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Today’s Headlines: New COVID requirements for federal workers

President Biden gestures as he speaks at a lectern with the presidential seal
President Biden announces new COVID-19 vaccine rules for federal workers in the East Room of the White House.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

New COVID requirements for federal workers

President Biden has announced new rules to persuade federal workers to get inoculated against COVID-19. This step reflected his frustration with lagging vaccination rates and Biden’s fear that more unnecessary deaths are on the horizon.

More than 2 million people employed by the federal government will be required to wear masks, physically distance themselves from others in the workplace and get tested regularly unless they’ve been vaccinated. The rules will also apply to contractors employed at federal sites.

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The White House said all federal contractors will eventually face the same restrictions, and Biden directed the Pentagon to explore how quickly it can add COVID-19 shots to the list of required vaccinations for armed forces members.

“What I’m trying to do is keep people safe,” he said from the East Room of the White House, where he announced the new rules and other incentives to nudge more Americans to get their shots. “If, in fact, you’re unvaccinated, you present a problem to yourself, to your family and to those with whom you work.”

The announcement places the federal government, the country’s largest employer, at the forefront of efforts to boost vaccination rates by applying pressure at offices and other job sites. Some private companies and local governments, including Los Angeles, have already announced similar policies.

During his remarks, Biden repeatedly pleaded with people to get vaccinated, saying, “People are dying, and will die, who don’t have to die.” Although more than 189 million Americans have received at least one shot, and more than 163 million are fully vaccinated, at least 90 million eligible people have not received a shot.

More politics

— The Senate is preparing to wade into a controversial conversation about marijuana after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer released draft legislation. What are the chances lawmakers will act?

— The Biden administration will allow a nationwide ban on evictions to expire Saturday, arguing that its hands are tied after the Supreme Court ruled the ban could only be extended until the end of the month.

Sign up early for our California Politics newsletter, coming in August, to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting, including full coverage of the recall election and the latest action in Sacramento.

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U.S. gymnast Suni Lee wins all-around gold medal

When Suni Lee first showed interest in gymnastics, her father, John, built her a wooden balance beam in the family’s backyard in St. Paul, Minn., because they couldn’t afford to buy one. He’d always given her a pre-competition pep talk, and she vividly imagined how he’d join her someday to celebrate an Olympic triumph.

John and her mother, Yeev, were thousands of miles from Ariake Gymnastics Center on Thursday when 18-year-old Suni seized the lead after the third of four rotations and held on through the floor exercise to win the women’s all-around gold medal.

Lee’s victory brought light and life to a stripped-down, often joyless Olympics. It also entwined several strands of significant cultural and historic notes.

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She became the sixth American woman to win an Olympic all-around title, starting with Mary Lou Retton in 1984. Twenty years later, Carly Patterson began a string of five straight winners, which continued with Nastia Liukin in 2008, Gabby Douglas in 2012 and Simone Biles in 2016. Each of the last three is a woman of color: Douglas and Biles are Black and Lee is Hmong, an ethnic group scattered throughout Southeast Asia.

Lee stayed true to herself and her dream, even though it didn’t unfold exactly as she had hoped it would. But it’s not over yet: She qualified for the event finals on the balance beam and uneven bars and will be a medal contender in both events. “It’s crazy,” she said, but maybe it’s not so crazy to see the results of hard work and dreaming big.

‘Breakthrough’ cases rising in L.A.

Los Angeles County has seen a rise in “breakthrough” coronavirus cases as of late. Still, data continue to show those vaccinated for COVID-19 enjoy vigorous protection — even from the contagious Delta variant — and are far less likely to be hospitalized should they become infected.

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The latest figures underscore how the county’s recent coronavirus surge is different from the pandemic’s earlier surges, both regarding who is getting sick and how the virus is spreading countywide.

In June, fully vaccinated residents made up 20% of all confirmed coronavirus infections in those 16 and older, according to figures from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

However, that same month, they accounted for only 8% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations.

That trend has persisted into July. Over the first half of the month, roughly 26% of all diagnosed cases were in fully vaccinated residents, according to figures county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer presented this week.

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“Although vaccinated people are seeing a rise in new COVID diagnosis, they are primarily experiencing their infections not as severe illnesses that bring them to the emergency room, but as bad colds,” Ferrer said this week. Those who are unvaccinated, she continued, “simply do not have the same level of confidence if they get infected with this virus that it will lead to mild illness.”

L.A. County isn’t an outlier. Across the state, health officials are noting the existence of large gaps between the infection and hospitalization rates of those who are vaccinated versus those who aren’t.

Despite the steep rises, though, California remains well shy of the harrowing heights of the fall and winter surge, when an average of more than 40,000 cases were being reported daily, and nearly 22,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.

More top coronavirus headlines

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— All students and employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District will be required to take weekly coronavirus tests regardless of their vaccinations status, under a new district policy announced Thursday.

— Responding to state and local health officials’ recommendations, Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks will require guests to wear masks in all indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.

— The FDA is allowing the problem-plagued factory of contract manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions to resume production of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

— The pandemic has sparked interest in low-dose radiation as a possible treatment for COVID-19. But that’s not the same as radon gas, doctors warn.

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For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

In summers past, thousands of people flocked to Raging Waters in San Dimas to cool off.

On July 19, 1987, staff photographer Al Seib captured a patron as she prepared to go over the drop of “the park’s most fearful ride.” The slide included an 80-foot drop that appeared even steeper in photos. “It was impossible to get her name as she didn’t come back to the top for another ride,” Seib said.

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July 19, 1987: A park patron screams as she begins the 80-foot drop down the park’s most fearful ride at Raging Waters.
July 19, 1987: A park patron screams as she begins the 80-foot drop down the park’s most fearful ride at Raging Waters.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

YOUR WEEKEND

— Delicious, versatile and easy to work with, corn is essential summertime fare on or off the cob. As we approach the midpoint of Southern California’s 6-month-long (May through October) corn season, here are some recipes to add to your repertoire.

— Looking for an unconventional way to see the redwoods? Try these railbikes.

— It’s hot, but there’s never a bad time to learn about building better soil, caring for fruit trees and pruning native plants. Here are some green-thumb events for August.

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— Want a different travel experience? Stay in an Airstream at one of these retro-cool trailer parks.

CALIFORNIA

— Amid a surge in shootings this year, a majority of California voters say that they believe gun control laws are effective in reducing violent crime, but confidence in them has slipped, according to a new poll.

— Leaders of two organizations of Black and Latino members of the Los Angeles Fire Department have called for a federal investigation into what they allege is widespread racial bias and other wrongdoing in the agency.

USC on Wednesday unveiled recommendations to heighten scrutiny of campus safety officers after a broad review found troubling instances of racial profiling and a pervasive sense of “two USCs,” where not everyone was treated with equal fairness and respect.

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— A high-profile figure in the Central Coast’s marijuana industry has agreed to plead guilty to bribing a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, the first charges to be made public in what a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Los Angeles called “an ongoing public corruption investigation.”

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NATION-WORLD

— The first group of Afghan interpreters and contractors who aided U.S. military and diplomatic missions arrived in the U.S. overnight Thursday. The flight was part of a frantic Biden administration effort to evacuate thousands of people potentially facing retribution in Afghanistan from a resurgent Taliban amid the withdrawal of American forces.

Portland, Ore., has banned homeless people from camping in forested parks to protect them from potential wildfires and prevent them from accidentally starting blazes during a summer of drought and record-breaking heat.

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— The coronavirus has plunged millions of Latin Americans into poverty and reversed halting regional progress toward equality — dealing an especially callous blow to young people.

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says she believes democracy will prevail, even after the country’s president of 27 years, Alexander Lukashenko, has refused to leave office and she has been forced into exile.

— The founder and onetime executive chair of Nikola Corp. was freed on $100-million bail after pleading not guilty to charges that he lied about the electric- and hydrogen-powered truck startup, duping novice investors including some financially struggling people looking for income during the pandemic.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

HBO Max‘s teen drama reboot “Gossip Girl” has been called “woke.” But as TV rethinks a hoary old trope, one teacher/student dynamic could raise eyebrows.

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— “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk is in stable condition and recuperating after his collapse Tuesday on the New Mexico set of the “Breaking Bad” spinoff, a spokesperson for the actor said Wednesday.

— It’s been a challenging four years for America’s most prominent Mexican American band, and Los Lobos nearly called it quits. Luckily for L.A., they made a covers album instead.

Scarlett Johansson has sued Walt Disney Co. over its controversial release strategy for “Black Widow,” in a move that escalates simmering tensions between high-level Hollywood talent and the media companies using their movies to expand streaming services.

BUSINESS

U.S. economic growth in the second quarter wasn’t the rip-roaring spring as many had projected earlier, but the continuing recovery from the pandemic was still very strong and more than enough to lift the nation’s total output above where it was before COVID-19 hit.

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— As air travel demand increases, a vast majority of flight attendants say they have dealt with unruly passengers and nearly 1 in 5 experienced a physical incident, according to a survey of flight attendants released Thursday.

SPORTS

— The Dodgers lost to the Giants 5-0 on Thursday in San Francisco, their fifth defeat in seven games to the NL West leaders over a 10-game stretch.

Olympic divers look at the pool a little differently than the rest of us — each dive sends shock waves through muscle, ligament and bone. Broken wrists, twisted necks and concussions are part of the brutal nature of diving.

— Pay attention to Russian athletes and you’ll notice something curious: no visible sign of their country’s traditionally recognizable symbols. In the aftermath of 2019 sanctions for state-sponsored doping, their athletes are competing in a “quasi-compromise position.”

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Get the latest news from Tokyo with our Olympics live blog and the Sports Report newsletter.

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Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

OPINION

— Lives have already been lost, and the alarm bells continue to ring. We don’t know if or when the next domestic extremist attack will come, but if we establish a federal law against domestic terrorism now, we can face the threat head-on, writes Caroline Petrow-Cohen.

— Few issues in Washington are more misunderstood than the debt ceiling, which once again is the subject of fiscally irresponsible political posturing, writes The Times’ editorial board.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

Jamie Lee Curtis will officiate her trans daughter’s wedding. The legendary actor announced for the first time that she and her husband “watched in wonder and pride as our son became our daughter Ruby.” (LGBTQ Nation)

— After 25 years, “Arthur” is coming to an end, but the memes it generated for a generation of young Americans will live on. (Rolling Stone)

ONLY IN L.A.

In matters of sushi, the sea treasures will always vie for the limelight: uni in the soft shades of Renoir’s oranges, tuna glowing deep reds and creamy pinks, saba cut to accentuate a curving streak of silvery skin. Every piece of nigiri shaped by chef Morihiro Onodera’s hands at Morihiro, his tiny new sushi restaurant in Atwater Village, is what L.A. fine dining is all about.

Today’s newsletter was curated by Daric L. Cottingham and Laura Blasey. Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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