Thursday morning news – February 18, 2021

FEMA steps up relief to storm-stricken Texas » White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the federal government is stepping up efforts to help the millions in Texas who were hit hard by this week’s winter storm. 

PSAKI: FEMA has provided generators to Texas and is preparing to move diesel into the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power, which of course is a major issue on the ground, to keep critical infrastructure, including communications, hospitals, and water. 

Nearly three-and-half million U.S. customers were without electricity on Wednesday, most of them in Texas. 

Carol Haddock is director of Houston Public Works. She told reporters…

HADDOCK: Telling you that you need to boil your water when you may not have power right now is a very harsh message to be delivered. And so if you do have those periods of time when you have power for a little while, please take that opportunity to boil the water while you have power. It will last. Once it’s been boiled, it’s good. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is calling for an investigation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state’s power grid. 

And Harris County, Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo said the weather alone does not explain this kind of breakdown in the grid. 

HIDALGO: We’ve been hit hard by nature this week, but we can’t deny that some of this is a manmade disaster as well. And the 5 million residents of this county, and really this region and the state, will deserve answers. 

Nationwide, more than two dozen people have died as plunging temperatures pounded nearly the entire country this week. 

U.K. ethics panel approves world’s first human challenge COVID-19 study » Researchers in London will soon begin a study that will involve intentionally infecting people with the coronavirus. WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown has details. 

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: The U.K.’s Research Ethics Committee approved the clinical study on Wednesday. It will be the world’s first COVID-19 human challenge study. 

The goal is to figure out exactly how the virus spreads and to better understand the immune response to the virus. 

Researchers are asking for young, healthy volunteers, between ages 18 and 30. Participants will be exposed to very small amounts of the original coronavirus strain, which is believed to pose minimal risk to young, healthy adults. 

The study could begin within a month at a London hospital. It will take place in a controlled environment, and doctors will monitor the volunteers 24 hours a day. 

Researchers have used human challenge studies in the past against other public health threats, including malaria and the flu. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown. 

Despite winter disruptions, Biden admin predicts vaccines for all in July » The winter weather is making it tough to distribute coronavirus vaccines right now in some parts of the United States. 

White House virus response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday…

ZIENTS: It’s having an impact on distribution and deliveries from the delivery companies and the distribution companies. 

But Vice President Kamala Harris says that overall, the vaccination effort is picking up steam. She told NBC’s Today Show that she expects vaccine doses to be available to all Americans over the summer. 

HARRIS: We expect that that will be done in terms of having the available supply by the end of July. 

The Biden administration is also clarifying its goal for reopening schools. President Biden has long said he wants K-8 schools open within the first 100 days of his presidency. But that was later defined as in-person schooling just one day per week. 

Harris said Wednesday that the administration’s goal is in fact to have kids back in K-8 classrooms five days per week over the next couple of months.

Retail sales soared in January » Americans opened their wallets last month. The Commerce Department says retail sales jumped in the month of January after three months of declines. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has that story. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Retail spending soared a seasonally adjusted 5.3 percent last month. It was the biggest increase since June and much larger than the 1 percent rise Wall Street expected.

Analysts say the $600 stimulus checks, sent out at the very end of last year, helped get Americans in the buying mood. 

Besides strong sales at furniture and appliance stores, sales jumped almost 24 percent at department stores. Online sales soared 11 percent. And spending at restaurants, which have been hard hit by lockdowns, rose about 7 percent last month.

Wednesday’s report covers about a third of overall consumer spending. But it does not include haircuts, hotel stays, and other services that have been hit hard by the pandemic. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

Radio host Rush Limbaugh dies » Rush Limbaugh has died—just a little more than a year after announcing he had lung cancer.   

After taking The Rush Limbaugh Show national in 1988, he quickly became the most listened to talk radio host in the country with his off-the-cuff, no-holds-barred style. 

AUDIO: The views expressed by the host on this show are the result of a relentless pursuit of the truth. 

His wife, Kathryn Rogers Limbaugh announced his death on Wednesday to Rush Limbaugh’s radio audience. 

K.LIMBAUGH: I would personally like to thank each and every one of you who prayed for Rush and inspired him to keep going. 

Former President Trump, who awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honored him on Wednesday, telling Fox News. 

TRUMP: He loved this country. He loved the country. He loved his wife and his family. 

Limbaugh was politically pointed and often controversial, but his impact on the media landscape was undeniable. At its peak, his show reached more than 15 million listeners. And his success sparked a conservative talk radio wave in the 1990s. 

Rush Limbaugh was 70 years old.

(AP Photo/Julie Smith, File) Rush Limbaugh speaks during a ceremony inducting him into the Hall of Famous Missourians on May 14, 2012, in the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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