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With Thanksgiving around the corner, COVID cases in the U.S. are rising in most states and across the country. That has us asking what role testing is going to play in keeping ourselves and our families safe for the holidays.

  • Plus, Jerome Powell is nominated for a second term to lead the Fed.
  • And, why some cities are giving Universal Basic Mobility a try.

Guests: Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician, former Baltimore health commissioner, and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University; and Axios' Courtenay Brown and Bryan Walsh.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Tuesday, November 23rd. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re watching today: Jerome Powell is nominated for a second term leading the Fed. Plus, some cities are giving Universal Basic Mobility a try.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: how COVID testing should factor into your Thanksgiving plans.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, COVID cases in the U.S. are rising in most states and across the country as a whole - by 20%, actually over the past two weeks. Which has us asking what role testing is going to play in keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe for the holidays.

Dr. Leana Wen is an emergency physician and former Baltimore health commissioner. She also teaches health policy and management at George Washington University. Welcome Dr. Wen

LEANA WEN: Thank you so much. Glad to join you today.

NIALA: If you are double vaccinated or double vaccinated with the booster is testing still necessary?

LEANA: So much in this pandemic is going to have the following answer which is it depends. Let's assume that individuals are vaccinated and also have gotten their booster, whether they get testing on top of them depends on the setting that they're going in. If you're a generally healthy person, you've gotten your vaccines, you're hanging out with other generally healthy vaccinated people. You could probably forego testing.

However, if you're going to be seeing an immunocompromised family member or children who are too young to be back and especially if you're living in an area with high rates of community spread, testing can be an additional level of protection that gives you peace of mind. And I would also say, if you are able to get tested the day of, including with a rapid test, you do not need to mask indoors and that will also help a lot of families and friends get together for the holidays and feel like it is pre-pandemic normal again.

NIALA: And so thinking about rapid tests as an option for day of are there at-home rapid tests that you would feel comfortable with?

LEANA: Yes, I would feel comfortable with any of the rapid at-home tests that are authorized by the FDA. And so the ones that you would find over the counter in your local drug store. And in fact, I am planning to utilize this myself over the holidays and already have been. Over Thanksgiving, my family and I will be visiting a number of other families and the day of, we will all be taking a rapid antigen test. These things that you can get over the counter, and that can give you a result within 15 minutes.

To be clear, the reason to use this particular test, the rapid antigen test, is for screening purposes. As in, if you are symptomatic, if you have been exposed to somebody with COVID, I would recommend that you get the gold standard PCR test, but if you don't have any symptoms and you're using this test to find out, should I hang out with this group of people today or not? The rapid antigen test is very good for that kind of screening purpose.

NIALA: Thanksgiving’s in just two days. Is it too late to be making these plans?

LEANA: I don't think so. That is definitely something that you can still be thinking about in advance of Thanksgiving. You could stock up on rapid tests which I would highly recommend, again, especially if you're going to be seeing unvaccinated or otherwise high risk individuals, you can get those tests and test the day of. Also with rapid tests, if you do it more, as in it tells you whether you have a substantial viral load at that point in time, and so if you're going to be seeing people on Thanksgiving and then the next day, and the next day you could in theory, take tests all three days as my family is doing. So that we have greater certainty, that we're not going to be infectious on that day that we're seeing other people.

NIALA: Dr. Leana Wen is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Wen.

LEANA: Thank you so much. You too.

NIALA: And while we’re on the topic of Thanksgiving, it feels like a good time to ask that age-old question: what are you thankful for, this year? I would love to hear what you’re thankful for. Text a voicememo of your response, including your name and city, to (202) 918-4893. We may play your response on Wednesday’s show.

In 15 seconds, why President Biden wants to keep Jerome Powell as head of the Fed.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I'm Niala Boodhoo. Yesterday, President Biden nominated Jerome Powell to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. The fed has been front and center during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. And as we experienced the highest inflation in decades. Courtenay Brown writes the Axios closer newsletter. Courtenay, why did Biden decide to continue with Powell, a Republican, rather than replacing him with Lael Brainard, the only Democrat on the Fed.

COURTENAY BROWN: It may seem weird, but what he did is actually in step with what presidents usually do. Uh, in fact, president Trump was one of the rare exceptions when he decided not to renominate, uh, then Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who was put in that position by former president Obama. Biden said this is an uncertain time stability and continuity at the top of the Fed.

NIALA: Courtenay, but the big question is can Powell and the Fed fix inflation without breaking the economy. What are they saying about that?

COURTENAY: This is the big question. Prices arising at the quickest paced in, in 30 years. And the fed has a really fine line to walk. Um, they say that they really want a hot, hot jobs market, so hot that marginalized workers get a chance to reap the benefits. But in doing that they may need to let inflation run a little hotter than, than, than they would like. So it'll be interesting to watch, um, how they balance those two things.

NIALA: Courtenay Brown is an Axios markets reporter. Thank you, Courtenay.

COURTENAY: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: As the country prepares to transform the nation’s roads and bridges with the newly passed infrastructure bill, some cities are taking it one step further with the concept of Universal Basic Mobility. You’ve heard of Universal Basic Income, the idea of the government giving Americans a set amount of money regularly. Now, the idea of subsidizing transportation like bus rides, e-bikes and scooters is being tested in some cities. Axios’s Bryan Walsh is our Future Correspondent. Hey Bryan - could you start with how this might work?

BRYAN: Yeah, basically, as you said, this is sort of taking basic universal income and moving it around to how could that be used for transit. So for instance, in Bakersfield, California, they're going to give a hundred young, vulnerable residents participation in a year-long trial about how free access to all kinds of transit e-scooters, e-bikes is going to affect their lives. In Oakland residents have been getting $300 prepaid debit cards to help use on transit and shared mobility. Pittsburgh is doing something similar. Los Angeles is also launching a grant focused program around expanding access to mobility. What this all means is if the idea is that people who are poor often spend more of their income on just trying to get around, can governments do more to essentially make mobility a basic human right by subsidizing the cost of actually using all kinds of transit.

NIALA: How expensive is this for cities to implement and I’m especially thinking about given how strapped transit systems have been financially because of the pandemic?

BRYAN: Yeah, you've really hit on a real issue here I think. It will cost some. I mean these are all trials for the most part, so it's hard to get a sort of broader measure. I'm not sure cost is necessarily the thing holding back transit in the US the most. What really holds it back is quality is the fact that we have very car dependent, sprawling infrastructure for most cities outside, a few really big ones like New York. And even if you give people subsidies, if they can't be confident, the bus will come in time. If you don't have enough service to actually get people to where they need to go, I'm not sure you're really going to succeed as a whole lot. I think this is something where if we really want to think about this, we need to think about the wholesale. How much are we spending on transit to expand that service? Are we too spread out? Do we need to dedicate parts of roads to rapid bus transit for instance.

NIALA: So, Brian, I assume this is being touted as a program that will help people out of poverty. Will something like subsidized transportation for a public transit system actually help?

BRYAN: I think it will help on the margins. I think to really make a difference in terms of how transportation can lift people out of poverty. You would need a much bigger rethinking of expanding the supply of transit. That means support for more rail lines, more bus lines, even thinking about how we arrange people in a city, really. And we see this in other issues like childcare, you can subsidize it, but the real issue there is, is we need more supply. We need more of that. We need more housing. We need more of all kinds of things and subsidizing things can help in the margins, but it's not going to bring about, I think, wholesale change including the ability to get from point a to point b.

NIALA: Axios’ Bryan Walsh. Thanks. Bryan!

BRYAN: Thank you.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! And don’t forget to text us a voicememo of what you’re thankful for -- that number again is (202) 918-4893 or you can email it to podcasts@axios.com

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening, stay safe, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper

Dec 6, 2021 - Podcasts

A school’s responsibility in a mass shooting

The investigation continues into last week’s shooting at a Michigan high school. Over the weekend, the parents of the 15-year-old suspect who shot and killed four of his classmates and injured seven others were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in the deaths. Now the school’s culpability is in question.

  • Plus, new data could shed light on the Omicron variant.
  • And, the U.S. reacts to potential Russian plans to invade Ukraine.

Guests: Catherine J. Ross, law professor at George Washington University, and Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, David Toledo and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:

Dec 6, 2021 - Technology

Tech helps visually impaired passengers master public transit

People with low vision can navigate public transit better with Moovit's app and WeWalk's smart cane. Photo: Moovit

People with limited vision now have access to technology designed to help them independently navigate public transportation more easily.

Why it matters: Knowing which bus just arrived or when a particular subway stop is approaching are privileges that sighted people take for granted. People with limited vision often have to rely on fellow passengers for help.

What's happening: WeWALK, the maker of a smart cane for those living with sight loss, has teamed up with Intel-owned Moovit, a trip planning app, to help sight-challenged people use public transit safely and confidently.

The big picture: There are more than 253 million visually impaired people worldwide, many of whom rely on a cane to get around.

  • WeWALK's smart cane, invented in 2019, warns users of obstacles like low-hanging tree branches, through ultrasonic sensors and a vibrating handle.
  • It also has a Bluetooth connection, built-in touchpad and voice assistance, so blind pedestrians can interact with their smartphone without removing it from their pocket.

What's new: WeWALK is now integrating its smart cane technology into Moovit's transit app, which combines official information from local transit agencies with crowdsourced data to recommend the best route.

  • That means blind passengers can navigate to the right bus stop more easily and get real-time information to know when their bus or train is arriving.
  • They can also get step-by-step accessible route guidance throughout their journey, including audio and text alerts when it is time to get off, and service alerts to re-route their journey in case of disruptions.

What they're saying: “While blind and partially sighted people have more independence than ever before, getting around via public transit can still be daunting and overwhelming," said Yovav Meydad, Moovit’s chief growth and marketing officer.

  • "Through our partnership, we aim to instill more reassurance in people by breaking down some of these mobility barriers, empowering them to access more opportunities available to them.”

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House voted Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

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