MILLIONS STILL WITHOUT POWER, HEAT, WITH TEXAS WORST HIT: Millions of Americans had to get through another chillingly cold day yesterday (February 17th) without electricity or heat as the result of a winter storm earlier this week, and with another storm poised to hit, partly in areas of the South not used to dealing with frigid temperatures, snow and ice. Texas has been the worst hit by far, with three million homes and businesses still without power as of midday yesterday. Making things even worse, Texas officials ordered seven million people, amounting to one-quarter of the state’s population, to boil their tap water before drinking it. Water pressure has fallen across Texas because of frozen lines and many people leaving faucets dripping to try to prevent pipes from freezing. More than 30 people have been killed, among them people who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from doing things to try to stay warm, like running their car in their garage. The president of the Texas power grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said he hoped many customers would have at least partial service restored by today.
REPORTS: PFIZER, MODERNA VACCINES PROTECT AGAINST VARIANTS, INCLUDING SOUTH AFRICAN ONE: There were encouraging reports yesterday (February 17th) that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are the ones being distributed in the U.S., protect against coronavirus variants that have emerged, including the most worrisome one first seen in South Africa. A report from researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas found that the Pfizer vaccine produced less neutralizing antibody activity against the South African variant, but it was still enough to neutralize the virus. Researchers at Moderna and the National Institutes of Health also found a reduction in the antibody response from the Moderna vaccine against the South African variant, but again in this case, it wasn’t enough to make the vaccine less effective. There was also no reduction in being effective against the U.K. variant.
U.S. ATTORNEY, FBI PROBING CUOMO’S HANDLING OF COVID NURSING HOME DEATH DATA: The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and the FBI have begun a preliminary investigation into how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration handled data about nursing home deaths from Covid-19, the Albany Times-Union reported yesterday (February 17th). Cuomo’s administration revealed in recent weeks that some 15,000 nursing home residents had died from Covid, significantly higher than the 8,500 that had previously been reported. Further, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa said last week they didn’t release a fuller death count in August because of worries that then President Donald Trump would use the information against Cuomo. The governor said Monday that, quote, “things should have been done differently.” A senior adviser to Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, said last night, “As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.”
TRUMP REPEATS FALSE CLAIM HE WON THE ELECTION IN FIRST INTERVIEWS SINCE LEAVING OFFICE: Former President Donald Trump gave his first interviews Wednesday (February 17th) since leaving office just under one month ago, calling into Fox News, Newsmax and OANN to speak about the death yesterday of iconic conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. But in those calls, Trump again repeated the false claim that he won the presidential election. In one of those claims, he told Fox, “Well, Rush thought we won. And so do I, by the way. I think we won substantially.”