Tuesday, December 7, 2021

 -Kevin McCarthy, master of character judgments and English

It’s been almost two weeks since South African scientists alerted the world to the Omicron variant, which means we’re in that frustrating purgatory where anecdotes keep piling up but hard science is still weeks away. If you’re looking for good news: The anecdotes could be worse!

  • Omicron does appear to be, in clinical terms, “super-duper contagious.” But doctors who treat lots of COVID-19 patients still say the people infected with the variant are presenting with mild disease. Researchers at a “major hospital complex” in the South African capital of Pretoria say confirmed Omicron carriers there and at other hospitals are much less sick than their counterparts in previous waves, and, in a statement so fate-tempting we must quote it directly, “most of their infected patients were admitted for other reasons and have no Covid symptoms.”
  • That’s great news for those patients, but it’s still too early to say how great it’ll be for the anxious, global masses, particularly those in places with little vaccine uptake or availability. That’s because it’s unclear why these patients are weathering the disease well, or even if their cases are representative of Omicron’s general severity. So far the one thing scientists do seem quite certain of is that Omicron will cause more repeat infections and breakthrough cases among vaccinated people (boo). 
  • And that partly explains why the question about disease severity remains murky for now. Even if we assume the promising case reports out of South Africa hold up as Omicron spreads, we don’t yet know if it’s because this variant is less inherently virulent (the ideal scenario) or because vaccinated people and people with prior infections, while still vulnerable to contracting Omicron, still have significant protection (a better-than-worst-case scenario) or a mix of both.  

With the hypothetical good news out of the way, the non-hypothetical news seems...also good?

  • Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, along with a Canadian partner, has produced a highly effective new coronavirus vaccine derived from plant-based virus-like particles, a medical first if approved for human use. The companies will soon submit their findings to the Canadian health ministry for final approval. 
  • Glaxo also says its monoclonal-antibody therapy for people infected with coronavirus remains effective against the Omicron variant, even as other, similar therapies have not stood up as well to it in laboratory experiments. The company is now assessing whether it can significantly ramp up production of the therapy, called sotrovimab, in the event that Omicron evades immune protection and other monoclonal-antibody treatments worse than feared. Take that Regeneron! 

The early detection of the Omicron variant has allowed scientists to learn about its properties, and how to fight it, before it swarms through the population. That blessing feels like a curse when it means we have to wait in limbo to know whether and how badly we are fucked; fortunately the answers are right around the corner.


Across the country, our right to abortion is under attack. A growing number of states are attempting to ban abortion and there are also more subtle and nefarious restrictions quickly being considered – bills that will push abortion out of reach, even while not banning it outright. Sign the ACLU’s petition and demand safe access to abortion now. 

Recently, we sued Texas over its blatantly unconstitutional abortion ban, Senate Bill (SB) 8. Over the past few months, politicians in Texas introduced a slew of extreme anti-abortion restrictions. Several of those bills passed, including SB 8, which bans abortions at about six weeks – before most people know they are pregnant. 

Join the ACLU in this fight today. Sign our petition.

SB 8 authorizes any person in the country to sue a person who performed or helped a patient access an abortion in violation of the ban. That means that anyone can try to block abortion access and dismantle abortion support networks by suing abortion providers and anyone who helps a patient access abortion like a family member who drives someone to an appointment or a trusted clergy member who advises a patient.

The ACLU, along with partner organizations, are fighting back in courts and legislatures every day and we will not be stopping any time soon. Are you with us? Add your name today.

Thank you for taking action,
The ACLU Team

Donald Trump’s new social-media startup Truth Social announced over the weekend that its financing company Digital World Acquisition Corp. had raised $1 billion, without identifying the investors who just bought their way into Trump’s favor. If Trump wins or coups his way back into the White House in 2024, his gobs of cash from mysterious investors will once again make him a national security threat: Suppose he’s now indebted to the Saudi government, for example? We might soon find out. The Securities and Exchange Commission has already begun investigating the new grift operation, requesting information about Digital World’s communications with Trump’s company ahead of their merger (which may have violated federal regulations) and “the identities of certain investors.”

Many Americans’ “excess savings” from pandemic-relief programs may be depleted by early next year, according to Moody’s Analytics. While low-income families saw the greatest boosts from each round of stimulus, they also (duh) spent those extra funds on things like housing, medical care, and food, while wealthier households were able to save them. In July, one-in-three Americans said they had less money to fall back on in an emergency than before the pandemic, and only one in six said they had more. Millions of Americans now face a continuing pandemic and high inflation with much lower cash reserves, and if economists are wrong about lower savings causing a drop in consumer demand and bringing down prices, those families finances’ will be stretched even thinner.

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Chile has legalized same-sex marriage after a decade-long fight.

Gas prices are finally falling.

Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) has signed two laws aimed at clearing up Wisconsin’s backlog of sexual assault kits. 

Vermont is poised to elect a woman to Congress for the first time (?!) in state history.

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