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In our news wrap Wednesday, the U.S. Senate gave final approval to the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows $770 billion in spending — about 5 percent more than last year. A federal appeals court in New Orleans lifted a nationwide ban on a federal vaccine mandate for health care workers. Hong Kong firefighters averted disaster and saved 770 people from a skyscraper that caught fire.
In the day's other news: A new storm front brought record warmth, dust storms and the risk of tornadoes across states from the West to the Great Plains. Temperatures topped 70 degrees in some places. Winds gusted to more than 100 miles an hour in Colorado and whipped up dust that took visibility to zero and knocked out power.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans lifted a nationwide ban today on a federal COVID vaccine mandate for health care workers. The court left the ban in place for the 14 states that sued to block the mandate. It's blocked in 10 other states, under a separate injunction.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles schools have postponed a January deadline for students who are 12 and older to be vaccinated. The new deadline is next fall.
There are also new signs that the Omicron variant is rapidly gaining ground. U.S. health officials said today that the Delta variant still accounts for most cases, but that Omicron is catching up.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director:
In looking at early data on transmissibility of Omicron from other countries, we expect to see the proportion of Omicron cases here in the United States continue to grow in the coming weeks.
Early data suggests that Omicron is more transmissible then Delta, with a doubling time of about two days.
European Union officials predicted today that Omicron will become the dominant strain across the continent by mid-January. Data so far suggests that the new variant is more contagious, but that most cases are less severe.
The death toll has reached 75 in Haiti, after a fuel truck explosion late Monday. Residents in the northern city of Cap-Haitien walked amongst the rubble and charred debris today. Early reports say the tanker swerved to avoid a motorcycle, and then flipped and exploded.
In Hong Kong, firefighters averted disaster today and saved 770 people from a skyscraper that caught fire. Smoke billowed — started billowing from the 38-story building in the early afternoon. Firefighters used extendable ladders to reach people on a lower floor. The cause was under investigation.
Back in this country, the U.S. Senate gave final approval to the National Defense Authorization Act. It calls for $770 billion in spending. That's about 5 percent more than last year. The bill includes a pay raise for troops, military aid to Ukraine and a new initiative against China's moves in the Pacific.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD):
With both China and Russia flexing their military power and the growing danger of a further Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is critically important that we ensure that our nation is always prepared to defend itself and our vital national interests, whatever the threat.
The measure also takes responsibility for prosecuting sexual assaults and some other crimes out of the hands of military commanders.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty today to violating George Floyd's civil rights. Chauvin is already serving a 22-year prison term for a state murder conviction in Floyd's death last year. The maximum sentence on the federal civil rights charge is 25 years.
New York City is getting its first female police commissioner and the first Black head of the department since the 1990s. Keechant Sewell was tapped today to lead the nation's largest police force. She is currently chief of detectives for Nassau County in New York.
On Wall Street, stocks rallied on the Federal Reserve's moves to control inflation. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 383 points, 1 percent, to close at 35927. The Nasdaq rose 328 points, 2 percent. The S&P 500 added 75. That's more than 1.5 percent.
And they marked a centennial in Paris today 100 years since the Bloody Mary was invented. The famed watering hole Harry's Bar is believed to have mixed the first of the vodka-tomato juice concoctions in 1921. Today, it serves 12,000 Bloody Marys a year. That's a lot.
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