The Rundown: Biden’s winter plan for COVID-19

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 variant named omicron during a visit to the National Institutes of Health, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in Bethesda, Md. Evan Vucci / AP Photo
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 variant named omicron during a visit to the National Institutes of Health, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in Bethesda, Md. Evan Vucci / AP Photo

The Rundown: Biden’s winter plan for COVID-19

Hey there! It’s Thursday, and I can’t stop thinking about how no one knows how to pronounce omicron. (NPR is pronouncing it OH-ma-cron.) Here’s what you need to know today.

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1. Biden announces a new COVID-19 strategy as the omicron variant emerges in a second state

Insurers will have to reimburse costs from at-home COVID-19 tests and international travelers will face stricter rules, President Joe Biden announced today as he outlined his plan for getting the nation through another pandemic winter.

The strategy also includes efforts to increase vaccination rates and make booster shots more accessible. The Biden administration hopes to accomplish this partly through mobile clinics for families. [Washington Post]

The new measures come as officials in Minnesota reported the second known U.S. case of the still-mysterious omicron variant. The patient, a man who recently traveled to New York City and attended an anime convention, was fully vaccinated, had mild symptoms and has since recovered, officials say.

A third case was also reported today. Officials said a woman in Colorado had minor symptoms and was isolating. [NPR]

Across the world, leaders are imposing new rounds of restrictions to curb the coronavirus’s spread as scientists race to gather more information about omicron. In Germany, the unvaccinated will be barred from shopping at nonessential businesses, and lawmakers are considering a general vaccine mandate. [AP]

2. Democrats seek to make abortion rights a key issue in the midterm elections

The uncertain future of abortion rights in the U.S. could have an impact on next year’s critical midterm elections that will decide whether Democrats or Republicans control Congress.

Democrats are jumping on the issue after yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing threw doubt over Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to the procedure.

But Republicans argue voters are more concerned about inflation and other problems facing the Biden administration.

This line from The Washington Post really hits at the core of the issue moving forward: “Would Wednesday’s bombshell Supreme Court argument, where the conservative majority suggested it was prepared to sharply cut abortion rights, energize liberals after decades when the issue has been a more powerful motivator for the right?” [WaPo]

3. Student test scores in Chicago plunged last spring, highlighting the pandemic’s impact on schools

State data released today shows scores dropped across all grades at Chicago’s public schools, but younger students struggled the most, reports WBEZ’s Susie An.

About 18% of third-graders at the city’s public schools met or exceeded standards in English and math this year. That’s compared to 39.4% in English and 32.9% in math in 2019. There were no exams in 2020 due the pandemic.

Education experts say the drop is not surprising given the enormous challenges students faced over the last two years.

“We need to really focus on students’ social-emotional learning needs, to get them back into schools, and get them back into participation and full engagement, authentic engagement,” said Adelric McCain, the director of equity and impact with the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago. [WBEZ]

4. What you really need to know about the fight over Chicago’s new ward maps

There’s been a lot of news this week about efforts in the City Council to redraw Chicago’s 50 wards. Part of the reason is because there was an arbitrary deadline for council members to submit a new map. Just forget that stuff for now.

Here’s the real story: Recent census data showed the city’s Latino population surpassed the Black population, which dropped. So the council’s Latino Caucus argues the community should have greater representation in the city’s legislative body.

The caucus wants no less than 15 Latino-majority wards, up from the current 13. In order to achieve that, the group is proposing to reduce the number of Black-majority wards, currently at 18. And that’s causing friction and keeping the council from reaching an agreement this week.

So the Latino Caucus today announced it is pursuing an effort to let voters decide between two competing proposals on how to divide the city up. But that doesn’t mean a vote is guaranteed. Council members can still craft their own map until 40 days before the next election, which is the Illinois primaries slated for June 28. [WBEZ]

5. The Associated Press is over 2021

The AP has this somewhat-hilarious, somewhat-serious review of the year that argues some things should stay in the past as 2022 approaches, like billionaires going into space and the popularity of hard seltzers.

The review also calls out “dystopia palooza,” a reference mainly attributed to Netflix’s Squid Game, a TV series set in a world in which people struggling financially are offered a slot in a deadly series of games for a chance to win a whole lot of money.

“Would we not benefit from an equally heavy dose of stories that focus on solutions and, dare we say it, inspiration? We’re talking about that middle ground between zombies and The Great British Baking Show.”

I mean, can’t several things be popular at the same time? [AP]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Authorities are considering charges against the parents of a teenager accused of killing four students and wounding seven others at a high school in Michigan this week. [NPR]
  • Major League Baseball owners locked out players after negotiations failed to reach a new work agreement, throwing a curveball at spring training. [NPR]
  • The Obamas will be in Chicago today and tomorrow. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the longest-running live-action sitcom in U.S. TV history. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

The U.S. has a shortage of anti-hackers, and the news makes me think of the 1995 movie Hackers, starring a young Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller.

OK first the news: The U.S. is estimated to have nearly 600,000 vacant cybersecurity positions in both the private and public sectors, and the Biden administration is pushing to fill those jobs as the country routinely gets targeted by ransomware attacks. [Axios]

OK back to Hackers: What is not to love about this movie? It begins with a kid who hacks into a bunch of computers and causes the New York Stock Exchange to drop. And then a judge bans the kid from touching any computer or “touch-tone telephone” until he’s 18. I would have looooved to report on that trial.

The kid grows up and meets other hackers in New York City with names like “Acid Burn,” and the film has a hilariously dated view on how the internet works. Like way worse than Sandra Bullock ordering pizza in The Net.

Tell me something good …

As the end of the year approaches, I’m seeing more and more “best of 2021” lists. So I’d like to know, what was the best movie, book, TV show, play, song, podcast or video game you enjoyed this year?

Meg writes:

“I love any series about Alaska and the people who live there under such harsh conditions. In order to eat they have to hunt. In order to stay warm they have to cut up wood that will last for the entire winter. Here are the names of the shows I have watched:

-The Alaskan Bush People

-The Alaskan Frontier ( this is where the singer Jewel comes from)

-Life Below Zero

-Yukon Men

The Edge of Alaska series just seemed so scripted that I only watched 3 episodes and stopped watching it.”

Feel free to email me at or tweet me at @whuntah, and your responses might be shared here this week.

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