Omicron Surge, Elizabeth Holmes, and the Year's Best Sports Photos Everything you need to know for today in five minutes.

Good morning. It's Tuesday, Dec. 21, and we're covering a surge in omicron COVID-19 cases, the Elizabeth Holmes trial, and much more. Have feedback? Let us know at [email protected].

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Omicron Surge

US health officials said yesterday the omicron variant of the coronavirus is now the dominant strain in the country, having accounted for 73% of recent cases. Estimates suggest the mutation accounted for more than 650,000 infections over the past week. 


In related news, Moderna said booster shots of its COVID-19 vaccine showed up to an 83-fold jump in the number of antibodies effective at neutralizing the omicron variant. 


Separately, Israel will ban travel to and from the US, Canada, and Germany, among others, in a bid to curb the spread of new coronavirus cases fueled by the omicron variant. Israeli citizens will need individual permission to travel to the countries; travel of noncitizens to Israel was banned last month. See other nations on Israel's red list here.


The decision follows news Sunday of 17 COVID-19 cases detected on a single flight from Miami to Israel. The US is averaging almost five times more new cases per capita than Israel each day, and more than 10 times as many daily deaths. Both countries have relatively similar vaccination rates, with just over 60% of the population fully vaccinated.

Holmes Trial Deliberations Begin

Jury deliberations have begun in the criminal trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Eight men and four women of the jury will sift through more than 900 exhibits and 32 testimonies to decide whether Holmes intentionally committed wire fraud in misleading investors about her blood-testing startup, once valued at $10B before collapsing. 

Over the course of the nearly four-month-long trial in San Jose, California, federal prosecutors argued that Holmes lied about the blood-testing technology’s ability to scan for diseases with a few drops of blood. The defense pointed the blame elsewhere—including alleged abuse from Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, Holmes’ ex-boyfriend and second-in-command at Theranos—for affecting Holmes’ decisions. Balwani faces a separate trial on similar charges in February. 


Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250K plus restitution for each count of wire fraud and conspiracy (there are 11 in total) if found guilty. 

Catch up on the case here

988 Readies for Launch

The Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday it would launch the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in July. The new 988 number will work just like 911, but for mental health crises. To facilitate its launch, federal officials will set aside $282M to transition to the three-digit help line from the national 10-digit number—$177M to improve and expand current operations and telephone infrastructure and $105M to increase call center staff.


Trained counselors at more than 180 centers will be available over phone, text, or chat, providing support and necessary services to those in need. The 10-digit number has received more than 20 million calls since it was launched in 2005.


The news comes as the US is suffering from a nationwide mental health crisis, with suicide being the second-leading cause of death in young adults and 10th in the nation overall. More than 10.7 million adults reported serious suicidal thoughts in 2021, increasing more than 460,000 from last year. See mental health stats here.

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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

In partnership with Magic Spoon

> Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai appears in new video, denies saying she was sexually assaulted (More) | See timeline of Peng's accusations and China's response (More)


> Carlos Marín, baritone singer for pop-opera quartet Il Divo, dies at 53 of COVID-19 complications (More)


> Chris Noth fired from CBS's "The Equalizer" just four days after being accused of sexual assault by two women (More)

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Science & Technology

> Environmental Protection Agency finalizes stricter fuel efficiency rules for new autos, raising the required fleetwide average to 40 miles per gallon by 2026 (More)


> Scientists solve mystery behind the coloration of comets; radiant green color from the comet's head disappears before reaching the tail as sunlight breaks up carbon-carbon bonds (More)


> Streaming video platform TikTok accused of copying code from an open-source video broadcasting software, violating terms of the general public license (More)

Business & Markets

> US stock markets fall (S&P 500 -1.1%, Dow -1.2%, Nasdaq -1.2%) on growing omicron variant fears (More)


> World Economic Forum will postpone its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, scheduled for mid-January, due to COVID-19 concerns (More)


> Oracle to acquire electronic medical record giant Cerner for $28.3B, Oracle’s largest acquisition ever (More) | Bank of Montreal to acquire San Francisco-based Bank of the West from BNP Paribas for $16.3B (More

Politics & World Affairs

> Former President Donald Trump sues New York Attorney General Letitia James in bid to block civil probe into the Trump Organization's financial practices (More) | Trump reveals he's received COVID-19 booster shot (More)


> Jurors begin deliberating in the trial of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, charged in the April killing of Daunte Wright (More) | Closing arguments made in the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, former associate of deceased sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein (More)


> Death toll from Super Typhoon Rai rises to 375; storm made landfall Thursday with wind speeds equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane (More)



The Civilian Casualty Files

NYT | Azmat Khan. A yearslong investigation finds Pentagon officials downplayed the civilian impact of drone strikes throughout the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against ISIS. (Part 1 | Part 2, paywall)

College Football's Best Story

The Ringer | Rodger Sherman. Last week, the nation's top high school football prospect made a stunning choice, spurning major programs for Jackson State, a historically Black school whose program is led by former superstar Deion Sanders. Does the decision herald a new era for the sport? (Read)



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The winter solstice is upon us.


The best sports photos of the year


The 51 best (and weirdest) charts of the year.


Mapping the world's most common illicit drugs.


Superman #1 comic book fetches $2.6M at auction.


Archaeologists uncover a family of pristine mammoths.


Vigilante rat hunters are roaming New York City.


"Listen" to one of Jupiter's moons.


Clickbait: Weak peppermint harvest leads to candy cane shortage.


Historybook: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" premieres (1937); HBD actress Jane Fonda (1937); RIP F. Scott Fitzgerald (1940); HBD French President Emmanuel Macron (1977); Bomb explodes on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 (1988).


"All life is just a progression toward, and then a recession from, one phrase— 'I love you.'"

- F. Scott Fitzgerald, from "The Offshore Pilot"

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