Day 111: "Step up."
1/ The Biden administration announced new protections against discrimination in health care based on gender identity and sexual orientation. “Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.” The move reverses a Trump policy that limited protections for transgender people in health care, which narrowed the legal definition of “sex discrimination” to “the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.” (NPR / New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News / Associated Press)
2/ The FBI confirmed that a Russian criminal group was responsible for the ransomware attack that closed a U.S. energy pipeline that transports 45% of the East Coast’s fuel supply. The Colonial Pipeline Company shut down all its operations Friday after Darkside hackers broke into some of its networks. In a statement, Darkside – a relatively new player in the ransomware space and believed to be operated by a Russian cybercrime gang referred to by the same name – said it wasn’t to blame and suggested that an affiliate may have been behind the attack. The group promised to do a better job of screening customers that buy its malware to run ransomware attacks. Biden, meanwhile, is expected to sign an executive order to strengthen cybersecurity for federal agencies and contractors. The Department of Transportation also issued an emergency declaration for 17 states and Washington, D.C., to keep fuel supply lines open. Colonial is using a phased approach to restore the pipeline, and said it may take several more days to recover from the cyberattack. (NBC News / New York Times / Bloomberg / Axios / CBS News / Politico)
3/ Three Republican governors plan to cut enhanced jobless benefits in their states in an effort to force people to return to work. Arkansas, Montana, and South Carolina have targeted the extra $300 in weekly enhanced jobless benefits from the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package as businesses reopen and states lift restrictions. Other Republican governors have also recently reinstated requirements for unemployment aid, which they had suspended earlier in the pandemic. Biden, meanwhile, said the White House doesn’t “see much evidence” that the $300 per week federal unemployment benefit has deterred people from taking jobs, adding that “Americans want to work.” Biden instead called on companies to “step up” by helping workers access vaccines and raising wages, saying “My expectation is that as our economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments. And if they do, they’ll find plenty of workers.” (Washington Post / CNBC)
4/ The WHO reclassified the highly contagious triple-mutant Covid-19 variant spreading in India as a “variant of concern.” In preliminary studies, the variant known as B.1.617 spread more easily than the original virus and there is concern that it may able to evade vaccines. The WHO initially classified B.1.617 as a “variant of interest,” because it had certain mutations were linked to higher transmission. (CNBC / New York Times / Wall street Journal)
5/ Mitch McConnell suggested that the “proper price tag” for Biden’s infrastructure package is between $600 billion and $800 billion. Biden, however, has proposed $2.3 trillion in infrastructure spending. Biden is set to meet with lawmakers from both parties this week in an effort to craft a compromise bill to refresh U.S. transportation, broadband, and water systems. (CNBC / The Hill)
6/ The Department of Homeland Security is implementing a warning system to gather intelligence and detect security threats from public social media posts. The goal is to detect the sort of posts that seemed to predict the Jan. 6 Capitol attack but were missed by law enforcement. (NBC News)
7/ The Biden administration launched the Scientific Integrity Task Force to ensure that the federal government’s scientific policies are free from political influence. An administration official said the task force’s review is less about the Trump administration’s actions to interfere in scientific decisions and more about protecting science in the federal government going forward. The 46 members from across the federal government will meet for the first time this week. (CNN)
8/ Air pollution from U.S. farms accounts for more than 17,000 annual deaths, according to a first-of-its-kind study that linked thousands of premature deaths per year to methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide emissions by U.S. farms. About 80% of deaths were linked to fine-particle pollution from animal-based food agriculture at beef, pork, and dairy facilities. These emissions now account for more annual deaths than pollution from coal power plants. (Washington Post)
poll/ 64% of Americans think social media platforms do more to divide the nation than to bring it together, while 27% of adults believe that those platforms do more to bring us together. 66% of adults say they use social media once a day or more. (NBC News)
poll/ 63% of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president. 71% approve his handling of the pandemic. (Associated Press)
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