Opinion
January 21, 2021

When walking around the neighborhoods and grocery stores in Philadelphia, virtually everyone I see is wearing a mask. That's great news — we should all be happy to endure a little discomfort to fight the pandemic. Unfortunately, nearly all the masks are simple cloth varieties. While these are better than nothing, there are better masks available. President Biden and his administration should be pointing this out, and doing what they can to get those masks into the hands of the American people.

There have been multiple studies on whether masks work to slow the spread of coronavirus, and the general consensus is that they do — but the better the mask, the more they help. Cloth masks are good, 3-ply surgical masks are better, and medical-grade N95 or N100 respirators are better still. Yet so far public health authorities, and Biden himself, have typically just recommended the use of masks in general without any quality distinctions.

The CDC website is confusing on this point. It recommends that people do not use medical-grade N95s, as apparently there is still a global shortage and they should be reserved for medical workers. But it also recommends against surgical masks, which are widely available, for the same reason, and does not mention KN95s, which are probably only a bit worse than normal N95s. (Alas, there are reportedly a slew of counterfeit or low-quality masks out there.)

The Biden administration could upgrade its pandemic-fighting strategy by clearly explaining what kinds of masks are good and appropriate for normal citizens. It could further certify which manufacturers are trustworthy, so people aren't tricked by sleazy ripoff artists on Amazon. Best of all, as part of Biden's invocation of the Defense Production Act, he could send every household in the United States a free weekly supply of the best masks that can be produced (as Taiwan is doing). I would wager that within a month or two, every American could be using KN95s at least, and the spread of coronavirus would be slowed markedly, saving many thousands of lives. Ryan Cooper

8:50 p.m.

In a letter sent to his Republican colleagues on Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that after having conversations with "so many of you in recent days," it's clear there needs to be a "change" in GOP leadership, and "as such, you should anticipate a vote on recalling the Conference Chair this Wednesday."

The position is now held by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), but over the last few weeks, there has been a movement to vote her out, replacing Cheney with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Stefanik's voting record is more moderate than Cheney's, but she is a supporter of former President Donald Trump, while Cheney is not.

It's Cheney's criticism of Trump, his false claims of election fraud, and his incitement of a mob ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that has led many Republicans to want her removed from the conference chair role, making it ironic that McCarthy wrote in his letter that the GOP is a "big tent party," and "unlike the left, we embrace free thought and debate."

McCarthy, who confirmed during an interview with Fox News on Sunday that he supports Stefanik as the new conference chair, said he wants Republicans to gain control of the House in 2022, and "if we are to succeed in stopping the radical Democrat agenda from destroying our country, these internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team." Catherine Garcia

7:22 p.m.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents aged 12 to 15.

Pfizer has said clinical trials show the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech to be 100 percent effective in this age group. The vaccine already has been approved for people aged 16 and up.

The approval sets the stage for many middle schoolers and young high-school students to be vaccinated before the next school year. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must approve the authorization as well before vaccinations for the age group can begin. The Week Staff

7:08 p.m.

If Los Angeles County continues to administer 400,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots a week, it will likely reach herd immunity among adults and older teenagers by mid- to late-July, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Monday.

"The focus from here on in for us is to make it as easy as possible for eligible residents to get vaccinated," Ferrer told reporters during a news conference.

To reach herd immunity, a community must have enough people who have either been inoculated or have natural immunity to protect the rest of the population against the coronavirus. In Los Angeles County, more than 3 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 84 percent getting a second dose on schedule, 7 percent getting a second dose late, and 9 percent still waiting to get their second dose, the Los Angeles Times reports.

If 2 million more get their first doses, 80 percent of all residents 16 and older will have received at least one shot. Ferrer stressed that for the county to reach herd immunity in mid- to late-July, vaccine rates must stay steady. There are 750 vaccination sites across Los Angeles County, and mobile vaccination teams are visiting communities where people have mobility issues or there is a lack of health care facilities.

California has recovered from the surge in cases over the fall and winter, with the state now seeing its lowest hospitalization rate since the beginning of the pandemic. Catherine Garcia

6:16 p.m.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has written the perfect song for that surely very large group of people who equally love space, old-timey sea shanties, and internet trends.

The heliophysics and solar wind sea shanty, set to the tune of "Soon May the Wellerman Come," takes the original lyrics and makes some galaxy-themed edits. For example, instead of traditional lines "Soon may the Wellerman come / To bring us sugar and tea and rum," the researchers chant in unison, "Soon may the solar wind come / To bring us plasma and magnetism."

The research laboratory's catchy jam "illuminates one of the primary connections between the Sun and the Earth, the solar wind," NASA writes. "The solar wind is a constant outflow of magnetized material released by the Sun and causes a cascade of effects on space and Earth. The most visible of these from our planet is the aurora borealis, displays of colorful light in the sky that provide a stunning example of the Sun-Earth connection."

Typically performed by fishermen, merchant sailors, and whalers, sea shanties were a type of folk song sung on ships to pass time. After a recent resurgence on TikTok (thanks to a viral video from aspiring Scottish musician Nathan Evans), even Andrew Lloyd Webber has found himself playing along. Perhaps NASA can recruit him to help write its next hit single. Brigid Kennedy

6:03 p.m.

Amid escalating violence in Jerusalem on Monday, at leat 20 Palestinians, including nine children, have been killed after Israel launched air raids on the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian health ministry told Al Jazeera.

Jerusalem has been the site of unrest for the last several days as Palestinians protested against potential evictions in east Jerusalem, and Israeli police met the demonstrations, which took place at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, with force. Earlier Monday, Hamas fired several rockets at Israel after the group's ultimatum demanding Israel withdraw its security forces from Al-Aqsa, where they clashed with Palestinians inside, resulting in injuries to 300 Palestinians and 21 officers, The Guardian reports. In response to the rockets, Israel carried out the deadly airstrikes.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said both Hamas' and Israel's actions were "war crimes" that endangered civilian lives. Read more at Al Jazeera and The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

5:15 p.m.

His mission was to no longer accept his Golden Globe Awards.

Tom Cruise has returned his three Golden Globes to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in protest of the embattled organization, Deadline reports.

This was the latest blow to the group that puts on the Golden Globes after NBC announced Monday afternoon it would not air the awards show in 2022. The HFPA drew heavy criticism ahead of this year's ceremony after it was revealed that its voting body doesn't consist of a single Black member. The HFPA recently announced planned changes to address a number of issues including the group's lack of diversity, but major studios called the reforms out for not going far enough, and NBC on Monday officially pulled the plug on next year's ceremony.

"This is a new tack," Deadline writes of Cruise's move, "but I wouldn’t be surprised if others follow his lead and that the reception area of the HFPA could be crammed with golden trophies." Cruise twice won a Best Actor Golden Globe for Born on the Fourth of July and Jerry Maguire, and he also won Best Supporting Actor for Magnolia.

The news was just another example of the major crisis the Golden Globes group is facing amid questions over whether the ceremony will even return to NBC at all. Even though NBC said Monday it hopes to "be in a position to air the show in January 2023," Variety writes dropping it in 2022 "could very well serve as a permanent break between the Globes and NBC." Clearly, it hasn't been a golden afternoon for the HFPA. Brendan Morrow

4:57 p.m.

Like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) doesn't think Republicans should stop talking about the 2020 presidential elections — just not for the same reason.

Stefanik, an ally of former President Donald Trump, is widely expected to replace Cheney as the GOP conference chair, the No. 3 Republican position in the House, this week. While she's said she's focused on winning the 2022 midterms and "going on offense" against the Biden administration's policies, she told The Washington Examiner she doesn't think Trump's continued focus on his election loss, which he falsely claims was the result of widespread voter fraud, is out of step with that strategy.

"I think the president is right to focus on the election integrity and election security issues," Stefanik told the Examiner without explicitly stating whether she believes President Biden was elected legitimately. "If you go to any Republican Lincoln Day dinner, any town meeting across the country, it is one of the top concerns of voters."

Stefanik explained that, in her view, continuing to discuss 2020 will help "rebuild the American people's trust in our elections" and is "very much in line" with the GOP's push against the Democrats' H.R. 1 voting rights bill, which she called a "federal takeover" of elections.

Cheney, on the other hand, thinks Republicans ought to emphasize 2020 to prove that Trump should no longer be involved with the party going forward. Read Stefanik's full interview at The Washington Examiner. Tim O'Donnell

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