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June 02, 2021
What A Day
Variants Are All Greek Letters To Me

In This Episode

  • As most of the U.S. prepares to reopen by the end of this month, a World Health Organization official warned, “It would be a monumental error for any country to think the danger has passed.” Peru recently reported that COVID deaths in the country are almost triple than what was previously reported. Plus, the WHO moved to rename variants using letters of the Greek alphabet in part to remove the stigma from countries where they were first identified.
  • Joe Biden became the first president to commemorate the massacre of Black residents in Tulsa’s Greenwood District on its 100th anniversary. He used the event to propose a wide-ranging plan to narrow the racial wealth gap.
  • And in headlines: Canada reckons with its history of residential schools, a ransomware attack holds the world’s beef hostage, and theatre-going roars back with “A Quiet Place Part 2.”




Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, June 2nd. I’m Akilah Hughes


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where every weekend is a holiday weekend.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I’m going to start not showing up to work every Monday and, you know, just see what happens.


Gideon Resnick: It’s a great plan. Sorry Monday, we promise it is really nothing personal.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Just wanna be in bed.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, President Biden commemorates the Tulsa massacre with a plan to close the racial wealth gap. Plus, we’ll have headlines,


Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest:


[clip of Mayor Bill de Blasio] Listen to this, this is the level of COVID positivity today in new York City: 0.83%, 0.83% The lowest we’ve seen ever since this pandemic began.


Akilah Hughes: All right. So that’s New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday. He was really feeling himself. He is one of the many local officials who have been outright optimistic, even excited, about the drop in COVID cases and deaths throughout the country. Over 40% of the whole U.S. population is vaccinated, and nearly every state will be fully reopened by the end of the month. But for the rest of the world, the story is not the same. So, Giddy, what did we hear most recently from the World Health Organization on that front?


Gideon Resnick: Yes, at the end of the World Health Assembly on Monday, the WTO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus characterized his view like this, quote “It would be a monumental error for any country to think the danger has passed.” So kind of scary. Despite major areas of success in a number of countries in declining cases and those rising vaccinations. He also said that the current pandemic has provided more reasons for the creation of a worldwide pandemic treaty so that countries could hypothetically share information, resources, and more. And more than 30 nations have reportedly agreed to this idea in theory and are in for discussing it later this year. But before countries can even prepare for what could or could not come next, they are still having to update what they know about COVID’s impact so far. For instance, on Monday, Peru released a new report determining that the country’s death toll was almost 3x its official count, which would mean that the country had the highest death rate per capita in the entire world. Yeah, so given that we were talking recently about a likely global undercount, Peru may not be the last country that finds this out, unfortunately.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I think that the United States should probably brace for that reality. But the World Health Organization also suggested new names for variants that are circling across the globe. What’s the back story there?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, they are basically trying to not have confusion over the really long and difficult science-y names, but also not lean into just calling them by the name of countries where they were first found. So instead, we are getting Greek letters for each.


Akilah Hughes: No. Why? Why did, they didn’t ask me, but I think that’s a bad idea. [laughs] I don’t think everyone knows the Greek alphabet. And I also think that this just could be more confusing.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we submitted our proposal to the assembly. They clearly did not get it in time. But on that note, B117, the one that was first identified in the U.K., is going to be Alpha, and so on and so on from there. And then those scientific names are going to remain, I guess, for the scientists. But the WHO is basically cautious here about fueling stigma against these specific countries where some of the known variants were found. And speaking of, on Saturday, Vietnam’s health ministry said they found a very transmissible variant that combined strains first detected in the UK, aka Alpha, and India, aka delta—hooh—not much else is known about it just yet. But there is some belief that it is leading to the rise in cases they’re seeing. And now Vietnam, which was massively successful at stemming COVID at first, is implementing a two-week lockdown of Ho Chi Minh City and planning to test all the residents there.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and then finally, there are some developments in the vaccine front, both in the U.S. and abroad.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I’m fully expecting the remainder of the US that hasn’t been vaccinated is going to be entered into some kind of lottery now. Going forward, they’re all going to be millionaires. Congrats on the future winnings to all. But in all seriousness, a couple of things here. Maderna has applied for full FDA approval for its vaccine, joining Pfizer in that, which could, among other things, make it easier for places to mandate vaccinations. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health has started trials for booster shots, and specifically testing the effectiveness of maybe mixing and matching vaccines with a third shot.


Akilah Hughes: No.


Gideon Resnick: We’ll see?


Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Maybe for other people. Not for me.


Gideon Resnick: We will definitely see. Then outside the US, something to keep a close eye on is where in the world our surplus vaccines are going to go. So the deadline that the Biden administration had set for sharing millions of doses was the end of this month. Meanwhile, the ultimate fate of waiving vaccine patents is still up in the air. But then, even without those US vaccines for now, the WHO authorized a vaccine made by the Chinese company Sinovac for emergency use, and that can hopefully assist in the overall global efforts. So that is some of the recent pandemic news, which we will get back to soon. But in other news, Akilah, stateside, President Biden was in Tulsa yesterday for the 100th anniversary of a massacre against black residents there. Take us through what happened.


Akilah Hughes: All right. So President Biden attended a 100th anniversary event of the racist massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood district, over the weekend, making him the first president to take part in any events designed to remember and honor the fallen.


[clip of President Biden] For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place.


Akilah Hughes: We’ve spoken about the 1921 massacre on our show multiple times, but after the civil rights protests of last summer, it seems even more important to discuss it now.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. So what was on the president’s agenda?


Akilah Hughes: OK, so he met privately with survivors, including one we heard on Capitol Hill pushing for reparations a few weeks ago: Miss Viola Fletcher, who is 107 years old. But more broadly, he used the event as a platform to announce a proposal to close the racial wealth gap in the U.S. It wasn’t especially detailed of an announcement, but here are the highlights. He would create an interagency effort to address discrimination in the housing market overall. So that could be in regards to undervaluation of Black homes being sold, disparities in lending, and unequal terms in mortgage agreements. He went on to propose more federal spending with minority businesses, and $31 billion for small business programs, as well as a $10 billion investment in support of disadvantaged communities and their infrastructure. And finally, he mentioned that Vice President Harris would be leading the charge for federal voting protection since so many states are disenfranchising voters at a record pace.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, they are like Texas, I bet, where just this past weekend, Democrats were able to thwart a GOP-led bill to restrict voting rights, at least temporarily.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, that’s exactly right. But he also called out to nameless Democratic senators who never seem invested in moving these initiatives forward. And I’ll give you a guess as to who he meant.


Gideon Resnick: Does it rhyme with Binoma and Lanson?


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I think so. [laughs]


Gideon Resnick: Ok, all right. We’ll, we’ll let the audience fill in the blanks. OK, so how was the reception to all these announcements then?


Akilah Hughes: OK, so the NAACP responded, and while they were happy about the plans to invest in the Black community broadly, they noted that student loan forgiveness would do overwhelming good for the Black community as Black students are disproportionately in that specific kind of debt. There’s also the broader discussions of reparations which Biden has avoided discussing time and time again. But Crooked producer Allison Herrera talked with Tulsa resident Anne Nelson outside of a church service last Sunday. And Nelson said reparations should be the ultimate goal—recognizing the massacre is just the first step.


[clip of Anne Nelson] I think that’s a minimum of what we need to do. It should have been done to recognize the role that the city played. But I also recognize that putting in proclamations isn’t really doing the work. And I really like to see some teeth behind it and move towards some reparations . . . and rebuilding of Greenwood.


Akilah Hughes:  Yeah, so on the one hand, yeah, but on the other hand, maybe it’s time this country gets serious about repaying the descendants of those murdered and displaced by white mobs in Tulsa. And soon after, they can get to work on the back pay for all the work the enslaved did building this nation’s economy that we all participate in today. So we’ll let you know if they ever do. But that’s the least for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about four-time Grand Slam champion and general badass, Naomi Osaka. After winning her first round match on Sunday, Osaka skipped her French Open press conference, resulting in a $15,000 fine from the tournament’s organizer. The Open also issued a joint formal warning alongside the Australian Open, the U.S. Open, and Wimbledon, threatening Osaka with expulsion and future suspension from Grand Slam tournaments if she continued to avoid the media. Osaka had posted earlier in the week about her intention to skip the mandated press briefings, citing mental health concerns. In response to the ultimatum, Naomi withdrew from the competition, releasing a statement on Monday saying she never meant to pull focus from the Paris tournament, and that she’d be taking some time to focus on her mental health. Osaka also said she hopes to work with the tournament in the future to help ensure players’ well-being is appropriately prioritized. Since Naomi’s withdrawal, she’s received support from athletes like Serena Williams and Kyrie Irving. But she’s also received criticism from athletes who say it’s just part of the job. So Giddy, what’s your take on Osaka’s stand for mental health?


Gideon Resnick: I think that she should take as much time as she wants or needs. We don’t know the full extent of this situation that she’s dealing with at the moment. This is like a perfect example of not assuming that you understand what somebody is going through on a day-to-day basis. And if you want to take a step back and sort of reassess things, like there should be the avenue for you to do that, and there shouldn’t be these sort of massive questions about what it means for the press conferences and all this other stuff that’s ultimately not super meaningful for either party that is involved. You can sort out what the relationship is going to be between, you know, press and athletes at a later date. But like the, the person who is there that is generating the revenue, that is the person involved in the tournaments, winning the tournaments, is the person who has a say over how they feel and what they want to do.


Akilah Hughes: So, yeah, I think that’s straight up right. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t listen to somebody who is, you know, making the sport exciting for an entirely new generation.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. How did you feel about all of this then?


Akilah Hughes: I mean, I think that she’s right and she should do what’s right. But I also think that, you know, if you watch a tennis match, you, you get the story of what’s happening there and I don’t know that we need to hear from the media, you know, to say: oh, why did you lose or why did you win? I think that that is pretty boring, honestly. But I also think that, like, it is, you know, it’s not everyone’s skill set. And I think that she was really forthright about the fact that she’s not a public speaker. And I, I’ve thought about this a lot and a lot of different avenues like a lot of people—let’s talk about entertainment for a second—like, you know, in entertainment, some people are great TV writers, but then they also are charged with pitching their projects. And that’s a different skill set. Like being able to sell your idea is not the same thing as having a good idea, just like being a great athlete is not the same thing as talking about being a great athlete to the press. And so I think that, you know, we expect a lot from these athletes because they get a lot of money, but they also, they’re earning that money by bringing in fans. And I don’t think that we are owed, you know, some long discourse after the game that, you know, typically we’re not really tuning in for anyway or reading anyway. We’re just there to see the game.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And the other thing, too, is she is a perfect example of a person who has broken down the walls where she is so forthright in sharing what she’s going through, that that’s a more direct answer than you’re ever going to get from a question anyway.


Akilah Hughes: Amen. Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: You get, you get the direct to social post. Which again, I don’t think is incumbent upon her to share, but you have the opportunity to listen to what she has to say in that avenue as well. So it’s not like you don’t know what, like anything that’s going on. So . . .


Akilah Hughes: Totally. You know, I think that that’s spot on. And my thoughts are with you, I hope you’re doing well, Naomi. And just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe, this is why Beyoncé doesn’t do interviews, and we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


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


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Indigenous leaders in Canada are calling for a thorough investigation into residential schools after the remains of over 200 children were found on campus grounds. Geez. A short history on residential schools: from the late 1800s to 1990, Canada forced indigenous children to attend residential schools across the country as part of a plan to assimilate them. They were separated from their parents and siblings and sent away to face multitudes of abuses at the schools. The discovery of the children’s remains on the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia last Thursday brought renewed national attention to what many have been calling a cultural genocide. The country formally apologized for its residential school system in 2008, but activists point to glaring inequities in health care and education as a sign that the country needs to be doing much more to support its indigenous communities.


Akilah Hughes: On Sunday, tens of thousands of people protested across Brazil, calling for president Jair Bolsonaro’s resignation. Early in the pandemic, the right-wing president downplayed the severity of COVID, calling it a, quote “little flu” and sabotage efforts to implement social distancing and lockdowns. Bolsonaro also questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine, and was frequently seen maskless in crowds before contracting the virus himself—this all sounds eerily similar to our former president. Now facing a potential third wave of COVID, Brazil has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world, and less than 10% of its total population is currently vaccinated. As people took to the streets to express their frustration, the Brazilian Senate has opened an investigation into his handling of the pandemic.


Gideon Resnick: I’m sure the investigation will find it was just a little flu. [laughter] That’s what it’s going to be. There might be a beef shortage and it’s not because you ate that fourth hamburger at the cookout this weekend. You thought no one saw you but WAD sees all. That’s just the way that it is. The world’s largest meat producer, JBS SA was targeted in a ransomware attack last weekend, similar to the one that shut down operations at the Colonial Pipeline three weeks ago. The outages wiped out a fifth of the US’s beef production capacity, disrupting beef, pork, lamb, and poultry production globally as well. We knew Biden was going to take away our hamburgers, but a ransomware attack by a group of Russian cyber criminals? Got to give Joe points for creativity there. [laughter] Now, don’t go panic buying meat just yet. JBS’s CEO said late Tuesday that the company plans on having the vast majority of their plants back in business by today. In the meantime, though, chill out, try some tofu, maybe even eat a few vegetables. You know, I always say they can take our meats, but they can’t take our freedom.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, you’re right. That’s beautiful. Well, as vaccinations rise and COVID restrictions left, people are flocking back to the movies, the sticky dark theaters where we pay money to watch hot people kiss. Its time! So this weekend saw a box office record broken as the long-awaited sequel to Jim from The Office’s directorial debut, “A Quiet Place, Part two”—not 2 Quiet 2 Place, which I propose—grossed an impressive 48 million dollars, more than any other movie released during the pandemic. The post-apocalyptic thriller was initially set to premiere in March 2020 before its distributors decided they should probably wait until, well, post apocalypse. No judgment on any of you who went and saw A Quiet Place Part 2—not, you know, A Quiet Place, the Squeakquel [laughs]—but when I go back to see a movie on the big screen, it’s going to be about something that hits a little close to home than a high-stakes thriller about a family trying to survive the end of the world. You can catch me at the theater watching a two-hour long biopic about a sick floating down a babbling brook. I heard the sticks performance is amazing.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Oscar buzz already.


Akilah Hughes: Mm hmm. I mean, no one’s going to stop him. And those are the headlines.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, take a mental health break, and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just the Google results for beef substitutes like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And we will have our meats!


Akilah Hughes: All right. We’re going to have them. They might be overpriced by the time we get them. [laughs] But they’re happening.


Gideon Resnick: Might have to pull some strings to get beef that, you know, hasn’t been produced over the last couple of days. But we’re going to get it.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, you all laughed when I said I got a deep freezer, but who’s laughing now.


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.