1. The battle against Omicron heats up:
The US is averaging nearly half a million COVID cases per day, higher than any other country tracked by Johns Hopkins University. It sounds astronomical, and it is, but we do know thus far it appears to cause less severe disease. Notably, though, hospitalizations are still up 41% nationally over the last two weeks, according to the New York Times.
TL;DR: We won’t know how deadly the surge is right away, because deaths are a lagging indicator. But we do know that in some states, so many health care workers are out sick that hospitals are stretched thin and limited in the services they can provide.
COVID cases in Florida have risen nearly 1000% in just two weeks. And that’s not an extra zero, it’s actually 948%. Important question: Does anyone have eyes on Mickey Mouse?
Meanwhile the state’s surgeon general has basically said he wants to tone down the testing, or, in his words, "unwind the testing psychology that our federal leadership has managed…to get most of the country in.” Well, ignorance may be bliss, but it also could be deadly.
Maryland has declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to support its hospitals.
Nationwide, 1 in 5 hospitals with an ICU said it was at least 95% full last week. A record number of children are being hospitalized with COVID.
Rapid and PCR tests, are still widely unavailable. Some state and local governments are distributing them, but between things like curbside pickup and online requests, the number of people who can actually get them is fairly limited.
BinaxNOW tests, the most popular at-home version, are also getting more expensive.
The FDA has authorized Pfizer boosters for kids 12-15 and shortened the time frame for boosters overall to five months after the second shot. The CDC panel of advisors is expected to meet this week to discuss the approval of kids’ boosters.
Teachers and students around the country feel uneasy about returning to school under these circumstances, but only a handful of cities are temporarily going back to remote learning. NNN friend and Brown University Public Health Dean Dr. Ashish Jha says we know what to do to keep schools open, but barriers including low vaccination rates among kids and misinformation are making it more difficult.
Some schools are already facing staffing shortages and empty classrooms, due both to positive tests and anxiety.
Teachers and parents: Need practical, low-budget tips on ventilating classrooms and keeping everyone in them safer? All it takes is a box fan and a MERV-13 filter taped to the front. Check out our interview from last year with Dr. Sten Vermund for more.
Hospitals are also grappling with staffing shortages as healthcare workers test positive. Not to mention: 450,000 have left the industry altogether in the last year.
To our NNNers who work in healthcare: What can we do to best support you? Let us know in the comments, in my Instagram DMs, or email us.
In perhaps a single shred of positive news, though, studies show that Omicron appears to do less damage to lungs than previous variants. We’ll take what we can get.
2. Verdicts du jour:
Elizabeth Holmes found guilty. The deep-voiced, turtleneck-wearing Theranos founder was found guilty of only four of 11 charges she faced, all four related to wire fraud. She was found not guilty of defrauding patients despite her company’s faulty blood tests, and the jury was unable to reach a decision on three counts.
Each count carries a maximum of twenty years, and Holmes is expected to appeal.
And last week, Epstein co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of five out of six charges she faced, including sex trafficking of a minor. She faces up to 65 years in prison.
The Jeffrey Epstein saga doesn’t end there. Newly released documents show he paid one of his accusers, Virginia Giuffre, half a million dollars to drop a case against him. She has a separate ongoing case against Prince Andrew, whose best defense is that he was in a pizza shop the night he is alleged to have assaulted the then-minor.
3. Manchin says no, again: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is starting the year off by dashing his party’s hopes.
First, he made clear he still won’t vote for Build Back Better (a wide-ranging social and environmental bill), saying he feels “as strongly today” about his opposition to it as he did before the New Year.
Reminder: 93% of West Virginia children would have qualified for the expanded child tax credit in the bill. Even the United Mine Workers of America asked him to reconsider.
And, just to start the new year on the same old tone for Democrats, he also indicated he’s not going to go along with their push to pass a voting rights bill by amending filibuster rules. Without Manchin’s support, it’s a non-starter.
4. January 6, 2022: What do you buy for a country on the first anniversary of its attempted coup? Is it paper or a lectern?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is opting for several events around the Capitol “as an observance of reflection, remembrance, and recommitment.”
Things for the House January 6 committee are heating up: They’re asking for cooperation from Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who expressed concern about Trump’s lack of condemnation in a text, but later seemed to totally forget that and blamed “antifa.”
The chairman of the committee also wants to speak directly with former VP Mike Pence, though the panel has not officially asked yet.
5. Supreme Court to rule on vaccine mandates: Biden Administration vaccine mandates will face a test this week in the form of oral arguments at the Supreme Court. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is set to begin fining businesses who don’t comply as soon as Monday, so they’re likely to make a decision quickly.
The Biden Admin. rule requires companies with 100 or more employees to vaccinate or regularly test staff.
6. Remembering a legend: The world lost Betty White on New Year’s Eve, just three weeks shy of her 100th birthday. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls icon started her television career in the 1950s, where her variety show included a rare (for the time) Black tap dancer, Arthur Duncan. When people complained, Betty reportedly said: “He stays. Live with it.”
7. Let it snow: Winter storms quite literally stopped traffic in the DC/Virginia area this week after it got a significant 14 inches of snow, but the roads weren’t exactly prepped for that much precipitation. Hundreds of drivers were stranded along a 40-mile stretch of I-95 for 24 hours. Hundreds of thousands are still without power in the DMV area.
8. I quit: Or, at least, that’s what millions of people said at the end of last year. 4.5 million Americans left their jobs in November 2021, the highest monthly number ever seen. The ongoing trend – dubbed “The Great Resignation” – particularly reflects changes in lower-paying industries, where workers currently have more power to demand better pay, benefits, and flexibility. One person who apparently hasn’t quit their job: the numbers person who is doing all the counting.
1. Bye bye, BBM: BlackBerry phones running on older software have officially stopped working as of yesterday. But fret not, BlackBerry devotees: If phones are anything like scrunchies, low-rise jeans, and vinyl records, there will be a new one available in no time. TechRadar even reported that a new BlackBerry 5G is set to arrive…last year. Will it happen? I don’t know. But I do miss being able to type emails with my eyes closed.
2. Oops, he did it again: CNN says Andy Cohen will be back for the New Years Eve special in 2022 despite what he called being “overserved” on this year’s broadcast. Cohen took (many) shots of tequila before taking shots at outgoing NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, the Diana musical, and ABC host Ryan Seacrest. He has since apologized…for the Seacrest jabs. Very magnanimous to offer a second chance to someone who is not a red-headed woman.
3. Famous last words: Capitol rioter Jenna Ryan laments her treatment in the public eye, saying she’s a scapegoat just like “the Jews in Germany.” There’s a pretty easy rule when it comes to comparing things to the Holocaust: Don’t.
4. With great power comes great responsibility: Marvel movies accounted for a whopping 30% of domestic box office totals in 2021, as the Disney-owned company released five movies during a pandemic year. Here’s hoping 2022 is a more normal year at the movies, but that we also get tons of Thor, Dr. Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy, too. Life’s all about balance!
“Extremely rare” dinosaur tracks were discovered at a beach in Wales from 200 million years ago. No offense to your grandpa, but this is a way better beach discovery than anything found using a metal detector.
The first Habitat for Humanity 3D-printed house was constructed in a mere 12 hours for a Virginia family. The success of this three-bed, two-bath house could provide a blueprint for more affordable housing alternatives in the future.
Clinical epidemiologist Dr. Raghib Ali says 2022 “could be the year the pandemic comes to an end.” Despite Omicron, he says, vaccines, treatments, and medications are reasons to be optimistic this year. (It’s not going away, it’ll just become endemic, like the flu.)
Dan Buettner is a National Geographic fellow and New York Times bestselling author who has discovered the secrets to happiness and longevity in what he has dubbed “blue zones,” or parts of the world where people are not only living longer, but living with less disease and more satisfaction.
Heading into the new year, Buettner is offering readers a four-week challenge to create meaningful and lasting change. Here’s part of what he told me on this weeks’ News Not Noise Podcast, edited for clarity:
Why do you think now is a good time to take on a new challenge?
Well, in the first week of January, about 80 million Americans will make new year's resolutions. And by the first part of February, about 68 million of those will have forgotten those resolutions. So at a time of year when we're thinking about trying to make changes in our lives, why not try something new? Instead of trying to change your behavior, which often works in the short run, but universally fails in the long run, why not engineer your life, set it up so that the healthy choice becomes unconscious? [Then] you have something that lasts for a change.
What is a blue zone and what can we learn from your discoveries?
It started out as an effort funded by the National Institutes on Aging and then on assignment with National Geographic to, in a sense, reverse engineer longevity. So instead of looking for a “fountain of youth” in a test tube or a Petri dish, we hired demographers: people who study populations. There's a certain type of demographer who specializes [in] old age.
Over the course of about three years, we found five of the statistically longest lived areas in the world. Okinawa, Japan [has the] longest lived women. Sardinia, Italy, the longest lived men. Ikaria, Greece, a population that lives about eight years longer than Americans do, but without any discernible dementia. The Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica where people have about half the rate of middle-aged mortality, but they spend one fifteenth the amount we do on healthcare per capita. In the United States, among the Seventh Day Adventists in and around Loma Linda, California.
And these are people who've achieved the outcomes we wanted: living up to 10 years longer than the rest of us, but without diabetes, cancer, heart disease, [or] dementia that really disable our lives [and] makes life really not worth living. These people are living long lives, staying sharp to the very end, and leaving a lot left over. Our projects found the common denominators, and remarkably, no matter where you go in the world, where you see long-lived healthy people, they're all doing the same thing under the same organizing principle. And that's what I've captured for National Geographic, and then distilled in sort of an actionable prescriptive in the Blue Zones channel.
You have said socializing and community are key to longevity. But that's not so easy, especially now. How do we achieve that in a COVID world?
We spend over a hundred billion a year on diets, and we spend a lot of time and effort measuring our food and restricting ourselves. And I just argue that if you took those same resources and effort and focused it on building or curating the right social network, we have a much better outcome.
Building that circle of friends, three or four friends who you can count on, on a bad day, whose idea of recreation is, you know, walking, playing pickleball, or gardening. Something active.
We have a population of people who've achieved it, and populations like Okinawa, Japan, where they have this social practice known as a Moai. People proactively surround themselves with four or five people who have these characteristics. Friends have a big impact on how we move through life. So, you know, I recommend that this new year's, [we] start thinking about rebuilding that immediate social network.
To hear the rest of Dan’s advice on Blue Zones and how to live your longest, best life, check out the News Not Noise Podcast.
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