Your NPR news source
coronavirus vaccine

A nurse prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, as the U.K. health authorities rolled out a national mass vaccination program.

Frank Augstein

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: Is The U.S. Slow In Approving Vaccines?

Hey there! It’s Thursday. How is it only Thursday? Here’s what you need to know today.

1. The FDA is on the verge of approving a vaccine. Should it have acted faster?

An advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration is meeting today to consider emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine from pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The vaccine will likely get a positive recommendation after FDA scientists earlier this week gave the vaccine a good review.

The meeting comes a day after the U.S. reported more than 3,100 deaths in a single day, a new record. And the U.K. earlier this week began a massive inoculation campaign with Pfizer’s vaccine.

Should the FDA have sped up it’s timetable for the Pfizer vaccine and another one from Moderna, which is slated for a hearing on Dec. 17? Some scientists argue yes because of the severity of the pandemic. But others say the agency is working as quickly as it can without cutting corners.

You can find a live-feed of the meeting in this link. [NPR]

In Illinois, deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise. State officials today reported 196 fatalities and more than 11,000 new cases. Over the last week, Illinois has seen an average of 148 deaths per day, up 32% from the average two weeks ago. [WBEZ]

In Chicago, bars and restaurants remain closed to indoor customers, but it’s a different story at the city’s airports. [Block Club Chicago]

2. U.S. jobless claims jump sharply

The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims rose last week to 947,504, up from 718,522 the previous week, the Labor Department reported today. When factoring seasonal trends from the “before times,” last week’s figure is 853,000.

The news alarmed many economists, who say the U.S. could see another surge in unemployment as more employers appear to be cutting back on hiring, further jeopardizing whatever economic recovery is left.

“It’s evident the labor market is still in crisis,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed job search website. “The gap between now and when a vaccine is widely distributed looms large. There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead for the labor market going into the new year.”

The situation is particularly bad in Illinois, which saw the second highest number of jobless applications in the nation with more than 31,000. Texas had the highest with more than 47,000. [AP]

Meanwhile, here’s a look at local pandemic relief programs that are still available, providing anything from cash payments to extended unemployment benefits to utility assistance. [Chicago Tribune]

3. Biden will campaign in Georgia for Senate candidates

We are less than a month away from Georgia’s runoff elections that will decide which party controls the Senate. Democrats say they need the Senate majority to smoothly advance President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda, but Republicans argue that would leave few checks on the incoming administration.

Biden’s transition team today announced the president-elect will head to Georgia next week to campaign for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Biden’s visit comes as some Republicans are worried that President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in Georgia will hurt Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. We’ll see what happens on Jan. 5. [Politico]

Meanwhile, more information is coming to light about the federal criminal investigation of Hunter Biden. The probe reportedly is more expansive, going beyond the younger Biden’s taxes, and could become a growing controversy for the incoming administration. [Politico]

4. Supreme Court says Muslims on no-fly list can sue FBI agents for damages

In an unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court today sided with three Muslim men who said their religious-freedom rights were violated when federal agents put them on the no-fly list as a punishment for refusing to become informants.

The Department of Homeland Security had removed the travel restrictions on the men, but they said they lost income for lost job opportunities, in addition to purchasing airlines tickets they couldn’t use. [NPR]

The nation’s high court did not take any action today on two challenges to this year’s election, including one from Texas that seeks to overturn President Trump’s losses in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“This is a press release masquerading as a lawsuit. ... What utter garbage. Dangerous garbage, but garbage,” said election law expert Richard Hasen. [NPR]

5. How a second grade class in Chicago is weathering the pandemic

A growing body of research suggests that American students are falling behind during the pandemic, raising questions about the long-term implications.

“The consequences here are not theoretical. Research tells us that if we do not act with urgency we will be in danger of losing a whole generation of students,” Latanya McDade, the chief education officer for Chicago Public Schools, said at a school board meeting this fall.

To better understand the challenges facing students and teachers, WBEZ’s Sarah Karp followed a second grade class at Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, where readers will meet Olga Contreras, a teacher who is determined to make the best of what seems like an impossible situation.

And the stakes are particularly high for second graders.

“By third grade, if children can’t do math or read well, they are more likely to drop out of high school, live in poverty and go to prison,” Karp reports. [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Rahm Emanuel appears unlikely to get a Cabinet position in the Biden administration, The Associated Press reports. [AP]
  • The Illinois House Black Caucus says it will support state Rep. Michael Madigan to remain as House speaker. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood is now majority white. [WBEZ]
  • Here’s a look at how a department store became a holiday tradition in Chicago. [WBEZ]

Oh, and one more thing …

Expect a ton of news coming out of Disney today. That’s because the House of Mouse is giving investors a sneak peek into its future plans literally as I am typing this sentence.

Disney is expected to announce an expansion of the Star Wars universe, a live-action Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks as Geppetto and a Lion King prequel, reports The New York Times.

Disney may also indicate how it will move forward with movie distribution during the pandemic. The Times reports that executives are not expected to follow “a one-size-fits-all approach” to releasing movies, an indication that Disney may not follow Warner Bros., which will release its entire 2021 lineup simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming service. [NYT]

If you can’t wait for the headlines, you can watch Disney’s four-hour investor presentation live in this link.

Tell me something good ...

What songs did you listen to this year?

Robin Andrews writes:

“ ‘Peace Like a River’ by Paul Simon has been running through my mind since the summer. So much walking, reading, and days running into nights running into weeks running into months. ‘Four in the morning, I woke up from out of my dream. Nowhere to go but back to sleep, but I’m reconciled … I’m gonna be up for awhile.’ ”

And Phil writes:

“This year I kept coming back to a Chicago band that released their third album right when the whole COVID-19 mess hit back in May 2020. Fine Forever by VARSITY. A great album to listen to. It’s strung together like a concept album. It’s great to hear a band and it’s sound grow before our very own eyes. ‘Lush’ and listenable. Last track ‘Sicko World’ is a little prophetic.”

What songs did you listen to this year? Feel free to email at therundown@wbez.org or tweet to @whuntah.

Have a nice night! If you like what you just read, you can subscribe to the newsletter here and have it delivered to your inbox.

The Latest