We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Is the pandemic finally winding down in the United States?
More than 73,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Wednesday, down from more than 280,000 three months before. And as cases drop, vaccination rates go up. Now that 40% of U.S. adults are at least partially vaccinated, is the pandemic coming to a close soon?
“I can’t say it’s going to be ‘this’ percent,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci. “But we’ll know it when we see it. It’ll be obvious as the numbers come down rather dramatically.”
The good news is that as vaccine rates rise, many lockdown orders and mask mandates are relaxing. California, one of the states with the strictest lockdowns, plans to “fully reopen” by mid-June, as long as residents keep getting vaccinated. “With the expectation of an abundance of doses coming in from the federal government through the end of this month and into May, we can confidently say by June 15 that we can start to open up as business as usual—subject to ongoing mask-wearing and ongoing vigilance,” Governor Gavin Newsom said this week.
Meanwhile, Texas has already lifted its mask mandate and is experiencing a huge dip in cases. Texas has dished out 13.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with all adults now eligible to receive it.
This week, President Biden announced that all adults across the United States will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19. According to the president, “we're now administering an average of 3 million shots per day, over 20 million shots a week.” While politicians and public health officials emphasize that we’re not done battling the coronavirus yet, we have lots of reasons for hope. —Madeline Fry Schultz
Scientists may have discovered another force of nature
Physicists working at a lab outside Chicago are reporting new findings that suggest they are on the brink of discovering a fifth force of nature.
We are all familiar with forces like gravity and electromagnetism, as skydivers and anyone who has used a fridge magnet can attest. The potential fifth force is a bit more complicated. Scientists conducted an experiment on fundamental particles called muons, which are smaller than atoms. They expected the muons to wobble at a certain rate, but instead, the muons wobbled faster. That could be because of a yet-unknown force of nature.
The research, conducted in the United States, has sparked excitement around the world. The BBC quoted one physicist as saying, “This is the moment that I have been waiting for and I'm not getting a lot of sleep because I'm too excited." The fifth force could help explain long-standing mysteries like why the expansion of the universe seems to be speeding up.
So far researchers haven’t quite proved the existence of the fifth force. There’s currently a 1 in 40,000 chance that their observations are just a coincidental fluke. They need to improve that to odds of 1 in 3.5 million to be able to conclusively say they’ve found something new. —Margaret Brady
Major League Baseball moves All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado
In a bombshell move, Major League Baseball (MLB) has decided to boycott Georgia’s newly passed “voter integrity” laws by moving its annual All-Star game from the Braves’ Truist Stadium outside Atlanta to the Rockies’ Coors Stadium in Denver, Colorado. MLB Commissioner Manfred issued a news release in which he explained his decision-making by referencing MLB’s support for “fair access to voting,” as well its opposition to “restrictions” that reportedly make it harder for ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, to cast their votes.
With MLB announcing this decision just last week in response to Georgia’s voting legislation that will expand early voting but will require ID for mail-in votes, the league explained in a recent statement that Denver was specifically chosen as the replacement venue “because they were already in the bidding process to host a future All-Star Game.”
Georgia’s Governor spoke up against the League’s decision, insisting that “it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense” given that Colorado’s voting laws, for both in-person and absentee ballots, are seemingly more restrictive than Georgia’s new measures. The Atlanta Braves issued a press release via Twitter saying they were “deeply disappointed” and that “businesses, employees and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.”
The relocation is expected to deliver a severe economic blow to Atlanta, where nearly 30 percent of businesses are Black-owned and more than half the population is African-American. According to the Washington Post, “tourism officials estimated the move to Colorado could cost the area $100 million, including the revenue from some 8,000 hotel rooms that had been booked for the game. The impact is likely to fall hardest on low-income and minority residents who work in the service sector.” —Mariel Lindsay
Sexual misconduct allegations stack up against Representative Matt Gaetz
Last week, the New York Times reported that Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz was under investigation by the Justice Department over whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. Gaetz has vehemently denied the accusation, which set off a round of allegations against the congressman, none of them flattering. The New York Times later reported that the Justice Department is also investigating whether Gaetz paid women for sex, a claim Gaetz denies.
CNN came out with a story, unrelated to the investigation, about how Gaetz allegedly showed nude photos and videos of women he claimed to have slept with to lawmakers on the House floor. Business Insider reported that while Gaetz was a representative in the Florida statehouse, he and some of his colleagues played a Harry Potter-themed sex game, which involved assigning points for various sexual escapades. A source told ABC that lawmakers specifically looked for “virgins” to earn points.
In 2019, when nude photos were leaked of then-Representative Katie Hill, Gaetz defended her, tweeting, “Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text?” But Hill, in an article for Vanity Fair, says Gaetz may be guilty of doing the same thing he defended her from: distributing nude photos without the subjects’ consent.
“If, despite his denials, Matt Gaetz did have sex with a minor, if he did provide girls and young women with drugs and money and gifts in exchange for sex, if he did ask these girls and young women to recruit other women for the same purpose, and if he did show his colleagues images of nude women without their consent, he needs to be held responsible,” she wrote. “Some of these actions are criminal and some of them should be. All are morally reprehensible and unacceptable for a lawmaker.” —MFS
Tiger Woods’ accident was caused by speeding, investigation shows
The violent one-car crash that injured Tiger Woods in February resulted from the golfer speeding at more than 80 mph, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Villanueva said in a press conference this week that Woods failed to negotiate a curve as he tore through a 45 mph speed limit zone. Investigators estimated Woods was traveling between 84-87 mph when the SUV he was driving left the road. It appears that Woods mistakenly slammed on the gas pedal instead of the brake, because analysis showed he accelerated during the crash.
His vehicle, a 2021 Genesis GV80 loaned to him by the carmaker, struck the center median, the curb, a tree, and rolled over several times. Emergency crews had to use special equipment to pull Woods from the twisted metal.
At the hospital, Woods underwent extensive surgery on his right leg and ankle which had suffered severe injuries including open fractures. He’s recovering at his home in Florida, and it’s not clear when, or if, he will play golf again. Authorities say there won’t be any citations issued—it’s safe to say Woods doesn’t need a ticket to know just how lucky he is to be alive. —MB
The Suez Canal is open again
The massive cargo ship that was blocking the Suez Canal came unstuck last week, after a week-long effort to restore the world’s access to the critical waterway.
The boat named “The Ever Given” could also rightly be called “the ship that launched a thousand memes” as the internet spent the week gawking at photos of a comparatively small but determined-seeming backhoe clawing at the mud where the vessel was trapped. Ultimately the Ever Given popped free on March 30 when a convenient “super moon” brought in an unusually high tide, about 18 inches above normal.
And not a moment too soon: experts estimate that the clog in the Suez Canal was costing the world’s economy about $400 million an hour, as cargo ships got backed up on both sides of the Ever Given. About 12 percent of global trade passes through the canal every day, which is a key shortcut from Asia to Europe. The alternative route, which sends ships around the Cape of Good Hope on the southern end of Africa, adds more than a week to the journey.
At first, the accident was blamed on the wind, but investigators are considering whether human error was involved. Take heart: No matter what mistakes you made this week, chances are they didn’t cost billions while the world watched the drama unfold via satellite. —MB
Good News of the Week
First grader’s plea for pants with pockets gets answered
Kamryn Gardner, a little girl from Bentonville, Arkansas, is already familiar with one of the major drawbacks of mainstream women’s fashion in the 21st century: fake itty-bitty pockets on pants. So when her first-grade class was given an assignment to write a persuasive letter, Kamryn seized the opportunity.
“Dear Old Navy,” the letter said. “I do not like that the front pockets of the girls’ jeans are fake. I want front pockets because I want to put my hands in them. I also would like to put things in them. Would you consider making girls jeans with front pockets that are not fake. Thank you for reading my request.”
Old Navy responded, thanked Kamryn for her feedback and sent her four pairs of girls’ jeans… with real pockets! Proof that it pays for women and girls to speak up about what they want and need. —MB
Watch of the Week
Monica Kelsey, who was abandoned as a child, founded the Safe Haven Baby Box five years ago, now used across the nation in fire stations and hospitals. This brief TikTok video showing how the box works went viral and has been watched more than 19 million times since it was posted last week. Hear more about Kelsey’s story in this brief news clip.