President Biden addressed the nation Tuesday amid a fast-growing winter COVID surge, largely linked to the highly transmissible Omicron variant. He cautioned people against panicking but said those who are unvaccinated have “good reason to be concerned.” Biden announced a plan to distribute 500 million free at-home tests starting in January and more aid for hospitals. Biden also addressed the issue of federal vaccine mandates.
President Joe Biden: “I know vaccination requirements are unpopular for many. They’re not even popular for those who are anxious to get them. But my administration has put them in place not to control your life, but to save your life and the lives of others. Over 400,000 Americans died from COVID this calendar year — and almost all were unvaccinated, almost all were preventable.”
In Texas, an unvaccinated man in his fifties is believed to be the first recorded U.S. COVID death linked to the Omicron variant. It was his second COVID infection. Harris County urged residents to get vaccinated.
California will require healthcare workers to get a booster shot. It’s the second state to announce a health worker booster mandate after New Mexico.
New York City is offering $100 to receive a booster shot at city-run vaccination sites before the new year, in an effort to curb an explosion in cases. Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Eric Adams and other elected officials announced they are calling off an in-person inauguration gala due to the skyrocketing cases.
In Philadelphia, the city’s largest high school has switched to remote learning after 41 teachers called out of work Monday, following the death last week of a 17-year-old student from COVID.
California Congressmember Barbara Lee is the latest vaccinated and boosted lawmaker to test positive for COVID-19. She said she was experiencing “cold-like symptoms,” and called on people to get their vaccine or booster. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, as well as Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and his family, also announced they tested positive for COVID.
The U.S. military has reportedly developed a vaccine that is highly effective against COVID, including all its variants. The vaccine, created over two years at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, is also said to be effective against other SARS-origin viruses. A public announcement with more information about the vaccine is expected in the coming weeks.
In international news, Israel will offer a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to patients 60 or older, those with compromised immune systems, and to health workers. It’s the first country to implement a second booster dose.
In France, the health minister said the country could start recording 100,000 new COVID cases per day as Omicron is set to soon become the dominant coronavirus variant.
Oxfam America, a Moderna shareholder, has filed a complaint against the drug company with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A lawyer for Oxfam said, “Instead of … using its life-saving technology to help curb the pandemic, Moderna is … obfuscating its patent dispute with the US government, ignoring the death and suffering of millions worldwide, and declining to share their technology to help alleviate the stranglehold that COVID-19 has placed on the global economy.”
In other vaccine news, European Union regulators have approved Novavax’s vaccine for people 18 and older. Tests have shown the U.S.-developed shot to be roughly 90% effective, though there is limited data on its efficacy against variants of concern, including Omicron. Novavax will start delivering vaccines to the EU in January.
During his COVID address Tuesday, Biden was asked by reporters about West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin sinking the Build Back Better Act this week and the fate of the bill.
President Joe Biden: “Look, I want to get things done. I still think there’s a possibility of getting Build Back Better done.”
Rachel Scott: “Did Senator Manchin break his commitment to you?”
President Joe Biden: “Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done.”
Joe Manchin joined other Senate Democrats for a special virtual meeting Tuesday night about a possible path forward on the bill. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the call the Senate would vote next month on a revised version of the package and a potential rules change to circumvent a Republican filibuster. Manchin has long opposed measures to combat the climate crisis due to his ties with the coal industry, in which he and his family are heavily invested, and his ties to fossil fuel lobby groups. In related news, United Mine Workers of America International — the U.S.’s largest coal mining union — called on Manchin Monday to support the roughly $2 trillion social and climate bill.
In a major victory for labor rights, workers at Kellogg’s cereal plants have ended their nearly three-month strike, after approving a new contract that provides across-the-board wage increases and enhanced benefits for all. One of the most contested issues had been a permanent two-tier system, where workers hired after 2015 were paid less than longer-tenured workers. The new five-year agreement with Kellogg’s means there won’t be a permanent two-tiered system. It also gives workers a clear path to full-time employment and provides a “significant increase in the pension multiplier.” Some 1,400 Kellogg’s workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee had been on strike since October.
The United Nations is reporting over 160 refugees drowned in two separate shipwrecks off Libya this past weekend. Some 1,500 refugees have drowned so far this year, according to the U.N., as people take on the dangerous route across the Mediterranean Sea seeking safety in Europe.
The World Food Programme warns the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen is likely to worsen as the group has been forced to cut aid due to a lack of funds. The eight-year-long conflict between U.S.-backed, Saudi-led forces and Houthi rebels has killed some 377,000 people, according to the U.N., internally displaced another 4 million and put 16 million Yemenis on a path to starvation.
The Washington Post is reporting an Emirati agency had Pegasus spyware installed on Jamal Khashoggi’s wife’s cellphone months before he was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Hanan Elatr was detained at the Dubai airport in April 2018 and had her mobile phones and laptop confiscated. The Pegasus spyware, made by Israeli company NSO Group, has been used to target journalists, dissidents and activists around the world. A researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which helped uncover NSO Group’s covert operations, found the spyware after examining Hanan Elatr’s two Androids. Elatr and Khashoggi were secretly married in June, just four months before his murder, according to The Washington Post. He was also engaged to Hatice Cengiz at the time of his assassination.
Republican Congressmember Scott Perry has refused a request to speak with the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection. The committee could move to subpoena Perry. Investigators say he met with Trump ahead of the January 6 riot and pushed Justice Department officials to block the election results.
Meanwhile, Trump’s short-lived former national security adviser Michael Flynn is suing the House committee in a bid to block a congressional subpoena for his phone records. And President Trump has announced he’s going to hold a news conference on January 6.
New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams has come under fire after he lashed out at incoming City Council members who sent him a letter this week asking him to reverse his support of solitary confinement in prisons. Last week, Adams said he would bring solitary punishment back to Rikers Island. The practice is widely considered to be torture, including by the United Nations. This is Eric Adams speaking Tuesday.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams: “I wore a bulletproof vest for 22 years and protected the people of this city. And when you do that, then you have the right to question me on safety and public safety matters. I think I know a little something about this.”
Adams also accused the City Council members of being “disruptive” and said he would ignore them.
A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice warns the “tidal wave of restrictive voting legislation” pushed by Republican states this year will continue in 2022 as voters prepare to cast ballots in crucial midterm elections. The group says 19 states passed 34 voter suppression laws over the past year, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. At least 13 bills have been prefiled in state legislatures for the coming year.
A Colorado district attorney is asking a court to reconsider the 110-year prison sentence of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, a 26-year-old truck driver from Cuba convicted in October of vehicular homicide and other charges related to a deadly crash in April 2019. Aguilera-Mederos has said the brakes on his semi-trailer failed when driving downhill, leading to a multi-vehicle pileup that killed four people. At his sentencing hearing last week, Aguilera-Mederos pleaded with the judge to forgive him.
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos: “I want to say sorry, sorry for the loss, sorry for the people injured. I know they have trauma. I know. I feel that. But, please, don’t be angry with me, please.”
A petition asking Colorado’s governor to grant Aguilera-Mederos clemency or a lesser sentence has gathered over 4.6 million signatures. Meanwhile, many truck drivers say they’re boycotting Colorado in protest of the sentence. Supporters are also calling on the trucking company to be held liable for the crash and the vehicle’s failure.