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This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe.


WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: Can The U.S. Stay Ahead Of Virus Variants?

Good afternoon! It’s Tuesday, and when (if?) I go back to work at the newsroom, I’m going to show up in a Dr. Strange costume, not acknowledge it and see how people act. Here’s what you need to know today.

(By the way, if you’d like this emailed to your inbox, you can sign up here.)

1. Coronavirus variant could be more resistant to vaccines, according to new study

A highly contagious variant discovered in Britain has mutated and may be more resistant to vaccines, according to a report from Public Health England.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is estimated to be between 25% and 40% more transmissible and could be 30% more lethal, scientists say. It was discovered in December and has since become the more common strain in the U.K.

In Public Health England’s study, scientists examined more than 200,000 samples and found almost a dozen B.1.1.7 variants with a new mutation that allows the coronavirus to cling more tightly to cells.

Some scientists say 11 variants out of 200,000 suggests the mutation is rare, and more tests need to be conducted to say for sure whether the mutation can evade vaccines. But Moderna and other drugmakers say they are already working on vaccines that work against B.1.1.7’s mutation. [New York Times]

Some scientists warn B.1.1.7 could become the dominant strain in the U.S. Chicago officials last month announced the city’s first case of the variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said people who survived COVID-19 could be reinfected if new variants are not contained.

But there is some good news: Early evidence so far suggests that current vaccines are effective in preventing severe symptoms in patients diagnosed with the variants. [CNN]

Meanwhile in Illinois, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to drop. State officials today announced they are lifting some restrictions in suburban Cook County. [Chicago Tribune]

And Chicago residents can now book an appointment for a vaccine through a national website. [WBEZ]

2. Democrats press forward with Biden’s stimulus plan

Senate Democrats today took the first steps in a process that could allow them to approve President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package with a simple majority. Democrats hold a razor thin majority in the Senate, and their push forward with Biden’s plan suggests they may have enough votes without Republicans.

“The sentiment is positive,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told Politico. “We don’t ask for an oath in writing but we’re proceeding with a positive feeling.” [Politico]

Senate Democrats want to use a process known as budget reconciliation to avoid a filibuster, which would require 60 votes to end. NPR has this very good guide about budget reconciliation, how it works and when it can be used. Spoiler: It involves something known as vote-arama. [NPR]

3. Biden begins rolling back Trump’s immigration policies

President Biden is expected to sign three executive orders aimed at reversing some of the Trump administration’s hardline, “zero tolerance” policies over immigration.

One order seeks to reunite children who were separated from their parents at the Mexico border. That order will establish a task force charged with finding several hundred families that remain separated. The details of how that process will work still needs to be determined.

Biden will also order reviews of Trump-era policies that limited asylum and slowed down the legal immigration system. [NPR]

4. Trump is “singularly responsible” for Capitol riot, impeachment managers say

The House impeachment managers today delivered an 80-page memo to the Senate that spells out their case against former President Donald Trump. They argue the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is a result of Trump whipping his supporters into a “frenzy” as he tried overthrowing the election by spreading false allegations of widespread voting fraud.

Trump’s legal team today filed a brief, saying the former president did not incite the mob to attack the Capitol. They also argue the article of impeachment is unconstitutional because Trump no longer holds office.

The Senate is scheduled to begin its trial next week, and a majority of Republican senators have already signaled they intend to acquit Trump. [NPR]

Meanwhile, Trump’s poor handling of the pandemic cost him the election, according to a report from one of his campaign pollsters, which adds that his greatest loss of support came from white male voters. [Politico]

5. Chicago delays school reopenings until Thursday

Mayor Lori Lightfoot backed away from her threat to lock out teachers from their virtual classrooms if they didn’t show up in-person at schools this week, a move that would have triggered the second teachers striking during the mayor’s first term in office.

That means remote-only learning will continue until at least Thursday as Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union continue to negotiate. Among the issues that still need to be ironed out is determining when schools would revert back to remote-learning. The union wants the decision to be tied to the city’s overall positivity rate. CPS, however, proposed using a school district positivity rate. [WBEZ]

As the two sides meet at the negotiating table, questions are being raised about how remote-learning affects the mental health of students. After the pandemic hit the U.S. last year, doctors saw a 31% increase in mental health visits from kids between the ages of 12 and 17. [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Here’s what we know so far about the raid in Sunrise, Florida, that resulted in the deaths of two FBI agents. [NPR]
  • Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is reportedly being considered for an ambassadorship. [NBC News]
  • Chicago’s St. Patrick Day parades will be canceled for the second year in a row, an alderman says. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Dolly Parton says she twice declined a Presidential Medal of Freedom from the Trump administration. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, likened environmentalists to comic book villains, like Marvel’s Thanos, the purple dude who killed millions of people.

“Have you noticed in how many movies how often rabid environmentalists are the bad guys?” Cruz said on Verdict With Ted Cruz. “Whether it’s Thanos or go to Watchmen. The view of the Left is people are a disease.”

As Esquire points out: “So, in Cruz’s view of Avengers: Endgame, Thanos is supposed to represent the absurdity of the modern environmentalist. And the heroes—Cap, Iron Man, and their buddies—are tasked with defeating that lib snowflake Thanos, who is just like every environmentalist nowadays, wanting to wipe out humanity.” [Esquire]

Tell me something good ...

If you could date any fictional character, who would it be?

Tracy writes:

“Call me crazy, but Flat Stanley seems like a very low maintenance but worldly guy. Maybe I’m just attracted to his ability to travel.”

Ani writes:

“I would want to date Robin Hood. I find the idea of stealing from the rich to give to the poor very appealing.”

And Renee writes:

“It would have to be Mighty Mouse, because really, he’s the only mouse in history can both talk and fly, and at the same time. It would be a chance to ask him how he’d do in a fight with Superman.”

Which fictional character would you date? Feel free to email me at or tweet me at @whuntah.

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