On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast: Omicron variant brings more questions than answers
Health reporter Elizabeth Weise fills us in on the latest. Plus, a judge blocks federal vaccine mandates for health care workers in ten states, a federal appeals court will hear arguments about former President Donald Trump’s records, it’s Giving Tuesday and national correspondent Bill Keveney talks about supply chain issues’ impact on toy donations.
Podcasts:True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.
Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.
Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Tuesday, the 30th of November 2021. Today, a closer look at the omicron variant, plus GivingTuesday and more.
Here are some of the top headlines.
- The Federal Trade Commission says it is investigating the causes behind ongoing supply chain issues. The FTC said it’s ordering Walmart, Amazon, and other big retailers to hand over information to help study empty shelves and higher prices.
- The Taliban has killed or disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officers since retaking power in Afghanistan. That’s according to a human rights watch report out today, pointing to retaliation against the ousted government, despite a supposed amnesty.
- And Notre Dame head football coach, Brian Kelly, is on to a new job. He’s headed to LSU after becoming the winningest coach ever at Notre Dame.
Omicron. That’s the COVID-19 buzzword of the past week. The new variant has led to travel restrictions from Southern Africa, where it was first detected and a pledge by scientists to try and figure out how worried we should all be. But as Health Reporter Elizabeth Weise tells us, there are still more questions than answers.
A week ago, South Africa, which does actually a good job of doing genomic surveillance of its COVID variants, found a new variant, which had 32 different mutations on it. It’s very different from delta and from the other variants that had come before it. And they were looking at it going hmm, this is probably something we should be paying attention to. And when they started testing for it, they found that in certain parts of the country, a lot of the cases of COVID that they were seeing were in fact, not delta, but omicron. And the mutations on this new variant are ones that are known to make the virus more contagious and potentially more virulent, which means it can make you sicker.
Now, the parts that we don’t know are in real life, out in the world, is omicron something that is more likely to infect you than delta? And if you get infected with it, are you more likely to get sick? And the huge unknown at this point is if you’re vaccinated, are you protected from omicron? It looks like you probably are, though, maybe a little less than you would be if you were exposed to delta, but it’s so new that we don’t know.
It’s going to take at least two to three weeks to know whether it’s more infectious and whether if you get infected, you get sicker, and maybe a little longer to know whether or not people who have been vaccinated or people who’ve recovered from COVID are protected from this. And if so, how protected are they?
So far, as far as we know, we don’t have cases of omicron in the United States, which is good. But if you’re a scientist, it’s bad because it means you don’t have the virus to test against. I was just talking to Charles Chiu, who’s a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco. And he said, “Yeah, I would love to be doing tests right now where I go in and throw antibodies at the virus and see how it responds. I don’t have the virus.” And the CDC kind of frowns upon somebody from South Africa sending me a bottle of live virus. So we unfortunately have to wait until we identify cases here. And then we can start growing that virus in labs so that we can use it in testing. So for testing in the United States, we’re maybe two to three weeks off. The good news is that South Africa and Europe are on it. And so we’ll get a lot of answers from them.
Travel restrictions are already in place to try and prevent the spread of Omicron. That includes in Japan and a slew of European countries, along with the United States. World Health Organization Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Southern African countries should be praised for detecting the variant, not punished.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:
South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized. Indeed, omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics. Our current system disincentivize countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores.
But the White House says US travel restrictions that ban foreign nationals from eight countries for now are not about punishing anyone. Press Secretary, Jen Psaki.
The objective here is not to punish, it is to protect the American people. As you just heard the president say, this is not going to prevent, it is going to delay. And that delay is going to help us have necessary time to do the research by our health and medical teams, to get more people vaccinated, and get more people boosted. And he’s always going to err on the side of protecting the American people. I would note that the difference between South Africa and European countries is that there are already hundreds, if not thousands of cases of the new variant in South Africa, and not as many, much a lower number at this point in Europe, but we will continue to assess what steps we need to take to protect the American people.
Stateside, the CDC is also now recommending that all US adults get a booster shot. It had previously only said those over the age of 50 should get the extra jab. About 58.9% of Americans are fully vaccinated. And about 20% of fully vaccinated people have also received a booster shot.
A judge has blocked the federal government from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers in 10 states. US District Judge Matthew Schelp in the Eastern District of Missouri wrote in his ruling that regulations handed down from the centers for Medicare and Medicaid earlier this month were issued improperly. He wrote that the agency did not get approval from Congress to require vaccinations for healthcare workers. He also said the rules were given without a standard period for public comment. He wrote, “The impact of this mandate reaches far beyond COVID. CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism.”
The decision comes after a lawsuit led by Missouri Attorney General, Eric Schmitt. Other states that joined in include Arkansas, Iowa, the Dakotas, New Hampshire, and others. Schmitt has also sued to block mandates for large private sector businesses and federal employees and contractors. Both are under litigation and the mandate for federal employees is currently blocked.
A federal appeals court will hear arguments today about whether former President Donald Trump can block access to his administration’s documents from a House committee investigating the January 6th Capitol insurrection. The committee subpoenaed hundreds of pages of documents from the National Archives and Records Administration, but Trump contested their release under a claim of executive privilege to keep the communications confidential. And earlier this week, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked their release while the case is pending. The Trump case is increasingly urgent because the committee wants to review documents to consider legislation aimed at discouraging upheaval around the 2022 and ’24 elections.
Today is GivingTuesday. The day is devoted to charitable causes and celebrated annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The event began in 2012 by New York City nonprofit, the 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. It’s grown drastically since then, and this year movements are estimated in 80 countries around the world with almost 300 community campaigns in the US alone. It could be even bigger than last year, too, when people donated nearly $2.5 billion in the US. But how do you know who to donate to and who to avoid? Tech Reporter Brett Molina has some tips.
A lot of the practices and processes that you see in shopping scams, you might get an email or a text or a phone call that is saying, “Hey, there’s this great deal here.” Or, “You can save money here, just click on this link and put in your info.” The same practices apply to charitable causes where scammers will pretend to be an organization that is soliciting donations. And especially during the holiday season is obviously when it’s the most common to see these types of scams. There are fortunately ways that you can protect yourself. And a lot of the expert advice is very similar to what you might see if you encounter a shopping scam.
So here’s what you should do if you come across an email or a text, or just any kind of correspondence asking you to donate money. The first step and the first thing to know is be wary if the organization asks for things like gift cards, or if they ask you to wire money, in some cases, even if they ask you directly for cash. In most of those cases, a lot of the bigger organizations don’t come out that upfront and ask for that. They certainly will not ask you for gift cards or ask you to wire them money. So if you ever see any kind of message that suggests that, or someone’s on the phone asking you, do you want to donate, just wire money or get these gift cards, just hang up, delete the email, delete the text message and move on.
The next step to take is really take your time when choosing where to donate. There’s no reason to rush. You might get messages that say, donate now for this great offer, or you might get some incredible perk for donating. You don’t need to do that right away. The Better Business Bureau really advises people that responsible organizations are going to take whatever your donation is, whether you give it to them that day, tomorrow, in a week. There’s no reason for you to hurry. GivingTuesday obviously is a great time to donate, but if you want to take your time before you decide the organization, take your time. There’s absolutely no reason to hurry.
The third and final piece of advice is do your research. That’s probably the most important thing. A lot of organizations have their own websites. They share a lot of details like the mission, also some of the results they’ve achieved through their donations. So it’s something to look at really closely before you make a donation. You can take it a step further, too. The Better Business Bureau allows consumers to search organizations to determine how valid they are, if they’re legit. The bureau also suggests visiting the website for the National Association of State Charity Officials. A lot of charities have to register in states before they can solicit. So you can look up a charity on that website.
You can also go to the Internal Revenue Service. They have a website for tax-exempt organizations. So you can look up a charity there and just confirm that yes, they are real, they are tax exempt, they are recognized by the IRS. And in fact, one of the experts I talked to said, those two resources, the Better Business Bureau on the IRS are great ways for folks to just double-check a charity organization and just make sure their money’s going to the right place.
You can hear more from Brett and the world of technology by following or subscribing to the Talking Tech podcast.
Inflation, price increases, and clogged shipping networks are threatening maybe the most beloved supply chain of all, the Santa Claus gift express. National Correspondent Bill Keveney has more.
Inflation is pushing up the cost of toys this year. And that will mean higher prices for everyone buying toys. More families will be in need of toy donations this year than last year because of higher toy prices. And many of the people who traditionally give toys or give donations for toys may be more pressed to give because of inflation. Locking into that, the supply chain crisis is one of the underlying reasons for this increase in cost of toys. Not only does that raise prices, it means some of the most popular toys may just not get to children this year because some of them are stuck on ships.
The Toy Association, which is the industry trade group estimates that toy costs this year will be up five to 10% for the holiday season. An editor with The Toy Finder, which is a group that tracks toy sales and the industry, leans closer to the 10% increase. That’s a pretty substantial jump. Perhaps surprisingly, toy sales are quite good this year overall. They’ve been up 17% through the first three quarters and up 11% in the third quarter. So the sales numbers have dropped a little as we’ve gotten a little more toward the holidays, which may affect a little bit the cost of inflation and maybe that will winnow sales getting closer to the holidays. And that’s why there may be a greater need for toy donations, both from corporations and individuals who are able to give.
You can read the full story in today’s episode description. And you can find new episodes of 5 Things, seven mornings a week right here, wherever you’re listening right now. Thanks to PJ Elliott for his great work on the show. And I’m back tomorrow with more of 5 Things from USA TODAY.