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10 things you need to know today: February 22, 2021

Biden plans solemn ceremony as COVID death toll reaches 500,000, Fauci says masks might be necessary until 2022, and more


Biden plans vigil as coronavirus death toll reaches 500,000

The U.S. is expected to officially surpass 500,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, roughly a year after the country recorded its first deaths from the pandemic. President Biden is scheduled to mark the solemn milestone with a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House at sundown, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Biden will also deliver some remarks honoring those who have died, the White House said. "You see on the news, 'X amount of people died,' but it's so much more than that," said Priscilla Morse, whose 6-year-old daughter, Gigi, died from COVID-19 last year. "Do people see just how destroyed your family and your life is, six months later? Half-a-million families who've had their world torn apart?"


Fauci: Americans might still need masks in 2022

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief coronavirus medical adviser, said Sunday that Americans might still need to wear masks outside their homes a year from now. Fauci said the United States might have returned to "a significant degree of normality" by fall, but that continued precautions will be necessary to avoid losing ground against the pandemic. "I want it to keep going down to a baseline that's so low there is virtually no threat," Fauci said on CNN's State of the Union. Fauci said getting most people in the country vaccinated and "getting the level of virus in the community very, very low" will be key to reaching the point where masks are no longer necessary. Fauci's remarks came as the number of new cases are falling but the country nears the alarming milestone of 500,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths.


Garland pledges to prosecute 'white supremacists' for Capitol riot

President Biden's attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, plans to vow in his Monday confirmation hearing that he will prosecute "white supremacists and others" who participated in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. Garland says in his prepared opening statement that the rioters, who were trying to get Congress to reverse Trump's loss to President Biden, committed "a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government." Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court by then-President Barack Obama was blocked by Republicans, is expected to be confirmed easily. "Judge Garland's extensive legal experience makes him well-suited to lead the Department of Justice," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a statement.


Oath Keepers leader claims she was in D.C. during riot to provide security

A leader of the right-wing extremist Oath Keepers group who has been charged over the deadly Capitol attack said in a court filing that she was in Washington during the siege to provide security for lawmakers and speakers at a rally before the attack. The woman, Jessica Watkins, also said she was supposed to meet with Secret Service agents. Watkins, 38, is one of nine Oath Keepers accused of conspiring to storm the Capitol as part of an effort to block the certification of President Biden's Electoral College victory over then-President Donald Trump. Prosecutors say Watkins, an Afghanistan war veteran, entered the Capitol illegally, but her defense team said in a petition filed Saturday that she "did not engage in any violence or force at the Capitol grounds or in the Capitol."


Nearly half of Trump voters would follow him into a new party

In a survey of 1,000 Trump voters, half said the Republican Party should be "more loyal to Trump," and 46 percent said they would abandon the GOP to join Trump if he forms a new party. Only 27 percent of respondents said they would not follow Trump into a newly created party, according to the Suffolk University/USA Today poll, which was released Sunday. The rest were undecided. "We feel like Republicans don't fight enough for us, and we all see Donald Trump fighting for us as hard as he can, every single day," said participant Brandon Keidl, a 27-year-old Republican small-business owner from Milwaukee, in an interview after being polled. "But then you have establishment Republicans who just agree with establishment Democrats and everything, and they don't ever push back."


Millions of Texans remain without safe drinking water

About 10 million Texans remained without safe drinking water on Monday as state officials intensified efforts to distributed bottled water and provide protection against spiking power bills following last week's devastating winter storm. Authorities lifted boil-water notices for roughly 5 million of the 14.9 million people who received notice last week that their water was unsafe to drink, said Toby Baker, executive director of the state Commission on Environmental Quality. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that nearly 3.5 million bottles of water were delivered across the state by helicopter, airplane, and truck. Abbott also said that Texans would be protected from "unreasonable" power bills. Some customers received sky-high electricity bills following last week's power outages, which were caused by a surge in demand during the record cold blast.


Protests continue in Myanmar after deaths

Protesters returned to the streets of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, on Monday, despite a threat of force from the military junta that seized power in the country on Feb. 1. Thousands protested on Sunday, a day after security forces fatality shot two people at a demonstration. A funeral was held for Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, who was shot in the capital city of Nayptitaw on Feb. 9 and died Friday, becoming the first person killed in mass demonstrations that erupted after the military seized power and arrested leaders of the democratically elected ruling party. "I want to say through the media to the dictator and his associates, we are peaceful demonstrators," protester Min Htet Naing said. "Stop the genocide. Stop using lethal weapons."


Nigerian military plane crashes, killing 7

A Nigerian air force passenger jet crashed on Sunday, killing all seven people on board. The twin-engine turboprop Beechcraft King Air B350i aircraft was trying to return to an airport in the African nation's capital, Abuja, after reporting engine failure, Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola, an air force spokesman, said in a tweet. The air force is examining the charred and broken fuselage in an attempt to determine the cause of the crash. "As he (the plane's pilot) was going down, he struggled to go back to the airport, at the end he just crashed," a witness, Alaba Lawal, told Reuters. "I just saw the whole thing explode, fire and smoke together. ... When I got there I saw dead bodies on the ground." In Mexico, six members of the country's military died Sunday when a Mexican air force Learjet crashed while taking off in the southeastern state of Veracruz.


United Airlines takes 24 Boeing 777s out of service following incident

United Airlines announced Sunday that it would voluntarily ground its 24 active Boeing 777s that are powered by the same Pratt and Whitney jet engine that failed on one of the airline's planes on Saturday. Federal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson said on Sunday that the agency was ordering the inspections of some Boeing 777 jetliners after the engine failure forced a United jetliner to make an emergency landing shortly after takeoff in Denver. No one was injured in the incident, but a large engine covering appeared to have landed in front of a house. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the cause of the incident.


Israel to ease COVID-19 lockdown, issue vaccine badges

Israel began easing its COVID-19 restrictions Sunday as infections continued to decline following a national lockdown and a rapid vaccination effort. Social distancing and masks will still be required, but libraries, gyms, restaurants, and museums can reopen. Israel has the highest vaccination rate in the world, with more than 49 percent of its population already having received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The country's health ministry and health services organizations have reported promising data on the vaccine's efficacy, and it appears to be playing a role in driving down the infection rate. The country plans to allow vaccinated people to attend cultural events and fly abroad using a "green badge" app, which will show proof of their inoculation.


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