In This Episode
- Coronavirus cases in the US are in decline from last month, and the daily speed of vaccinations has picked up. But concerns over variants continue. A new study supports the idea that the new, more contagious strain first discovered in the UK could become the dominant strain the US by March.
- Democrats are working to include expanded child tax credits in the Covid relief bill. The inclusion of a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour is in question, with Biden saying he’s not sure the rules of the Senate will allow it.
- And in headlines: Haiti faces a constitutional crisis surrounding its president’s term, SCOTUS rules that California can resume indoor church service, and Amazon uses AI to monitor its delivery drivers.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, February 8th. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I am Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the podcast that, like the Super Bowl, some of you listen to just for the commercials.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, advertisers went all out for us this year, so get ready for some viral content later on.
Gideon Resnick: Each of today’s ads cost a hundred million dollars.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, cash.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, where COVID relief stands and what might and might not be in the final package, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: The demand clearly outstrips the supply right now. If you look at the escalation of availability of doses purely on the ability and the capability of manufacturing that, it’s going to escalate and will continue to escalate as we go from February to March to April and beyond. So even though there’s a clear, clear discrepancy between the demand and the supply, that will get better as we get through February and into March.
Akilah Hughes: That was Dr. Anthony Fauci talking about where we are with vaccine supply and demand, which is also where we’d like to start today. As of yesterday, the U.S. has administered over 39 million doses and the daily speed has been picking up with more than two point two million shots given on Saturday alone. That’s part of why you’re hearing more optimism from some health officials. But again, there is still concern about variance. So let’s just jump in. What’s the newest on that and where do we stand with cases?
Gideon Resnick: So in cases, we’re in a better spot. They’re in a pretty significant decline from where we were at certain points last month. The seven day average is around 120,000 plus cases per day, according to most trackers. That is still significantly higher than prior peaks last spring and summer. Good thing to keep in mind. But the downward movement is very encouraging. So then on the question of variance, there is more research out now on the spread of the more contagious b117 strain that was first identified in the U.K. The CDC had previously warned that it could become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March. And then over the weekend, a new study estimated that is currently doubling in the U.S. roughly every 10 days based on tests and genomes that they studied. That adds more credence to what the CDC said, and it’s definitely not encouraging. The researchers also concluded that the variant had arrived in the U.S. in November, which is a month before it was first officially detected. And they say that there are specific areas of greater concern throughout the country, like Florida, for instance, where more than four percent of new cases might be caused by B117. The study was posted online yesterday and has not yet been published in a scientific journal.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. You know, yikes. The other variant that we’ve talked about is B1351, which was first found in South Africa. And there was big news there about how the country is going to handle it.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I hope everybody appreciates that we are keeping up with the actual variant names. But anyway.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, right. Don’t quiz me on it.
Gideon Resnick: It’s coming later. OK, so this was definitely disappointing. Yesterday, South Africa’s health minister said that the country was going to suspend its use of the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine after finding out that it wasn’t really successful in preventing mild or moderate infections of this variant. This sadly comes after about a million doses arrived in the country last week. So they’re still assessing the data and one of the bigger questions is whether the vaccine might be effective against severe disease. What happened during the course of this, according to The Washington Post, is that researchers were testing the vaccine on a small number of people with a median age of about thirty one, which meant that they couldn’t really get conclusive results about severe cases. If you’re younger, less likely to get a severe case, not the best sample group for that. Right. But as this variant became dominant in South Africa, the effectiveness overall of the AstraZeneca vaccine just plummeted. The New York Times reported that if further studies in South Africa show the vaccine is effective against severe cases, they might pick back up on using it. And also, the lead researcher for the Oxford team said that a modified vaccine could be ready by the fall, which is good. In the meantime, South Africa is not without vaccines. They are expected to start using the Johnson and Johnson one, which has shown strong effectiveness on preventing serious illness from the variant there.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and speaking of J&J, the company also applied for emergency use authorization in the U.S. last week. So what exactly is the timeline from here for that?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so this is the one dose shot from good old J&J There’s reporting that the FDA will have a meeting with its advisory panel to consider authorization of it on February 26, which could put it on track for going out at the start of March. So it might be an initially small amount, but J&J would be adding about 100 million doses to the U.S. supply by the end of June, if that all works out, which would be amazing. In the meantime, there’s also COVID relief to figure out in all this. So let’s shift gears quickly and talk about what’s happening in D.C. and where things stand after the weekend.
Akilah Hughes: All right. So let’s get into it. Last week, the Dems in the House and the Senate both passed a one point nine trillion dollar budget resolution which approves the funding for that bill. No Republican supported the bill in the House or the Senate so Vice President Harris had to come and break the tie, making it her first tie-breaking vote of the new administration. Congrats. Couldn’t have been a better endeavor. And now the next step is actually writing the bill and detailing what’s going to be included and keeping all the Democrats in the Senate on board.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, and there’s reporting that the House is aiming to release and pass their bill within the next two weeks. And we’ll have more details of what is included then. But is there any more word on how things are going thus far?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, you know, the name on everybody’s lips is going to be Stimy.
Gideon Resnick: Stimy.
Akilah Hughes: I mean, I really tried. You know, we got to get a Chicago reference. I don’t know why, but we tried it. So anyway, here’s the latest on the checks. The debate over eligibility and income threshold rages on the suggestion that they phase out direct payments for people making more than $50K is being floated, which is something that moderate Republicans had proposed. Progressive Democrats are pushing for the phase out to stay at $75,000, as was the case in the last round of checks. Making the obvious point that if somebody lived in a city, for example, they made $52 Grand that really shouldn’t stop them from getting the full benefit, which I think makes sense. You know, like, what’s that, $2000 if it’s not the stimulus. As far as when those stimulus checks might come, it’s looking like the earliest at this point might be sometime in March, which I think could be like a nice little anniversary gift of sorts. You know, very bleak anniversary gifts, but still one that I would happily accept.
Gideon Resnick: A year in lock down, here is fourteen hundred, I guess.
Akilah Hughes: Here’s one hundred and three dollars a month or something.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s that time. Yeah. So the stimulus checks obviously get a lot of the attention here, but they’re only one part of this bill, around 400 billion of the almost two trillion that’s in there. So let’s talk about another piece that Democrats are working to include. It is expanded child tax credits. What do we know about those?
Akilah Hughes: All right. So basically, the idea is to take the current child tax credit, which is two thousand dollars a year per kid and expand the amount to three thousand dollars per year or 3,600 per year for kids under six years old. And this is according to The Washington Post, who got a hold of a proposal that’s expected to be released today from Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal. His plan would also expand eligibility so that people who aren’t working can also get the money. Currently, that’s not the case. And it’s something that Republicans are generally against since they think it dis-incentivizes work, expands the safety net and government spending. But, you know, they never have problems with spending our money for, like wars, just when it’s for the children that they claim to care so much about. You know, let me get off my soapbox. All right. The money was start to phase out for people who make over $75K a year or $150,000 a year as a couple.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So a kind of similar idea and structure to the stimulus checks.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. It’s going to be targeted to income, or at least that’s the plan for right now. And researchers at Columbia looked at this child tax credit plan and estimate that it would reduce childhood poverty by over 50 percent and lift five million children out of poverty. So that is a huge dent and something that Biden has said is really a priority of his. But the details on how this will work could change. And there’s already a lot of questions about how exactly to distribute the money and how to make sure that the families that qualify actually can get it. For example, it’s based on last year’s IRS data, but income situations can change really drastically in a year, especially given a pandemic. Very similar questions along those same lines have been coming up around the stimulus checks, too.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, definitely. And last thing here, Biden’s first network interview since taking office aired last night after the Super Bowl, not concurrently with the weekend. Let’s run through what he had to say about the bill.
Akilah Hughes: Well, he talked broadly about why it’s so needed. He’s been making the case over and over again. Most recently after last Friday’s very weak jobs report. So that was pretty expected. One moment that was interesting was when the minimum wage came up. The White House has proposed raising it to $15 an hour as part of this bill from the $7.25, which is the current rate and it’s abysmal. But last night, Biden said his guess was that it wouldn’t survive in the bill because of rules around budget reconciliation in the Senate. But, also yesterday, you had Senator Bernie Sanders on CNN saying that he has, quote, a room full of lawyers working to make the case that raising the minimum wage is entirely consistent with the rules of reconciliation. So let’s see if that room full of lawyers is worth it. Something that we’re going to keep an eye on for sure. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday WAD Squad, and it was the first ever COVID Super Bowl last night. We were at work, but we did take the opportunity to eat foods that are a little different from the foods we normally eat during the workday. Gideon, did you tune in and what stood out to you about this year’s game in particular?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it was on in the background and I was kind of in and out. I think about the game, seemed very much like the refs could have been favoring Mr. Brady.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Perhaps they’re on his payroll like has been the case in the past.
Gideon Resnick: We don’t we don’t know for sure. But some interesting calls. I only saw like five or ten minutes. But that’s, that’s something that raised a few eyebrows. And then The Weekend . . . The Weekend was, um. . .
Akilah Hughes: Makes you not like labor unions, almost. Maybe we don’t need them . . .
Gideon Resnick: You’re telling me . . .we got five days for this!
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. I’ll go back to working seven. It’s fine.
Gideon Resnick: I really like his music, but it was, it didn’t quite gel, I think. I mean, first of all the sound was mixed strangely.
Akilah Hughes: Not great. Not great.
Gideon Resnick: There wasn’t a lot of action beyond that kind of like, you know, herky jerky into the back room with the lights GoPro type situation. I don’t know. I mean, I’ll take a, look. I’ll take I’ll take a live performance when, when I can get it, I suppose.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. You know, like we had to settle for it, you know, we didn’t have a choice.
Gideon Resnick: I didn’t. Yeah. I didn’t book the program. But what did you see from, from this, from all this excitement and hubbub last night?
Akilah Hughes: Well, I will tell you, I was not even a little bit invested in the game. As we were recording, I’m wearing my Cincinnati Bengals hoodie shirt, uh symbolically. You know, what’s the point of being the best quarterback if we can’t get to the Super Bowl? We can never get to the Super Bowl. But beyond that, let’s see, I definitely felt like, you know, there are commercials that people were pointing to. None of them stuck out to me as like so funny or so sentimental as usual. I think that it’s also just like, capitalism in this time is kind of boring. Like, I’m being sold stuff constantly on Instagram. I don’t need to see commercials on TV. There’s nothing to look forward to. The weekend, just to piggy back. You know, I can’t wait to be canceled by our lovely audience for this, but I just don’t think that men should be allowed to do halftime anymore. The last time there was a good, really strong male performance at halftime that I can think of is Prince. You know, I don’t remember Bruno Mars was after that. I think he was and he was great. But like, again, we had Lady Gaga, Beyoncé. Even left shark with Katy Perry was out here performing.
Gideon Resnick: Memorable at least.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, yeah. JLo and Shakira, just last year, you know.
Gideon Resnick: That was fun.
Akilah Hughes: It was, it was not good. Also, there are people with more hits than him who are around the same like age and era that I thought should have maybe been considered, but perhaps he was the only one who was willing to do it in a pandemic. But, yeah, that’s that’s pretty much it. Just like that, we checked our tips. Keep ’em warm, like some lukewarm room dips. Stay safe. We’ll be back after some ads.
What’s up WAD Squad? What A Day is brought to you by JuneShine. It’s hard Kombucha. It is the champagne of Kombucha. I believe it, it’s so delicious y’all. They use green tea and honey as opposed to black tea and sugar for a smoother, less acidic taste. And best of all, it doesn’t leave you with that “I’m too full” after drinking feeling, you know but it does give you a lighter, brighter buzz. Which is true. The last day before the first show back in 2021, I tried this. I loved it. I toasted my friends with it. It’s a, it’s a good ass beverage. Guess what? JuneShine is now delivering nationwide to your doorstep. We’ve worked out an exclusive deal for What A Day podcast listeners receive 20% off plus free shipping on their best-selling variety pack. This is a great way to try all of their delicious flavors. So go to Juneshine.com/WAD, or use code WAD at check out to claim this deal. That’s Juneshine.com/WAD. This discount is only valid for the variety pack. JuneShine can also be found in over a ten thousand stores across the country, including Whole Foods, Safeway, Kroger and Publix.
Gideon Resnick: This episode was also brought to you by Bambee. When running a business, H.R. issues can kill you. Bambee spelled B A M B E E was created specifically for small business. You can get a dedicated H.R. manager, craft H.R. policy, and maintain your compliance, all for just ninety nine dollars a month. You’re dedicated H.R. manager is available by phone, email or real time chat. Go to Bambee.com/whataday right now to schedule your free H.R. audit. That’s Bambee.com/whataday, spelled B A M to the B E E .com/whataday.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is also brought to you by The New Yorker. The New Yorker stands apart for its commitment to truth and accuracy, quality writing and compelling reporting and storytelling. New Yorkers weekly print issues and daily online articles cover something for everyone: politics, news, international affairs, the environment, pop culture, the arts, fiction, food, humor and cartoons. I am a big fan of The New Yorker. I really like the cartoons, of course, but the essayists are really, really amazing. And those covers are frankly, art. So, you know, if you want to frame some, I wouldn’t be mad at you. And, one of my favorite writers is, no surprise, Ronan Farrow. He is a genius. You should also follow his tweets, but he’s a really great writer, exposing some really ugly truths in this world. And I just stan. So for a limited time you can get twelve weeks of The New Yorker for just six dollars. That’s a savings of fifty percent. Plus, listeners of our show will receive an exclusive tote bag free to go to NewYorker.com/whataday. That’s NewYorker.com/whataday to get 12 weeks of The New Yorker for just six dollars and a free tote bag. NewYorker.com/whataday.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Haiti is facing an impending constitutional crisis as more and more people are calling for the country’s current president to step down. Opposition leaders and activists say that President Jovenel Moise was supposed to end his term yesterday. Moise and his supporters argue that his term doesn’t actually end until February, 2022. The president was originally voted into office in 2015, but that election was canceled on grounds of fraud and he was reelected a year later and then sworn in, in 2017. So there was a general disagreement on when his term actually began but through the years, there have been more and more protests demanding his resignation. Critics, including the Human Rights Watch, accuse Moise of hijacking the electoral process to rule by decree. Opposition leaders also expressed anger last Friday when the Biden administration reaffirmed his position. Yesterday, the Haitian government said authorities have arrested 23 people, including a Supreme Court justice, for participating in what they claim was a coup. Though critics dispute that and are calling for the prisoner’s release.
Akilah Hughes: Churchgoers in California are now allowed to resume indoor service despite the state government’s concerns about the spread of COVID, which, you could have fooled me, it doesn’t seem like they’re all that concerned. Well, last Friday, the Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on indoor worship during the pandemic, ruling that it violated religious liberties. The ruling also allowed the state to impose some restrictions on indoor services, which Governor Newsom did over the weekend by limiting attendance and banning singing and chanting. That means if you’re rocking out at Hillsong Church, you have to do it in total silence. The logic there is that singing and chanting actually produce more droplets in the air that could spread the virus. One of the churches that sued the state released a statement saying they will continue to petition for their right to sing. This case is, fittingly, also Amy Coney Barrett’s first written opinion as a Supreme Court justice. The new balance of power might explain a trend in church related cases, like a similar SCOTUS case from New York that reversed indoor worship restrictions last year.
Gideon Resnick: It’s a silent disco at Hillsong.
Akilah Hughes: A silent rave for Jesus.
Gideon Resnick: Employees of the Bessemer Alabama Amazon Fulfillment Center will be mailed ballots for their unionization vote today. That is after Amazon failed to get the election switched to in-person. Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Amazon’s objections to the COVID safe mail-in vote didn’t hold water. In response to the NLRB’s decision, an Amazon spokesperson said, quote, “Our goal is for as many of our employees as possible to vote, and we’re disappointed by the decision by the NLRB not to provide the most fair and effective format to achieve maximum employee participation.” The rat energy coming of this quote is overwhelming me. Amazon continues to innovate in the field of making me communist. So, good for them. Next up, in Amazon Mad Libs. The company has been installing AI controlled camera systems in the cargo vans of last mile delivery partners. The cameras record both the road and the driver 100 percent of the time, uploading clips in response to triggers like not stopping at a stop sign or distracted driving. But also, quote, hard breaking, following too close, and hard acceleration, end quote. The technology is ostensibly to promote safety, but it has already drawn a negative reaction from drivers. It turns out people don’t like it when their boss is smushed down into a computer program and lives ten inches from their face at all times. Also side note, Josh Hawley, if you want, this is a time when it would be OK to say Orwellian.
Akilah Hughes: Yes. You know, just trying to help you with your vocabulary. All right. And there’s a certain magic at sports games when all the athletes say they’re playing against their will. And that’s what NBA fans can look forward to for next month’s all star game, which is set to be held in Atlanta on March 7th in spite of safety concerns from a growing number of players. LeBron James started things off last Thursday when he described his league’s plan to go forward with the midseason event as a, quote, slap in the face given the state of the pandemic. Kawhi Leonard backed him up, describing the event on Friday as, quote, an opportunity to make money. Just putting money over health right now, pretty much. Back in November, the NBA said they would cancel the game, but reports emerged last week that they had reversed course. The NBA’s agreement with its players association will require anyone who selected for the game to play if they’re healthy. LeBron, if you need, I can try to make a realistic double for you using pillows and a huge pole. I’ve never done one of that scale, but I guarantee you I can try. The idea of bringing players, coaches and staff from all across the NBA together in one place is bad enough. But it’s even worse that it’s in Atlanta, which is one of the 10 cities where fans can go to games. This season, the NBA has already postponed 23 games because of infections or contact tracing.
Gideon Resnick: Look, vote me into the all star game. I will protect LeBron from having to go.
Akilah Hughes: And I will buy that limited edition jersey. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review. Build body doubles for LeBron and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading and not just the lyrics to hymns at a very low volume like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out. Subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
Both: And thanks to all the big celebs who appeared in our ads today.
Akilah Hughes: Yes, we love it.
Gideon Resnick: Matthew McConaughey, just want to say, you read that beautifully, sir.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, wow. Denzel, thought you’d be too busy, but glad you came around.
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 is our assistant producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.