Coronavirus, Texas, Mars: Your Weekend Briefing

Coronavirus, Texas, Mars: Your Weekend Briefing 1


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Coronavirus, Texas, Mars: Your Weekend Briefing

Here’s what you need to know about the week’s top stories.

  • Feb. 21, 2021, 6:03 a.m. ET

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Here are the week’s top stories, and a look ahead.

Coronavirus, Texas, Mars: Your Weekend Briefing 2
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

1. 500,000 deaths.

Roughly one year since the first known coronavirus-related death was reported in the U.S., an unfathomable toll is nearing — the loss of half a million people. As of Sunday, the pandemic death toll was 497,403, higher than in any other country. More Americans have died from Covid-19 than on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

The emptiness still lingers for many. “You walk in and it smells like her,” said Keith Bartram, who lost his mother, LiHong Burdick, to the virus. Above, the December funeral of a member of the Standing Rock Tribe in South Dakota who died from Covid-19.

The milestone comes with a light, however faint, at the end of the tunnel. New virus cases are down sharply, deaths are slowing, and vaccines are steadily being administered. President Biden said the U.S. could near normalcy by year’s end but warned that new virus variants could slow progress.

When will we reach herd immunity? Use our interactive tool to see how factors like the rate of vaccinations can affect how fast we get there.

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Credit…Ringo Chiu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

2. Democrats, who control the House, are preparing to approve President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan by the end of the week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote.

With unemployment benefits set to lapse in mid-March, and the rescue plan enjoying strong bipartisan support nationwide, Republicans are struggling to persuade voters to oppose the legislation. The nearly 600-page text for the bill includes billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, small businesses and stimulus checks.

The pandemic is terrible. It can also be tedious. And that tedium is shaping what people buy and how productive they are.

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

3. Power has been restored to most Texans, but millions across the state are facing another dire crisis: a shortage of drinkable water.

The powerful arctic blast this week cracked pipes, froze wells and knocked water treatment plants offline. Officials said restoring water service to hospitals was the first priority. At least 58 people have died in a storm-battered region that stretches to Ohio, and the final tally could be much higher.

The storms have also delayed the federal government’s delivery of vaccines to several states, including Texas, and caused a shortage of food at some grocery stores and food pantries. Here’s the latest.

The continent-spanning storms showed that American infrastructure wasn’t ready for climate change. Extreme weather is placing growing stress on a system that was built decades ago under the expectation that the environment around it would remain stable.

Credit…Zach Gibson/The New York Times

4. The Senate will hold confirmation hearings this week for Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s pick for attorney general.

Should he be confirmed, Judge Garland will take over what prosecutors are calling the biggest, most complex investigation in Justice Department history, of the Capitol assault that led to the second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. Prosecuting domestic terrorism was formative work for Judge Garland, who oversaw the investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and similar cases.

As federal prosecutors unveil charges in the attack on the Capitol, they have repeatedly highlighted how two militant groups — the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys — had an outsize role the assault. Here’s a look at the small groups that stood out on Jan. 6.

Credit…Jeenah Moon/Reuters

5. Erik Prince, a Trump ally and former head of the of the security contractor Blackwater, violated an arms embargo by sending weapons to a militia commander in Libya, a U.N. report said.

The confidential report, obtained by The Times and delivered by investigators to the Security Council on Thursday, revealed how Mr. Prince deployed mercenaries armed with attack aircraft, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities.

In other Middle East news: The Biden administration’s measured response to a rocket attack in northern Iraq this week, which officials say was ordered by an Iranian-backed militia, sharply contrasts with a Trump-era approach that, more often than not, caught Iraq in the crossfire.

Officials said Mr. Biden’s larger goal was to reduce hostilities between the U.S. and Iran and its proxies in the region, including in Iraq, as it looks for a path to diplomacy with Tehran over its nuclear program.

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Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

6. “I felt like I was drowning.”

That’s what Johanna Guzmán, above, said when she found out she was pregnant with her sixth child. She is one of millions of women in Venezuela who are no longer able to find or afford birth control. The situation has pushed many into unplanned pregnancies, or illegal, and sometimes deadly, abortions, at a time when they can barely feed the children they already have.

It is a far cry from what Venezuela’s government once promised its women and girls — a constitutional right to “decide freely” how many children a couple wished to have.

But President Nicolás Maduro’s grip on the country has hardened into authoritarian rule. Amid the collapse of Venezuela’s economy and public health system, birth control is nearly absent from government clinics, and it is available at private pharmacies only at prohibitive prices.

Credit…NASA TV

7. This is one of the first color pictures sent back to Earth from Mars by NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover made a successful landing on Thursday in the middle of Jezero Crater, thought to be the dry basin of a lake that existed 3.8 billion years ago. One of the robot’s first tasks will be to study the rocks there: If the rocks are sedimentary, the area might have been habitable long ago; if they are volcanic, that will allow geologists to calculate their age.

While everyone has their eyes on Mars, our cosmos reporter can’t stop thinking about Titan, Saturn’s strange moon. For the first time, researchers recently measured the depth of Kraken Mare, an ocean of methane on Titan.

Credit…Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

8. Novak Djokovic beat Daniil Medvedev to win the Australian Open, claiming his ninth title in the tournament and 18th Grand Slam title.

Djokovic’s win cements his place as the player of the century (so far) at the Australian Open. He is undefeated in finals in Melbourne, with a 9-0 record. It was where he won his first Grand Slam title, in 2008, when he was only 20.

On Saturday, Naomi Osaka defeated Jennifer Brady, becoming the first woman to win each of her first four Grand Slam finals in more than 30 years. Brady, appearing in her first final, went down fighting.

And is it farewell to Serena Williams, who lost to Osaka in the semifinals? She’ll be back, our columnist predicts.

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

9. This is how you get the best scrambled eggs.

Our food columnist J. Kenji López-Alt wanted to perfect weekday eggs without the fuss. For that, he employs a brilliant technique that includes preheating the pan with water and adding cold butter cubes and a small amount of a starch to the mix. The result is velvety and tender. Here’s how to do it.

In the evening, consider making vermouth the star of your next cocktail. The unique and often robust mix of botanicals of the three traditional styles — sweet, dry and blanc — give them their stature as a stand-alone aperitif.

Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

10. And finally, check out some great reads.

The first cloned black-footed ferret. A pilgrimage to taste rare citrus on Corsica. A Black soldier’s heroism, overlooked no more. The Weekender has these stories and more.

Our editors also suggest these 11 new books, new music from Dawn Richard and others and “Nadiya Bakes” on Netflix.

Did you follow the news this week? Take our news quiz. And here’s the front page of our Sunday paper, the Sunday Review from Opinion and our crossword puzzles.

Only 27 days until the first day of spring. Have a hopeful week.

Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6:30 a.m. Eastern.

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