At-Home Tests, 'The Matrix' Returns, and 2021 in Charts Everything you need to know for today in five minutes.

Good morning. It's Wednesday, Dec. 22, and we're covering the Biden administration's efforts to counter the COVID-19 surge, the return of a cinematic cult classic, and much more. Have feedback? Let us know at [email protected].

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At-Home Tests

The Biden administration announced yesterday it would purchase 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests, making them available at no cost for Americans in an effort to counter a surge in new coronavirus cases. The tests will reportedly become available in January and can be ordered via a to-be-launched website. 


The move comes one day after health officials revealed the omicron variant now accounts for an estimated 73% of new cases reported in the US. The country also reported what is believed to be its first known omicron death, a 50-year-old Texas man.


Early evidence suggests the strain may be less deadly than previous mutations. In South Africa, where the strain was first identified, the caseload rose by more than 45 times in the course of the past month (see data)—before dropping—while deaths rose by a factor of two. However, researchers caution country-level data may be skewed depending on vaccination status and the number of younger people, who are less prone to severe illness, testing positive. 


Explore current US COVID-19 stats here.

The Matrix Resurrects 

“The Matrix Resurrections” debuts today in theaters and HBO Max, more than two decades after the original Matrix trilogy debuted and grossed more than $1.6B worldwide. The widely anticipated follow-up features original stars Keanu Reeves as Neo and Carrie Anne-Moss as Trinity, added to a roster of new cast members.


The latest in the cult classic franchise comes as the movie theater industry strives to rebound from the pandemic and follows on the heels of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which broke records for the second biggest opening weekend after reaping $260M in domestic ticket sales. “The Matrix Resurrections” is estimated to bring in $67M in its first weekend and gross $150M overall domestically.


Watch the trailer here, along with the rest of the holiday movie lineup

Population Growth Hits New Low

The US Census Bureau says population growth dropped to its lowest rate in the nation’s history between July 2020 and July 2021. The country's population grew by only 0.1%, or an additional 392,665 people—the first time it grew by fewer than 1 million people since 1937. Analysts say the first year of the pandemic saw decreased immigration, lowered the pregnancy rate, and killed hundreds of thousands of residents. The overall total population was just under 332 million.


The data also revealed that the number of immigrants to the US (245,000) was higher than the natural increase (148,000)—the number of births over deaths—for the first time in the nation’s history. Immigrants account for 14.2% of the US population as of November 2021.


Overall, 33 states saw an increase in population, while 17 states and the District of Columbia decreased. See population change by state here.

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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," which debuted in 1994, becomes first song to top Billboard Hot 100 for three distinct chart runs (also in 2019 and 2020) (More)


> NHL players of all nationalities to opt out of upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics due to COVID-19 surge (More)


> Academy Awards releases shortlist in 10 categories for 94th Oscars (March 27, ABC), including Beyoncé competing against husband Jay-Z for best original song (More)

Science & Technology

> Prominent Harvard chemist Charles Lieber found guilty of lying to federal officials about Chinese funding (More) | Case was one of the highest-profile trials involving China's Thousand Talents program, which officials have argued is a form of espionage (More)  


> Paleontologists discover a fully developed fossilized dinosaur embryo on the brink of hatching; some prehatching behavior was previously thought to be unique to birds (More)


> Ostrich egg bead shells reveal a 50,000-year-old social network across Africa; one of the world's oldest manufactured ornaments found to connect communities up to 2,000 miles apart (More)

Business & Markets

In partnership with For What It's Worth

> US stock markets rebound (S&P 500 +1.8%, Dow +1.6%, Nasdaq +2.4%) following three-day losing streak from omicron fears (More)


> Electric vehicle maker Nikola agrees to pay $125M to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges that its founder defrauded investors (More)


> Kellogg workers vote to support new five-year contract ending 2.5-month strike; contract includes pay increases, new benefits, and cost-of-living adjustments (More)

From our partners: ESG and Socially Responsible Investing have grown how much? In the past two years, these investment categories have grown 10x! Want to learn how you can use investments to positively impact the planet and seek strong returns? Don't miss out—check out For What It's Worth, a five-minute, free weekly newsletter on socially conscious investing. Subscribe today.

Politics & World Affairs

> US Secret Service says it has more than 900 active investigations into potential pandemic relief-related fraud, totaling over $100B (More)


> Report alleges a United Arab Emirates agency installed Pegasus spyware from NSO Group, an Israeli-based cyberarms firm, on the phone of slain reporter Jamal Khashoggi's then-fiancée months before his murder (More) | See original report (More, WashPo, paywall)


> Japan carries out first death row executions since 2019, hanging three prisoners (More)



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McKinsey's review of 2021 in charts.


The year's best space photos.


Watercolor paintings of cities around the world.


Ethicists question the world's first octopus farm.


Where one-bedroom rents are rising the most.


There's a new first puppy on patrol.


Upload and animate your children's drawings.


When the window of your Airbnb opens directly into a restaurant.


Clickbait: Newly discovered type of storm is a giant puddle.


Historybook: Beethoven’s "Fifth Symphony" premieres (1808); Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson born (1912); Maurice and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees born (1949); Colo becomes first gorilla born in captivity (1956); “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy repealed (2010).


"The bounty of nature is also one of the deep needs of man."

- Lady Bird Johnson

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