April 29, 2014

An Oklahoma death row inmate died Tuesday night from a heart attack after officials botched the delivery of a new lethal drug combination that was supposed to kill him.

The New York Times reports that Clayton D. Lockett "began to twitch and gasp" after a doctor had deemed he was unconscious, about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. Witnesses said that Lockett mumbled "oh man" and tried to lift his head, before the doctor discovered that "the line had blown" and that the drugs, especially the sedative, were no longer entering his bloodstream. His lawyers question the failed veins explanation from prison officials.

Lockett was set to be the first of two inmates put to death Tuesday night, but after the botched execution, Director of Corrections Robert Patton requested a 14-day stay for the second inmate, Charles F. Warner. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) approved the request.

Both Lockett and Warner had earlier tried to delay the executions over Oklahoma's refusal to disclose the source of the new drugs that would be used in the injections. The Times reports that Lockett was set to first be injected with midazolam, which would make him unconscious and unable to feel pain. The second injection would have been of vecuronium bromide, which stops breathing, and the third of potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Florida has used a similar combination to execute prisoners, but with a higher dosage of midazolam. Catherine Garcia

4:52 p.m.

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes after defending the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, Washington, D.C.'s chief medical examiner Francisco Diaz ruled Monday.

Diaz told the The Washington Post that Sicknick's autopsy found no evidence that the officer suffered any internal or external injuries or an allergic reaction to chemical irritants, such as bear spray, which two men are accused of assaulting him with during the riot. Diaz said if Sicknick did have an allergic reaction, his throat would have quickly seized, which did not happen. The ruling "likely will make it difficult for prosecutors to pursue homicide charges" in Sicknick's death, the Post writes.

Citing privacy laws, Diaz did not divulge whether Sicknick had a pre-existing medical condition that may have contributed to the 42-year-old's death, though he did say "all that transpired" during the highly tense situation at the Capitol on Jan. 6 "played a role in his condition." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

4:13 p.m.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) looks to be facing another investigation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has opened an investigation focused on Cuomo's alleged use of state resources during the writing of a book he published about the COVID-19 pandemic last year, The New York Times reports. The attorney general had received a referral from New York's comptroller authorizing a criminal investigation.

This comes after the Times reported last month that staffers and aides for the New York governor worked on his book American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic. Cuomo, the Times wrote, reportedly relied on aides and staffers for "everything from full-scale edits to minor clerical work, potentially running afoul of state laws prohibiting use of public resources for personal gain."

Following this reporting, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reportedly suggested there be an investigation examining "the drafting, editing, sale and promotion of the governor’s book and any related financial or business transactions." The governor has said that some staffers volunteered to help work on his book, but Cuomo adviser Richard Azzopardi told the Times that "every effort was made to ensure that no state resources were used in connection with this project."

Azzopardi also said Monday that "idea there was criminality involved here is patently absurd on its face and is just the furthering of a political pile-on."

Cuomo has already been facing an investigation focused his administration's handling of data on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, as well as an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. The governor has continued to resist calls to resign amid these scandals. Brendan Morrow

2:38 p.m.

Researchers at the University of Oxford are looking for 64 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 30 who have recovered from COVID-19. In a new, first-of-its kind study, the volunteers will be reinfected with the original strain of the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, under controlled, quarantined conditions for 17 days, the university said Monday.

The main goal of the challenge trial is to discover what levels and types of immunity are needed to prevent reinfection, which could aid vaccine developers going forward. So far, natural infections and vaccines appear to provide strong protection against reinfection for the most part, but it's unclear how long that will last. The study may also reveal how much virus it takes to reinfect a recovered patient.

While Oxford is excited about the study's potential, challenge trials have their critics, who argue that deliberately infecting someone is unethical, regardless of the circumstances. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

1:40 p.m.

While some countries are on an individual path out of the coronavirus pandemic thanks to their vaccination drives, that's not the norm. In fact, the world is coming off its worst ever week for COVID-19 infections, Bloomberg reports.

India and Brazil, two of the world's most populous nations, are both experiencing surges, which is contributing to the record-breaking numbers.

Analysts have warned for some time that unequal vaccine distribution would lead to these types of discrepancies. Bloomberg's David Fickling argues that the increase in cases is reflecting the varying trends around the world, though he clarifies that it actually appears to be middle-income countries, in which about two-thirds of the world's population resides, that are really falling behind on vaccinations.

Higher-income countries, like the United States, tend to have a surplus of doses, while low-income countries are receiving a significant amount on a per capita basis, as well, thanks to concentrated efforts like the COVAX, a global bulk-buying vaccine program. But the middle-income countries, including India and China, have low coverage area rates, suggesting it will still be some time before vaccinations tick up, which means the pandemic is likely far from over. Tim O'Donnell

1:30 p.m.

And now, here is yet another new guest host of Jeopardy!

CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday will step in to host Jeopardy! for two weeks, the latest in a series of guest hosts the show has brought in since Alex Trebek's death. In an interview prior to his debut, Cooper described himself as a huge fan of the show and acknowledged being "nervous" about his stint. He also honored Trebek as someone who was an "integral part of my entire youth and growing up," something he told the man himself last year.

"I got a call from him probably about a month or two before he died," Cooper said. "He was asking me about some other stuff, but I used it as an opportunity just to say to him how much I appreciated him, and what he had brought to my life and to the life of so many people. So I was really glad I got the chance to do that."

Trebek died in November 2020 following a battle with cancer, and the show since January has been temporarily hosted by former champion Ken Jennings, Jeopardy producer Mike Richards, journalist Katie Couric, TV host Dr. Oz, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It still hasn't been announced who will replace Trebek permanently, though Cooper has been seen as a potential contender.

"Whoever leads this show forward, there's certainly big shoes to fill," Cooper said in his interview. "And I know whoever becomes the host of this show, they're going to carry on Alex's legacy."

Jennings has also been a major fan favorite to take over the permanent role, while Rogers has said he'd like to be considered. Meanwhile, calls for LeVar Burton to at least get brought in as a guest host continue to fall on deaf ears. Brendan Morrow

12:40 p.m.

The early returns on COVID-19 vaccinations have largely been positive in the United States and elsewhere. There have certainly been so-called "breakthrough" cases, in which fully vaccinated people have been infected, but The New York Times' David Leonhardt notes that statistics so far indicate the chances of that happening are about one in 11,000, and the rate dwindles even further when it comes to the chances of developing anything worse than a mild infection.

Still, many people who have been vaccinated remain nervous. This is understandable, Leonhardt writes, given the novelty of the virus and the toll it's taken. The risk of dying from COVID-19 post-vaccination is probably more akin to "high profile," but "extremely rare dangers" like plane crashes, lightning strikes, or shark attacks. Getting in a car, on the other hand, is a "bigger threat," Leonhardt writes.

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver and data scientist David Shor also made this point, and Shor noted that the "per hour risk of killing somebody driving sober is at least 33 times higher than the per hour risk of killing somebody from [COVID-19] hanging out maskless post-vaccination."

That's where sociologist Zeynep Tufekci jumped in. Tufekci generally agrees that COVID-19 vaccination leads to a "dramatic risk reduction." She does, however, think the risks of driving and doing certain activities while vaccinated are not completely comparable. That's because car accidents are generally more individualized, while spreading COVID-19 can lead to a transmission chain, which is why Tufekci thinks government agencies need to be explicit about how effectively the vaccines curb transmission to determine what the true risk factor is. Tim O'Donnell

11:33 a.m.

At this point, Natalie Shure writes in The New Republic, the "ongoing ubiquity" of outdoor masking has turned into "meaningless political theater," even as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The Atlantic's Derek Thompson seems to concur, writing that "mandating outdoor masks and closing public areas makes a show of 'taking the virus seriously,' while doing nothing to reduce indoor spread,'" adding that such rules may actually backfire in that they force people to gather inside, which is much riskier. Slate's Shannon Palus joined Shure and Thompson in arguing that outdoor masking makes little sense anymore, given how much more information there is about COVID-19 transmission these days.

Shure, Thompson, and Palus were quick to clarify that they're still very much in favor of wearing masks indoors, but they all pointed to several studies that found the risk of passing on the virus outdoors to be very small. The rare cases that do occur tend to "involve considerable close contact," as opposed to, say, "passing someone maskless on the street or in the park," Shure writes.

The counterargument is that wearing masks outdoors reinforces the idea that people should wear them indoors, but Thompson notes that Julia Marcus, a Harvard Medical School epidemiologist, found through some anecdotal interviews with mask skeptics that people became more open to adhering to indoor mandates when they learned outdoor masking wasn't as important. "The purpose of mask wearing isn't to send a message," Shure writes. "If it were we could just iron whatever slogan we wanted to onto a T-shirt. The point of mask-wearing is to reduce infection, and there's simply no reason to believe that wearing a mask while walking to the grocery store accomplishes this." Read more at The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Slate. Tim O'Donnell

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