Rising Covid infections spark fears of pandemic resurgence in US | First Thing

Jul 20, 2021

As the Delta variant spreads across the US and beyond, cities ponder whether to revive some curbs. Plus, the people who were forcibly sterilized in California prisons hope for some justice at last


Last modified on Tue 20 Jul 2021 06.15 EDT


A worrying rise in coronavirus cases in the US and many other places in the world is fueling concerns that the pandemic has come back for another round. On Monday, news about the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant sent shockwaves through the stock market, while Joe Biden urged Americans to “please, please get vaccinated”.


Cases are increasing in all 50 US states and some cities are once again considering or already imposing mask mandates, such as California.

  • The average number of new Covid-19 cases per day has tripled in the past 30 days in the US, according to an analysis of Reuters data.

  • The surge is largely driven by outbreaks in parts of the country with low vaccination rates, as officials have been warning of a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

  • Deaths, which can lag weeks behind a rise in cases, rose 25% last week from the previous seven days with an average of 250 people dying a day.

  • The UK was placed on the highest level of the US travel guidance – “Level 4: very high” – on Monday, warning that even fully vaccinated travelers could be at risk in the country.

Bezos blasted for travelling to space while Amazon workers toil on Earth

Jeff Bezos, center, with his Blue Origin crew.

The Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has come under fire for his voyage to space, scheduled for Tuesday, with some asking whether his time, or at least money, might be better spent here on Earth.

Bezos, who has an estimated net worth of $206bn, is taking off from Texas on Tuesday morning on the rocket New Shepard, owned by his company Blue Origin. While it’s a dream come true for Bezos, many others are unimpressed with him spending his fortune on space travel, given the long-running complaints about working conditions at Amazon, and broader concerns about income inequality and the amount of taxes the wealthiest Americans pay – or don’t pay – to the government. My colleague Adam Gabbatt reports.

  • Warren Gunnels, a staffer for Bernie Sanders, tweeted: “Class warfare is Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson becoming $250bn richer during the pandemic, paying a lower tax rate than a nurse and racing to outer space while the planet burns and millions go without healthcare, housing and food. #TaxTheRich

LA bomb squad ‘grossly miscalculated’ weight of fireworks in huge explosion

Los Angeles bomb technicians grossly miscalculated the weight of homemade fireworks last month when they detonated them in a containment chamber, which was probably the cause of a catastrophic explosion that injured 17 people and rocked a neighbourhood, the police chief said on Monday.

Five members of the department’s bomb squad have been removed from field duties as the investigation continues. They could face discipline, as residents in the neighbourhood have called for accountability.

  • The explosion damaged dozens of homes, businesses and vehicles just days before July Fourth and was highly unusual, officials say, because such containment chambers are designed to withhold blasts.

  • The bomb technicians overloaded it beyond the safety rating, however, even as authorities are investigating if the detonation device had a defect.

In other news…

Bill and Hillary Clinton having dinner at Le Pont restaurant in London in 1997 with Tony and Cherie Blair.
  • Bill Clinton turned down tea with the Queen and dinner at Chequers because he wanted to “be a tourist” and try out an Indian restaurant during his first official visit to the UK with Tony Blair as prime minister, formerly classified documents reveal.

  • Across the US, Republican state party officials are taking unprecedented steps to discourage or even purge critics of Donald Trump and promote potential allies of the former president, Daniel Strauss reports.

  • A suicide bomber has killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 60 in a crowded market in the Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad on Monday, the eve of the Eid al-Adha festival, security and hospital sources said.

Stat of the day: survivors of forced California prison sterilizations hope to get $25,000 in compensation

Under provisions signed into California’s budget this week, the state will offer reparations for the thousands of people who were sterilized in California institutions without adequate consent, often because they were deemed “criminal”, “feeble-minded” or “deviant”. The program will be the first in the country to provide compensation to modern-day survivors of prison sterilizations, but the state assembly member Wendy Carrillo, who introduced the reparations bill, hopes each qualified applicant to the program will get about $25,000 – a pitiful sum to rectify this injustice.

Don’t miss: how to cope with anxiety now that society is reopening

As social pressure is building to venture out again, some people are struggling with their mental health.

Many people are acutely aware that, just because some holidays are possible again and restaurants open, the pandemic is far from over. For those with anxiety, the resumption of socialising can be terrifying. Matthew Cantor explains how he feels, and will feel for some time.

Climate Check: emissions could hit record high by 2023

Covering the climate crisis is one of the most important things we do at the Guardian. So this week we’re introducing Climate Check, a new First Thing section to help you stay on top of the biggest environmental stories. Today, a warning from the global energy body makes for worrying reading: global greenhouse gas emissions are likely to rise to record levels in the next two years as governments fail to “build back better” from the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Yesterday, we forgot to link to an article about how a powerful US lobby group helps big oil to block climate action, courtesy of Chris McGreal.

Last Thing: world’s wild pigs produce as much CO2 as 1.1m cars each year

Feral pigs

Yep, you’ve heard right. These animals don’t just look the part, they also behave like total pigs in terms of pollution. The climate impact of feral pigs around the world is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 1.1m cars annually, research shows. How? They uproot soil while searching for food, like an army of “mini tractors”.

Courtesy of the Reuters Markets