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News brief: isolation guidelines, John Madden, demand for new cars

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How does the CDC explain a shorter isolation period just as omicron cases are soaring higher?

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The health agency has faced a lot of criticism this week for a carefully worded recommendation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says if you test positive for coronavirus but have no symptoms, you can leave isolation after five days. The old rule said 10 days. And the change came just as cities and states are restoring other COVID restrictions to deal with a winter surge.

Director Rochelle Walensky came on All Things Considered and told our colleague Ari Shapiro that science backs up the change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: The vast majority of transmission happens in that first five days, which is why we've really put in the strong recommendation to mask those last five days.

INSKEEP: So five days in isolation, five more days with the mask, hopefully. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us to work through this defense. Hey there, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: All right, I get the argument. But what's the data to back it up?

AUBREY: Well, Dr. Walensky also pointed to new data showing that the incubation period of omicron is shorter - just three days or so. And when you combine that with the evidence to show that people are most infectious during the first few days of an infection, she said the new policy makes sense. By Day 5, most people are much less contagious. And again, on All Things Considered last night, she said there are practical implications of asking people to stay home longer than they need to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WALENSKY: We also want to make sure that we can keep the critical functions of society open and operating. We started to see challenges with that, you know, with airline flights and other areas. We started first with doing the health care workers last week to make sure that we could keep our hospitals functioning safely and open.

AUBREY: I mean, her main point is that with so many cases now and cases still rising, it's hard to justify 10 days of isolation if people are not as infectious. But there are critics who say the CDC should strengthen its isolation policy.

INSKEEP: Before we go on, I want to underline a couple of points here. First, she is essentially saying so many people are going to get omicron that if they all isolate for 10 days, there's not going to be enough people to work in essential jobs. Is that right?

AUBREY: Pretty much, that's the argument she is making.

INSKEEP: And then we have the matter of airlines. There was a lot of criticism that an airline executive had urged this change a few days ago, and she specifically references airlines in saying why this was a good idea.

AUBREY: That's right. I mean, airlines and alludes to other industries, pointing out that with health care workers they made the change last week. You can't have too many health care workers off the job as cases rise.

INSKEEP: OK, so you mentioned strengthening the policy, which some critics would like to do. How would you do that if it's just going to be a five-day isolation?

AUBREY: You know, a lot of the infectious disease experts I spoke to yesterday say the best way to do this is to recommend that people do an over-the-counter test on Day 5 before they come out of isolation. I spoke to Dr. Aaron Carroll of Indiana University about this.

AARON CARROLL: I don't think the Biden administration has moved fast enough or far enough to make antigen tests widely available to people and to make them economically available to everyone.

AUBREY: I heard that criticism from a lot of people. The administration has made it clear its priority is to ramp up production and distribution, but we've been hearing that for a while, so now the pressure is on to deliver.

INSKEEP: Let's ask a little bit more about what's known about omicron. Is it fair to say now that it really is causing, generally speaking, more mild symptoms than other variants?

AUBREY: You know, it's been hard to answer this question because it typically takes several weeks after a surge starts to see a significant rise in hospitalizations. But I spoke to a bunch of infectious disease experts yesterday who say what we can learn so far from data in the U.K. and Denmark and what we're beginning to see here is that there is now more evidence that it does appear to be less virulent, less likely to cause severe illness. That does not mean that people should not be paying attention here. It's a good sign, but important to note that people who are not vaccinated, people who are immune-compromised are more likely to be hit hard by COVID, and there are certainly people hospitalized now with omicron.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey, thanks, as always, for your good work.

AUBREY: Thank you, Steve.

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INSKEEP: As people who've tried to buy a car lately know, lots are empty and prices are high.

MCCAMMON: The decrease in supply has coincided with what's appeared to be an increase in demand as more people have tried to avoid ride-shares or public transit. And the end of the year is typically a strong selling season for automakers, but this year, consumers are having a tougher time buying new or at least new-to-them cars.

INSKEEP: NPR's Camila Domonoske covers cars and is here to tell us what happened and what might be ahead. Good morning.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do the lots look like right now?

DOMONOSKE: Well, there's a lot more pavement and a lot fewer vehicles than usual, and it's been like that for months - I mean, most of this year. The cars that are available have markups that would've been completely unimaginable in previous years. I mean, it used to be you would never pay sticker price for a new car, right? Or if you did, you certainly wouldn't admit it.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DOMONOSKE: But right now, it's completely normal to pay more than that. And just to take one example, the Kia Telluride - it's a nice SUV, but it's not some super-rare sports car, right? Consumer Reports says it's averaging 6,000 to $8,000 over the suggested retail price when it actually sells.

INSKEEP: Wow.

DOMONOSKE: And then there are car shoppers like Jackie Sisouphonh, who bought a Telluride recently.

JACKIE SISOUPHONH: We paid almost 20 grand markup on it. It should've been a $50,000 car, and it was a $70,000 car.

DOMONOSKE: So people who are trying to buy a car right now - they're traveling states away, they're waiting weeks or months, or they're just giving up for now, which is, frankly, what I did.

INSKEEP: I'm so sorry to hear that. What is keeping the supply down?

DOMONOSKE: The single biggest reason driving this is a shortage of computer chips. These little, tiny semiconductors are everywhere in vehicles these days. Earlier this year, I spoke to Chris Paredis. He's a professor of automotive engineering at Clemson University. He said they're not just in the obvious places, like touch screens.

CHRIS PAREDIS: For instance, most vehicles now have a pressure sensor inside the tires. The seats themselves have definitely lots of sensors.

DOMONOSKE: That's how a car can warn you if your tires need more air or remind you to buckle your seat belt. But all these chips - they were really disrupted by the pandemic, like a lot of products were. Demand disappeared. It roared back, threw the entire supply chain just completely out of whack. So now automakers can't make as many vehicles as they would like. It's millions fewer vehicles than they would manufacture otherwise. So you've got supply down. You have a lot of wealthier families who have a fair amount of cash on hand right now. And add it all up, prices just skyrocketed.

INSKEEP: OK, so we know the chip shortage is not going to go away in weeks or months, could be a year or more. What else is ahead in 2022?

DOMONOSKE: Well, the big story we're going to be watching is a dramatic increase in electric vehicles. Every single automaker is racing to bring these to market, between climate concerns and, you know, trying to chase the success of Tesla.

INSKEEP: Camila, thanks for your work on this. Really appreciate it.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Camila Domonoske.

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INSKEEP: You know, if you had to name just one person who was the face of football over the past 50 years, that person might be John Madden.

MCCAMMON: He won a Super Bowl as coach of the Oakland Raiders. He covered Super Bowls as a TV analyst for every network. He was a familiar voice on many Sunday afternoons. And he was the face of a worldwide sports video game franchise. The NFL says Madden died unexpectedly at the age of 85.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman covers sports. Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: We just said unexpectedly. Were people surprised?

GOLDMAN: I think people were, Steve, even though John Madden was 85. He was in the forefront of people's minds after a TV documentary on his life aired just this past weekend on Christmas Day. So yesterday was a bit of a shock. We still haven't heard a cause of death. In the NFL's statement, league Commissioner Roger Goodell said about Madden, we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.

INSKEEP: What was his career as a coach like?

GOLDMAN: Well, he took over as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 1969. He was 32, the youngest head coach in the then American Football League. And between '69 and when he retired after the 1978 season, his team never had a losing season. He won 76% of his games, according to Pro Football Hall of Fame. That's the highest ever among coaches with a hundred or more victories. He presided over a rough-and-tumble team that was often called dirty. He bristled at that, not surprisingly, sometimes talked tough to his detractors. But he was a very smart coach who, according to those who worked with him, was thoughtful, collaborative in his approach. And, yes, we should stress again, in 1977, the pinnacle of his career, he won the Super Bowl with his Oakland Raiders.

INSKEEP: What made him so much more famous and more influential, though, than other coaches?

GOLDMAN: Well, he started doing TV broadcasts on NFL games after his retirement as a coach, and he was a hit for more than 30 years with his knowledge about the game, but mostly his approach, like he was talking to you about football sitting in a bar. It - you know, it demystified a complicated and violent game. And he was really funny. He'd go on non-football tangents, like this one with fellow broadcaster Pat Summerall, talking about then Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.

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JOHN MADDEN: And you noticed, Pat, Troy Aikman is trying to grow a beard. And he just can't do it. I mean, you know, the blond-haired guys, a lot of them have trouble. But I can't even - I'm looking as close as I can, and I can't see any beard. But he's been - that's a four-day beard.

PAT SUMMERALL: It's a passive attempt.

MADDEN: It's very, very passive.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: You're not hearing a lot of football there, Steve.

INSKEEP: No.

GOLDMAN: And along with these flights of fancy, there were the sentences punctuated with his signature boom. He made commercials. He also made famous a vegetarian's nightmare - turducken - the duck, chicken, turkey and stuffing concoction he'd mention on Thanksgiving Day broadcasts.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, Tom, I got to ask about the boom. He was practically the face of football for so many decades that the public's view of the violence of the game started to change. There was a lot more criticism of injuries on the field, the long-term effects of them, which he famously celebrated the violence as part of the game. How did he respond to that?

GOLDMAN: That's a really good point. You know, what people loved was his enthusiasm for the game, and in later years, he was challenged to show that it wasn't an enthusiasm for violence. Like many in football, he reportedly resisted confronting the violence. But then about 10 years ago, he started including messages in his video game about the dangers of football head injuries.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman on the late John Madden.

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INSKEEP: Before we let you go, let's pause to note that former Senator Harry Reid has died at the age of 82. He'd been battling pancreatic cancer for years. He was a soft-spoken senator who became powerful. The Nevada Democrat served as both majority and minority leader under two presidents. It was an era defined by sharp polarization in the Senate and the election of Barack Obama, whose candidacy Reid supported from the beginning. He welcomed the challenges of his time. He'd been an amateur boxer in high school, and he brought that up again and again and used it to describe his political attitude.

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HARRY REID: I'm - always would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight.

INSKEEP: Jon Ralston, a political analyst, regarded him as perhaps the most significant political figure ever in the history of Nevada. Harry Reid is survived by his wife of 62 years. We've got more on his life and legacy at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.