site in the context of online fundraisers collecting donations for Capitol riot defendants.

Airline industry

Low-cost airlines Frontier and Spirit announce they’re merging

Posted February 7, 2022 at 9:33 AM EST
Spirit Airlines aircrafts are shown at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport on August 05, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Brandon Bell
Getty Images
Spirit Airlines plans to combine with Frontier Airlines to create the country's fifth-largest airline and what they say will be “most competitive ultra-low fare” carrier.

Two U.S. airlines known for their cheap fares have announced they’re planning to merge to create the country’s “most competitive ultra-low fare” airline.

Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines said in a joint press release Monday that the companies’ boards of directors had unanimously approved the $6.6 billion transaction and expect it to close in the second half of this year.

“We’re a perfect fit — our businesses share similar values, including our longstanding commitment to affordable travel,” said Mac Gardner, chairman of Spirit’s board of directors. “At the same time, we have complementary footprints and fleets, including one of the youngest and greenest fleets worldwide.”

Under the terms of the deal, Frontier shareholders would own about 51.5% of the joint company and Spirit shareholders would own 48.5%. It would become the fifth-largest airline in the country, according to CNBC.

The combined airline would offer 1,000 daily flights to more than 145 destinations in 19 countries and directly add 10,000 jobs by 2026, the companies said.

Dutch speedskater Ireen Wüst makes history, winning individual gold at 5 Olympics

Posted February 7, 2022 at 8:56 AM EST
Gold medallist Ireen Wust of the Netherlands celebrates after winning the Women's 1500m on Monday. She is the first athlete to win an individual gold medal at five different Olympics.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Getty Images AsiaPac
Speedskater Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands celebrates after winning the women's 1500-meter on Monday. She is the first athlete to win an individual gold medal at five Olympics.

The Netherlands' Ireen Wüst made all kinds of history at the Beijing Olympics on Monday, when she became the first athlete to win an individual gold medal at five Olympics. It’s her sixth gold out of 12 medals overall for a skater like no other.

“I don’t know what it is,” Wüst said when asked about her extraordinary success at the Olympics. “I just see the rings and something magical happens.”

In a nail-bitingly close 1500-meter race, Wüst’s winning time of 1:53.28 also set a new Olympic record. It was just enough to best Japan's Miho Takagi — the world-record holder in the event — who finished in 1:53.72.

Wüst was just 19 when she won her first gold, at the Turin Olympics of 2006, in the 3000-meter race. Wüst is intent on retiring after the Beijing Games.

After her latest win, she said it will take time to fully realize what she’s accomplished.

“Ask me this question again in 10 days. I’m an emotional mess in my head,” she said.

“Wüst is also distinguished as the most decorated Dutch Olympian, LGBTQ Olympian and Olympic speedskater,” NBC Sports reports.

And at 35, Wüst is the oldest speedskater to win Olympic gold, the network adds.

Even before Monday’s 1500-meter race began, Wüst had already established herself as the most decorated Olympic speedskater of all time. And when the gun sounded, she set a blazing pace, showing the power and efficiency that has propelled her record-shattering career.

What are the odds

A visitor left Vegas not knowing he'd won a jackpot. The gaming board tracked him down

Posted February 7, 2022 at 8:25 AM EST
A view of a water fountain infront of a Senor Frogs restaurant and a brown high-rise building with the words "Treasure Island" on the top.
Daniel Slim
AFP via Getty Images
Last month, Arizona resident Robert Taylor left the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino and Las Vegas without knowing he had won about $230,000 on a progressive slot machine.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board says it has successfully tracked down the out-of-state visitor who left Las Vegas after unknowingly winning thousands of dollars on a slot machine last month.

Officials identified Arizona resident Robert Taylor after an exhaustive search and notified him of his $229,368.52 jackpot at the end of January, the board said in a release. A spokesperson confirmed to NPR over email that Taylor collected his winnings in Las Vegas over the weekend.

Taylor appeared to hit a jackpot on a progressive slot machine at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on Jan. 8, the board said, but was not made aware of his win because of what sounds like a series of unfortunate events.

"Due to a communications error that occurred, the slot machine experienced a malfunction that prevented Mr. Taylor and casino personnel from realizing that a progressive jackpot had been won," it explained. "By the time an extensive review of the slot machine and the communications technology was completed, confirming the jackpot had been won, Mr. Taylor had returned home to Arizona."

As soon as the casino confirmed the jackpot, it tried to identify who had been behind the lever. After multiple unsuccessful attempts, the board got involved.

Agents of the board's enforcement division carried out what it describes as an "extensive investigation," reviewing multiple hours of surveillance footage across several gaming properties, interviewing numerous witnesses, studying electronic purchase records and analyzing data obtained through an unnamed rideshare company and the Nevada Transportation Authority.

Officials found Taylor and told him about his unusually lucky — or unlucky, depending on how you look at it — jackpot, on Jan. 28, almost exactly three weeks later.

"I commend the agents of the Enforcement Division, particularly Agent Dan Nuqui, for ensuring that the public trust in the gaming industry remains strong by spending countless hours over two weeks to ensure that a patron is awarded winnings owed to him,” said James Taylor, chief of the board's enforcement division.

He also thanked the Nevada Transportation Authority for its assistance, calling the investigation "a great example of government working together for the benefit of the public."

Russia-Ukraine crisis

Diplomatic talks continue as the U.S. says Russia could invade Ukraine any day

Posted February 7, 2022 at 8:04 AM EST
Several black cars wait on the snow-dusted ground in front of a stately brick building with small red, white and blue flags hanging over the entrance.
Natalia Kolesnikova
AFP via Getty Images
Cars are lined up in front of the residence of the French ambassador in Moscow on Monday ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This week kicks off with another round of diplomatic talks over the Russian standoff with Ukraine.

In Washington, D.C., President Biden will meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has faced criticism over his handling of Russia's troop buildup along Ukraine's border. More on that here.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron is on a mediation tour of his own. He's headed first to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and then on to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

U.S. officials are warning that a deadly Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent — but do say a diplomatic solution is still possible.

Here's what we know:

  • Russia has amassed about 75%of the troops it would need to invade Ukraine, according to U.S. officials.
  • U.S. officials are warning of a massive death toll if Russia does conduct a ground war — estimating that such an attack could result in 50,000 civilians killed or wounded, with Ukrainian refugees left to flee to places like nearby Poland.
  • The first of 2,000 U.S. soldiers newly deployed to Europe have arrived in Germany and Poland.
  • National security adviser Jake Sullivan told Meet the Press on Sunday that an invasion "could happen at any time."

There are certain variables to consider, as Morning Editionhost A Martínez points out from Kyiv, where he is reporting this week.

For example, the ground is expected to be at peak freeze around next Tuesday, which would make it easier for Russian tanks and vehicles in Belarus to make the 50-mile drive south to Kyiv. But they'd have to go through Chernobyl — site of an infamous nuclear power plant disaster in the 1980s — he notes, "and who knows what kind of radioactive material they'd be kicking up in the air if they actually do it."

Russian diplomats have dismissed the death toll estimates and accused the U.S. of scaremongering. In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continues to call for de-escalation and a diplomatic solution, while residents of Kyiv say nothing surprises them at this point.

Martínez has spoken to residents in the capital, including expats attending a weekend International Unity March and women in a civilian combat defense training class.

The Ukrainians he has talked to hope these talks will stave off a conflict, with Martínez saying they want a peaceful resolution to the sovereignty they've long fought for.

"I watched a combat defense training class a couple of days ago, which was attended by some 200 Ukrainian women who were very eager to learn these skills just in case of a Russian invasion," he said. "And one of them expressed confidence that if they do wind up invading, that they'll come up against a bunch more prepared and resilient group of Ukrainians that also have a deeper sense of national identity and pride than they had way back in 2014."


NFL star Alvin Kamara charged with battery during Vegas visit for Pro Bowl

Posted February 7, 2022 at 8:04 AM EST
Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints and NFC walks the sidelines during the 2022 NFL Pro Bowl in Las Vegas on Sunday.
Christian Petersen
Getty Images
Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints and NFC walks the sidelines during the 2022 NFL Pro Bowl in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Las Vegas police arrested NFL running back Alvin Kamara on Sunday, accusing him of “battery that resulted in substantial bodily harm.”

The alleged battery took place at a nightclub; police say they learned about it late Saturday afternoon after the victim, who was then in a local hospital, told them what had happened. From there, the department said, police detectives "determined the victim was battered by the suspect, later identified as Alvin Kamara."

Police said Kamara was arrested without incident.

“He posted bond on Sunday night and has a court appearance set for March 8,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, citing court records.

Kamara, who plays for the New Orleans Saints, was in Las Vegas to play in Sunday’s Pro Bowl — a game in which he caught fourpasses for 23 yards.

Police say they’re still investigating what took place at the nightclub. The battery reportedly occurred in the 3500 block of Las Vegas Boulevard — one block north of the Bellagio casino’s famous fountain.

Kamara, 26, has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL seasons.