The United States has once again shattered records for daily coronavirus cases and deaths — with nearly a quarter-million infections reported on Wednesday alone. More than 3,600 Americans died of COVID-19 Wednesday — by far the worst one-day death toll for any nation since the start of the pandemic.
California broke records for hospitalizations for an 18th consecutive day and reported 52,000 new cases and nearly 400 deaths. The surge has forced hospitals to turn to desperate measures — canceling surgeries, forcing ICU patients out of intensive care early, and training nurses from other departments to work in intensive care. Governor Gavin Newsom has granted waivers allowing hospitals to force ICU nurses to treat three patients at a time, versus the two patients allowed under state law.
The World Health Organization’s global plan for delivering COVID-19 vaccines to 91 poor and middle-income countries faces a “very high” risk of failure and could leave billions of people with no access to vaccines until as late as 2024. That’s according to internal WHO documents seen by Reuters, which reports the countries most at risk are mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We’ll have more on global vaccination equity after headlines.
A former Trump appointee repeatedly urged officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to deliberately allow tens of millions of Americans to become infected with coronavirus. That’s according to Politico, which reports then-science adviser Paul Alexander was promoting a widely discredited approach of herd immunity through natural infection. In one email to top health officials last July, Alexander wrote, “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk … so we use them to develop herd … we want them infected.” The approach has been condemned by the World Health Organization as highly unethical, with disease experts saying it could result in the deaths of millions of people.
The Interior Department said Wednesday Secretary David Bernhardt has COVID-19 — making him the third top official at the agency to test positive since November. Also testing positive Wednesday was South Carolina Republican Congressmember Joe Wilson, who announced his infection just hours after speaking from the House floor.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has canceled his last major holiday party at the State Department and will enter quarantine, following close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. Pompeo and his wife have been hosting indoor gatherings for hundreds of people at the State Department, flouting CDC guidelines.
This comes as Trump adviser Chris Christie urged Americans to wear masks, citing his hospitalization with severe COVID-19 in October after a superspreader event at the White House. Christie posted this video to his Twitter account Wednesday.
Chris Christie: “You know, lying in isolation in ICU for seven days, I thought about how wrong I was to remove my mask at the White House. Today, I think about how wrong it is to let mask-wearing divide us, especially as we now know you’re twice as likely to get COVID-19 if you don’t wear a mask, because if you don’t do the right thing, we could all end up on the wrong side of history.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for coronavirus, after reporting unspecified symptoms of COVID-19. Macron met in recent days with the prime ministers of Spain and Portugal, as well as the European Council in Brussels and members of the French Cabinet. France reported its biggest one-day spike in COVID-19 cases in nearly a month on Wednesday, just days after relaxing a nationwide lockdown.
In related news, Oxfam is warning poverty will increase sharply in almost every country for the first time in decades unless immediate action is taken, as 2.7 billion people have not received any public financial assistance during the pandemic, according to the Oxfam report. The global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has topped 74 million, with 1.6 million deaths.
The United Nations is warning a new wave of locust invasions is threatening food security for millions across the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Despite an international effort to counter the infestations, locust populations are still growing, fueled by last month’s devastating Cyclone Gati and other climate crisis-fueled weather conditions.
General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Taliban negotiators in Qatar for unannounced talks this week. He also met separately with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to discuss the peace process. The meetings came amid a new drawdown of U.S. troops and as violence continues to claim lives and hamper the ongoing negotiations.
In France, 14 people were found guilty Wednesday for aiding a series of attacks in and around Paris over three days in January 2015. The attacks began when two French Algerian brothers stormed the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. Over the following two days, another gunman killed a police officer, and in yet another attack, four Jewish men were gunned down at a kosher supermarket. All three of the main suspects were killed. The accused accomplices were sentenced to between four years and life in prison.
Hungarian lawmakers have effectively barred same-sex couples from adopting children, in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s latest crackdown on LGBTQ rights in Hungary. On Tuesday, politicians passed a bill redefining marriage as between a man and a woman. Lydia Gall at Human Rights Watch criticized Hungary’s ongoing efforts targeting its LGBTQ community.
Lydia Gall: “This latest attack on the LGBT community in Hungary really shows the importance — emergency — of why EU funds should be linked to the respect for rule of law and our common European values. And that’s clearly not happening now. Rather, the government has chosen another path which cements intolerance, rejects diversity and inclusivity. And this really has no business in the European Union.”
Nearly 400 religious leaders are calling for a global ban on so-called conversion therapy, which aims to change a person’s sexuality through counseling and other interventions. The campaign is being led by the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives. In a statement, the commission said, “We recognize that certain religious teachings have, throughout the ages, been misused to cause deep pain and offense to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex. This must change.”
In academic news, hundreds of professors have signed an open letter criticizing the University of Mississippi for firing historian and antiracist scholar Garrett Felber after he spoke out against the school’s relationship with what he described as “racist donors.” In October, the university refused to allow Felber to receive a grant for a prison education program called “Study and Struggle.” Felber then criticized the University of Mississippi’s relationship with powerful donors, saying, “this antiracist program threatens racist donor money. And racism is the brand. It’s in the name.” Felber is the author of the new book, “Those Who Know Don’t Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State.”
In sports news, Major League Baseball has formally recognized the Negro Leagues as a “major league.” Over 3,400 players and their stats will now be part of the MLB official record. Some of baseball’s greatest stars, including Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, Ernie Banks and Roy Campanella, played for the Negro National League — which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year — before the MLB allowed the first Black players to join in 1947. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumph against a backdrop of injustice. We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong.”
Meat producer Tyson Foods has fired managers at an Iowa pork slaughterhouse who allegedly held a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool on how many workers would become infected at their plant. The allegations emerged as part of a lawsuit filed by the family of a former meatpacker who died from COVID-19 in April during an outbreak that killed six workers and sickened over 1,000.
A major coalition of climate activists has sent President-elect Joe Biden a draft executive order providing a road map to tackle the climate crisis as soon as he takes office. Over 380 groups signed on to the order, which compels him to declare a national climate emergency, ban new fossil fuel infrastructure, charge the Environmental Protection Agency with enacting the Clean Air Act, among many other actions. Kassie Siegel from the Center for Biological Diversity said, “Our house is ablaze with a fire fanned by Trump for four years. There’s no time to lose. Biden must take bold action the moment he steps into the Oval Office, without punting to a dysfunctional Congress.”
In Minnesota, the Indigenous-led resistance against the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline continues. On Monday, 22 protesters were arrested after they blocked equipment and refused to leave. This is Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe environmental leader and director of Honor the Earth, speaking the day after the arrests.
Winona LaDuke: “Yesterday, 22 people were arrested, the oldest 65 and the youngest 18, all — with the exception of one, I believe, all women. And I just want to be clear that water protectors are not criminals. We’re patriots. We’re protecting our water from a Canadian multinational corporation.”