In This Episode
- As the U.S. sees another rise in COVID cases, White House officials are working to give all adults access to a second vaccine booster shot. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist and host of Crooked’s “America Dissected,” tells us what we need to know about the Omicron sub-variants driving the current surge in cases.
- And in headlines: California residents can now sue gun companies when their products cause harm, Twitter officially sued Elon Musk, and this year’s Emmy nominations were announced.
- Crooked Coffee is officially here. Our first blend, What A Morning, is available in medium and dark roasts. Wake up with your own bag at crooked.com/coffee
- Washington Post: “Pandemic fueled surge in superbug infections and deaths, CDC says” – https://wapo.st/3O3hzes
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whataday/
Josie Duffy Rice: It is Wednesday, July 13th. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Abdul El-Sayed: And I’m Abdul El-Sayed, and this is What A Day, reminding you that the most exclusive club there is right now is a domestic flight going anywhere.
Josie Duffy Rice: The good news is that once you actually get in the air, you will get COVID. So, first, you can’t get on a plane, and then you will get sick, but eventually you will get to your destination, like a week from now. First off, Dr. Abdul, as an epidemiologist and host of America Dissected, it is great to have you with us the rest of this week.
Abdul El-Sayed: It is an honor and a privilege to be here. But again, in keeping with tradition, it only seems to happen when people are getting sick.
Josie Duffy Rice: We will one day have you on after we have conquered sickness forever.
Abdul El-Sayed: I mean, it’s going to be because I’ve done it so, yeah, of course.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Good point. As for today’s show, we’ll recap what to know from yesterday’s January 6th hearing. Plus, California and new gun control laws, one of which allows private citizens to sue gun makers.
Abdul El-Sayed: But first, since I’m here, you know we had to talk about COVID, and we hate to say it, it’s making a comeback. And in response, White House officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday they’re working to let all adults get access to a second vaccine booster shot.
[clip of Dr. Fauci] The threat to you is now if you are not vaccinated to the fullest, namely, you have not gotten your boosters according to what the recommendation are, then you’re putting yourself at an increased risk that you could mitigate against by getting vaccinated.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right now, only the immunocompromised and adults 50 and over can get a second booster. But what about infection rates and hospital rates right now have got officials working with the FDA and the CDC to let more people get shots?
Abdul El-Sayed: Well, the problem here, Josie, is that cases and hospitalizations are up again. Cases are up about 8% over the past two weeks and hospitalizations are up by about 15%. And that’s being driven by an Omicron sub-variant called BA.5, which accounts for 70% of all cases in the U.S. right now. It is by far the most transmissible and most immune-evasive variant yet, and it’s the combination of those two things–its ability to evade our immune response and its ability to just spread between us–that’s got public health officials super worried. BA.5 and its close cousin BA.4, they’ve already counted for major spikes across the world–South Africa and Europe. And as they spread here, officials want people to be prepared. And we know that immunity wanes after about three months post-infection and vaccination, and BA.5 with its unique ability to transmit between us and its ability to evade our immune response, it’s taking advantage of that waning immunity. So officials want to open up more opportunities to update immunity, and of course, the best way to do that is through vaccinations.
Josie Duffy Rice: Okay. So does that mean that these Omicron sub-variants spreading around out there, BA.4 and BA.5, are more dangerous and deadly, and that’s why we should take it seriously? Or is it more about being infectious and easier to spread?
Abdul El-Sayed: Well, when we think about this virus, we think about dangerous in a couple of different ways–infectious, easier to spread, easier to evade our immune response, those are two parts of being dangerous. And the reason those things are dangerous is that even if they’re not more severe, even if the virus doesn’t cause more severe illness, it still means that it can plug up hospitals by making more people sick and sending more of them to the hospital, which, of course, is a really, really bad outcome. It’s not just the people who get sick and potentially be hospitalized and die, it’s also all those folks who can’t get health care because those hospitals are full. And so, yes, it is very dangerous, even if the jury’s still out about whether or not this variant causes more severe illness on its own.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it’s also terrifying, as is all of this. Okay. So late last week, New York City officials suggested people wear masks indoors again. Several national parks like Yellowstone took it a step further by reinstituting an indoor mask mandate. But if this is where we’re at in the middle of the summer, what does this mean for the fall? Because I don’t feel great about it.
Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, neither do I. And neither do most public health officials. And the point that you’re making is a really good one. We know that COVID is a seasonal disease, and we’ve had spikes every single fall since the pandemic started. And we also know that this virus is evolving extremely quickly. Remember, just a few months ago, we were dealing with BA.2 and its cousin BA.2.12.1—which I don’t know why we call it that–so we don’t know what variant we’ll be dealing with this fall. So the big question right now that worries a lot of public health officials is, what would it mean to get to the fall with cases as high as they already are? And that’s exactly what we’re trying to respond to. Remember, the fall officially starts in about six weeks and the middle of the fall is about three months from now, so given the fact that the virus can evolve as fast as it has, we don’t even know what we will be dealing with at that point.
Josie Duffy Rice: I’m reacting to so much right now, including that fall is around the corner. I don’t like it. Okay. So here’s a question for you, what is your advice to people with COVID burnout? Because I have a little bit of a burnout. I know anybody who’s like, this is great, let’s keep it up for another two years. You know? And it’s clear that people are, like not taking this as seriously as they did a year ago, two years ago. And The New York Times just had a story about how New Yorkers themselves are greeting this latest wave with a shrug. In Georgia, I can confirm that people are not taking COVID very seriously. So what do you say to people who are just like, I’m done, I’m done.
Abdul El-Sayed: Look, I get it and I’m tired of this, but we’ve always known that we don’t get to dictate when this pandemic ends. That’s a matter for the virus, in effect, to decide. The good news here, though, is that we’re not in 2020 anymore. We have safe and effective vaccines. We have treatments that prevent 90% of hospitalizations. And we know everything that we need to do to protect ourselves from this virus–I mean, remember the bad old days when we used to be wiping down bananas as soon as they’d come home from the grocery store? I think the thing that I want folks to appreciate is that we’ve just got to roll with the evolutions. When cases start to jump, we do the things we need to do to protect ourselves, and we listen to public health officials when they’re recommending that we take it seriously. And when cases and then we can adopt. And pandemics do end. Every single one in history has ended. The question is, ultimately, when. And, you know, there will come a time when this disease is not causing waves of illness, it’s not threatening our health care system, and so up until then, let’s do what we can to keep ourselves safe and healthy and to protect our health care system, and hopefully look forward to a point when we no longer have to come on What A Day to explain what’s happening with COVID.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, I would personally love that on every level. I know we all would. But I do have a question. You said that pandemics do end, and the first thing I thought of was the flu, which we still have and started as a pandemic. So what do we mean when we say this pandemic will end? Like what happens after that?
Abdul El-Sayed: So the virus isn’t going to magically disappear. That’s not what viruses do. What tends to happen, though, is that we build up enough immunity and the virus runs out of space to keep evolving fast enough such that our immunity overtakes the evolution of the virus, and we get to the point where ultimately it just can’t spread as fast. So we’ll still have SARS-CoV-2 spreading among us, but it just won’t be spreading as fast, it won’t be causing as serious of illness. It’ll probably be somewhat seasonal, kind of like the flu, something you got to think about, worry about. We probably will have vaccines that we update to be able to deal with this season’s COVID, but it won’t be the kind of thing that dominates headlines that dominate our thinking that we all have to engage around because it’s threatening our health care system.
Josie Duffy Rice: Got it. Okay. That’s good clarity. So one final thing related to the pandemic. The CDC released a new study yesterday saying that COVID led to a surge in other infections, specifically so-called superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. I can say personally, this is the worst sentence I’ve ever heard and possibly my worst nightmare–bacterial infection just doesn’t sound good. So we’ll link to that study in our show notes, but what are some of the takeaways of what happened there, and how concerned should we be?
Abdul El-Sayed: Well, Josie, I want to start with just a quick primer on antibiotic resistance, how it works. Imagine you have a thousand bacteria and you treat them with an antibiotic that kills 999 of them, but one of them survives and because you’re no longer feeling ill, you stop taking your antibiotic and that one bacterium then starts to replicate again. But you’ve just selected for the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and so now you’ve cultured a more antibiotic-resistant breed of that bacterium. That is what, in effect, superbugs are. And that happens unfortunately often out in the community when people don’t take their full course of antibiotics or take antibiotics they don’t need, but it happens often in hospitals, in situations where people are much more exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria simply because it’s a health care setting. Now, you think about COVID, it was the perfect storm. You had huge numbers of extremely sick people who required things like catheters to be placed and pick lines to be placed and intubation for their care, which introduces the ability for these bacteria to get into the body. And then early on in the pandemic, doctors didn’t really know what they’re dealing with, so they ended up pumping a lot of patients full of antibiotics that did exactly what I just described. And then this was a scenario where hospitals were full, so a lot of the care that’s taken not to spread these bacteria fell by the wayside. And what’s even worse is that there wasn’t enough PPE to protect doctors from being carriers of these kinds of superbugs between patients. And so that perfect storm scenario set up this situation where you’re seeing a surge of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria across health care settings, and that is a really dangerous situation because, well, we know that the pharmaceutical industry is motivated by one thing and that’s the bottom line. And that tends not to incentivize them to invest in research and development for antibiotics, so we’re losing this arms race. So that really is concerning. But the things that people can do to protect themselves, obviously, if you don’t have a bacterial illness, don’t take an antibiotic. If you do take an antibiotic, take the whole course, even if you’re feeling better. And then we really need to incentivize pharmaceutical companies to start researching and developing new antibiotics to deal with these antibiotic-resistant bugs. It’s not something that most of us are going to have to worry about, but it is a threat and is a concern. And, you know, it really does show us just how complex and interlocking our health care system really is.
Josie Duffy Rice: Oh, boy. Okay. Part of that was relieving, some of it was the plot of a horror movie that I’m sure will come out any day now. But thank you so much, as always, for giving us a great sane advice on COVID. Everyone, make sure to subscribe to Dr. Abdul’s own pod, America Dissected, for everything about health and more. Also, be sure to check out Dr. Abdul’s new YouTube channel. “More Context, Less Conflict”–I think we can all agree we would like to see both of those things. We’ll also link to that in our show notes. And that is the latest for now. Let’s get to some headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: So we’ll start with what you need to know from yesterday’s January 6th House Committee hearing. It connected the dots between former President Donald Trump and far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers–also terrifying, lots of terrifying news so far in this episode. The committee focused on how Trump used the militants to try to pressure Congress to overturn the 2020 election. Committee member Stephanie Murphy brought up Trump’s tweets telling his supporters to protest in DC on January 6th. She called those tweets a quote “call to action.” And the Committee argued that this was all planned in advance. Former Oath Keepers spokesperson Jason Van Tatenhove testified during the hearing and said this:
[clip of Jason Van Tatenhove] What it was going to be was an armed revolution. I mean, people died that day. Law enforcement officers died this day. There was a gallows set up in front of the Capitol. This could have been the spark that started a new civil war.
Josie Duffy Rice: The committee also teased another hearing next week that will focus on what Trump did on the actual day of the attack.
Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, I feel like Donald Trump is just an antibiotic-resistant bacterium.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s a great frame. That’s exactly what he is.
Abdul El-Sayed: A federal judge blocked an Arizona law on Monday that recognizes a fetus as a person with legal rights. The law was passed last year, and says that fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses in Arizona are entitled to the same, quote, “rights, privileges and immunities” available to other persons, from the moment of fertilization. Abortion providers in the state praised Monday’s ruling. And speaking of wins for reproductive rights, a Louisiana judge blocked the state’s abortion ban again yesterday, restoring access to the procedure there, at least for now. Can you imagine a zygote with, like, a passport?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. It’s just ridiculous. More rights than women, apparently, and pregnant people. California residents now have the power to sue gun companies where their products cause harm, according to a new bill Governor Gavin Newsom signed on Tuesday. Here’s Newsom on what that might look like in practice.
[clip of Gov. Gavin Newsom] If you’ve been hurt or a family member is a victim of gun violence, you can now go to court and hold the makers of these deadly weapons accountable.
Josie Duffy Rice: Newsom said he also plans to sign another bill that would let people sue gun makers and distributors that violate the state’s ban on certain firearms.
Abdul El-Sayed: In other lawsuit news, Twitter put its lawyer where its mouth is yesterday, and officially sued Elon Musk to force him to go through with this $44 billion deal to buy the company. Twitter asked the Delaware Court for an expedited trial in September because the closing date between Musk and the social media platform is in late October. The legal filing includes several ill-advised tweets from Musk, some of which allegedly violated the merger’s non-disparagement clause. For example, there’s a poop emoji he tweeted in response to Twitter’s CEO back in May. Apparently, something that the CEO said made him want to go to the bathroom.
Josie Duffy Rice: Honestly, that’s the funniest thing he’s ever done, at least intentionally so. Elon Musk, I give you one funny point.
Abdul El-Sayed: One smiley poop emoji.
Josie Duffy Rice: Emmy nominations came out yesterday and they can be summarized in two words: Succession sweep. The HBO hit series dominated this year with 25 nominations, the most of any show, while Ted Lasso and White Lotus followed close behind with 20 nominations each. Gen Z’s favorite show, Euphoria, also had a strong presence, most notably in the best choreography category for a delightfully male on male dance number set to Bonnie Tyler’s holding out for a hero–I personally didn’t know Bonnie Tyler had any other song other than Total Eclipse of the Heart, so we’re all learning a lot today. Among the lead actress nominees, Quinta Brunson became the first Black woman to receive three comedy nominations in one year, hers are for starring in and writing Abbott Elementary–an amazing show, truly, check it out if you haven’t. Finally, in the category of outstanding drama, Squid Game made history as the first non-English series to be nominated for the award. Other heavy hitters that made the list include Severance, Stranger Things, and Yellowjackets. They will go up against Succession for the title in September.
Abdul El-Sayed: I want a recast of Succession where Ted Lasso is Logan’s favorite son.
Josie Duffy Rice: That defies all laws of the universe.
Abdul El-Sayed: The pictures you’ve been seeing that appear to be from the world’s most exquisite lava lamp are actually from the James Webb telescope. NASA’s $10 billion successor to the Hubble telescope produced its very first pictures this week. And to use the proper scientific terms, they are very trippy and cool. The Webb telescope orbits at a distance about 1 million miles from Earth, and its large light collecting mirrors allow it to observe objects at a greater distance than any previous telescope. To put some numbers to it, the first image released on Monday included light that is around 13 billion light years away, meaning it existed 13 billion years ago. Yesterday, a set of images included a gorgeous shot of the Carina Nebula. It’s called a stellar nursery because it’s a place where stars are born–as is this podcast–and it’s about 7,500 light years away.
Josie Duffy Rice: Okay. At some point we need to have a whole WAD episode about light years because what?! I don’t understand how the light existed 13 billion years ago, and yet it’s on this camera. But don’t explain to me right now.
Abdul El-Sayed: I was going to say, I’m not about to be the dude who mansplains this, so . . . [laughs] moving on.
Josie Duffy Rice: Okay, don’t mansplain it to me right now. Mansplain it on another day when there’s absolutely no news. After we’ve gotten through COVID and Trump, January 6th, voting rights, mass incarceration, we will talk about light years. Okay? Deal? And those are the headlines. We will be back after some ads with some uniquely bad sound from former national security adviser John Bolton.
Josie Duffy Rice: It is Wednesday WAD squad and today we’re doing a segment called Bad Sound. Take a listen to today’s clip:
[clip of Jake Tapper] I don’t know that I agree with you, to be fair. With all due respect, one doesn’t have to be brilliant to attempt a coup.
[clip of John Bolton] I disagree with that. As somebody who has helped plan coup d’etat–not here, but, you know, other places–it takes a lot of work. And that’s not what he did. It was just stumbling around from one idea to another. Ultimately, he did unleash the rioters at the Capitol. As to that, there’s no doubt.
Josie Duffy Rice: I love the part where’s he’s like, “not here, just other countries.”
Abdul El-Sayed: This has the energy of like a fifth grader bragging about something his dad did.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Abdul El-Sayed: “Not here, but in other countries.”
Josie Duffy Rice: Oh, man. And also the French pronunciation–just wonderful. So that was Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, discussing coup logistics with Jake Tapper yesterday. Bolton has had a long career and worked in the last four Republican administrations, so he could be talking about any number of different [unclear] about coup here, but a couple likely candidates are the coup in Venezuela and Bolivia that Bolton may have helped foment under Trump. So many questions. So, Abdul, what’s your take here?
Abdul El-Sayed: I mean, imagine being this brazen about other people’s democracies. I mean, it tracks that the GOP is responsible for this insurrection, and, you know, I hate to say it, but, like, what goes around comes around. When you take that energy out in other parts of the world, you know, at some point it’s going to be unleashed here, too.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. I mean, I think that if you’ve lived your life where you say that on television, then people don’t even know which one you’re talking about, that’s not a great sign for what you’ve done for humanity.
Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, also, can you imagine if that dude look like me, and instead of saying it that way, it’s like, [in accent] I have organized the many coup d’état in all parts of the world.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Abdul El-Sayed: Not here, but in other places.
Josie Duffy Rice: Totally.
Abdul El-Sayed: Imagine what would have gone down then
Josie Duffy Rice: Totally. I’d love to see Laura Ingraham’s like reaction to him and reaction to using the same thing. Very different vibes.
Abdul El-Sayed: I also don’t have that kind of stash.
Josie Duffy Rice: They talk about the rising crime rate and dangerous people and homeless people, like with a straight face, and then they just admit stuff like that. It’s just really shocking. All right. That was Bad Sound.
Abdul El-Sayed: That was a really bad sound.
Josie Duffy Rice: One more thing before we go: this week on Pod Save the People, DeRay, De’Ara, Myles, and Kaya cover the underreported news of the week, including Biden’s executive order on abortion, Beyoncé’s new abuser vetting system, the discovery of a 1955 arrest warrant from the Emmett Till case, and the Raiders’ historic hire of the NFL’s first Black female president. Listen to new episodes of Pod Save the People each Tuesday wherever you get your podcasts. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, never underestimate how hard it is to plan a coup, and tell your friends to listen.
Abdul El-Sayed: And if you are into reading, and not just the lyrics to Holding Out for a Hero as you write choreography, like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Abdul El-Sayed.
Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
[together] And keep the beauty shots coming, James Webb.
Abdul El-Sayed: I feel like if we saw more pictures of stars, the world would be a better place. I’m glad that we’re doing this telescope.
Josie Duffy Rice: That’s very hopeful of you.
Abdul El-Sayed: We have to have some kind of hope.
Josie Duffy Rice: We do. We do. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producer is Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.