WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: Biden’s Plan For Vaccines, Testing And PPE

President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. Alex Brandon / AP Photo
President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. Alex Brandon / AP Photo

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: Biden’s Plan For Vaccines, Testing And PPE

Hey there! It’s Thursday, and I can’t stop looking at this. Is it a jacket? Sweater? Can you hold up your arms? Will birds fly into you? 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. Biden unveils new national strategy for the pandemic

President Joe Biden signed several orders and directives today aimed at presenting a coordinated federal response to the pandemic, something Democrats sought under the Trump administration, which largely punted to state-controlled approaches.

Biden ordered agencies to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up supplies of vaccines, N95 masks, gowns, gloves, therapeutic drugs and other supplies. Biden is also expected to direct FEMA to fully reimburse states for vaccination and testing supplies, which will be good news for Illinois and other states struggling with budget shortfalls from the pandemic.

Other changes include requiring face masks at airports and on buses, offering more guidance on school reopenings and mandating more public information on cases and vaccinations. [NPR]

Meanwhile, some Biden advisers say they were shocked that the Trump administration had no vaccination plan to hand over, reports CNN and The New York Times.

“There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” a source told CNN. [CNN]

2. Pelosi could soon send article of impeachment to the Senate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today wouldn’t give a timeline for when she plans to send the article of impeachment to the Senate, but CNN and other news organizations are reporting the handoff could take place as soon as tomorrow, citing anonymous sources familiar with the plan.

One wrinkle in the plan was the fact that former President Donald Trump didn’t have a lawyer until very recently. And lawmakers are also still discussing how to balance the Senate’s time between a trial and handling President Biden’s agenda, such as the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. [CNN]

In addition to the uncertainty about the timing of the trial, it’s still unclear if 16 Republicans will join Democrats to convict Trump. Some Senate Republicans have warned Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that his political capital will dry up if he supports a conviction. [CNN]

3. The U.S. economy continues to shed jobs in record numbers

Another 900,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims last week, according to figures released today by the Labor Department. Another 423,000 claims were filed for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency program to help gig and self-employed workers.

Some economists expect the number of unemployment claims to increase as more people file for extended benefits that Congress approved last month. Economists across the ideological spectrum have urged federal lawmakers to approve more aid, and President Biden is pushing Congress to approve a $1.9 trillion package that includes another round of stimulus payments. [NPR]

Meanwhile, more than 169,500 businesses were started in Illinois last year despite the pandemic, reports WBEZ’s Mike Puente.

“Entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. are starting new businesses at the fastest rate in more than a decade,” said Kristi Dula, head of the Illinois Office of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology. [WBEZ]

4. Chicago teachers are voting on whether to remain home starting on Monday

Public school teachers have until Saturday to vote on a plan that would see all members of the Chicago Teachers Union refuse to show up at schools starting on Monday. The union is not calling the plan a strike because teachers could still continue to work remotely.

But Chicago Public Schools disagrees and warned teachers and staff members in a letter today that the action would amount to an “illegal strike.”

“This vote would cancel in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who asked to return — and the thousands of pre-K and cluster students who are already learning safely in classrooms,” wrote CPS human resources chief Matt Lyons.

As the Chicago Sun-Times points out: “It remains to be seen if CPS officials would lock out all teachers from remote work and withhold their pay. … A lockout would have the same effect as a strike — it would be impossible for classes to continue regardless of the venue.” [Sun-Times]

5. Illinois cities flout state laws on affordable housing without facing consequences

A state law requires cities with at least 1,000 residents and with less than 10% affordable housing to submit housing plans to the state. But many cities and towns, like Wilmette and Naperville, are ignoring the law without any penalties, reports WBEZ’s Natalie Moore.

“Those communities historically have been very resistant to developing affordable housing. A lot of that resistance is very clearly tied to issues of racial discrimination and concerns about what integration might mean for their communities,” said Bob Palmer, policy director for the nonprofit Housing Action Illinois.

State Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, has introduced legislation that would withhold state funds to areas that don’t submit an affordable housing plan. She also wants to give property tax reductions to developers who include 20% affordable housing. [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Several researchers say the current COVID-19 surge has peaked, but more are possible as new variants emerge. [NPR]
  • Chicago-area residents who are 65 and over could soon get alerts to make appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations. [Chicago Tribune]
  • Museums and other cultural centers in Chicago are beginning to reopen. [WBEZ]
  • A bust of activist Cesar Chavez is one of the many changes Biden has made to the Oval Office. [CBS News]

Oh, and one more thing …

I didn’t sleep well last night because, like clockwork, the existential terror of life hit me. Just kidding. My dog kicked me in the face.

But speaking of which, a 75-year-old businessman is offering $1 million for the evidence of “the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death,” reports The New York Times.

Robert Thomas Bigelow, a Las Vegas real estate developer and aerospace entrepreneur, created the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to study death after his wife of 55 years died from bone marrow disease and leukemia.

Bigelow is somewhat known for his peculiar interests. As the Times reports, he secretly worked with the Pentagon to investigate UFOs. But Bigelow says solving the mysteries of death is a priority for him.

“It may matter what you do while you’re here,” he said. “It could make a difference on the other side.” [NYT]

Tell me something good …

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’d like to know who is one of your favorite Black authors.

Teri sent me this message yesterday:

“Until today, I would have had to choose among a number of people. But this morning, Amanda Gorman, our first National Youth Poet Laureate, became my favorite. What a poem. Inauguration highlight.”

And Naomi writes:

“One of my favorite Black authors is Jason Reynolds. He writes books young people (and the adult school librarians in their lives) really want to read. I highly recommend Ghost, Long Way Down and Look Both Ways, among many others. His books are sad, funny, heartfelt, exciting and, most of all, full of authentic voices.

“Reynolds writes from a Black default — his characters are Black whether or not he mentions it — just like most literature has a white default. Why don’t white characters need to be described as such when all characters of color must be? Because I’ve always assumed the white default. This idea challenged me tremendously to examine my assumptions about the literature I read and have read all my life. I share Reynolds’ books with my middle school students every chance I get.”

Feel free to email me at therundown@wbez.org or tweet me at @whuntah.

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