First Thing: health experts warn of rising Covid rates among US schoolchildren

By Robyn Vinter
Children walking to school in the US
The weekly rate of infections among children at the end of August was higher than at any other time since the pandemic began. Photograph: Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock

Good morning.

While many parents might be relieved to be sending their children off to school this week, health experts are highlighting a troubling trend: hundreds of thousands of them are testing positive for Covid.

Cases among children have increased 10% in two weeks, with more than 250,000 new infections in the last week of August, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said. It is the highest infection rate among children since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 750,000 children tested positive between 5 August and 2 September, the AAP said. In the same time period, 54,859 children were admitted to hospitals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • How worried should we be? While cases are statistically high, at least 444 children have died since the start of the pandemic, out of 5 million positive cases in children, representing a very small 0.0088% death rate.

  • Why is this happening now? The rise is thought to be due to the spread of the Delta variant of the virus – CDC figures show a fivefold increase in child hospitalization rates after the Delta variant began to spread in the US.

  • Are vaccines helping? Hospitalization was 10 times greater among unvaccinated than vaccinated children, the report said. Here in the US, children 12 or older are eligible for vaccination.

Biden asks Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway to quit military academy boards

Joe Biden has asked Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway to step down from the boards of military service academies or be fired, the White House has confirmed.

Asked about the claims by a reporter on Wednesday night, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said: “The president’s objective is what any president’s objective is – to ensure you have nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with your values. And so yes, that was an ask that was made.”

Spicer, a former White House press secretary, and Conway, a former adviser, are two of 11 Trump appointees that have been asked to step down.

  • What are advisory boards? The boards offer a non-binding service producing advice on a range of matters including morale and discipline, curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs and academic methods.

  • How political is this move? Psaki told the media: “The president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration, they are whether you’re qualified to serve and whether you’re aligned with the values of this administration.”

  • What was the reaction from Spicer and Conway? Spicer addressed Psaki directly on his show on the rightwing Newsmax channel, saying: “Don’t you dare ever minimize or question my service to this nation, you got it?” Meanwhile, Conway released a letter in which she criticised Biden’s performance in office and said: “I’m not resigning, but you should.”

Trump White House tried to play down US injuries in attack by Iran, says ex-official

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Qassem Suleimani in January last year in Tehran.
Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Qassem Suleimani in January last year in Tehran. Photograph: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s White House asked the Pentagon to play down and delay reports of brain injuries suffered by US troops from an Iranian missile attack on Iraq last year, according to a former defense spokeswoman.

Alyssa Farah said she fended off the pressure from the White House, which came after Trump had first claimed there had been no casualties and then dismissed the injuries as “headaches” and “not very serious”.

More than 100 US troops were ultimately diagnosed as having suffered traumatic brain injuries in the missile attack on two bases in Iraq housing US troops on 8 January 2020, launched by Tehran in retaliation for the US drone killing of Revolutionary Guards general Qassem Suleimani five days earlier.

  • What is a traumatic brain injury? The term covers a range of symptoms which vary from headaches and nausea to convulsions, unusual behavior and even coma.

  • The assassination of Suleimani, as his car was leaving Baghdad airport on his arrival in Iraq on 3 January 2020, was highly controversial. The UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings at the time, Agnes Callamard, deemed it an “unlawful killing” because Washington had not provided sufficient evidence of an imminent threat from Suleimani.

In other news …

A parade of ‘paramilitary and public security forces’ is held in Pyongyang to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the founding of North Korea.
A parade of ‘paramilitary and public security forces’ is held in Pyongyang to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the founding of North Korea. Photograph: KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/Getty Images
  • North Korea paraded goose-stepping soldiers in hazmat suits but no ballistic missiles in its capital overnight, in a celebration of the nation’s 73rd anniversary that was overseen by the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, state media reported this morning.

  • Despite it being officially cancelled, more than 15,000 people descended on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for a “renegade” Burning Man festival. The event drew celebrity guests such as Paris Hilton and Diplo but caused a headache for local residents and businesses.

  • Michael Schumacher’s wife, Corinna, has revealed the former seven-times world Formula One champion is still battling to recover from a brain injury caused by a skiing accident and is “here but different”, in a Netflix documentary to be broadcast next week.

Stat of the day: the wealthiest 1% of Americans are responsible for more than $160bn of lost tax revenue each year

A report from the treasury says the wealthiest 1% of Americans are responsible for nearly a third of the tax gap.
A report from the treasury says the wealthiest 1% of Americans are responsible for nearly a third of the tax gap. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

A report by the US treasury has found the wealthiest Americans are responsible for 28% of what is known as the “tax gap” – the difference between taxes owed and taxes collected. This mismatch, worth a huge $600bn a year – $160bn from the wealthiest 1% – would amount to $7tn of lost revenue over the next decade, the treasury said. According to the report, the wealthiest 5% of US taxpayers account for more than 50% of lost tax revenue annually. For the top 20%, the figure is 77.1%.

Don’t miss this: ‘I want to show intimacy between men’ – How Murray Bartlett became a breakout star at 50

Murray Bartlett, star of the White Lotus, has had many well-known acting jobs but finally has his breakout role at the age of 50.
Murray Bartlett, star of The White Lotus, has had many well-known acting jobs but finally has his breakout role at the age of 50. Photograph: Tim Schirmang

After his breakout role in the critically acclaimed HBO show The White Lotus, Murray Bartlett talks to Chris Godfrey about being a people-pleaser and the importance of showing love and intimacy between men onscreen. “I hope that we are seeing more freedom of expression in that way,” he says. The 50-year-old actor, who you may recognise from the soaps All My Children and Guiding Light or perhaps as a guest star on Sex and the City, is set to star in another HBO drama, The Last of Us, based on the critically acclaimed and hugely successful video game.

Climate check: world’s biggest machine capturing carbon from air turned on in Iceland

The world’s biggest carbon capture machine has been switched on in Iceland.
The world’s biggest carbon capture machine has been switched on in Iceland. Photograph: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

The world’s largest plant designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into rock is up and running. The plant – which is named Orca after the Icelandic word “orka”, meaning “energy” – consists of four units, each made up of two metal boxes that look like shipping containers. When operating at capacity the plant will draw 4,000 tonnes of CO2 out of the air every year, according to its owners. It is not a lot, especially considering the $10m-$15m cost of the build, but this kind of tech is in its infancy and could eventually become a major tool in the fight against the climate crisis.

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Last Thing: ‘They roamed the city’ – bears move in on evacuated South Lake Tahoe

About 22,000 people had been forced to flee the popular resort of South Lake Tahoe and nearby areas last month as the Caldor fire roared toward it.
About 22,000 people had been forced to flee the popular resort of South Lake Tahoe and nearby areas last month as the Caldor fire roared toward it. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

Bears have taken it upon themselves to patrol South Lake Tahoe in California after the area’s 22,000 residents were evacuated because of the raging Caldor fire. With residents gone, garbage service suspended last week and fire burning through their habitat, bears have been digging through the resort town’s trash cans and have broken into homes in search of food. “They’re getting ready for winter so they’re trying to pack on the calories,” said Eric Palmberg, a public information officer with the sheriff’s office.

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