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News From NPR

Leaders in the winter sports industry have worked to ensure that ski resorts across the country could safely open this winter. Measures such as mask mandates and social distancing are in place. A limited number of guests are allowed each day. And many resorts require guests to reserve their days on the slopes ahead of time.

With COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths at record levels, a top public health official called on religious leaders to keep their worship spaces closed, despite rising protests from some church leaders.

"The virus is having a wonderful time right now, taking advantage of circumstances where people have let their guard go down," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. "Churches gathering in person is a source of considerable concern and has certainly been an instance where super spreading has happened and could happen again."

The largest and most influential arts advocacy and service organization in the country has responded to sharp criticism over its lack of diversity and commitment to help arts groups lead by and for people of color. Americans For The Arts (which is also one of NPR's financial supporters) conceded that the steps they've taken towards "racial and cultural equity" "have not been enough."

AFTA serves the arts sector in a variety of ways including lobbying Congress, conducting surveys of the sector, training, panels and the like.

For all the hope being placed in a coronavirus vaccine, Pennsylvania's secretary of health delivered a sobering note of caution Thursday on how long it will take to bring the pandemic under control. A vaccine is "the light at the end of the tunnel," she said, "but there's no quick fix to COVID-19."

As the nation grapples with issues of racial injustice and social inequality, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pushing to remove the so-called slavery loophole from the United States Constitution.

With the adoption and ratification of the 13th Amendment 155 years ago, the practice of slavery formally ended in this country, but it did not strip away all aspects of involuntary servitude.

The United Kingdom gave emergency approval this week to a COVID-19 vaccine, and plans to begin rolling it out next week. Though Russia had previously approved a vaccine, the U.K. is the first country where regulators approved a vaccine that is backed by transparent science. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will consider granting its regulatory approval next week.

Pfizer and BioNTech, a German firm, which developed the vaccine, say it is 95% effective based on the latest clinical trial involving 43,000 subjects.

President Trump on Thursday criticized Attorney General William Barr, accusing the head of the Justice Department of not thoroughly examining debunked claims of widespread voter fraud.

When asked whether he still had confidence in Barr, a Trump ally who has in the past taken what critics describe as an unusually political role in the Justice Department, the president said: "Ask me that in a number of weeks from now."

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday said he has asked the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to become his chief medical adviser and said he plans to call on Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration.

In the Yazidi village of Tel Qasab, Iraq, delighted neighbors welcome Nofa Khudeda as she walks into the house she fled six years ago when ISIS invaded the region. Khudeda, wearing a beige print dress with a white scarf tied loosely around her dark hair, hands out colorfully wrapped chocolates in celebration.

"It's a beautiful feeling to be home," she says, surrounded by beaming neighbors and relatives who returned a few weeks ago from camps for displaced Yazidis in northern Iraq.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against social media monolith Facebook Thursday, alleging the company "refused to recruit, consider, or hire qualified and available U.S. workers for over 2,600 positions."

According to the lawsuit, Facebook allegedly reserved the positions for temporary visa holders it wanted to sponsor for permanent residency in the U.S. The average salary of these positions: $156,000.

On more than one occasion, President Trump has demonstrated his willingness to use his pardon power to pluck a political ally or associate out of legal trouble.

A Wisconsin court commissioner overseeing the case of a teenager accused of killing two people and injuring a third during protests in Kenosha, Wis., this summer, has denied defense attorneys' request to dismiss two of the six charges facing Kyle Ritttenhouse.

During a preliminary hearing conducted via video link Thursday, Kenosha County Circuit Court Commissioner Loren Keating also said he found enough evidence that support the charges against Rittenhouse, 17, for the case to proceed to trial.

The coronavirus surge has hit especially hard in the nation's smallest state. Rhode Island now averages about 87 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people — by far the highest in New England, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bars and gyms are closed. And two field hospitals opened this week to care for an overflow of COVID patients. But extra hospital beds only solve one part of the equation.

Updated at 9:05 p.m. ET

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced most of the state will come under a stricter set of limitations as intensive care units reach near-capacity levels with the latest surge in coronavirus cases.

Regional stay-at-home orders will likely go into effect "in the next day or two" in places with less than 15% ICU availability, Newsom explained in a daily briefing with reporters.

Millions of Americans who are expected to receive the new COVID-19 vaccinations in coming months will need to take two doses of the drug – and the U.S. government says it will issue a vaccine card and use other tools to help people follow through with their immunizations.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The coronavirus surge has hit especially hard in the nation's smallest state. Rhode Island has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in New England. Bars are closed. Gyms are closed. And two field hospitals opened this week to care for an overflow of COVID patients. But extra hospital beds only solve one part of the equation. Health reporter Lynn Arditi has more.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The coronavirus surge has hit especially hard in the nation's smallest state. Rhode Island has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in New England. Bars are closed. Gyms are closed. And two field hospitals opened this week to care for an overflow of COVID patients. But extra hospital beds only solve one part of the equation. Health reporter Lynn Arditi has more.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The coronavirus surge has hit especially hard in the nation's smallest state. Rhode Island has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in New England. Bars are closed. Gyms are closed. And two field hospitals opened this week to care for an overflow of COVID patients. But extra hospital beds only solve one part of the equation. Health reporter Lynn Arditi has more.

Get ready for one of the most unpredictable monthly jobs reports in a while.

The pandemic has come roaring back, filling hospitals with coronavirus patients, while restaurants and retail shops empty out.

That is expected to put a squeeze on job gains: Forecasters expect a report Friday from the Labor Department will show that U.S. employers added fewer workers in November than the 638,000 created a month earlier.

How much less is uncertain as the pandemic makes it hard to forecast economic indicators.

Maybe it was once rare to stumble upon a 10-foot-tall monolith plopped in the middle of nowhere, towering in silent, vaguely alien mystery over a scenic landscape — but the curious find certainly seems to be getting rather common lately.

Facebook is banning claims about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, as governments prepare to roll out the first vaccinations against the virus.

That includes posts that make false claims about how safe and effective the vaccines are, and about their ingredients and side effects.

The Trump administration is imposing sharply tighter restrictions on travel to the United States by Chinese Communist Party members and their families, a move Beijing describes as part of a "deep-rooted Cold War mentality."

The restrictions target holders of business (B-1) and tourist (B-2) visas, reducing the travel documents' maximum validity to one month, down from the current maximum of 10 years.

Boeing's 737 Max is making a comeback after two crashes that killed a total of 346 people in late 2018 and early last year. Ireland's Ryanair, a major European carrier, has ordered 75 of the planes, which had been grounded since March 2019, the two companies announced on Thursday.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

President-elect Joe Biden has tapped former Obama aide Brian Deese as director of the National Economic Council, his top economic adviser at the White House.

Deese helped former President Barack Obama rescue the auto industry during the 2009 economic crisis and played a key role in negotiating the Paris climate accords.

But the pick raised the ire of some progressive groups even before it was made official Thursday because of Deese's work for BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager.

Ivanka Trump gave a deposition Tuesday as part of suit filed by the Washington, D.C., government over the costs of her father's 2017 inauguration.

The District is suing the Trump inaugural committee, charging it with "grossly overpaying" for event space at the Trump International Hotel as a way of funneling money to the Trump family.

More Americans stayed home for Thanksgiving this year compared with last year — but by relatively small margins.

An NPR analysis of mobile phone location data showed that 42% of Americans with smartphones remained home, up from 36% last year.

No U.S. city suffered more in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic than New York City, where more than 24,000 people died, mainly in the spring. Medical workers in New York learned exactly how difficult and dangerous things can get when hospitals are overwhelmed, and now they are bracing themselves as infections begin to rise again.

Updated 5:09 p.m.

In a last-minute push, the Trump administration announced Thursday that it will auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in just over a month, setting up a final showdown with opponents before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

After initially saying he didn't do anything wrong, Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, says he now realizes he "set a bad example" by traveling to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for vacation last month.

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