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Today is the first official day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and you know the drill. Cozy sweaters, knit scarves, warm apple cider, pumpkin pie and scenic foliage. What’s not to love? Well, it may be a bit longer until it actually feels like fall for the southern tier of the US as heat waves continue to linger in much of the region.
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With Omicron now the most widely detected variant in the US, hospitals are preparing for a surge of Covid-19 cases. And for the second year in a row, many doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic will be treating these patients over the Christmas holiday. Nearly 70,000 Americans were hospitalized with Covid-19 as of yesterday, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, up from around 45,000 in early November. In related news, the FDA yesterday authorized Pfizer’s antiviral pill, Paxlovid, to treat Covid-19. It’s the first antiviral pill authorized for infected people to take at home before they get sick enough to be hospitalized.
Medical experts are warning of another deadly pandemic winter as Covid-19 numbers tick up and flu season threatens. The US is back at a point where more than 2,000 people are dying of Covid-19 every day on average, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Additionally, about 12,000 to 50,000 Americans lose their lives to flu every year. The best way to avoid another devastating season, doctors say, is to get vaccinated for both. Meanwhile, parts of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, are coming out of long lockdowns and abandoning their “zero Covid” strategies. Leaders want to revive their countries’ economies, especially their tourism sectors, but experts are worried that low vaccination rates in the region could spell disaster.
2. Gas prices
The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection has asked Rep. Jim Jordan, one of former President Donald Trump’s top congressional allies, to voluntarily meet with the panel as it zeroes in on Republican lawmakers who may have knowledge of events leading up to the Capitol riot. Jordan previously warned the committee that targeting GOP lawmakers in any capacity would be met with political retribution if Republicans retake the House after the 2022 midterm elections. Jordan is the second Trump ally to get an interview request this week. Rep. Scott Perry declined the committee’s request to voluntarily sit down with investigators.
The climate crisis was front and center at the UN General Assembly yesterday. Chinese President Xi Jinping recorded a rare address to the UN body promising to halt coal projects, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will present the Paris climate agreement to its parliament next month, and US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed further climate action during an Oval Office meeting. An array of international points of conflict were also addressed by the dozens of world leaders present, including nuclear arms in Iran, free and fair elections in Venezuela, and competition between the US and China. The Taliban have also requested representation at this week’s meeting, a move that is expected to kick off a diplomatic battle with the preexisting Afghan envoy.
President Joe Biden said yesterday that he’s extending the pause on student loan payments until May 1. The payments, which were set to restart on February 1 for millions of borrowers, have been on hold since the start of the pandemic. During this time, interest has stopped adding up and collections on defaulted debt have been on hold. Biden pointed to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis as the reason for the extension. The reversal comes less than two weeks after White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated that the administration was planning to restart the payments, resisting pressure from some fellow Democrats who’d called for an extension of pandemic relief benefits.
Progressive Democrats have announced they will not vote for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill without passing the $3.5 trillion package that is aimed at enacting President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. That vote is scheduled for next week, and as it stands, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford to lose only a handful of votes to get anything passed. President Biden will increase his engagement with Congressional Democrats today, including a meeting with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to try and get all the Democratic factions in line. Yesterday, the House also passed a bill to avoid a government shutdown and suspend the US debt limit. The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, so the country is still approaching a possible shutdown and financial precipice in the coming weeks.
4. Hurricane Fiona
Russia hopes to hold bilateral talks with NATO and the United States in January over security guarantees it is seeking from both, a state-owned media outlet reported yesterday, citing Russia’s foreign minister. The news comes just a day after NATO said it is ready to engage in “meaningful dialogue” with Russia amid its massing of troops near Ukraine’s border. The United States and its allies have warned Russia about the consequences of further hostilities amid its continued military buildup along the Ukraine border – a move that US intelligence has assessed as preparation for a full-scale invasion in the coming months. Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded security guarantees from the United States and NATO, including a binding pledge that NATO won’t expand farther east and will not allow Ukraine to join the military alliance.
More than a million people in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic once again woke up without power this morning in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. The Category 4 storm is poised to sideswipe Bermuda later this week, forecasts show. At least five people have been killed in the Caribbean, including one in Guadeloupe, two in Puerto Rico and two in the Dominican Republic. Fiona also whipped parts of the Turks and Caicos islands on Tuesday with sustained winds of almost 125 mph, officials said. While the recovery process will likely take a long time, authorities have started visiting several islands to begin repairs.
Biden yesterday touted progress his administration has made in alleviating supply chain issues that have spurred shortages of consumer products, raised prices for Americans and contributed significantly to historic levels of inflation in the US. The President pointed to evidence that bottlenecks are beginning to unclog and said retail inventories are up 3% from last year. Separately, a new report on consumer confidence showed Americans are feeling more optimistic about the economic recovery, which has continued to show surprising strength into the final month of the year.
There are about 8,600 Haitian migrants remaining under the Del Rio International bridge in Texas, waiting to be processed by immigration officials and possibly removed from the country. That’s down from a high of about 14,000 earlier in the week, but there are still tens of thousands of other Haitian refugees further south, still waiting for a chance to enter the US. There are up to 30,000 Haitians in Colombia who may be seeking to travel north, and Panama expects 80,000 migrants to cross its borders by the end of this year. South and Central American leaders have expressed concern at the unprecedented flow of migrants. More than 97% of Haitians migrating to the US do not come directly from Haiti, but rather were residents of other countries first. Many Haitians trying to enter the US are believed to have been living elsewhere since the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010.
THIS JUST IN …
Law enforcement officials are on the scene of a “major industrial accident” early this morning at an ExxonMobil plant in Baytown, Texas, about 25 miles from Houston. Initial reports are that some type of explosion occurred inside the plant, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a tweet. Four people may be injured, he said. Nearby residents reported a loud explosion.
‘Dancing with the Stars’ Season 30 premieres
She stepped in as running backs coach of the Washington Football Team.
NHL players won’t participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics
The league is in the midst of a Covid-19 outbreak.
Taco Bell is adding a surprising new menu item
Let’s just say it’s not something you’d expect to order at a place known for TACOS!
McDonald’s limits french fry sales in Japan because of potato shortage
Customers can only order the smallest size of fries due to supply chain problems.
Fees for US passports are going up by $20
At least you get to keep the same picture for 10 years.
That’s how many people in Afghanistan are facing extreme levels of hunger as winter sets in – more than half the country’s population. And at least a million children under 5 are at risk of dying from starvation.
“I started telling myself that it was okay. I was coming to terms with dying.”
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, in an announcement about a new partnership between the FAA and the TSA that could result in unruly travelers losing their TSA PreCheck credentials
Instead of our normal weekly news quiz, we have a special quiz to get you in the holiday mood! Here’s a question to get you started: People in some areas of Europe and China don which color underwear to bring them luck on New Year’s Eve?
Take CNN’s holiday quiz to see if you’re correct!
Restoring an icon
A little something to put you in the holiday spirit. (Click here to view.)