Pox News | Crooked Media
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July 20, 2022
What A Day
Pox News

In This Episode

  • A bipartisan group of senators announced a new bill on Wednesday that aims to protect election integrity. The legislation would make it clear that former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election was not okay.
  • Monkeypox cases are spreading throughout the U.S. and the vaccine rollout has hit some bumps. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, host of Crooked’s “America Dissected,” tells us what we need to know about the outbreak.
  • And in headlines: President Biden issued executive orders to address the climate crisis, Sri Lanka’s Parliament elected a new president, and Quidditch is changing its name.


Show Notes:



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Erin Ryan: It’s Thursday, July 21st. I’m Erin Ryan.


Abdul El-Sayed: And I’m Abdul El-Sayed, and this is What A Day, the podcast that gives you the news in 20 minutes or less, or about how long it takes Kylie Jenner to fly to Palm Springs on a whim in her private jet.


Erin Ryan: Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here cleaning my tiny reusable metal straw with a pipe cleaner for the 700th time, saving the earth.


Abdul El-Sayed: On today’s show, monkeypox cases are spreading throughout the U.S., and the vaccine rollout has hit some bumps–no pun intended. Plus, President Biden issued a new executive order to try and salvage his climate agenda.


Erin Ryan: But first, yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced a new bill that aims to protect election integrity. And surprise! It’s not bad.


Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Not bad. That’s like the ceiling in American politics right now.


Erin Ryan: Not bad. We’ve got grade inflation here. The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Act is co-sponsored by 16 senators and would help make it even clearer that the stunt that former President Trump attempted to pull after he lost reelection was double-plus-triple-dog not okay.


Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, well, I’m glad that they’re finally codifying that. Maybe they could get on to codifying some other things while they’re at it. So, Erin, what’s in it?


Erin Ryan: So the proposed legislation–which senators have been working on for months–would clarify an 1887 law regarding the counting of electoral votes. Here’s a quick and dirty summary. The new law would require that states appoint electors in the manner prescribed by state law that existed prior to Election Day, which would keep a rogue governor or state legislature from doing something wacky like, say, ignoring the popular vote and appointing electors of their choosing, when the law requires that the state’s electoral votes go to the winner of the state’s popular vote. It would also require governors to certify their state’s electors before a deadline, and it would reinforce the fact that the vice president’s role in certifying the electoral vote count is totally ceremonial.


Abdul El-Sayed: So the law is basically follow the law and obey democracy, or else. Or else what, Erin.


Erin Ryan: The “or else” in the law is that if any of these provisions were ignored by a rogue legislature or governor, the process would be subject to review by a three-judge panel, and fast tracked to the Supreme Court. Congress would then be required to count the correct slate of electors rather than the rogue electors. And the vice president has no power to stop this. He’d have as much power over the electoral count as a box of Captain Crunch would have on a cruise ship.


Abdul El-Sayed: So basically, distract everyone. See, I like all of this except for the fact that it goes to the Supreme Court, because like, Clarence Thomas. So this essentially strengthens the checks and balances necessary to make the system we already have, less prone to being exploited by bad actors. But the Electoral College still sucks. Am I right?


Erin Ryan: Oh, it absolutely sucks. It sucks very badly. But if the Electoral College were a rickety outhouse, this legislation would make it more difficult for a gang of ne’er-do-wells to tip it over.


Abdul El-Sayed: Yes. A heavy sandbag in the bottom of the porta potty of the American experiment.


Erin Ryan: Exactly. And speaking of tonight, make sure to tune in and follow along with Crooked’s coverage of the final public January 6th hearing, that we know of. It’s in primetime, from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern, 5 to 7 p.m. Pacific. You can join a group thread with a bunch of Crooked hosts and experts who will be commenting the whole time. Find that all at YouTube.com / crookedmedia.


Abdul El-Sayed: And now to one more item, in the timeless words of our friend–kind of–Liz Cheney. We turn now to some news about a rapidly-spreading virus. Because, you know, I couldn’t host an episode without sneaking some educational, medical, or public health content into it. It’s kind of my brand. But not the one we’ve been living through for the last two years. A quick update on that, though. We talked about the Omicron sub-variant BA.5 last week, and right on cue, COVID cases are skyrocketing around the country. Cases are up 24% over the last two weeks. Hospitalizations are up 19%. And get this: deaths are up a whopping 33%.


Erin Ryan: Woof.


Abdul El-Sayed: Not great. One note here. The fact that deaths are up so high should remind us that our data on cases is super murky right now. Remember, most people are doing rapid tests at home, which don’t get reported to authorities. So everyone stay safe out there. Today, though, I want to talk about the other major disease outbreak we’re dealing with right now: monkeypox.


Erin Ryan: Pox-related diseases give me a visceral feeling of fear and being upset. I feel like I can trace that back to my fascination with the Black Death. Can you please tell me more about this? I feel like there’s so much out there, and I don’t know anything.


Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, I have to tell you, I remember learning about buboes, which is the technical term for swollen, blackened lymph nodes in med school, and it was a lot.


Erin Ryan: Horrible! Horrible!


Abdul El-Sayed: Awful.


Erin Ryan: But this is not that.


Abdul El-Sayed: No, this is not that. There is some silver lining in what is a very pox-ridden cloud. Before we jump in, I want to give you a quick reminder of what monkeypox is. First, the name monkeypox is a bit of a misnomer. The disease was first discovered in monkeys in Central Africa, but it’s actually endemic among rodents. And I want you to hold on to that fact, because we’re going to get back to it a little bit later. Like humans, monkeys are really only incidental carriers.


Erin Ryan: Okay. So calling it monkeypox is maybe not accurate. It should be maybe rat rash. So what’s going on with the current outbreak?


Abdul El-Sayed: Well, there’s an ongoing global outbreak, as you mentioned, Erin. It’s infected 14,000 known cases across 60 countries, 2,300 cases in the U.S. alone as of right now. And it’s only been nine weeks since the first cases were discovered in the U.K.. What’s so concerning isn’t just the scale of cases, it’s how fast they’re spreading. It’s spreading exponentially, meaning that we’re fundamentally failing to contain it. In fact, some experts think that monkeypox may be uncontainable if we can’t do anything about it soon. And on Tuesday, Oregon Senator Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, sent a letter to Xavier Becerra to that effect. He, of course, is the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. In it, she said that his agency’s response is simply not enough, and demanded a briefing on it by August 2nd. We’ll get into more of the response by health departments in a bit.


Erin Ryan: Okay. So let’s talk about the science here to help people understand it better. What are the symptoms of monkeypox?


Abdul El-Sayed: This is, Erin, in effect, a less severe, less transmissible cousin of smallpox. The symptoms are mainly like the flu: fever, headaches, chills, malaise, and swollen lymph nodes. If you’ve ever been kind of sick and turned your head and you feel up to all pain at the jaw line, that’s what swollen lymph nodes feel like. But then, of course, there’s the rash. Those pox that look like little pimples. And symptoms can last 2 to 4 weeks.


Erin Ryan: Oh, man. Not something I want to Google, not something I want to look at. But how does it spread?


Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, generally not great to Google medical images. Just don’t recommend it. And if you happen to find a medical textbook around someone’s house, don’t just open it up. It’s a great way to get PTSD


Erin Ryan: Good tip. Good tip.


Abdul El-Sayed: So monkeypox spreads in two ways. The first is prolonged exposure to aerosols from a person who has it. This wouldn’t be like COVID, which can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes of just sharing the same room, but more like the flu. You really need to be in close quarters, breathing the same droplets inside of the air that just came out of somebody else’s lungs. The other is through the fluid that comes out of the rash. And the thing about this is that it doesn’t actually have to come directly from the rash. It can be carried by something else, which we call a fomite.


Erin Ryan: Okay. So this might be a little bit deadly for your Instagram presence during the time that you’re suffering, but is it actually physically deadly? How sick are people getting from this?


Abdul El-Sayed: Aside from killing your story, no, the high probability–very, very high probability–is that you don’t die of this. In fact, of the 14,000 cases recorded in the current outbreak, there have only been, thankfully, five deaths. And those five deaths, I don’t want to make light of, but if you have adequate medical care, the probability of dying of monkeypox is exceedingly low. Each of those five deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.


Erin Ryan: That’s good news that access to good medical care, like the kind we have in the U.S., existent medical care–


Abdul El-Sayed: Existent medical care.


Erin Ryan: Existent. Okay, let’s put it that way. The ability to access medical care that exists–


Abdul El-Sayed: Yes.


Erin Ryan: –will make you more likely to survive. But what about a vaccine?


Abdul El-Sayed: We do have several effective vaccines because smallpox vaccines work against monkey pox too. And the two of them include ACAM2000–not to be confused with a robot. This is the older vaccine. It also has lots of side effects, particularly among immunocompromised people. But the newer one, called JYNNEOS, is in short supply. And so it’s really put people between a rock and a hard place. And it’s complicating our efforts to roll out vaccines to prevent monkeypox right now.


Erin Ryan: Okay, WTF, did we not learn any lessons from COVID?


Abdul El-Sayed: Yes, we learned them. No, we couldn’t do anything about it. Yes, COVID alerted us to the potential for uncontrolled epidemic spread, but it also depleted our public health resources. Health departments are exhausted from more than two years of COVID, and the public seems to have kind of moved on from any sort of health precautions. All of this should remind us that we’ve never really invested in public health the way we needed to in this country in the first place, and so it really hampers our ability to lasso outbreaks like this one. But what is super frustrating is that so many of the issues that got in the way of our COVID response, in the early days in particular–limited testing, poor communication, bad data sharing–they’ve also gotten in the way of early efforts to contain monkeypox, too. And now vaccination efforts have been hampered by limited supply and thin staffing. When I talked earlier about frustration with the country’s response, here’s some of what’s been going on. The U.S. only had 2,000 doses on hand when the virus first started spreading in May, and it didn’t order more vaccines to stockpile until June. That was last month. Regulators didn’t finish inspecting an overseas vaccine factory until just a few weeks ago, although now two and a half million doses should arrive by the end of the year. When the doses we do have were distributed, they weren’t distributed geographically in accordance with where the virus was popping up most. And just last week in New York City, the health department site for vaccine appointments crashed because of high demand.


Erin Ryan: Oh, man. Not good signs.


Abdul El-Sayed: And there’s one more item, Erin.


Erin Ryan: Ugh.


Abdul El-Sayed: Remember when I told you to hold on to that fact about rodents?


Erin Ryan: Yes.


Abdul El-Sayed: Well, one of the truly frightening scenarios is that if this virus becomes endemic in rodents outside of Central and West Africa, like, say, in rats in New York City, we might be in for monkeypox over the long run. So much of the effort to contain this is about reducing that probability.


Erin Ryan: Okay. So when I lived in New York City, the rats are so integrated into human life that one time I was going to catch the train at J Street in Brooklyn, and I went to my normal spot where I waited for the train every morning and there was a rat standing on its hind legs as though it were a person also waiting for the train. And as I got closer to it, the rat looked at me like I was invading its personal space. It was not afraid of me. Rats in New York City are everywhere, and they’re not afraid of people. What a nightmare. Okay, so what happens now?


Abdul El-Sayed: It’s absolutely critical that people who are at risk get vaccinated and watch for symptoms. One thing that people should know is that this virus has a long incubation period. And if you’re exposed to monkeypox, getting a vaccine as soon as possible can actually prevent you from getting an infection. That’s right–getting a vaccine, even if you’ve been exposed to monkeypox, can prevent you from getting an infection. And there’s another thing I want to talk about here, because this outbreak originated at a rave in Europe monkeypox is mainly infected the gay community, what very literal public health officials call “men who have sex with men.” I want to be clear about something, though. Monkeypox can infect anyone. And there’s a long history of stigmatizing this community because of diseases that can infect anyone, disproportionately affecting them. So even as we talk about this, it’s critical that we don’t fall into the same old patterns of stigmatization that so hampered the HIV response. So because it can infect anyone. Public health officials want everyone to stay alert and to make sure that if you’re exposed to monkeypox, that you get your vaccine and that you make sure to alert others that you may have exposed to the virus. And watch for symptoms, and as always, make sure to practice good hand hygiene. And we’ll put more information about what you should know about monkeypox in our show notes. And that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Erin Ryan: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Abdul El-Sayed: President Biden unveiled a set of executive orders on Wednesday to address the ongoing climate crisis. Here’s him announcing the order at a press conference:


[clip of President Biden] I come here today with a message: as president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger.


Abdul El-Sayed: This comes after Democratic Senator Joe Maserati Manchin said he would not help pass climate measures through Congress last week. For starters, the White House will give $2.3 billion to FEMA’s Resilient Infrastructure Initiative, a program that better prepares local communities for natural disasters. The administration will also expand its Low-Income Energy Assistance Program to include cooling centers and energy efficient air conditioners for those in need. And finally, the Interior Department will work to develop the first wind energy areas in the Gulf of Mexico. Notably absent from the order, though, was a climate emergency declaration, which would give the White House power to do more. The president was considering this action, according to reports from earlier this week. But White House officials said that no final decision has been made on whether the designation will be made.


Erin Ryan: After five rounds of voting, two final candidates will face off to replace the UK’s “sorry for party rocking” Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The contenders are Rishi Sunak, a finance minister, and Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary–both from Britain’s Conservative Party, which will remain in control. Sunak, who is considered the frontrunner, was one of many government workers who resigned in protest of Johnson remaining in power last month. We’ll have to wait until September to see who parliament votes in as prime minister, but for now, we leave you with Johnson’s self-congratulatory final appearance before Parliament yesterday.


[clip of PM Boris Johnson] Mission largely accomplished . . . for now. I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to thank all the wonderful staff at the House of Commons. I want to thank all my friends and colleagues. I want to thank my right honorable friend opposite Mr. Speaker. I want to thank everybody here. And hasta la vista, baby! Thank you.


Erin Ryan: Is he resigning as prime minister or being played offstage after winning an Emmy?


Abdul El-Sayed: You could, like, hear the music in the background.


Erin Ryan: Yeah. And it should have honestly been the Benny Hill theme, which was playing in the background of some Sky News clips when, you know, this was all kind of going down.


Abdul El-Sayed: Sri Lanka’s parliament elected a new president on Wednesday to replace the disgraced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but their choice isn’t going over well with the public. The ex-president’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, won the vote, and he’s now tasked with addressing the country’s worsening economic crisis. Sri Lankan protesters made it clear during their demonstrations, though, that they wanted Rajapaksa’s entire government gone, including his right-hand man, the newly-elected Wickremesinghe. Activist Jeana De Zoysa told the BBC yesterday that they were, quote, “absolutely disgusted at the result” and that Sri Lanka’s parliament has quote “completely disregarded the wants of the people.”


Erin Ryan: Accio inclusivity! The leagues that LARPed an IRL version of Quidditch to life will be ditching their Harry Potter-inspired names in favor of a new IP-free designation. This comes as an effort to cut all ties with disgraced anti-trans author J.K. Rowling, who, before alienating a sizable chunk of her audience with her historically bad takes, created the Wizarding Sport in her popular book series–can I just pause and say, the sport was never good. The sport was always a bad sport. It didn’t make sense. When I read the books as a child, I was like, This is a bad sport and it doesn’t make sense. But I’m glad they’re changing the name. As of Tuesday, US Quidditch and Major League Quidditch–I can’t believe these exist–will now be known as US Quad Ball and Major League Quad Ball, referring to the sport’s four balls and four positions. It’s said the International Quidditch Association will follow suit as soon as this weekend.


Abdul El-Sayed: I thought they called it quad ball because you just really need huge quads.


Erin Ryan: Yeah.


Abdul El-Sayed: Yesterday the US Postal Service announced at least 40% of its updated delivery trucks will soon be electric. This shocking news comes after the Postal Service made a paltry commitment to electrifying 10% of their new fleet back in April. In response to that first pledge, 16 states, the District of Columbia, and four top environmental groups, sued the agency for not doing enough to reduce the government’s environmental footprint. Climate activists are hailing this development as proof that raising a fuss can lead to real results. And the tens of thousands of electric postal vehicles will hit the streets by late 2023. In a tragic twist, they’re all Teslas and Elon Musk has gone all the way retro.


Erin Ryan: Man. I know that’s a joke, but that would actually break my heart, if my like, you know, beloved and pure U.S. Postal Service was suddenly besmirched by reminding me of Elon Musk, the world’s Bond villain. No, thank you. Turns out “I do declare” isn’t just a cool catchphrase for a Southern lawyer, but essential travel advice for anyone entering Australia. After failing to declare a sub sandwich purchased in Singapore at Australian Customs, 19-year old Jessica Lee of Perth, Australia, was fined the US equivalent of $1,840 due to the country’s strict customs and biosecurity regulations, which require anyone entering the country to report any meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, fruit, or vegetables. Shockingly, a half-eaten chicken and lettuce sandwich stuffed into your personal bag qualifies. After Lee’s TikTok recounting of her costly sandwich snafu went viral, Subway sent her a restaurant gift card for the total amount, along with some swag. In our capitalist society, a ridiculous gift card stuffed in a box with subway-branded socks technically counts as justice! While to our knowledge, you cannot pay your federally-imposed fee in sandwiches, with a balance of 2,664 AUD on that gift card, one hopefully never has to pay real money for a Subway sandwich again.


Abdul El-Sayed: I’m still wondering, though, had she gone with the tuna would it have broken Australian law? Because it’s questionable as to whether or not that’s actually meat.


Erin Ryan: That is a great question. I mean, she would have more of an argument. She could say, Look, prove it’s fish, Australia.


Abdul El-Sayed: Subway still can’t do that.


Erin Ryan: No, they can’t. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: get the latest episode of my show, Hysteria, out now. This week, Alyssa Mastromonico and I talk with activist and organizer Amanda Nguyen, and are later joined by Julissa Arce and Tien Tran to talk about the reasons to keep your name after marriage and reasons to change it. New episodes of Hysteria drop every Thursday, so subscribe and listen wherever you get your podcasts. That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, bully Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, into doing more, and tell your friends to listen.


Abdul El-Sayed: And if you’re into reading, and not just draconian Australian biosecurity law like me–which is actually something I probably would read–What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Abdul El-Sayed.


Erin Ryan: I’m Erin Ryan.


[together] And we declare: sandwich!


Erin Ryan: Look, sandwiches are a rich tapestry.


Abdul El-Sayed: I agree. Open question, though: is a hot dog sandwich?


Erin Ryan: No. The thing inside of a sandwich can’t be round.


Abdul El-Sayed: Wait a second. Is a falafel a sandwich?


Erin Ryan: Oh, no! Sandwich law is something that we need to really delve into. And I’m unqualified.


Priyanka Aribindi: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producer is Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.