WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: U.S. To Pass Another Grim COVID-19 Milestone

Ambulance
Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Ambulance
Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: U.S. To Pass Another Grim COVID-19 Milestone

Good afternoon! It’s Monday, and I’m slightly worried my front yard will go from igloo to swimming pool this week. And here’s what you need to know today.

1. COVID-19 has killed nearly 500,000 in the U.S.

America is expected to soon surpass a half million COVID-19 deaths, and public health officials say the actual number is likely significantly higher.

Despite declining cases and a ramped-up vaccine push by the Biden administration, the death toll has now surpassed every American war except the Civil War.

“It’s nothing like we’ve ever been through in the last 102 years since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. “People decades from now are going to be talking about this as a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country.” [Politico]

NPR asked people who have lost a relative to COVID-19 to reflect on the magnitude of the pandemic. [NPR]

And President Joe Biden will honor those who have died from the coronavirus with a moment of silence today at the White House at 5 p.m. CT. Listen at 91.5 FM or stream at WBEZ.org.

Despite the grim milestone, hospitalizations for COVID-19 are now the lowest since a spike in November. While experts say the decline is a good sign, some warn that infections could quickly rise again if people become complacent. [New York Times]

2. Biden to change rules so small business can get pandemic relief loans — if they act fast

President Joe Biden is expected to make changes today to the main coronavirus assistance program for small businesses to try to reach smaller, minority-owned companies and sole proprietors left behind in previous rounds of aid. The short-term tweak is also intended to ensure small companies are not crowded out by larger firms.

Beginning Wednesday, the Small Business Administration will accept applications for forgivable loans only from businesses with fewer than 20 employees. But small companies must file their request within two weeks.

Known as the Paycheck Protection Program, previous efforts came under fire after many large corporations received funding ahead of smaller businesses. [Business Insider]

Some economists are predicting supercharged economic growth as businesses reopen and Americans leave their homes as the weather warms [New York Times]

Meanwhile, the House could vote on Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill by the end of the week. [NPR]

3. Attorney general nominee Merrick Garland says Capitol riot investigation will be “top priority”

Merrick Garland, nominated by President Joe Biden to lead the country’s top law enforcement agency, told a Senate committee today that he would make combating extremist violence and domestic terrorism a priority.

Garland, who former President Barack Obama unsuccessfully nominated for the Supreme Court in 2016, said his first priority would be to investigate the events of the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.

Garland assured lawmakers that the Justice Department would remain politically independent after the agency came under fire during the Trump administration. Garland inherits several controversial current inquiries, including a federal tax investigation into Biden’s son Hunter and an investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

“I have grown pretty immune to any kind of pressure, other than the pressure to do what I think is the right thing, given the facts and the law,” he said. “That is what I intend to do as the attorney general, I don’t care who pressures me in whatever direction.” [AP]

4. Supreme Court won’t step in for Trump taxes case

The Supreme Court today declined to hear a request on whether Donald Trump’s accountant must turn over the former president’s taxes to a New York state prosecutor.

While the records will not become public, the move is a blow to Trump because he has long fought to keep his taxes hidden. The former president has called the investigation a “fishing expedition.” [AP]

The case is one of two known criminal investigations into Trump. Here’s a look at the potential next steps. [New York Times]

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also announced today that it would hear a challenge to a Trump-era abortion rule. [NPR]

5. The fallout from Texas’ deadly energy shortages

A Texas family has filed a negligence lawsuit against Entergy Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of the state’s power grid. The suit claims an 11-year-old boy died of hypothermia because power went out during a severe winter storm.

Cristian Pavon died last Tuesday — when temperatures dropped to 12 degrees — after his home was without power for two days, according to a family fundraising page. The medical examiner’s office has yet to rule on cause of death.

The lawsuit is the first in what experts say could be a flood of litigation and scrutiny of the energy providers, government officials and legislators. [NPR]

At the height of the shortages, more than 4 million Texans didn’t have power — and millions remain without clean drinking water.

Meanwhile, some Texans are calling for the resignations of Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz amid allegations they were largely absent as the crisis was unfolding. [Washington Post]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Gov. JB Pritzker signed a sweeping criminal justice bill today. [WBEZ]

  • United Airlines grounded 777 jets after an engine failed over the weekend. [NPR]

  • Clinging to life, former Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis was reportedly worried Mayor Lori Lightfoot was being “underhanded” with the union. [Chicago Sun-Times]

  • Grammy-winning, helmet-wearing Daft Punk calls it quits. [Pitchfork]

Oh, and one more thing …

More than 150 years ago, 110 formerly enslaved people rode in boxcars from a small city in northern Mississippi to Elgin, Ill. — forever changing what at the time was a small pioneer town of 2,800 people.

“What’s That Building?,” a weekly segment on WBEZ’s Reset, explains how the arrivals went on to found an area of Elgin that later became known as The Settlement, one of the first communities in Illinois for- and by- Black people.

The neighborhood, which grew to an estimated 245 families by 1880, continued to shape Elgin decades after. [WBEZ]

Tell me something good …

After months and months of streaming TV shows and movies, I’m trying to read more. Which has me thinking, what book have you recently read and loved? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

One of my recent favorites is Mary Higgins Clark’s first novel Where are the Children? I’ve been a fan of the Queen of Suspense’s books for years, but her first one is a standout.

What should I read next? Feel free to tweet or email me your responses, and they might be shared here this week.

Thanks for reading and have a nice night! I’ll see you tomorrow.