As the coronavirus evolves, scientists seek a new generation of vaccines

More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and even with highly effective vaccines that protect people against severe disease, the coronavirus has continued to evolve and disrupt lives.

The Omicron variant, which is currently the dominant strain of the virus worldwide, is more transmissible and is now better at evading protection conferred by vaccination and prior infection. At the same time, protection from our current vaccines has been shown to wane over time. This has given the virus a tremendous advantage, and explains why breakthrough infections from Omicron have become more common.

Even though vaccinated people who get a mild case of COVID-19 don’t need hospitalization in most cases, catching the virus can be quite disruptive. Mild COVID-19 symptoms can include sore throat, cough, fever, fatigue and shortness of breath, and can last anywhere from a few days to a week or more. This means people who test positive have to miss school or work, among other things. It also means they can spread the virus to others.

Furthermore, experts predict that reinfections are likely to increase as emerging Omicron subvariants continue to evade immunity.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Yahoo News that all of these challenges brought on by the Omicron variant highlight the need for new vaccines: ones that are longer-lasting, that can protect us against future variants, that stop transmission and offer protection against all symptoms, including mild ones.

“Minor symptoms disrupt society,” she said, adding that the current mRNA vaccines, such as those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, have successfully protected people from pneumonia caused by COVID-19 and severe disease but “are not working as well in generating an adequate antibody response to protect us against all symptoms and to stop transmission.” New vaccine design approaches, she said, are needed to keep up with the virus.

A syringe is inserted into a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
A health worker in London prepares a Moderna COVID-19 shot at a vaccination clinic.
Vaccine experts agree that our current vaccines should be updated, but there isn’t yet general agreement on what the best approach is moving forward. However, a Food and Drug Administration panel of outside experts, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, is expected to meet on June 28 to discuss whether the strain composition of the current COVID-19 vaccines should be modified and, if so, which variant they should target next.

There are currently multiple Omicron sublineages circulating in the U.S., although BA.2.12.1, accounts for the most cases, 64% at the moment.

Besides Novavax, a new vaccine candidate approved by an FDA advisory committee last week and expected to receive full approval by U.S. regulators soon, next in the COVID-19 vaccine pipeline is a COVID booster candidate developed by Moderna.

The booster shot is designed to target Omicron specifically and could be available this fall. The company announced last week that its “bivalent” vaccine, a combination of the old booster targeting the ancestral strain and a formula targeting the Omicron variant, generated “superior neutralizing antibody response” against the coronavirus, compared with its original vaccine.

But Gandhi and other experts worry that by the time the Omicron-specific booster becomes available it will not be as effective, because it was designed to target Omicron BA.1, which is now extinct in the U.S.

“Were already on BA.2, BA.2 12, and BA.4 and BA.5 are coming. So its hard to keep up if youre only targeting the spike protein,” Gandhi said.

The spike protein is the part of the virus that helps it attach to cells. All vaccines currently being used in the U.S. target this specific location of the virus. The problem with that, Gandhi explained, is that this is the part of the virus that mutates the most. The current vaccines are designed to target the spike protein of the ancestral strain that began circulating in the spring of 2020, but the spike protein of the virus today looks very different. Researchers have found that Omicron’s spike protein has at least 42 new mutations.

Gandhi believes that a better vaccine against Omicron and future variants would be one that looks beyond the spike protein and helps the immune system take multiple shots at the coronavirus. “We need a vaccine that actually doesnt just give us the spike protein of the virus, because that is the part of the virus thats changing the most,” she said.

“We need to see the whole virus, I think, and that way we have antibodies against the nucleocapsid [protein] against the cell membrane, not just against that pretty mutated spike protein,” she added.

One such vaccine that holds promise, she said, is the Covaxin vaccine — a shot originally developed in India by Bharat Pharmaceuticals but that now has a U.S. manufacturer named Ocugen.

Gandhi explained that the Covaxin vaccine shows the immune system the entire virus in an inactivated form and because of this, it generates a broader immunological response against not only the spike protein but other parts of the virus. She also said the vaccine elicits “strong cellular immune responses,” which could make it longer-lasting.

More than 350 million doses of Covaxin have been administered around the world. It is India’s second most used shot and it has been approved for use in 24 other countries so far, according to Fierce Pharma.

A woman in a blue sari wearing a green mask bares her arm for a shot in a medical office, with another health worker in white scrubs sitting at a desk behind her.
A health worker in New Delhi in April administers a booster dose of Covaxin vaccine at a local dispensary.

In addition, Gandhi said, Covaxin has been shown to be safe and effective and could soon be available in the U.S. “They are just doing a small, 400-person trial in the U.S., and then they are going to file to the FDA. … Thats going to be the soonest we could get a whole virus inactivated vaccine,” she said. In a post on the medical website Medscape, Gandhi said she hopes it will be available later this year.

Another vaccine approach that scientists are pursuing is a nasal spray. Dr. Benjamin Goldman-Israelow, an instructor at Yale School of Medicine, is part of a research team currently working on an intranasal vaccine. He explained that our current vaccines generate systemic immunity, meaning that once you receive the shot, circulating antibodies and T cells — important parts of the immune system — help you fight the virus.

But the vaccines don’t generate much protection in the respiratory tract, which is where the coronavirus enters the body.

“We wanted to create a vaccine that didnt just boost antibody levels systemically, but induce the formation of antibodies, as well as T cells, within the respiratory tract thats the site of infection of SARS CoV-2,” Goldman-Israelow told Yahoo News. “Our hypothesis, which is, you know, shared by many in the field, is that by inducing immunologic memory within the respiratory tract, we could better prevent both infection as well as transmission of the virus.”

The intranasal vaccine that the Yale group is developing would complement the “systemic preexisting immunity” conferred by intramuscular vaccines, Goldman-Israelow said, so it is designed to act as a booster.

Nasal vaccines are not a new idea. The U.S. has a nasal vaccine called FluMist that was designed to prevent influenza, but it has not always performed as well as the regular flu shot. It has also been approved only for people ages 2 through 49, which means that a vulnerable portion of the population, such as older adults and younger children, can’t benefit from it.

Goldman-Israelow, however, says he’s confident his group’s nasal vaccine will be different, because it uses a different vaccine design that he believes will be more effective. “If everything goes as quickly and as well as we hope, were hoping to be able to start phase one clinical trials in the next 12 to 15 months,” he said.

Finally, and perhaps the most popular idea, is to develop a so-called pan-coronavirus vaccine, a shot that could protect against different COVID-19 variants and even work against other coronaviruses. The virus responsible for COVID-19 is part of a family of coronaviruses called betacoronaviruses. The coronaviruses that cause SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), for example, are part of this family.

About a dozen vaccine makers, nonprofits and government agencies are focused on the development of such variant-proof vaccines, according to the journal Nature. Some researchers have received funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Last September, NIAID awarded approximately $36.3 million to three different institutions — the University of Wisconsin, Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston and Duke University — to conduct research and develop the all-in-one coronavirus shot.

Scientists from these and other groups working on pan-coronavirus vaccines are exploring different vaccine designs and technologies, including messenger RNA, or mRNA, used in the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, and protein-based nanoparticle technologies, which have been used in vaccines targeting influenza and shingles. Some groups are focusing on targeting the spike protein only, while others, like the Duke University vaccine candidate, are looking to target other parts of the virus that don’t mutate as much.

So far, experts have said that some of these vaccines have shown great promise in animal experiments and that they could be available in the next few years. “Theres no doubt, I would say in two years time. Not this winter. Its going to be too soon for a whole virus vaccine, but next winter I think were going to have it,” Gandhi said.


It’s not summer yet, but climate change is already showing its teeth in 2022

The evidence of how climate change is already affecting our world seems to grow more pronounced with every passing day.

At least 2,000 cows at a Kansas feedlot were killed this week by excessively high temperatures, as the latest record-breaking spring heat wave pushed east across the country.

“This was a true weather event — it was isolated to a specific region in southwestern Kansas,” A.J. Tarpoff, a cattle veterinarian with Kansas State University, told the Associated Press. “Yes, temperatures rose, but the more important reason why it was injurious was that we had a huge spike in humidity … and at the same time, wind speeds actually dropped substantially, which is rare for western Kansas.”

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service advised more than one-third of the U.S. population to remain indoors to protect themselves against that same potentially deadly combination of heat and humidity. Scientists have termed that lethal mix the “wet-bulb” effect. When the body gets hot, it sweats, and the evaporation of that sweat helps cool the body. But when the humidity in the atmosphere is too high, that evaporation isnt possible, and the sweat doesnt help cool the body down.

“We need a differential between the human body and the environment, and if the air is already holding as much moisture as it can, you dont have that gradient,” Radley Horton, Lamont Research Professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told Vice News. “Your bodys not able to get the atmosphere to take that moisture from it.”

While climate scientists had previously predicted that such high temperatures and humidity would not arrive on Earth until the mid-21st century, recent studies have found that “extreme humid heat overall has more than doubled in frequency since 1979.”

Dozens of logs ripped from their roots are trapped around a washed-out bridge in a muddy river.
Logs pile up on a washed-out bridge near Rescue Creek in Yellowstone National Park on June 13.
On Monday, 10,000 visitors to Yellowstone National Park had to be evacuated after an excess of rainfall unprecedented for June. Roads, bridges and homes in the park were washed away, the park remains closed, and on Thursday, President Biden issued federal disaster assistance to Montana.

The rain unleashed on Montana was part of a so-called atmospheric river that broke records in Washington state shortly before it pushed east. Studies have linked an increase in those records to rising air and water temperatures caused by climate change.

More generally, research has linked rising global temperatures to higher levels of atmospheric moisture, whats known as the Clausius-Clapeyron relation. When conditions are right, that excess moisture is released, causing severe downpours and storms like the ones that hit the Midwest this week, knocking out power to half a million people amid triple-digit temperatures, and making the need for air conditioning acutely felt.

Meanwhile, the extreme drought that has gripped the American West continues apace. The last 20 years have been the driest two decades in the past 1,200 years. As a result, rivers, lakes and reservoirs are drying up at alarming speed.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing this week on the dwindling water supply in the Colorado River and its reservoirs, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell. In all, 40 million people across the West rely on the Colorado for water.

An aerial view of a riverbed now covered in vegetation and the dried-out tributaries that once fed into it.
The arid desert Southwest near Moab, Utah, viewed from 33,000 feet on May 19.
“What has been a slow-motion train wreck for 20 years is accelerating, and the moment of reckoning is near,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, testified at the hearing. “We are 150 feet from 25 million Americans losing access to the Colorado River, and the rate of decline is accelerating.”

Water-rationing restrictions have been put in place in California and are likely to be extended there and in other states in the coming months.

The science is crystal clear about why these weather-related disasters continue to pile up: Human beings are pumping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which traps the suns radiation, warming temperatures.

For years now, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, has measured that buildup at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, charting the steady rise on a graph known as the Keeling Curve.

Ultimately, researchers say, until mankind reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the consequences being witnessed this spring will persist. Just as certainly, they will worsen along with the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yet there is still much that we dont know about how climate change will play out in the coming decades. A study published in April in the Cornell University astrophysics journal arXiv concluded that mankind is ushering in an unprecedented shift in the Earths climate system. Those changes, contrary to the claim of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., earlier this week, are not likely to prove “healthy for us.”

“The implications of climate change are well known (droughts, heat waves, extreme phenomena, etc),” researcher Orfeu Bertolami told Live Science in an email. “If the Earth System gets into the region of chaotic behavior, we will lose all hope of somehow fixing the problem.”


What’s in the Senate’s new gun control bill

The Senate voted to advance bipartisan gun legislation on Tuesday, with hopes of passing it prior to the July 4 recess.

All 50 members of the Democratic caucus joined 14 Republicans in moving the legislation forward. The bill comes after a number of mass shootings, most notably in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act falls short of more expansive proposals passed by Democrats in the House and is already facing opposition from top House Republicans. Should it become law, however, the bill would be the most sweeping gun safety legislation passed by Congress in decades.

Sen. John Cornyn, walking down a corridor at the Capitol, answers questions as reporters surround him.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is questioned by reporters at the U.S. Capitol on June 21. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)
The bill’s chief negotiators — Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. — released a joint statement celebrating the agreement.

“Today, we finalized bipartisan, commonsense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” they said. “Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense legislation into law.”

Here are some of the key provisions in the 80-page bill.

Funding for crisis centers and so-called red flag laws
A long line of people standing and seated on folding chairs and on the ground, wait to enter a store marked: GUNS, Knives, Collectibles, and We Buy. Guns, Single Gun or Entire Collection.
People wait in line to enter a gun store in Culver City, Calif. in 2020. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)
Under the legislation, $750 million would be allotted over the next five years to help states implement red flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. (Similar laws already exist in 19 states and the District of Columbia.) The legislation allows for the implementation of these programs through mental health, drug and veterans’ courts.

Republicans involved in the negotiations pushed to make sure no one is flagged without “the right to an in-person hearing, an unbiased adjudicator, the right to know opposing evidence, the right to present evidence, and the right to confront adverse witnesses,” as well as a right to bring counsel to the hearing.

“Under this bill, every state will be able to use significant new federal dollars to be able to expand their programs to try to stop dangerous people, people contemplating mass murder or suicide, from being able to have access to the weapons that allow them to perpetrate that crime,” Murphy said in a floor speech.

Closing the boyfriend loophole
A potential buyer holds a Glock in their right hand.
A shopper at a store in Orem, Utah, in 2021, holds a Glock handgun.
While spouses, co-parents or cohabitating partners convicted of domestic violence are already banned from purchasing firearms, abusers in relationships between people who are not married and live separately are still able to purchase guns, creating the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” (According to Everytown, a gun safety advocacy group, about 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month.)

Under the new legislation, anyone convicted of domestic violence against a former or current dating partner would be banned from purchasing a weapon.

Republican negotiators pushed for a strict definition of who would qualify as a dating partner and the length of time for which they’d be unable to purchase a gun. The law also would not apply retroactively, meaning that someone would have to be convicted of domestic violence after the law went into effect before they were stripped of their right to buy a firearm.

“Unless someone is convicted of domestic abuse under their state laws, their gun rights will not be impacted,” Cornyn said in a floor speech.

“Those who are convicted of nonspousal misdemeanor domestic abuse — not felony, but misdemeanor domestic violence — will have an opportunity after five years to have their Second Amendment rights restored. But they have to have a clean record.”

Expanded background checks for younger buyers
Seen looking over a counter of handguns at an array of rifles, a customer ponders a purchase.
A customer views handguns for sale at Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Ky., in 2021.
The legislation calls for an expansion of background checks into buyers under 21 years of age, providing three business days for the check into their criminal and mental health history to be completed. If that background check finds something questionable in a potential buyer’s record, the legislation would provide for an additional seven business days to look into the buyer.

Funding for mental health and school security
The bill provides funding for expanding access to mental health services, including making it easier for Americans on Medicaid to use telehealth services and work with “community-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers and organizations.” And it would provide additional funding for the national suicide prevention hotline (since guns accounted for a majority of suicide deaths in 2020) while schools would receive funding to increase the number of staff members providing mental health services.

Flowers and gifts are piled around the Robb Elementary School sign.
The Robb Elementary School sign, covered in flowers and gifts on June 17 in Uvalde, Texas.
The bill also provides $300 million for the STOP School Violence Act for increased security at schools, although some Democrats had expressed concern about this aspect of the bill. Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she was worried about “the expansion of background checks into juvenile records,” arguing that previous attempts to secure schools were both ineffective and harmful.

After the 1998 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, Ocasio-Cortez said, “we hired thousands of police officers into schools, and while it didn’t prevent many of the mass shootings that we’ve seen now, it has increased the criminalization of teens in communities like mine.”

Licensed dealers and gun trafficking
At a gun store counter, a customer hands over cash for an AR-15 rifle.
A customer purchases an AR-15 rifle with cash at a store in Orem, Utah, U.S., on Thursday, March 25, 2021.
The legislation would also require more sellers to register as “Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers,” including anyone who sells guns to “predominantly earn a profit.” These sellers would in turn be required to run background checks on potential buyers and keep records of the sales.

The bill would also impose penalties on “straw” purchasers who buy guns for people who can’t pass a background check.


Nancy Pelosi’s Napa: Wealthy Friends and a Husband’s Porsche Crash

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had just urged Brown University graduates to stay resilient and summon their “better angels on Memorial Day weekend when she was forced to turn her attention to a less uplifting situation: her husbands arrest in California.

The details emerging from the incident were not especially flattering.

The night before, May 28, Paul Pelosi, 82, had been in Oakville, among the countrys most exclusive enclaves, leaving a small dinner at the hedgerow-lined estate of Alexander Mehran, a longtime friend and Democratic donor.

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Paul Pelosi got behind the wheel of his black 2021 Porsche 911 to drive the 6 miles to the Pelosis Napa Valley country house. It was around 10 p.m., according to a police report and eyewitnesses.

He went a little more than half a mile and was trying to cross State Route 29 and make a left. But a Jeep was coming down the highway and hit Paul Pelosis car as he made the turn.

Police who responded arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and suspicion of driving with a .08 blood alcohol content or higher. He is due back in court Aug. 3. If criminal charges are filed, he will be arraigned then. (The driver of the Jeep was not arrested.)

It may not have been only alcohol that hindered Paul Pelosis driving. Two people who have spoken with the Pelosis since the crash said that Paul Pelosi had had cataract surgery in the days preceding the dinner. (Doctors are somewhat divided about when it is acceptable to drive, with estimates that range from 24 hours to two weeks.)

The speaker swung into crisis mode. By Sunday afternoon, Larry Kamer, a crisis manager who has a home in Napa and has worked for high-profile clients including Harvard University and Nike, was retained. The family also consulted with John Keker, one of San Franciscos most prominent defense lawyers, and Lee Houskeeper, a longtime public relations executive for San Francisco political types, including former Mayor Willie Brown.

The newly assembled team had to deal with a few unwelcome certainties: The accident would refocus attention on Paul Pelosis troubled driving record, including a crash when he was a teenager that left his brother dead. It would also send reporters — from TMZ to The Napa Valley Register — scrambling after every detail.

And it would shine a spotlight on the Pelosis California life, where the couple inhabit two homes, including a 16.55-acre gated estate and mingle with other rich residents, at a time when economic hardship is straining many people of lesser means.

Ultimately, a representative for Nancy Pelosi gave a terse statement emphasizing Nancy Pelosis distance from the accident.

“The speaker will not be commenting on this private matter, which occurred while she was on the East Coast, it read.

‘Everybody in San Francisco Now Has a Napa Place

The Pelosis have had a weekend home in Napa Valley since 1990, when they spent $2.35 million for their property, which came with a Palladian-style villa, guesthouse and pool.

“Its not a palace, Brown said. “If you go up there, you will notice that some people have places with caves for the wine and all that kind of stuff. Thats not what they have. They have a place you can actually live in, without servants. You wouldnt bring the Three Tenors to sing. But the Pelosis do have a vineyard, from which they sell grapes.

“Everybody in San Francisco now has a Napa place, Brown continued. “Everybody who can afford it.

Neighbors are aware of Nancy Pelosis regular presence, in part because of the security detail that appears when she is in Napa and can cause traffic delays. Nancy Pelosi and her husband also host a regular summer gathering that is attended by many of the Democratic Partys biggest names.

Nancy Pelosi, 82, usually goes to the Memorial Day weekend dinner that her husband attended just before his arrest, at the Oakville home of Mehran, a major commercial real estate developer. In an interview, Mehran said that he had been friends with the Pelosis for more than 50 years. Since the 2020 election cycle, he has given more than $1 million to Democratic politicians and groups, according to Federal Election Commission data.

The Pelosis have taken to Napa, an often insular world where family, political and social circles overlap. They have their spots: Nancy Pelosi eats at Pizzeria Tra Vigne, an artisanal pizza place (where Chelsea Handler was recently spotted), and gets coffee at the Model Bakery (where David Beckham is a regular). She can be seen at Sunday Mass at St. Helena Catholic Church and sometimes picks up the tab for her daughters and granddaughters mani-pedis at Blush, the local nail salon.

But even in Napa, Pelosi, who doesnt seem to do California casual, is often seen in the fitted suits that are her Capitol Hill signature. After all, the Pelosis remain San Francisco people at heart and since 1987 have been ensconced in Pacific Heights, perhaps the citys most exclusive neighborhood, where they own a three-floor red brick town house.

They make regular appearances at the citys biggest social events — among them the San Francisco Symphonys opening gala — and they have season tickets to the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. They have been known to turn their shopping excursions at the local Giorgio Armani boutique (where Nancy Pelosi was spotted two weeks ago) into a sport of its own.

Paul Pelosi, who holds investments in commercial real estate and the tech sector, is still a swaggering presence in the citys society circuit at 6 feet 2 inches, well dressed, with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair. But more than a dozen people interviewed for this article said they had never seen evidence that Paul Pelosi drinks to excess. (Nancy Pelosi does not drink at all.) “Paul is a social drinker, said Mehran, 71. “Thats the best way to put it.

Paul Pelosi has, however, had a history of car accidents over the course of his life. At 16, in 1957, he was behind the wheel of a sports car that crashed. His brother David, who was a passenger, was killed. (A jury ultimately exonerated Paul Pelosi of misdemeanor manslaughter charges, according to news accounts at the time.)

In the late 1970s Nancy Pelosi became the Northern California chair of the Democratic Party. On her way to a barbecue for a local politician, a car that she was in with Paul Pelosi and a number of their children flipped on its side. No one was hurt, and Nancy Pelosi hitched a ride to go meet donors.

The Pelosi camp declined to comment to The New York Times on who was driving.

A Political Career Closely Tied to San Francisco Society

Paul Pelosis family roots are in San Francisco, but he met Nancy Pelosi when they were both college students in Washington, D.C. The two had much in common. They were liberal Democrats and observant Catholics. And both were Italian American royalty.

When they settled in San Francisco in the late 1960s, Paul Pelosis connections in the city catapulted them into influential circles. His brother Ronald Pelosi, a rising political star on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was married to Barbara Newsom, the aunt of the states future governor, Gavin Newsom; and the sister of William Newsom (Gavin Newsoms father), an appeals court judge who administered the trust of oil tycoon John Paul Getty.

Nancy and Paul Pelosi became friends with Gettys son Gordon and Gordons wife, Ann Getty. The families remain close. In November, just before heading to Glasgow, Scotland, to address the COP26 U.N. global climate summit, Nancy Pelosi officiated at the wedding of Gordon and Ann Gettys granddaughter Ivy Getty. (Ivy Getty, who wore a 16-foot veil and a mirrored John Galliano for Maison Margiela dress, is an oil heiress; criticism from progressive Democrats followed.)

Nancy Pelosis rise in politics began as a fundraiser, but as her children grew, she began to consider running for office. In 1986, Rep. Sala Burton, a Pelosi family friend, entered the hospital with terminal cancer. A special election to replace her was scheduled.

Nancy Pelosi decided to run for her seat, but her house was just outside the district. So Paul Pelosi leased the town house in Pacific Heights, and the family moved about 15 blocks northeast. Burton endorsed Nancy Pelosi days before she died. The rest is history.

Some analysts consider Pelosi among the most effective speakers ever to lead the House, and she is a pathbreaking figure in American politics. She has spoken at times of how her faith informs her politics and her desire to expand the social safety net, and she is credited with pushing the Affordable Care Act through the House.

But its clear that this spring has been challenging for her.

She has watched while the landmark legislation passed by the House, the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, has stalled in the Senate. In addition, House Democrats appear poised for a shellacking this fall, which would mean Pelosi would have to hand over the speakers gavel, 35 years into her congressional career.

Among the powerful political and social figures who inhabit the Pelosis world, there was abundant sympathy and some protectiveness after what happened over Memorial Day weekend.

A person who witnessed the accident said both cars were totaled, and that Paul Pelosi simply sat in the car, seemingly frozen, for several minutes, until the sheriff and members of the Fire Department arrived moments later.

Neither Pelosi nor the driver of the Jeep was injured.

Some friends felt that Pelosis full night in custody at the Napa County Jail after the accident was excessive. Others were puzzled why their friend hadnt preempted the whole ordeal by simply taking a car service home.

And some local residents suggested that, in an earlier era in Napa, driving after drinking was met with understanding, rather than criminal charges.

“I feel just awful about whats happened because there was a time when if a thing like this happened, the cops would take you home, said society doyenne Diane Wilsey, better known as Dede.

Wilsey, who is Paul Pelosis fellow trustee at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, is a Republican, but she has donated to several of the speakers political campaigns and sees the couple socially in California.

“I dont agree with Nancy on everything, but I cannot think of anyone nicer than Nancy or Paul, she said.

Meanwhile, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, the Napa County district attorney has been busy fending off some 1,500 angry calls inspired by right-wing pundits, including Donald Trump Jr., claiming without evidence that Paul Pelosi would not “face any consequence for the incident. Pelosi is set to return to court in August. Local authorities stress that he will receive no special treatment.


Supreme Court rules for GOP lawmakers in voter ID case

The Supreme Court gave Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina a win Thursday in an ongoing fight over the states latest photo identification voting law.

The 8-1 decision doesnt end the more than three-year dispute over the voter ID law, which is not currently in effect and has been challenged in both state and federal court. The decision just means that Republican legislative leaders can intervene in the federal lawsuit to defend the law. A lower court had ruled the lawmakers interests were already being adequately represented by the states attorney general, Democrat Josh Stein.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that: “Through the General Assembly, the people of North Carolina have authorized the leaders of their legislature to defend duly enacted state statutes against constitutional challenge. Ordinarily, a federal court must respect that kind of sovereign choice, not assemble presumptions against it.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

North Carolina voters amended the state constitution in 2018 to include a voter ID mandate. Lawmakers then passed the law at issue in the case to implement the change. The law requires voters to show a photo ID to vote — whether its a drivers license, a passport or certain student and local government identifications.

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure, but lawmakers overrode his veto to pass the law. The state NAACP and several local chapters immediately sued in federal court to halt enforcement of the law, arguing that it discriminates against Black and Latino voters in violation of the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, both Republican, wanted to intervene in the federal court case to defend the law alongside lawyers for the state, saying Stein wouldnt adequately fight for the law. But a federal judge said no, that lawmakers interests were being adequately defended by lawyers in Steins agency. A three-judge federal appeals court panel ruled for the lawmakers before the full federal appeals court reversed the decision, ruling 9-6 that lawmakers should not be allowed to intervene.

As for the law itself, it was initially blocked by the judge in the case, who said it was “impermissibly motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent. But the three-judge appeals panel reversed her decision and sent it back to U.S. District Court, where a trial has yet to start.

In litigation in state court, judges struck down the law as tainted by racial bias. North Carolinas Supreme Court has said it will take up the case, but no date has been set for oral arguments.

Separately, North Carolinas highest court has also already heard arguments in a lawsuit over whether the constitutional amendment mandating voter ID should have been allowed on the November 2018 ballot in the first place. A state judge had ruled that the GOP-controlled legislature lacked authority to put the amendment and one other on the ballot because lawmakers had been elected from racially biased districts two years earlier. That decision was later overturned on appeal before going to the states highest court.


COVID Cases Surge, but Deaths Stay Near Lows

For two years, the coronavirus killed Americans on a brutal, predictable schedule: A few weeks after infections climbed so did deaths, cutting an unforgiving path across the country.

But that pattern appears to have changed. Nearly three months since an ultra-contagious set of new omicron variants launched a springtime resurgence of cases, people are nonetheless dying from COVID-19 at a rate close to the lowest of the pandemic.

The spread of the virus and the number of deaths in its wake, two measures that were once yoked together, have diverged more than ever before, public health researchers said. Deaths have ticked up slowly in the northeastern United States, where the latest wave began, and are likely to do the same nationally as the surge pushes across the South and West. But the country remains better fortified against COVID-19 deaths than earlier in the pandemic, scientists said.

Because so many Americans have now been vaccinated or infected or both, they said, the number of people whose immune systems are entirely unprepared for the virus has significantly dwindled.

In previous waves, there were still substantial pockets of people who had not been vaccinated or exposed to the virus, and so were at the same risk of dying as people at the beginning of the pandemic, said Dr. David Dowdy, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Those pockets don’t exist anymore.

That turn in the pandemic has nevertheless left many Americans behind.

Older people make up a larger share of COVID-19 deaths than they did last year. The virus continues to kill unvaccinated people at much higher rates than vaccinated people, despite many unvaccinated people having some protection from prior infections. And those with weakened immune systems also face greater risks.

COVID-19 is still killing an average of 314 people daily, one-tenth the number who were dying every day in January 2021, but, even so, an awful toll. At that rate, the virus is killing more than twice as many Americans every day as are suicides or car crashes. And many of those who survive the virus are debilitated, some of them for long after their infections.

With the country’s resources for fighting the virus drying up and many Americans forgoing booster shots, the decoupling of cases and deaths may not last. Immunity will wane and a more evasive variant could cut into people’s residual protection against severe disease.

As the time since people got vaccinated becomes longer and longer, the efficacy of the immune response will be lessened, said Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University. We can be caught off guard later this year.

The link between COVID-19 cases and deaths started weakening over the winter, scientists said, but the sheer volume of Americans getting infected meant that fatalities still soared.

This spring, COVID-19 has been killing fewer Americans daily than during any period except the summer of 2021. The country is now recording 10 times as many cases as it was at that time, indicating that a smaller share of cases are ending in death.

By some estimates, the case fatality rate — the share of recorded COVID-19 cases that prove deadly — is one-third lower than it was last summer and one-quarter lower than it was in December. Recorded cases always understate actual infection levels, and the prevalence of at-home testing these days has made that especially true.

To account for those problems, Dowdy looked at the proportion of reported test results that are positive, a figure known as test positivity. That measure, too, is imperfect, but it reflects the enormous numbers of Americans who recently contracted the virus. Some scientists estimate that the current wave of cases is the second-largest of the pandemic.

By his rough calculations, Dowdy estimated that the ratio of deaths to test positivity fell threefold from the early days of the pandemic to January 2022, and fourfold from January 2022 to this spring.

What we’re seeing is that the average case of COVID-19 is becoming much milder, he said.

That is a better reflection of gains in immunity than it is of any intrinsic weakening of the virus, scientists said. Government estimates of the share of Americans who have contracted the virus jumped from one-third in December 2021 to well over one-half two months later.

The country paid a staggering price: Some 200,000 people were killed by COVID-19 this winter and large numbers beyond that were seriously sickened. But those who survived infections emerged with immune systems that had learned to better deal with the virus.

Our level of community immunity heading into this wave was much higher than it’s ever been due to the combination of infection and vaccination, said Dr. Joe Gerald, an associate professor of public health at the University of Arizona. A lot of people who weren’t vaccinated, and were infection-naive — most of them were infected with omicron over the period from January to early March.

In the Northeast, where the omicron subvariants first took hold this spring, deaths climbed as cases surged. In New York, the daily average of COVID-19 deaths rose from eight in April to about 24 in mid-June. Daily deaths in New England increased from five to a peak of 34 over the same period.

But across the United States, where cases have been climbing since early April, deaths have remained roughly level. In each previous wave, national COVID-19 deaths surged several weeks after cases did.

I think it’s somewhat reassuring that deaths didn’t really spike as they had during earlier points of the pandemic, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health researcher at Brown University.

Virginia Pitzer, a researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, said that shift stemmed in part from a growing share of cases occurring in people who were fully vaccinated, previously infected or both. In Arizona, for instance, the share of COVID-19 cases being recorded in vaccinated people grew to 60% in April from 25% five months earlier.

In a country as large as the United States, every COVID-19 wave is also a collection of staggered regional surges, complicating national trends. In early May, for example, continued declines in COVID-19 deaths in the South and the West from the wintertime omicron wave might have helped to obscure rising mortality levels in the Northeast.

Some states have also moved from reporting COVID-19 deaths daily to doing so weekly, and they have only slowly caught up from holiday reporting breaks, causing more frequent daily swings in the data.

And some states said that so many residents had died from COVID-19 this winter that it took them weeks to report all of those deaths publicly. That, too, could have affected the national death curve.

Our surveillance system in the U.S. is not as strong as it should be or could be, Gerald said, and it does make it more difficult for us to understand the pace and trajectory of the outbreak.

There are a number of possible reasons that COVID-19 deaths have not fallen even further. With infection levels so high and few precautions being taken, the virus is inevitably reaching people who are more vulnerable because of their vaccine status, age or underlying conditions. And even as some people gain immune protection during the pandemic, others become more susceptible to bad outcomes as they age or develop weakened immune systems.

The country’s stagnant booster campaign has also left many older people at a long distance from their last shot and so vulnerable to the effects of waning immunity.

Overall, the people who’ve been coming through with COVID are much, much less sick than they were even this winter, said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University. It feels like almost a different disease for folks, with the exception of people who are really old, who are unvaccinated or who are immunosuppressed.

Disparities in access to booster shots and antiviral pills have also put some Americans at higher risk. Black and Hispanic people eligible for boosters have received the shots at lower rates than white people have, reflecting what some public health researchers describe as limited efforts in some states to put boosters within easy reach. Patients who do not have primary care doctors, or who live far from pharmacies, can also struggle to get antiviral pills.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is still climbing nationally, making it likely that increases in deaths will gradually follow, public health researchers said. It is unclear how hard the wave will hit less-vaccinated regions, such as the South, where immunity from past infections has also grown.

Unfortunately, vaccination rates in many southern states are among the lowest in the country, said Jason Salemi, a professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida. But there is certainly a lot of immunity built up through prior infection.

Even as fewer cases turn deadly, the unprecedented number of infections this winter and spring has created significant problems of its own. In the United States, 1 in 5 adult survivors of COVID-19 under 65 has dealt with some version of long COVID-19, a recent study found. Many people have missed work, including doctors, whose absences this spring have periodically strained hospitals that already had staffing problems.

Karan, of Stanford, said he had lingering symptoms from a January bout with COVID-19 until April. A month later, he was infected again. As of last week, he said, with the subvariant surge hitting California, his team of five doctors at one of the hospitals where he works had been reduced to two because of COVID-19 absences, forcing delays to consultations for some patients.

In the Northeast, where cases have been falling for several weeks, Ranney said COVID-19 patients had generally been spending less time in the hospital during the latest wave.

They had also been presenting differently, she said. In previous surges, patients’ most pressing difficulties tended to be the direct result of COVID-19, like low oxygen levels or severe pneumonia. This spring, she said, more patients needed care because COVID-19 had exacerbated underlying conditions, like diabetes or heart trouble.

This wave feels qualitatively and quantitatively different, Ranney said. We’re not seeing our ICU get filled up with patients who are gasping for breath or who are on death’s door.


Juneteenth Is a Federal Holiday, but in Most States It’s Still Not a Day Off

Last June, President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday, proclaiming it as a day for all Americans to commemorate the end of slavery.

One year later, only 18 states have passed legislation that would provide funding to let state employees observe the day as a paid state holiday, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Opponents of bills that would create funding for the permanent holiday have complained of the costs associated with giving workers another paid day off. Some have said that not enough people know about the holiday to make the effort worthwhile.

For supporters, such arguments are painful to hear, especially as more Americans said they were familiar with Juneteenth. This month, nearly 60% of Americans said they knew about the holiday, compared with 37% in May 2021, according to a Gallup poll.

“This is something that Black folk deserve and it was like we had to almost prove ourselves to get them to agree, said Anthony Nolan, a state representative in Connecticut, where legislators argued for hours earlier this year before passing legislation to fund the holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, when Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom after the Civil War had ended.

The day has been commemorated by Black Americans since the late 1800s. Although all 50 states have recognized Juneteenth by enacting some kind of proclamation celebrating it, its full adoption as an American holiday has yet to take root.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said state employees should have the day off and set aside more than $690,000 in the annual budget to cover the overtime costs of any employee who worked on Juneteenth.

But when the bill came up for discussion during a February committee hearing, Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican, said he had spoken with more than 100 constituents about the holiday. Only two knew what it was, he said.

“I just think it’s putting the cart before the horse to make a holiday people don’t know about, Hensley said during the hearing. “We need to educate people first and then make a holiday if we need to.

The bill came out of committee but was taken off the legislative calendar later that month.

The resistance from some legislators recalls the tension that sprang out of efforts to make the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a paid holiday throughout the country.

President Ronald Reagan signed King’s birthday into federal law in 1983, but by 1990, Montana, New Hampshire and Arizona still had not made the day a legal holiday. In 1986, Bruce Babbitt, governor of Arizona and a Democrat, enacted the holiday, but his successor, Gov. Evan Mecham, a Republican, quickly rescinded it the following year, because he said the governor did not have the authority to take such action.

In 1990, Arizonans voted against a measure that would have made the day a paid holiday, leading Stevie Wonder, the Doobie Brothers and Public Enemy to boycott the state in protest. The NFL also stripped the Phoenix area of its rights to host the 1993 Super Bowl.

In 1992, Arizona voters overwhelmingly agreed to turn King’s birthday into a state holiday.

The Juneteenth commemoration marks the legal end of slavery in the United States, a hard-fought achievement of the Civil War. Granger’s announcement in 1865 put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than 2 1/2 years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln, on Jan. 1, 1863.

The holiday is also called “Juneteenth Independence Day, “Freedom Day or “Emancipation Day.

The proclamations issued across the country are “just largely symbolic, said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African American studies at Duke University.

“If you really want to put skin in the game, you make it a paid holiday, he said. Such actions show state employees, he added, that “‘this is a sacrifice on our part.’

It also forces a recognition that Juneteenth is a day that should be commemorated by all Americans, not just Black citizens, Neal said.

“You think of Juneteenth and Independence Day as kind of bookends to this idea of American democracy and freedom, he said.

Texas became the first state in the country to make Juneteenth a paid day off in 1980.

When Biden signed the holiday into federal law on June 17, 2021, eight other states had already made it a paid holiday.

They included New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, and Massachusetts.

This year, nine more states joined them: Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In Connecticut, it took more than two years for legislators to enact a bill creating the holiday, said Nolan, who recalled some of the impassioned arguments he and others made on the floor of the Statehouse.

“I said, ‘People are going to be watching,’ he said. “‘People are going to know that you didn’t vote for this.’

The legislation was approved 148-1 in the state’s House of Representatives and 35-1 in the Senate.


Jennifer Lopez introduced her child Emme using gender-neutral pronouns before they sang a duet at Dodger Stadium

Jennifer Lopez introduced her child Emme Muñiz using “they/them” pronouns at a performance Thursday.

Lopez and Muñiz performed a duet of “A Thousand Years” during the show, according to The Independent.

The pair also performed together during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2020.

Jennifer Lopez introduced her 14-year-old child using gender-neutral pronouns during a performance at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Emme Muñiz joined their mother to perform a duet of Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” at the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala, according to The Independent. Lopez joked that Muñiz was “very, very busy, booked and pricey,” but that they’re “worth every single penny because they’re my favorite duet partner of all time.”

“The last time we performed together was in a big stadium like this and I ask them to sing with me all the time, and they won’t. So this is a very special occasion,” The Independent reports Lopez said, referring to the Super Bowl halftime performance she also brought Muñiz on stage for in 2020.

A Twitter video from user @ygiron96 shows the pair singing together, with Lopez wearing a mint-colored outfit with feathered embellishment and Muñiz in a hot pink matching set and black cap. At one point, Lopez kneeled down and looked up at Muñiz while they harmonized. The Daily Mail reports that Muñiz used a rainbow-colored microphone during the performance.

Muñiz is Jennifer Lopez’s child with ex-husband Marc Anthony. Lopez and Anthony have one other child, Emme’s fraternal twin Max. Following Muñiz’s performance at the Super Bowl halftime show, both expressed that they were proud of their child.

The Hollywood Reporter writes that the Blue Diamond Gala raised a record $3.6 million dollars for LADF, which aims to provide healthcare and improve education, homelessness, and social justice for Los Angeles residents.

Read the original article on Insider


Ukrainian High School Grads Pose For Heartbreaking Photos In War-Torn Homeland

Ukrainian high school seniors recently posed for a series of poignant graduation photos, juxtaposing their youth and tentative optimism with the horrifying devastation of war in their homeland.

Photographer Stanislav Senyk told Reuters he wanted to document the very important story of roughly 40 students graduating from schools in Chernihiv in northern Ukraine after witnessing the horrors of the war there.

I saw the children who were there and it was like some kind of surrealism going on, Senyk said.

I realized that I could write a very important story at that moment, about schoolchildren who were graduating and who had witnessed the war, and because of that their graduation, their prom, their everything, just cracked, he said. It was very important to capture that memory.

One of the photos features a group of students huddled atop a tank. Another includes a group of girls in a bombed-out building, with others looking down from the gutted floors above.

The students called the experience difficult — but important.

We wanted to show that we live in such realities, Olha Babynets, 17, told Reuters. We wanted to show our pain, which is there and has never subsided. It was difficult emotionally, but we tried to hold on. And I think we managed to do that.

In a separate set of photos shot by Abdullah Unver for the Anadolu Agency, Ukrainian students forced to skip their prom posed in their dance clothes in the rubble of their bombed-out school in Kharkiv.

KHARKIV, UKRAINE – JUNE 7: A student wearing her prom dress poses for a photo among the ruins of her school destroyed in a Russian shelling on February 27, in Kharkiv, Ukraine on June 7, 2022. Teenagers in their gowns which they would have worn for their prom organized a graduation ceremony in their destroyed school.


France awakens to an emboldened Le Pen after far-right gains

France awakened to an ecstatic Marine Le Pen on Monday after her party’s far-right candidates for parliament sent shockwaves through the political establishment and helped deny President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance an absolute majority.

Le Pen’s National Rally party didn’t win the two rounds of voting in the parliamentary election, which ended Sunday. But it secured more than 10 times the seats it won five years ago.

It was only a couple of months ago that Le Pen lost the presidential election to Macron. But now it was her turn to gloat, since she knows she can use the seats in the National Assembly to thwart Macron’s domestic agenda and even trigger a no-confidence vote.

And she beamed with pride, calling the outcome a historic victory and a seismic event in French politics.

Many voters opted for her far-right party or for leftist candidates, leaving Macron’s alliance significantly weakened despite having the most seats.

Le Pen’s National Rally got 89 seats in the 577-member parliament, up from a previous total of eight. On the other side of the political spectrum, the leftist Nupes coalition, led by hardliner Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won 131 seats to become the main opposition force.

Macron’s alliance Together! won 245 seats — but fell 44 seats short of a straight majority in the National Assembly, France’s most powerful house of parliament.

The outcome of the legislative election is highly unusual in France and the strong performance of both Le Pen’s National Rally and Mélenchon’s coalition — composed of his own hard-left party, France Unbowed, the Socialists, Greens and Communists — will make it harder for Macron to implement the agenda he was reelected on in May, including tax cuts and raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 65.

Macron is a minority president now. (…) His retirement reform plan is buried, a beaming Le Pen declared on Monday in Hénin-Beaumont, her stronghold in northern France, where she was reelected for another five-year term in the parliament.

She told reporters: We are entering the parliament as a very strong group and as such we will claim every post that belongs to us.” As the biggest single opposition party in the parliament — Mélenchon leads a coalition — she said the National Rally will seek to chair the parliament’s powerful finance committee.

The National Rally, previously known as the National Front, has been a political force in France for decades. But the two-round voting system had until now prevented it to do big scores in the parliamentary elections.

Political analyst Brice Teinturier, deputy director-general of Ipsos polling institute, said on France Inter radio that Sunday’s result means that the National Rally is ‘institutionalizing’ itself. The strategy through which all other political forces used to join together to defeat the far-right in the decisive round doesn’t work anymore, he said.

Le Pen lost to Macron in April with 41.5% of the votes against 58.5% — her highest-ever level of support in her three attempts to become France’s leader.

Since taking over the party in 2011, Le Pen has worked to remove the stigma of racism and antisemitism attached to the National Front under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. By softening some of her views and rhetoric, she sought to make the party move from a protest movement to an opposition force perceived as being able to govern. She even changed the party’s name.

Le Pen’s National Rally now has a sufficient number of legislators to constitute a formal group at the National Assembly and request seats in parliamentary committees, including those focusing on defense and foreign policy.

In addition, the National Rally party now has enough seats — more than 58 — to trigger a censure motion against the government that can lead to a no-confidence vote.

The new Assembly will start working next week.

Meanwhile, France is heading toward a government reshuffle. Three ministers — out of 15 who were running — have lost the election and will need to resign under rules set by Macron.

The president could also use the reshuffle to offer some jobs in the government to new potential allies.

Macron himself hasn’t commented on the election results yet.

His government will still have the ability to rule, but only by bargaining with legislators. The centrists could try to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with lawmakers from the center-left and from the conservative party — with the goal of preventing opposition lawmakers from being numerous enough to reject the proposed measures.

The government could also occasionally use a special measure provided by the French Constitution to adopt a law without a vote.

A similar situation happened in 1988 under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, who then had to seek support from the Communists or the centrists to pass laws.

Macron’s diplomatic policies aren’t expected to be affected in an immediate future, including France’s strong support for Ukraine. In line with the French Constitution, Macron keeps substantial powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defense no matter what difficulties his alliance may face in parliament.

Teinturier, the political analyst, said the new composition of the National Assembly echoes the desire of the French people to rebalance the results of the presidential election.

There was clearly the will to not give all the powers and a straight majority to Emmanuel Macron and to impose on him some constraints, some kind of placement under supervision, he said.

The latest parliamentary election has once again largely been defined by voter apathy — with over half the electorate staying home.

Aurélie Cruvilier, a bank employee in the French capital said the outcome of Sunday’s vote was confusing because we vote for candidates that we don’t like when we maybe should be voting for ideas or at least important issues.”