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Masks, vaxes, and Olympic worries: Check out a new edition of The Weekender.

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… where we are seeing parts of the country start to reinstate and recommend indoor mask-wearing due to nearly half of all Americans still unvaccinated and cases spiking in parts of the country. Plus—Olympic advertisers are anxious about ratings, raising the question if the costs of sponsoring the Olympics is worth it. Also—Starbucks is leading with their culture as company leaders are learning the art of saying no. Discover the week’s headlines and more below in The Weekender. Thanks for joining us today.

Masks, vaxes, and mandates… Oh my!

Vaccination numbers have started to plateau, starting a new wave of the seemingly never-ending Covid-19 saga: a stage that experts are calling “the pandemic of the unvaccinated.” At the start of the week, the CDC released a new list of guidelines for Americans to protect themselves against the virus, sparking confusion and raising questions like, “Do I need to wear a mask or not?” and, “Why do I need to wear a mask when I’m fully vaccinated? Shouldn’t the people who choose not to get vaccinated be the ones to have to wear the mask?” Experts say that regions of the country that would benefit most from a crackdown on Covid-19 are also the places least likely to follow the CDC’s guidance. Therefore, the CDC is once again recommending that vaccinated Americans living in “an area of substantial or high transmission” should go back to wearing masks indoors. Multiple cities have reinstated indoor mask mandates, including Los Angeles and St. Louis. The lack of clarity and distinction of where those areas are is likely to stir up even more questions when kids go back to school and universities open back up in the fall. The hope with dropping the mask mandates would encourage more Americans to get vaccinated, which hasn’t necessarily been the case. Takeaway: Don’t throw away those masks just yet. Read more in New York Times.

 Infrastructure: A deal is born.

After weeks of working around the clock, a bipartisan Senate negotiators’ infrastructure package is set for a final vote in the coming days, moving ahead on a procedural vote 67-32 with 17 Republicans joining all Democrats. The $1.2 trillion bill will be funding items like broadband networks, roads and bridges, transportation safety programs, transit modernization, power infrastructure, and clean energy transmission. President Biden told reporters that this infrastructure plan is a bipartisan effort, and “while there’s a lot we don’t agree on, I believe that we should be able to work together on the few things we do agree on.” The breakthrough may be the start of a new wave of bipartisanship at the White House. After much back-and-forth across the aisle, the elusive infrastructure appears to be moving ahead. The Senate, however, is just one of two chambers that need to pass the infrastructure legislation. The fight in the House is just getting started. It may be best to keep that champagne on ice a bit longer. Read more in National Public Radio.

No spectators and fewer viewers: Are the 2021 Olympics an anomaly, or are the changes here to stay?

The Tokyo Olympics is another chapter in what many primetime television spots are experiencing: a dramatic decrease in viewership. NBC’s primetime coverage of the Games averaged 14.7 million viewers: a 49 percent drop compared to the equivalent night from the 2016 Rio Games. This dip in viewers is causing advertisers lots of anxiety, wondering if the costly and coveted Olympic ad coverage was a good investment. This anxiety only continued after American gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the competition, citing mental health struggles, and Naomi Osaka was eliminated from the tennis medal competition. The shocking results in Tokyo make you wonder if the “Covid Games” were worth it as pressures are put on the athletes. How and when the games are watched is changing as well. Live viewership is up (versus the prime-time replay) as well as live-streaming. Still, total viewership is down significantly, rattling advertisers and begging questions about the economics of the Olympics overall. Read more in Fox News.

I’ll have a venti ice coffee with no sweetener, skim milk, and an up-and-coming MBA, please…
When former Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer announced her departure from the company in January, doubt and concern penetrated the business space. As months went on, the company proved that the loss of Brewer wasn’t what folks on Wall Street had feared; in fact, it only confirmed the coffee shop’s worth. Starbucks has been ahead of its time in several facets: most notably its work on social issues years before it started making headlines news and became a high-profile topic across the nation. Starbucks’ company culture puts its employees and customers above all else, training staff that “no” is a complete sentence. Starbucks’ “Employees and Customers First” business model has helped boost employees and promote within, which has added to the company’s managerial talent pool. The company calls the culture its “secret sauce” that keeps employees—and customers—coming back to Starbucks. Read more in Bloomberg.

Let me put a bug in your ear. Literally.

Most of us know the basics of internet safety: don’t click on the sketchy link; don’t give out your credit card information, and the list goes on and on. As technology advances, however, so does the list of cybercrimes we have to defend ourselves against what is out of our control. The latest invasion of privacy is Pegasus spyware: a program created by Israel-based NSO Group that can transform our devices into real-time tracking machines to capture our every move and communication. The problem with Pegasus is that it goes beyond all that we’ve learned about cyberattacks and phishing scams. NSO uses flaws in the phone’s operating system to enter devices without clicking on a link or opening an email. While law enforcement routinely works with IT firms to protect against such attacks, the unknown is most chilling, not the least of which can gain access to this kind of technology. Go deeper here. Read more in Fast Company.


China: It’s definitely chilly, but not cold just yet.
Before the meeting between the U.S. and Chinese officials even ended, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng told U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman that the U.S and China’s relationship is “now in a stalemate and faces serious difficulties.” Not a great end to a meeting between the globe’s two largest economies and the first and third most powerful militaries. The Chinese ministry has released a statement saying that issues with the United States come from Americans portraying China as the enemy, which they believe to be a dangerous policy. While the goal of the meeting was to keep high-level communication going between the two countries, it seemed to have turned into a negotiation. President Joe Biden has carried over former President Donald Trump’s tough stance on China into his policies, only adding fuel to the flames. On a brighter note, China’s new ambassador to the U.S., Qin Gang, arrived with a tone of optimism and underscored the importance of the U.S.-China relationship: a relationship with global implications. Read more in CNBC.


142: The number of athletes competing at the Summer Olympic Games who are publicly part of the LGBTQ community–more LGBTQ athletes have participated at all other Summer Games combined. 

$2.5 billion: The amount of money in sales the United States racked up in plant-based dairy alternatives in 2020. Whether it’s due to allergies, intolerances, or diet choices, plant-based alternatives to dairy and meat are topping the charts. 

41: The number of medals the United States has won in Tokyo (as of Friday morning) in the first week of competition at the Summer Games. The United States is currently in first place ahead of China’s 38 for the number of medals awarded. 

2: The number of months frontline healthcare workers for the Department of Veterans Affairs have to get fully vaccinated for Covid-19 to continue working in VA medical facilities. The VA is the first federal agency to mandate employees receive the vaccine, starting a trend amongst organizations and states passing similar protocols. 

116 degrees: The record temperature Portland reached during the Pacific Northwest’s deadly heatwave. A recent study found that the rate of climate change is an under-appreciated driver of extreme heat, virtually guaranteeing more temperature records in the coming years. 

3,177: The number of reported Covid-19 infections in Tokyo on Wednesday: the highest case amount since the pandemic began. The rapid rise in numbers comes as hundreds of athletes, staffers, and officials travel to the country for the Summer Games. 

4: The number of months experts believe that elementary school students in the United States are behind in their expected level of academic achievement. Experts say the months of school closures brought on by the pandemic have caused some students to go backward in their learning. 

$1 billion: The amount of money in a five-year investment plan that Walmart stores are implementing to pay 100% of employees’ college tuition and books at a group of stores. 

50/50: The even divide between Americans and their opinion on whether the Afghanistan war was a mistake. Until Gallup’s latest poll, Americans have historically been generally supportive of the effort. 

98: The total number of people recovered and identified in the nearly non-stop, multi-agency search after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida. Estelle Hedaya was the last victim uncovered and identified on Monday, bringing the search to a close. 

$2 billion: The amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos offered to waive in fees over the next two years to win his space company, Blue Origin, a joint contract for the NASA lunar-lander program. This program is currently solely awarded to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. 



Credit: @DMRegister
Des Moines Register is a daily morning newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa.