Friday, December 17, 2021

 -Donald Trump, Christmas understander

Season's greetings! The What A Day team will be hibernating in a big hollow tree until Monday, January 3. Happy holidays, stay safe, and see you in 2022.

The Omicron variant has begun to live up to its highly transmissible reputation in the U.S., prompting shifts in mitigation strategies and complicating risk calculations as we approach the 23nd month of March 2020 “new year.”

  • Researchers at Harvard Medical School now say the Omicron variant is the culprit behind the current surge in cases in the northeast, an abrupt shift from expert opinion just a few days ago. New York City’s positivity rate has doubled in three days, triggering a wave of cancellations and closures, and the CDC estimated that Omicron accounted for 13 percent of cases in New York and New Jersey as of Wednesday.
  • We’re likely at the start of a huge wave of new infections across the country, just as millions of Americans prepare to crowd airports and attend holiday gatherings. Fortunately, there’s reason to hope that it will recede faster than earlier waves, and leave considerably less destruction in its wake. The Omicron surge in Gauteng, South Africa appears to have already peaked, and only 1.7 percent of confirmed cases required hospitalization in the second week of the wave, compared with 19 percent in the same week of the Delta wave. Excess deaths are also far below their previous peak.
  • A couple of caveats to that promising news: South Africa has a relatively young population, and results in other countries may vary. Secondly, any uptick in hospitalizations is a dreaded outcome for U.S. hospitals already filled to capacity with unvaccinated patients. Medical centers in Michigan have once again begun canceling scheduled surgeries, and Minnesota hospitals took out full-page ads in state newspapers on Sunday pleading with residents to protect themselves: “We’re heartbroken. We’re overwhelmed.”

March 2020 vibes abound, but public-health officials are hopeful that booster shots and rapid tests will keep the damage and disruptions to a minimum. 

  • The Biden administration embraced a new strategy on Friday to use increased testing to keep kids in the classroom as case numbers rise: Rather than requiring mandatory quarantines for unvaccinated students exposed to a COVID-positive classmate, those kids can stay in school if they test negative at least twice in the week after an exposure. The CDC released two reports highlighting school districts in Lake County, IL, and Los Angeles County that have used a “test-to-stay” approach successfully.
  • Two years into the pandemic, many Americans hoping to employ a test-to-stay strategy in their everyday lives still face cost and accessibility barriers. The Biden administration’s plan to have insurers reimburse people for rapid tests won’t go into effect until January 15 and won’t cover tests purchased in the meantime, rendering it useless for facilitating testing over the holidays. Some state leaders are trying to pick up the slack: Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) announced Thursday that her administration will create a portal where residents can request that test kits be sent to their homes, joining several other states with similar initiatives.

The Omicron wave brings with it some confusing considerations: It seems more mild, but also, it demonstrably spreads like the wind. We have more tools and information to protect ourselves, but also, we’re completely exhausted. More data will help inform individual choices, but it’s evident that taking some extra precautions over the next few weeks will be worth the effort.

This week on With Friends Like These, Ana Marie Cox’s old friends and band members Rhett Miller and Murray Hammon join for a conversation about songwriting, falling into friendship love and how a band is like an open marriage. New episodes of With Friends Like These drop every Friday. Listen and follow wherever you get your podcasts.

Virginia Democrats might not codify abortion rights in their final weeks in power because some of them already have vacations booked, in one of the biggest embarrassments for the party since Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) pushed to truncate Trump’s post-insurrection impeachment trial so he could enjoy his Valentine’s Day. Democrats could call a lame-duck legislative session in the next month to prevent Glenn Youngkin from restricting abortion access when he takes office, but alas, one state senator is in Africa, others are in Europe, and majority leader Dick Saslaw should be in Hawaii by now. “They’re not going to be able to get back; flights are booked this time of year,” said Saslaw, who has known since November that Virginia Democrats are about to lose their trifecta. The travel conflicts are something of an excuse: Older Democrats in the state Senate have hang-ups about doing state business outside of regular legislative sessions, while younger members of the state House and outside activists recognize that a) this time is part of their term, b) this legislation is critical, and c) Republicans wouldn’t hesitate for even a moment.

Young Americans have turned on President Biden (or, “feel that Biden is in his flop era”), according to weekly polling by the Economist and YouGov. As of the latest poll in mid-December, an average of 29 percent of Americans under the age of 30 approve of the job Biden’s doing, while 50 percent disapprove. That net-approval rating of -21 is the worst of any age group, and it’s a dramatic reversal from the beginning of the year, when The Youngs gave Biden a net approval rating 32 points higher than did The Olds. It’s difficult to isolate what issue(s) caused the slide (many young voters said their top concerns were climate change and health care), but an unfulfilled campaign promise to cancel at least $10,000 per borrower in student debt surely hasn’t helped. The federal freeze on student loan payments is set to expire next month, and while top Democrats have been urging the Biden administration to issue another extension, the White House said this week that it’s still preparing to restart payments on February 1. Anyway, maybe this will fix it?

Jura is an award winning Single Malt Scotch Whisky made by the same tiny island community since 1810. 

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Our whisky is smooth, bright and lively, just like the islanders who make it. It’s received acclaim within the whisky community, like our 12 year old whisky that scored 94 points out of a possible 100 from the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.

Try Jura today, and support our tiny island community. Go to and use code LOVETT10 to receive $10 any Jura you buy. As they say in Scotland - Slàinte Mhath (Slanj-ee Vah)! Gaelic for good health.

The EPA will direct $1 billion in infrastructure funds to clean up more than four-dozen toxic Superfund sites. 

President Biden has nominated another Native American judge, Sunshine Suzanne Sykes from Navajo Nation, to serve on the federal bench.

Civil rights leader Claudette Colvin has finally had her juvenile record expunged, after 66 years.

Let’s hear it for Jamie Raskin, a much better Person of the Year.

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