In This Episode
- Los Angeles County reimposed mask mandates this weekend for everyone indoors in a public space because the Delta variant is causing cases and hospitalization rates to climb. Last week, the seven-day average of cases in the U.S. went up by almost 70 percent in a single week.
- The Biden administration kicked off a public war against social media companies last week regarding their inaction on the spread of COVID misinformation, and Facebook responded with a blog post that accused the White House of “finger pointing.”
- And in headlines: extreme floods in Germany have left at least 189 people dead, a federal judge in Texas ruled against DACA, and a new report on the reach of Pegasus spyware.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, July 19th. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we are begging someone to take their crying baby on Jeff Bezos’s flight to space.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and don’t apologize either, all right. Just let that baby shriek and say nothing at all.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Make them the first baby to get glared at in zero gravity.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Don’t change their diaper beforehand either. Let it stink and let it be low. On today’s show, search and rescue efforts continue after devastating floods in Germany. Plus, the Tokyo Olympics unveils cardboard beds that appear to be anti-romance. But first, the latest on the Delta variants impact on the world.
[clip of Hilda Solis] I would say that it’s not punishment, it’s prevention. We still have four million people out of 10 million that haven’t been vaccinated, and many of them are young people. And we’re seeing that this transmission is so highly contagious that it will cost more in the long run if we have to see our hospitals being impacted, our ICU units, as well as our health care workers.
Akilah Hughes: That was Hilda Solis, chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, on ABC’s This Week. And she’s talking about the county’s recent decision to re-impose a mask mandate for everyone indoors in a public space—that’s for the unvaccinated and the vaccinated. Local officials made the decision because of how cases and hospitalization rates are climbing as a result of the highly-transmissible Delta variant. But this example from L.A. County is just one of the many that shows what the world is facing right now.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly right. In countries like Namibia and Tunisia, for example, recorded deaths have skyrocketed by something like 40% in the last week or so. And they are among many African countries who, by nature of capitalism, largely have ended up with vaccination coverage that is in the single digit percentages, while Delta is running rampant. And then over in Southeast Asia, the virus had been contained relatively well in the early going of the pandemic. And now, because vaccination rates have remained somewhat low, countries like Indonesia are now facing catastrophic health conditions as a result. We’re going to link to a story on Indonesia itself as well, in the show notes you can learn more.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s a real shame. And meanwhile, in the UK, a country with high vaccination rates, today is being referred to as Freedom Day, where basically all restrictions are set to be lifted. So what’s that situation like?
Gideon Resnick: Well, while there is not a big uptick in deaths there, there is a big uptick in cases driven by Delta. That’s been the case for quite some time. That’s actually what led to them delaying this opening from its original June 21st date. Nearly 55,000 cases were reported on Saturday alone. That is part of the reason why this reopening has been viewed by some as controversial. At this current moment, nightclub owners seem to be thrilled about it, some scientists do not. You can pick your poison as to who you want to listen to there. And to add to this mix as well, just this past weekend, Britain’s new health secretary who was fully-vaccinated, said that he had tested positive for the virus and experienced what he described as, quote “very mild symptoms.” And that was after having a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others. Johnson then had to go into this 10-day self-isolation after coming into contact with him.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I would like for Boris Johnson to go into a longer isolation, but, you know, neither here nor there. But it definitely feels like we are seeing more high-profile people test positive as of late. Three Texas Democrats who went to DC announced over the weekend that they tested positive. And then, of course, there’s the Olympics.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there is the Olympics. So just in the past few days, Bradley Beal had to be replaced on the U.S. Olympic basketball team after reportedly testing positive. Coco Gauff, the American tennis player, announced on Sunday that she would also have to miss due to a positive test. Then three members of the South African soccer delegation, including two players, apparently tested positive inside the Olympic Village. That, of course, is just ahead of the start of the games on Friday. And those are only some of the instances that have been identified so far. And the IOC has said that above 80% of athletes have been vaccinated. And so at this point, we don’t really know if some of these might be breakthroughs or false positives or what the details are.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I mean, it seems like in any case, they should probably just not have the Olympics at this point. But let’s bring it back home now. So we know L.A. County is telling residents to stay masked when indoors in public. But what does the rest of the country look like?
Gideon Resnick: It looks less good than it did a few weeks ago for sure. So last Friday, the CDC said that the seven-day average of cases had gone up by almost 70% in a single week, hovering around 26,000 a day. And then if you look more recently, newer daily cases are even higher than that. And hospitalizations have also gone up, too. And the biggest jumps that are being seen so far concentrated in states like Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Louisiana, with comparatively lower vaccination rates than the rest of the country. But many places are seeing numbers go up compared to earlier lows this year, overall. So that’s still a really big concern, particularly for the significant portion of people who remain unvaccinated in the US and who are very susceptible at this moment. Here’s Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the FDA yesterday on CBS:
[clip of Dr. Scott Gottlieb] So many people aren’t susceptible to the virus, but if 25% of the population remains susceptible to the virus, in absolute terms, that’s still a lot of people. And this virus is so contagious, this variant is so contagious that it’s going to infect the majority. That most people will either get vaccinated or have been previously infected, or they will get this Delta variant. And for most people who get this Delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime.
Gideon Resnick: So that’s the latest on where the COVID numbers stand around the world. But Akilah turning now to the social media side of all of this, the Biden administration has recently started pointing fingers at Facebook for how the country’s vaccination campaign in the U.S. has stalled out. So what is the word there?
Akilah Hughes: OK, so last week began the public war between the Biden administration and social media companies regarding their inaction on the spread of misinformation about COVID, vaccines and pretty much everything. The Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, issued a warning to them saying that they need to do more to stop the spread. Here he is last Thursday:
[clip of SG Dr. Vivek Murthy] We expect more from our technology companies. We’re asking them to operate with greater transparency and accountability. We’re asking them to monitor misinformation more closely. We’re asking them to consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms.
Akilah Hughes: Then on Friday, President Biden also said this while about to board a plane:
[clip of President Biden] They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among unvaccinated. And that, and they’re killing people.
Akilah Hughes: So just to reiterate what you just heard, the president is saying social media companies are killing people.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And so clearly, I mean, it sounds like this is not something the administration is going to be backing down from anytime soon.
Akilah Hughes: No, it doesn’t.
Gideon Resnick: Has there actually been a response here? Yes.
Akilah Hughes: So Facebook released a blog post on Saturday saying that the Biden administration was participating in, quote “finger pointing,” described the ways it’s tried—and let’s really face it—failed to clamp down on lies about vaccines by banning some 18 million sources of misinformation. But they didn’t answer for the 12 bad actors that produced 65% of misinformation out there on social media regarding COVID. Yes, it’s literally just a dozen people. And that’s according to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate that White House press secretary Jen Psaki cited on Friday. We’re going to link to that in our show notes.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. So who should users actually believe in all of this?
Akilah Hughes: OK, it’s complicated. I mean, there’s plenty of blame to share. As much as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are responsible for what happens on their private platforms and have consistently tried to pass the buck or hide behind free speech laws, it’s not as if the U.S. government has done a great job of rolling out COVID guidance or vaccine information. And when you have a former president who says the virus is fine or that drinking bleach might kill it, it’s hard to pin the blame squarely on the shoulders of social media companies. But it does seem to be a new era, with masking guidance ebbing and flowing as vaccine rates have stagnated. So again, the onus is on both parties to try to do right by the people on this planet and stamp out misinformation where they can. Facebook should care about losing millions of users who believe in the misinformation, especially if—and I think this seems likely—their only concern is their bottom line. We’ll keep following this misinformation blame game, but that’s the latest for now.
It’s Monday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about the latest advances in prude furniture. So we mentioned COVID at the Olympics earlier, but we didn’t talk about one interior design choice that could help limit its spread. Athletes in the Olympic Village will be sleeping on cardboard bed frames, in what some believe is an attempt by Tokyo officials to discourage sex between competitors. The cardboard twin bed frames look cool and are 100% recyclable, but it seems unlikely they could support the weight of two normal people, let alone two members of the extremely muscled and powerful class of superhumans called Olympic athletes. The truth is, there’s pretty good evidence that no-sex beds debuting in a global pandemic is just a coincidence. Officials were touting the beds as an environmentally friendly option as early as January of last year. So Gideon, what’s your take on these beds?
Gideon Resnick: I mean, this is like the least bad thing that we’ve heard about the Olympics thus far in my personal opinion. I would not opt to have these. But like, again, all of the other things that we’ve heard about how this particular Olympics is going to be different from the fact that there will not be medals that are put around people, they’ll be apparently passed to them on some sort of plate, to all of the other challenges for both the city and the country as it relates to COVID. This is like the least of the concerns seemingly. Uh, you know, but, you know, it does not seem comfortable. But same question for you.
Akilah Hughes: Oh, man. I mean, I just feel like some of these youngsters, this is the first bed frame they’ve ever had. So good for them. But I really don’t think that, uh, yeah, I think that if you’re going to disqualify Sha’Carri for weed, then like, why are you also making it harder for athletes to compete, because they’re sleeping on literal pieces of cardboard. Like, do you just want this to be the worst Olympics? It feels like it was going to be anyway. Like he didn’t have to give them those beds on top of it. But you know what? Godspeed. I hope everyone is fine. I hope no more people get COVID there. I hope by some miracle those cardboard beds work out. I don’t know. It’s just it’s not appealing to me in the least.
Gideon Resnick: No. Easier to assemble than IKEA, I suppose, is the one upside here maybe.
Akilah Hughes: That’s right. Well, just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe, and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Extreme floods in Germany and other parts of Western Europe left at least 189 people dead and hundreds more still missing. Over the weekend, western Germany and towns in Belgium and the Netherlands saw an unprecedented level of rainfall which caused rivers to spike to levels that haven’t been seen in centuries. I’m telling you, unfortunate record after record. Some places were hit with around a month’s worth of rain in one day, and the extent of the damage could be seen yesterday once the water subsided, revealing houses, roads and train lines that were drastically swept away. Tens of thousands of people were also forced to evacuate. Chancellor Angela Merkel visited flooded sites yesterday and promised to deliver swift financial aid, and focus on policies to curb climate change.
Akilah Hughes: A federal judge in Texas ruled against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, on Friday. The Obama-era program was made to prevent young immigrants from deportation. Friday’s ruling bars the government from approving any new applications for the program, but does not change the status of current DACA recipients. At the end of June, around 81,000 first-time DACA applications were pending and now they’re expected to stay in limbo following the decision. President Biden says the ruling was deeply disappointing and that the DOJ plans to appeal. DACA supporters continue to argue for congressional legislation to provide permanent relief for young immigrants.
Gideon Resnick: Here’s another reason to replace your phone with a horn on a tube that only lets you talk to other children at the playground. A new investigation has revealed that an Israeli spyware firm software was used to hack or attempt to hack into the phones of 37 government officials, journalists, business people, and human rights activists. The software is called Pegasus, and it stated use is to help governments track potential terrorists and criminals. But the new investigation revealed some more troubling applications, including runs on the phones of two women close to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, both before and after his murder at the direction of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. Pegasus can access almost anything on an infected device and secretly make audio and video recordings. If you suspect you’ve been targeted, you can take action by having lots of conversations around your phone about how much you love the government.
Akilah Hughes: Oh man, I don’t want to do that. All right. Well, Florida governor, and a close relative of the rubber punching bag shaped like a buff man’s torso, Ron DeSantis took an L over the weekend: his dream of a tropical cruise with all-inclusive coronavirus was shattered when a federal appeals court ruled that the CDC could enforce COVID restrictions on the cruise ship industry. Florida had been fighting in court to lift those restrictions, which include testing crew members, testing requirements for passengers, shorter trips and more. On June 18th, a Trump-appointed judge ruled in favor of the state, saying that the CDC was overstepping its authority and the rules could only exist as, quote “recommendations.” But this weekend’s proceedings put a stay on that order. The matter isn’t quite settled yet and Florida could challenge the CDC yet again in its quest to make a five-day stomach flu the second worst sickness you can catch on a boat with a buffet.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, I was not inclined to go from Florida or any other state, and now I’m good. I’m really, truly good.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Cruises feel like a thing we can leave behind. But those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, recycle a bed, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just a family tree that includes Ron DeSantis and a buff rubber punching bag 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 call us on our playground tube-phone!
Gideon Resnick: Don’t have to dial a phone number. You’re just there. You’re just talking. Easy. .
Akilah Hughes: Connection, we love.
Gideon Resnick: We love it.
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: Are 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.