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News Brief: COVID-19 Shots, Mideast Cease-Fire, George Floyd Rally

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

I left the house the other day for one of those curbside pick-ups of a meal, and I ran into my neighbor who said that since getting vaccinated, he has already eaten in a restaurant twice. For the first time in the pandemic, my mom got on a plane the other day. She is vaccinated but wore a mask as required.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are in a moment of transition. Some safety precautions have been lifted; others are still there. Many vaccinated people; some are not. Eight states now report 70% of adults have at least one shot. That's a number President Biden wants all states to reach by July 4.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Allison Aubrey is tracking the progress. Allison, good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Which states are doing well?

AUBREY: Well, so far, it's the smaller northeastern states that have met the goal first - all of the New England states and New Jersey. Nationwide, about 61% of adults have received their first dose, and very close to half are now fully vaccinated. So this is good news, Steve. But in states where vaccinations remain much lower, including Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, it's unclear if they will get to this goal. The number of daily vaccinations is down to about 1.6 million shots a day nationwide. To address this, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has pointed to survey data showing more people would be motivated to roll up their sleeves if their employers gave them time off to get the shot and recover from it.

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VIVEK MURTHY: So employers not only have an opportunity to increase vaccination rates, it turns out that they can also help to close the equity gap in vaccinations.

AUBREY: In recent weeks, a big retail chains, including Walmart, Target, have announced compensation for employees who get vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Well, I guess it's a market economy. So if you want people to get vaccinated, put money on the table.

AUBREY: That's right. Ohio has gotten a ton of attention for its Vax a Million program, a lottery. For the next five weeks beginning this week, there will be a $1 million lottery draw for people who get vaccinated. Other states have jumped on this lottery bandwagon - Oregon, Kentucky, Maryland, New York. Ohio is touting some pretty impressive numbers, Steve, in terms of a boost in vaccinations. I talked to a behavioral economist about this, Katy Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania.

KATY MILKMAN: The high jackpot is really alluring. It feels exciting like a game. And because we overweigh the small probability that we might win and imagine that wonderful outcome, they're really highly motivating. I mean, there's lots of research showing that lotteries can be used as affective (ph) incentives to change all sorts of other health behaviors.

AUBREY: And in Ohio, people under the age of 18 who get the vaccine can be entered to win - entered into a lottery to win a scholarship, so not a million bucks, Steve, but a chance to win a four-year scholarship to a public university in the state.

INSKEEP: It could help you make money later on.

AUBREY: That's right.

INSKEEP: You could get a million bucks out of that scholarship.

AUBREY: That's right.

INSKEEP: Now, even as authorities are trying to encourage people to get vaccinated, I gather there's a new concern that people are not quite sure what to make of yet.

AUBREY: Well, the CDC is evaluating some rare cases of myocarditis in adolescents and young adults who've been vaccinated. This is inflammation of the heart. Experts don't know if the vaccine is causing the inflammation. The cases have been mild, I should point out. I spoke to Patricia Stinchfield - she's a nonvoting member of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices - about this.

PATRICIA STINCHFIELD: It is younger adolescent, young adult males, mostly after dose two. And they've all seemed to be mild and are being followed up right now. So at this point in time, we don't have information that says this is cause and effect, but it's enough for us to just take a closer look.

AUBREY: Leaders of the American Academy of Pediatrics tell me they're watching this closely. Nothing has changed in terms of the recommendations. Pediatricians are encouraging kids 12 and up to get the vaccine.

INSKEEP: Allison, thanks as always for your work, really appreciate it.

AUBREY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey.

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INSKEEP: OK. Israel and Hamas have arrived at the next step in their years-long cycle of violence - the cleanup after a short war.

MARTIN: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to the Middle East this week to help mediate what happens from here. And in Gaza, which faced the brunt of the fighting, crews are still sifting through the rubble after 11 days of Israeli airstrikes. Authorities say the conflict killed more than 240 people in Gaza and 12 people in Israel.

INSKEEP: Shortly after the cease-fire began, our colleague Daniel Estrin was able to cross over into Gaza, and he's on the line from there. Hey there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you been seeing?

ESTRIN: Well, I've been seeing Palestinians try to get back to their lives. I was at a coffee shop last night. I saw young men playing cards, and friends were hugging and reuniting. You know, they'd spent days huddled at home during the war. And because Gaza is under blockade, people couldn't easily flee the war. And so now they're going out at night. It's a form of escape. I've also seen masked Hamas militants parading down the street with guns, declaring victory. And I've seen a lot of Palestinians just going to visit the sites where buildings were destroyed.

INSKEEP: I've seen some of the pictures, Daniel, and short war doesn't really seem to take it in. I mean, this is pretty severe destruction in places.

ESTRIN: Yeah. The bombings were scattered throughout Gaza. So when you drive around in Gaza City, you'll see, for instance, two intact buildings. But then in the middle of them, there's a big pile of rubble where an entire building used to be. You also see roads bombed, cracks and craters in main roads. Israel says it was targeting underground Hamas tunnels that fighters use. And I've asked a Hamas spokesman about that. He doesn't deny they have tunnels, but they just haven't really spoken much about them. In one of those strikes, three apartment buildings on the same street collapsed. And that, I think, is the most painful thing that I've seen on this visit. It's an upscale neighborhood. No one ever expected it to be targeted. A young woman I met was trapped under rubble. She lost 22 members of her extended family. And then I've met Palestinians seeking shelter with the U.N. needing new homes. One woman I'll introduce you to - Tahrir Kaskin (ph), 32-year-old mother sleeping in a U.N. school classroom. She lost - she says she lost her home in the very last Israeli strike before the cease-fire. Let's listen.

TAHRIR KASKIN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: She was crying and she said, "they took everything from us, leaving nothing to us, just our memories. If they rebuild our house, they're not going to rebuild our souls and our memories and our pain."

INSKEEP: But there is the matter of rebuilding something. How does - where does Gaza go from here?

ESTRIN: Gaza probably needs hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild. The U.N. says 1,800 apartments and businesses need rebuilding. There's water, sanitation, electricity, all that infrastructure needs repair. You know, the U.N. says that they're only now getting close to finishing rebuilding from the last war seven years ago. And Palestinians say that this time, the Israeli bombardment was even more forceful than the last war. It's going to be tricky getting building materials in, Steve, because Israel wants to make sure that Hamas does not use materials and cement to rebuild militarily. There's going to be a very strict system. And the Israeli defense minister says Israel is going to leave Gaza on a, quote, "basic humanitarian level," not more and condition more aid on kind of fuzzy political goals, like weakening Hamas.

INSKEEP: Daniel, we've really appreciated your reporting from both sides of the battle lines these last few weeks. Thanks very much. And be safe.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: Daniel Estrin.

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INSKEEP: Now let's go to Minneapolis. Racial justice advocates and members of George Floyd's family are marking the anniversary of his murder.

MARTIN: It was a year ago tomorrow that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck for nearly 9 1/2 minutes. Floyd's killing led to a nationwide reckoning over race and policing.

INSKEEP: Minnesota Public Radio's Matt Sepic was at the march in Minneapolis. Hey there.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How are people commemorating George Floyd's life and death?

SEPIC: Well, there are a series of events going on over these few days here in Minneapolis. The George Floyd Memorial Foundation, which was started by his sister, Bridgett Floyd, is holding a panel discussion today with family members of people of color killed by police. The parents of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man killed last month in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, are expected to be there, as is the mother of Eric Garner, who died after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold in 2014. There will be an afternoon-long celebration of Floyd's life at a downtown Minneapolis park tomorrow. And things kicked off last night with a rally outside the courthouse where jurors found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder just over a month ago. Bridgett Floyd spoke at that rally.

BRIDGETT FLOYD: Tuesday will be a year. It has been a long year. It has been a painful year.

SEPIC: The Reverend Al Sharpton, who's been a frequent presence here, said George Floyd was not a martyr but a game changer. The veteran civil rights activist called on the U.S. Senate to approve the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act; the measure passed in the House. It would, among other things, make it easier to prosecute police, create a national registry of law enforcement misconduct and ban chokeholds.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. Of course, Sharpton famously said at the eulogy for George Floyd, you changed the world, George. But there he referred to a bill that has not passed yet. How has George Floyd's death affected police reform where you are?

SEPIC: Well, here in Minnesota, state lawmakers last summer passed a package of police reforms. This includes a statewide ban on chokeholds, as well as a ban on warrior-style training. And it requires more reporting around use of force incidents. But activists here say this is just a start. They want to see much stronger civilian oversight of police. And many say it's long past time to rethink what public safety means.

INSKEEP: Well, at the beginning of that rethinking process, there was a moment when a majority of the Minneapolis City Council stood in front of a sign that said defund the police. Did that happen over the past year?

SEPIC: It did not. The department's budget was cut slightly as part of across-the-board cuts amid the pandemic. But last February, the city council, in fact, approved another $6 million to fund a class of new recruits. At the same time, though, many council members support a citizen-led ballot proposal that's expected to go to voters this fall. It would eliminate the minimum staffing requirement of 17 police officers per 10,000 Minneapolis residents and redirect resources to other public safety measures, such as helping people experience homelessness and mental health crises. I should add, though, Steve, that the police force here is much smaller than it was before Floyd's killing. A quarter of officers have left or taken medical leave. The number working today is just 645, down from 873 early last year.

INSKEEP: And the debate goes on. Matt, thanks so much.

SEPIC: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Matt Sepic from our member station Minnesota Public Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "DYING LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.