In This Episode
- Federal public health officials are considering updating mask mandates even for vaccinated Americans as we reach another critical point in the pandemic.
- But some localities are going above and beyond that with vaccine mandates. New York City, for example, will require all city employees to be vaccinated, and California announced a vaccine requirement for all state employees and health care workers, too. Private businesses like United Airlines and Morgan Stanley have also started to mandate vaccination for employees. Then in cities like L.A., San Francisco, and New York, many bars and live events require customers to show proof of vaccination.
- And in headlines: Biden formally announces the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, a tobacco company wants to ban cigarettes, and Kanye will stay in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium until his album is finished.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, July 27th. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the only podcast that is recorded on the beach that makes you old.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s either that, or doing the news makes us age a lot faster.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. If that’s true, I’ve just been going to a normal beach to do this podcast every day for two years.
Akilah Hughes: I mean at least you’re local, you know, people know you there now.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, LeVar Burton hosts his first episode of Jeopardy! Plus, Kanye West has taken up residence in the same arena where he held a listening party for his upcoming album.
Akilah Hughes: I mean, that is fascinating for sure. But first, we’re going to dive in on the pandemic and mandates. So we’re going to start with masks in the U.S. So last week we talked about L.A. being the first major U.S. county to reinstate a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, and that more mandates might be on the way. Well, since then, cities like St. Louis, Missouri, and Savannah, Georgia, have imposed their own. And nationally, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that federal public health officials were also thinking about updating their guidance for when and where the vaccinated should wear masks and public.
[clip of Dr. Fauci] You know, Jake, this is under active consideration. If you’re asking if am I part of the discussion, yes, I am.
Akilah Hughes: OK, so that is where it stands with mask mandates, but with lagging vaccinations across the country and the rapid, dangerous spread of the Delta variant, there’s a new mandate to be aware of. So some cities and states and agencies are moving towards vaccine mandates. Gideon, tell us about that.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, well, we can kind of look at an example of what it looks like from overseas to know how it could look here. So last week, France mandated health workers to be vaccinated by mid-September, and starting on August 1st for the general public, people would effectively be barred from lots of indoor public settings we know and love if they couldn’t show proof of vaccination or a negative test. Almost immediately, two things happened. The country saw more people signing up to get shots. Like a lot, a lot, a lot. So success. But also a lot of protests, so you take your lumps. And nearby, Italy has also taken a similar approach. Now, the U.S. is not at that point yet, but yesterday might have brought us a little bit closer. For one thing, nearly 60 medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, called for this nationwide-mandate that all health care workers be vaccinated. Independently, that has become a requirement for a lot of hospitals across the country, but is far from uniform. For example, the CDC estimates that a little less than 60% of nursing home staff have been fully vaccinated at this point.
Akilah Hughes: Wow, that is incredibly irresponsible. Then there’s a new policy by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Gideon Resnick: That’s right. So they became the first federal agency to issue any kind of vaccination mandate. VA Secretary Dennis McDonough told The New York Times that beginning tomorrow actually, about 115,000 frontline health care workers are going to have eight weeks to get fully vaccinated or they could face potential removal from their jobs. Those kinds of workers include doctors, dentists and nurses. Right now, reportedly, about 70% of workers in the department’s health care centers have been fully vaccinated.
Akilah Hughes: All right. That’s encouraging. Then what about on the more local level, like what vaccine mandates have been announced so far?
Gideon Resnick: So two pretty big examples here. Let’s start with New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio made this announcement yesterday for city employees.
[clip of Mayor Bill de Blasio] On September 13, the entire city workforce will be mandated under the COVID safety mandate to either get vaccinated, which is far preferable, or get tested once a week.
Gideon Resnick: This will apply to about 330,000 municipal workers, and it’s meant to be timed to the reopening of schools in the city. For some, the requirements are actually going to start earlier in August. City staff that are unvaccinated are going to have to wear a mask indoors as well. But some unions have pushed back, saying that they’d want to negotiate on these requirements first. Then we heard almost the exact same thing in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom announced yesterday that there will be a similar policy for all of his state employees and health care workers.
[clip of Gov. Gavin Newsom] 246,000 Californians are state employees. 246,000 Californians should be vaccinated. And if they’re not vaccinated and can verify that they’ve been vaccinated, we are requiring that they get tested.
Gideon Resnick: They keep mentioning that to make it sound like a lot more onerous. I agree. Like, do you want to get tested at work once every single week or do you want to get vaccinated once, you know, choice is yours? What else these places have in common? They have huge populations and vaccination rates that are higher than the national average, but also these climbing COVID cases due largely to Delta. So I think it’s going to be interesting to see if other places start to follow suit and if this is the start of something bigger.
Akilah Hughes: And I just can’t keep saying it enough, but I called it. I called it CDC! Listen to me sometimes. Why do we even do this show if they’re not going to hear me? Anyway, it all speaks to how Delta has put us right back into a very precarious moment.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly right. Most states are seeing some kind of rise in COVID hospitalizations at the moment. Two examples of where we’re seeing steep and pretty fast rises are in places with these lower vaccination rates like parts of Missouri and Florida. We can link to a map The New York Times has in our show notes so you can see that and visualize for yourselves. And also in the past few days, the White House is now reportedly thinking that people who are immunocompromised or 65 and older may actually need a booster shot at some point after all. There is no official decision on that yet, but we’ll stay on top of it, of course, as it continues to develop. So that’s what mandates look like on the state and national level. But Akilah, another side of this is how individual businesses and companies are coming up with their own policies here. So what is the word there?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So the big international debate over vaccine passports has finally gone local. As we will all recall, people were up in arms about the idea of vaccine passports and how, without some uniform system in place, it likely wouldn’t work. Well, since nothing has been uniform about the US’s response to the pandemic, this isn’t going to be either. Rather than calling them passports, some employers and private businesses are mandating proof of vaccination to enter some places mask-free.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I am sensing a pattern here. So let’s start with employers and employees. What are those mandates actually look like?
Akilah Hughes: OK, so most companies don’t require vaccines for people to return to work. And to be clear, having a vaccine mandate is not illegal since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it doesn’t violate discrimination laws. But at this late hour of the pandemic, a lot of companies are realizing that you can’t have a strong economy if people aren’t safe from a deadly virus.
Gideon Resnick: True.
Akilah Hughes: Plus, they’re probably scared of wrongful death suits, whether it be from families of employees who get sick or customers who get sick interacting with employees. And because of that, some heavy hitters just started mandating their workforce get vaccinated. Here’s some examples. So there’s Delta and United Airlines mandating it for new hires. Morgan Stanley employees have to be vaccinated, so, all right. I guess don’t cough on our money. And across the country, health care facilities, including the Mayo Clinic, are mandating their employees be vaxxed up if they want to continue working there.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and amid all of this, there are a couple of surprising exceptions, though.
Akilah Hughes: Always. I don’t know how surprising this will be, but some police departments across the country are once again forgetting their duty to protect and serve and have relatively low vaccination rates. In Las Vegas, for example, just 39% of employees have gotten at least one dose. In Columbus, Ohio, that rate is as low as 28%. And ironically, Pfizer doesn’t require employees to be vaccinated, according to The New York Times, but they’re considering it. I think I know somewhere they can get a vaccine if they’re interested.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, they can call Johnson & Johnson.
Akilah Hughes: Right. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: So for live events or just going out to bars, there may be mandates like that coming to a city near you, right? You know, I had to use this app at one point called Excelsior to show that I was vaccinated. The other option was getting a negative test and showing that, there was a long line for it. That was all just to get into an NBA game at Barclays. So that’s something people everywhere might want to get used to in the future.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I think so. I mean, L.A. now has a database of bars that require proof of vaccine to enter, or again, a recent negative COVID test. And more than 500 bars in San Francisco have agreed to start a vaccine mandate too, that begins this Thursday. But reportedly all over the country in Atlanta and Provincetown, Massachusetts, in Denver and a lot more places, companies and private businesses are putting their foot down about letting unvaccinated people hold us up any longer. We’re going to put a link in our show notes for how to store your vaccine data on your phone in case you want to leave your house any time soon. And as always, we’ll keep following this as these numbers unfortunately go up. But that’s the latest for now.
It’s Tuesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about one of the legends of reading: LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow and Roots is guest hosting Jeopardy this week in a television event we’ve been looking forward to for a very, very long time.
[TV clip] This award winning actor and director is the next guest host of Jeopardy!
[clip of LeVar Burton] Who is me: LeVar Burton.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So Burton is the fan favorite to take over the show after Alex Trebek hosted it for 37 seasons. A Change.org petition to make him the permanent host, circulated widely last year, and has over 250,000 signatures—I’m pretty sure I’m on there. And he’s made it known that he’s really interested in the job, telling The New York Times in June that he considers it what he was meant to do. And this week, Burton will be raising money for the literacy nonprofit. Reading is Fundamental. So Gideon, from your perspective, what is it that makes Burton just so perfect for this role?
Gideon Resnick: Oh, man, what isn’t there that makes him so perfect?
Akilah Hughes: That’s a good point.
Gideon Resnick: Like the man is, is knowledge in human form, you know, like he’s so synonymous with us learning when we were younger. And that’s like, you know, the main thing of the show is showing off to people how knowledgeable you are.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, that’s true. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: So, yeah, he’s, he’s perfect for it. I caught like a little bit of him doing this last night. And the other thing that I realized that like, he was doing really well was this dismissive-but-nice way of telling people that they had the answers wrong. So like they would buzz in, they would get something like completely off and he’d be like, “No!” before moving on to the next thing. And I was like—
Akilah Hughes: I love it.
Gideon Resnick: This is amazing.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, that is a real vibe. That’s a good way, I’m going to start saying no to people like that about pretty much everything.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. It was like, I’m going to tell you that you have made a massive mistake in the nicest way possible that you will remember for a long time, because I am disappointed in you.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah.
Gideon Resnick: But what do you think about all of this?
Akilah Hughes: I mean, I think that LeVar is just a shoo-in. I think he’s going to be great this week. I think that it makes sense, you know, to your point, Reading Rainbow was like the best part of being a kid in school in the ’90s. Like when they rolled in that big-butt TV and just like Reading Rainbow theme song, what happened, and everybody’d just like try to hit the high notes and be like “Butterfly in the freaking sky.” Like, I love that. I also hear, I haven’t listened to his podcast, but I hear his podcast is great. Similar energy of like, you know, talking about books and reading and the world. And I just think as a curious person, as a person who is so learned, it’s like a real benefit to us that he’s also just nostalgic and wonderful and talented and charming and all the things. Like, you know, TLDR, I think that LeVar Burton is just the bee’s knees.
Gideon Resnick: He is. And, you know, he talks about being disappointed if he doesn’t get this. And I think we will perhaps be more disappointed. So, make sure he gets this.
Akilah Hughes: I think that’s true. And just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe, read a book, and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: President Biden hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the White House yesterday and announced the U.S. combat mission in Iraq will conclude by the end of this year, but the military will continue to work with Iraqi forces. Alongside the prime minister, Biden said this:
[clip of President Biden] Well, our role in Iraq will be to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS as it arrives. But we are not going to be by the end of the year in a combat mission.
Gideon Resnick: There are roughly 2,500 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, and officials have not yet announced how that number will change following this announcement. But this formal announcement is largely symbolic, and it comes as Biden is completing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and Kadhimi faces increased pressure from hardline Shiite factions who are calling for the removal of all American troops.
Akilah Hughes: One of the world’s biggest cigarette companies is taking a noble stand against itself: Philip Morris International called for cigarettes to be banned in the UK within 10 years, describing cigarette smoking as a, quote “problem”—OK [laughs]—that should be solved as soon as possible. Eradicate us. [laughs] This fits with the UK government’s stated goal of eliminating tobacco smoking by 2030. It also fits with PMI’s recent efforts to move away from its core tobacco business and focus on the other end of the addiction rainbow: launching and acquiring businesses that make nicotine gum inhalers, and even life insurance. This is how executives double their profits while also doubling the damage to their own mortal souls. Tobacco companies haven’t always prioritized doing good, so there’s reason to be very skeptical of PMI’s support for a cigarette ban. Notably, the ban would leave room for electronic cigarette alternatives that companies like PMI are pushing more and more, based on dubious, often tobacco-company-funded research showing that they’re safer than smoking.
Gideon Resnick: Cannot wait to see how this doesn’t turn out the way that they are promising it will.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Yep.
Gideon Resnick: The Olympics kicked off this weekend, with the world’s best athletes meeting up in Tokyo to compete and collect negative COVID tests. Here are some of the highlights: weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz brought home the first-ever gold medal for the Philippines with her record breaking 127 kg lift. In swimming world record holder Katie Ledecky of Team USA lost the 400 meter freestyle to Australia’s Ariarne Titmus by 0.67 seconds. Until that event, Ledecky had never lost an individual race at the Olympics, so Titmus’s victory was extremely impressive. However, it was Titmus’s coach, Dean Boxall, who went viral for his celebration ceremony, where he seemed to lose control of his mind and body, jerking, flailing, and humping in a style somewhere between James Brown and Cosmo Kramer. We’ll keep you posted on more victory dances and historic wins as the Olympic Games continue.
Akilah Hughes: Jerking, flailing and humping—that is actually the steps to the Humpty Dance, if you’re familiar.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly. [laughs]
Akilah Hughes: Kanye West discovered a little-known trick for scoring great deals on sports tickets: literally move into a stadium. TMZ is reporting that Kanye has been living in Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta since last Thursday, when he held a huge listening party there for his new album, DONDA. Apparently, he was inspired by the energy of the crowd so he wants to stay until he finishes the album. Also, he’s not just blowing up an air mattress by the escalators, he reportedly has his own in-stadium studio space and living quarters, plus a chef to cook meals—I hope that chef is not just a microwave. Kanye was spotted in the stadium crowd at an Atlanta United game last Saturday, probably asking people to please keep it down so he can go to sleep. DONDA livestream broke records for Apple Music with 3.3 million viewers and the album is now set to come out on August 6th. After that, you can safely go to Mercedes Benz Stadium without any risk of seeing Kanye in a bathrobe.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I’m excited for him to live out the rest of his time doing 2004’s The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks. Good for him.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Wow. I love his ambition. And those are the headlines
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, rescue us from the beach that makes you old, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just civic-minded press releases from tobacco companies like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And happy housewarming, Kanye!
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I hope someone got to one of those electric bottle openers. They’re a great gift and I feel like you might need one.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I hope that you’ve had tons and tons of free hot dogs.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah.
Gideon Resnick: That we’re just in the stadium. That would be cool.
Akilah Hughes: It’s a pretty sick house . . . filled with hot dogs.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. [laughs]
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.