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February 25, 2021
What A Day
Vaccinate K-8

In This Episode

  • The FDA put out analyses yesterday showing that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is highly effective, setting the stage for its approval as early as this weekend.
  • The CDC put out new guidelines for safely reopening schools earlier this month, and it comes as the Biden administration has said they are working to get a majority of K-8 schools open in their first 100 days. We spoke to Washington Post education reporter Moriah Ballingit about the new guidelines, the COVID risk in schools, and what it all means for teachers and parents.
  • And in headlines: Ghana became the first country to get free COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, an update on Tiger Woods condition following his car crash, and California beats a legal challenge to its net neutrality law.





Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, February 25th. I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick. And this is What A Day where we are thinking of changing up the look of our apartment by adding big holes to the walls—or something like that.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, like I’m tired of looking at the same walls with no holes. You know? Maybe the holes would make it better.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. What is a beautiful bay window but a hole with some thought put into it.


Akilah Hughes: I think that, that’s beautiful, Gideon.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show: a conversation about school reopenings and the shifting politics and challenges in all of that. Then some headlines.


Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest.


[voice clip] If an EUA issued we anticipate allocating three to four million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week.


Akilah Hughes: Wow. OK, so you heard that, right? Vaccine number three might just be right around the corner, care of Johnson & Johnson. That was a clip of the White House COVID team discussing the timeline if this vaccine does get approved in the coming days, and it is looking likely. Yesterday, the FDA put out analyzes showing that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is highly effective— basically the final hurdle before they consider giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. And that decision could come as soon as this weekend. So Gideon, how good should we feel about it? Super good? The best? Awesome


Gideon Resnick: I feel great. I hope you feel great too.


Akilah Hughes: I feel great.


Gideon Resnick: More vaccines is, is sick. We love to see it. So we’ll wait to see for sure if it does get authorized. But it would be the first single dose vaccine available, so that in and of itself is big. But at least in the immediate term, it’s not going to completely change the supply picture, but it will as we get into the future. So it is a step forward broadly getting things back on track in the country, like, for example, getting kids back to school safely. And that’s something that we want to check in on today. So here’s a quick update on where we are at the moment. Earlier this month, the CDC put out new guidelines for reopening schools, and like previous guidance, they recommended masking, social distancing, testing and tracing. Notably, though, the CDC is not recommending that all teachers must be vaccinated before returning to in-person learning. And they do say that teachers should be prioritized for vaccinations. There are some teachers in unions that are now pushing for vaccinations as a requirement before going back. So that has become a new flashpoint in all of this.


Akilah Hughes: For sure. Schools have been a huge issue, one that we really care about, and something the President Biden has made a priority. His goal is to safely reopen the majority of schools for in-person learning in his first 100 days. And what that means isn’t exactly clear. Recently, the White House said that they consider a school open if it offers in-person classes at least one day a week. So who’s to say?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there’s some confusion about all that. And it’s actually gotten to a point where it’s possible that we already hit that goal  before Biden even took office, though Biden said in a recent town hall that the goal is to reopen most K – 8 schools. So right now, though, there’s a whole range of learning happening with some places all remote, others in-person with precautions, others without many precautions and everything in between. And not all of these options are presented equally. And of course, there’s also a whole range of opinions from parents and teachers and unions and local leaders about what to do here. Most people want to get schools safely back up and running. But the big question is what does ‘safely’ actually mean and look like. So to get a sense of all the people and complicated thoughts involved in this deeply important conversation, I spoke with Moriah Balingit, a national education reporter for The Washington Post, who’s been talking to people all around the country about this. I started by asking her what people are making of these new CDC guidelines.


Moriah Balingit: So there is still a lot of confusion over how they should apply. I know, too, that there are some people that do not believe that they went far enough because they didn’t include any information or guidance—for example, about ventilation. Which is something that, if they had done, could prevent a lot of schools from reopening. And then, of course, you have people that believe that they went too far, that some of the guidelines are too strict. So really, nobody likes them entirely. Very few people are completely happy with them. But it does seem that—and they are not terribly different from what the Trump administration recommended, but they are far more detailed.


Gideon Resnick: And can you talk more broadly about the actual COVID risk at schools: how good is our data so far on it and what does it actually say?


Moriah Balingit: So the data, as with every other aspect of this pandemic, is incomplete and not great. But what we do know from the data that we have collected, is that transmission tends to be pretty low in schools, especially if children and adults are wearing masks and are abiding by some social distancing and have good ventilation. There was one study by the CDC that looked at a school in Georgia that did not have those mitigation measures. What they found was that teachers were often giving it to each other and to other students. So we know that if you don’t use mitigation measures, you can have greater spread, which is what we would anticipate. But that with mitigation measures, it seems like you can really keep the risk of spread very low.


Gideon Resnick: And when people are sort of politically pushing, I guess, on the elements of the CDC guidelines that they view to be too cautious, are they kind of leaning on some of that transmission risk information that we have? Or is it more sort of nakedly political in a sense?


Moriah Balingit: Well, certainly there is data to support virtually any position on this, and it’s partially because, again, the data is incomplete. So, yeah, a lot of people will rely on incomplete data sets, for example, that mostly feature wealthy suburban schools that might have better facilities. What we don’t know, though, we don’t have a whole lot of information about what happens to schools that don’t have mitigation measures. And then people also point out that we don’t have enough testing to really say for certain how prevalent spread is within schools. Then another complicating factor, too, is that spread is so high in some communities that it’s almost impossible to do contact tracing because there’s so many places a child or an adult who had been in a school could have contracted the disease.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and last year, it seemed like the sentiment from a lot of people in education was that the Trump administration was pushing somewhat recklessly to reopen. Is there more support for reopenings now, and why do you think that is?


Moriah Balingit: There is definitely more support for reopening now. I think the fact that it’s no longer Trump pushing it, is, plays a role. I talked to school leaders who didn’t trust the CDC because of the way that Trump talks about the CDC and its guidelines and talked about changing them basically for political purposes. But now, yeah, you have Democratic cities that are really pushing to reopen. And I think a lot of that has to do with the data that’s coming out that shows pretty low levels of community spread within schools. And also people are anxious to get their kids back into classrooms. I think that’s another big part of it. Certainly, they don’t want to take risks, but with the data coming out showing that you can do this safely, I think a lot of parents are really, really eager to get their kids back into schools—even if they love them a whole lot.


Gideon Resnick: [chuckles] Yeah, I mean, it definitely makes sense after all this time. Part of the reopening conversation as well for families has to do with trust in government, either local or national, and access to resources at home. How has all of this shed light on inequalities in the nation’s schools that breakdown on race and class?


Moriah Balingit: Most of the conversation around schools has been happening over whether schools should reopen or not. But there are a lot of parents, in some cases in New York City, for example, at one point, more than half of Asian families wanted to keep their children at home, large numbers of black and Latino families want to keep their kids at home. And a lot of them are advocating for better virtual learning. That’s not been part of the conversation. It’s not been part of the conversation about the aid. And I think that really goes to show just who wields political power when it comes to parents. Oftentimes you see this break down along racial lines: that white parents are more eager to send their kids back to school and there’s fewer of them who want to keep their kids at home. So I think that’s one place where we’ve really seen it. Obviously, with the pandemic as well, places with really high rates of infection have been more reluctant to reopen, and those have been black and brown communities. So that’s definitely the case in Chicago, and in Los Angeles which was recently the hot spot for coronavirus.


Gideon Resnick: And the big question here: what’s your sense—if not this year—are kids back to school by the fall, or what needs to happen between now and then to ensure that?


Moriah Balingit: That’s a really good question, and I would be a gazillionaire if I had the answer to it. I believe that, you know, for some school districts, it’s going to require vaccinating all teachers, but you know that that’s just one piece of this. You talked about the parental trust problem or the issue around trust, and, you know, it’ll be really interesting what school districts do to try and rebuild that trust with these communities that have been consistently under-resourced. In Philadelphia, for example, I just spoke with a mother who doesn’t want to send her children back to schools because the building is falling apart. There was mold even before the pandemic. The bathrooms were dirty. So she didn’t feel like, you know, even prior to the pandemic, she had serious questions and issues with the building. And now they’re, they’re trying to reassure her that her kid is going to be safe during a global pandemic in a building that was already problematic. So it’ll be interesting to see. I mean, perhaps their views will change and parents will be willing to send their kids back into classrooms even if their kids aren’t vaccinated. I think if both teachers and children get vaccinated, I think that will solve the problem, or that will get almost every child back into the classroom.


Gideon Resnick: Well, this is left me with more questions than answers, which I think is how most people feel. But Moriah, thank you so much for joining today and talking us through all of this.


Moriah Balingit: Yeah, absolutely. And that yeah, that’s the way it’s supposed to work, so . . .


Gideon Resnick: It’s hard.


Akilah Hughes: All righty. Well, that was Washington Post reporter Moriah Balingit. We’ll put a link to her recent stories in our show notes, and that’s the latest for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, WAD squad. And for today’s temp check, we’re talking about some awards news from the U.K.: yesterday, singer Rina Sawayama announced she’d convinced the largest music awards show there to give her eligibility. Sawayama has lived in Britain for 26 years but doesn’t have citizenship there because her birth country of Japan doesn’t allow for dual citizenship. Until now that’s given the Brit Awards and the Mercury Prize reason to exclude her from consideration. The story of leaving out or giving lower priority to works from PoC artists is very familiar, and it’s reminiscent of the movie Minari being put into the best foreign language film category at this year’s Golden Globes and shut out of all other categories despite its American production company and quintessentially American story. So, Giddy, any thoughts on this or thoughts on this movie/this singer?


Gideon Resnick: Mmm. Well, first of all, I like both a lot. I think that it might have been via the Slack and from Sonia that I learned about Rina. So I want to shout out Sonia’s continued good music tastes and recommendations.


Gideon Resnick: She’s got great taste.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and I’ve only heard like the most recent album, but it’s sick. And then Akilah, you shared the video of her doing like the Kill Bill-type thing with the conversation with that dude at the beginning of the video.


Akilah Hughes: It’s like specifically the scene in Kill Bill where, you know, they’re wondering if because Lucy Liu’s character is both Chinese and Japanese, she should have any power. [laughs] Feels like, you know, kind of prescient given the conversation.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And that was sick too. Anyway, I’m belaboring the point. I like both a lot. I, I’m not familiar with the way that these British awards were working, but it sounds like a stupid thing. And then I think with the Minari situation, I kind of hope that the Oscars like self-correct that? Like I’m just going to let the Globes be dumb because I know that, you know, Parasite won best picture, I guess, was it last year? Year before?


Akilah Hughes: That was last year. [laughs] Isn’t that crazy that that was just last year?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. That’s, that is, that’s deeply disturbing. But so, and if that had the ability to do it, it’s like OK, you have no reason to not have—again, if something is considered one of the best works of the year, just put it in the best works category. It seems to make sense to me. But yeah. So what, what are your thoughts on both these things? There’s a lot to unpack in both these stories.


Akilah Hughes: Totally. I mean, I will start with just the way that people of color and people who are not—I mean, I would say it’s very nationalist, I think, to be so ridiculous and like opposed to having other people’s, like, really quality work excluded just because you’re like: well, they’re not they’re not from here or they haven’t been here long enough or whatever else. Like it seems like that double-edged sword of colonialism where it’s just like, hey, we’re going to colonize the whole fucking world, but then you’re never going to be accepted no matter what language you sing in, where you’re from, where you live currently. It’s just, it’s really bizarre to me. And so between both of these, I’m just like, why? Why are we so exclusionary? Like and the fear, I think is that like, if if, you know, field was leveled, would regular British acts be able to beat Rina? I don’t know. Would you know all of these other films be able to beat Minari? Is Mank as good as —? No. You know? [laughs]


Gideon Resnick: No.


Akilah Hughes: And so I think that like there is a reason why it’s so hard to dismantle these systems and it’s because there is a fear of actual meritocracy.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, no, that’s very true. Yeah. It’s like, it seems like it’s like a studio threat and then also like an old kind of white studio exact threat—


Akilah Hughes: Totally.


Gideon Resnick: —looped into one. Where it’s like, the way that people consume things and have like awareness of things now, they’re not—it’s not funneling through those avenues anymore. So the people that discover Rina or discover Minari are not like: oh, where exactly did this come from, like, who is behind—? They’re like: this is good and I like it, so let’s award it.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: Make it simple.


Akilah Hughes: Right. Yeah. I think that that’s the best way forward. And just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe. Listen to Rina. Watch Minari. I’m going to. And we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Ghana became the first country to get free COVID-19 vaccines through Covax, the international vaccine sharing initiative, yesterday. 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca developed vaccine arrived yesterday, and shots are set to begin next week for health care workers and people over 60. So Covax partners have trained local officials on how to administer the shots and have provided cold storage and delivery systems. And Covax is led by the World Health Organization, and it aims to deliver two billion vaccine doses to nations with less resources, by the end of the year. Israel’s government is also executing a vaccine sharing program, giving its surplus doses to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest allies. According to Israeli media, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Honduras have each been promised about 5,000 vaccine doses from Israel, while Palestinians living under Israeli occupation continue to be denied the doses they need.


Akilah Hughes: All right. We’ve got an update on Tiger Woods following the very serious car crash he was in outside of Los Angeles earlier this week. According to a statement released on Woods’ Twitter account, he is currently awake, responsive and recovering at a UCLA medical center following an emergency surgery. Woods was driving down a steep hill on Tuesday morning when his car slid off the road at a curve and flipped several times. A spokesperson from the sheriff’s department said the area was a known trouble spot for speeding and accidents, and firefighters had to break him free from being crushed under his own SUV. According to doctors, Woods shattered bones and both his legs and had to have a rod put into his leg and screws into his foot. Commenters say this might be a huge setback for his career, with the accident coming just a month after his fifth back surgery.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, wishing him a speedy recovery there. A legal challenge to California’s net neutrality law was overturned on Tuesday in a major defeat for the telecommunications companies. And I’m personally streaming 4K drone flights over national parks on five different screens to celebrate this news. California enacted its own Internet law in September 2018, soon after Trump’s Federal Communications Commission eliminated national net neutrality protections. That prompted lawsuits from Trump’s Justice Department and a consortium of telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. So as a reminder, net neutrality means Internet service providers have to treat all traffic equally and can’t prioritize users based on the content they’re accessing or their ability to pay. I support it in most every case, though, I am receptive to alternative models that would, for example, cut off my own ability to post or consume posts. It would be healthy for all involved. The federal judge’s ruling on Tuesday siding with the state means that net neutrality can be enforced in California, though telecom companies have signaled a plan to appeal. California’s success could lead other states to pass similar laws.


Akilah Hughes: Good news: Annie’s Homegrown has announced they’re working to remove chemicals that can cause health and reproductive problems from their mac and cheese. Bad news: until now, eating delicious mac and cheese could apparently be considered a high risk activity. A study published in 2017 looked at 10 mac and cheese brands, including Annie’s and the Dairy God, Kraft, and found that all of them contained ortho-phthalates. Those are chemicals used in industrial tubing and conveyor belts. Yikes. The chemicals have been shown to disrupt testosterone production and have even been linked to learning problems in children. So far, Annie’s, and the adorable little bunny who I assume is their CEO, is the only company in the cheesy pasta space to declare their intent to root the chemical out. ExxonMobil is a leading producer of phthalates and has said the chemical content in food is so small that it’s negligible and the science linking the chemical to adverse health effects isn’t convincing. OK. Gonna suck gasoline for my car for lunch instead, which I assume they’ll support. Also to be safe, when I eat Kraft, I’ll substitute the noodles for the little bag the cheese comes in and just hope that works out.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, easy. One for one trade off there.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah they, they are hoping. [laughs] And those are the headlines.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, be safe when redecorating your home, and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just the words printed on the little cheese bag like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out. Subscribe at I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And keep the nature drone footage coming.


Akilah Hughes: I want to see animals and I want to see birds. They’re animals. So more animals.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, all animals. Five screens. Minority Report-style. Let’s get it going.


Akilah Hughes: 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 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.