Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 29, 2021

U.S. breaks daily record for COVID cases, former Senate Leader Harry Reid dies at 82, and more

1

U.S. breaks daily record for COVID cases

The U.S. broke the record for daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday, when the seven-day average topped 267,000. The previous record was set on Jan. 11, 2021, when the seven-day average was 251,232. The daily COVID-19 death rate, however, has not risen to match, as in the time since, vaccines have become available to almost all Americans and the apparently milder Omicron variant has spread. Daily COVID-19 deaths averaged around 3,300 in mid-January but are now around 1,500. Some states have seen particularly high caseloads this week: Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia all reported their highest number of COVID-19 cases of the pandemic on Monday. 

2

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dies at 82

Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who became one of the longest-serving Senate majority leaders, died on Tuesday, his former chief of staff confirmed. He was 82. Reid grew up in a small mining town, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after marriage, graduated from Utah State University, and attended law school at George Washington University. Before winning his Senate seat in 1986, he was a trial lawyer, chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission, lieutenant governor, and House member. Reid served as Senate majority leader from 2007 through 2014, retired in 2016, and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. "I wouldn't have been president had it not been for [Reid's] encouragement and support," former President Barack Obama wrote in a tribute.

3

CDC revises estimate of Omicron’s prevalence

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday estimated the Omicron variant was responsible for about 59 percent of COVID cases nationwide in the week ending Dec. 25. The agency also substantially revised its figure for the prior week's estimate. Originally, the agency said Omicron accounted for approximately 73 percent of cases for the week ending Dec. 18, but has now adjusted that down to 23 percent. Also on Tuesday, the FDA announced preliminary study findings which suggest rapid antigen tests "do detect the Omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity."

4

Biden ends Omicron travel ban on 8 African countries

President Biden on Tuesday revoked last month's restrictions on travel from eight countries in southern Africa, including South Africa, where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was first detected. "The travel restrictions imposed by that proclamation are no longer necessary to protect the public health," Biden said. "Moreover, the Omicron variant has now spread to more than 100 countries, and it is prevalent in the United States." 

5

Jan. 6 committee agrees to shield some documents

At the request of the Biden White House, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has agreed to shield some Trump administration papers. These documents "do not appear to bear on the White House's preparations for or response to the events of Jan. 6, or on efforts to overturn the election or otherwise obstruct the peaceful transfer of power," said a letter from White House Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday. Former President Donald Trump is bringing a case to the Supreme Court to block the committee from his administration's records.

6

Pro-democracy website closes after police raid in Hong Kong

Stand News, a pro-democracy website in Hong Kong, shut down Wednesday after its offices were raided by police. Six current and former staff and board members of the site were arrested, facing up to two years in prison, and Stand News subsequently announced it had closed and dismissed all employees. The last pro-democracy paper with physical distribution in Hong Kong closed in June under similar pressure from the semi-autonomous city's government, which is increasingly under the control of Beijing. A Hong Kong police official said Stand News was raided because it had published multiple "seditious" articles in 2020 and 2021.

7

Gunman who killed 5 in Denver identified

Law enforcement has identified the gunman who killed five people and injured several more in the Denver and Lakewood, Colorado, areas on Monday as a 47-year-old man named Lyndon McLeod. "This individual was on the radar of law enforcement," Denver police chief Paul Pazen said at a news conference Tuesday. McLeod, who died in a shootout with police after opening fire in eight locations around the area, did not have a previous criminal record but has been linked to apparently self-published novels that feature a murderous character named "Lyndon MacLeod."

8

Prosecutor declines to charge former Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah said on Tuesday that two "credible" allegations of misconduct were made against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), but she is unable to file criminal charges "due to the statutory requirements of the criminal laws of New York." Two women had accused Cuomo of kissing them without consent. Another investigation this year by the New York Attorney General's office found that Cuomo sexually harassed several women during his time in office. Cuomo resigned following that report and faces a criminal misdemeanor charge for forcible touching.

9

Elizabeth Holmes jurors continue deliberations

Jurors in the fraud trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes completed a fifth day of deliberation Tuesday without reaching a verdict. The jurors, who sat through 14 weeks of testimony, will continue their deliberation Wednesday. Other high-profile white-collar cases in recent years have seen deliberations of two weeks or longer. Holmes faces 11 criminal charges and could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison. She is accused of defrauding investors in her medical startup as well as patients who used its blood testing services.

10

NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden dies at 85

John Madden, the NFL Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster whose name graces one of the most popular sports video games of all time, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, the NFL announced. He was 85. "Nobody loved football more than Coach," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "He was football." Madden was born in Minnesota and played football at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958. He coached the Oakland Raiders from 1969 to 1978, leading the team to eight playoffs and a Super Bowl victory, then spent three decades as an NFL broadcaster.

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