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Omicron, Russia, Tetris: Your Tuesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Tuesday.

1. Omicron now accounts for about 59 percent of U.S. Covid cases, the C.D.C. said, a significant decrease from the agency’s previous estimate.

The agency revised its estimate for the week ending Dec. 18, to about 23 percent from 73 percent. The update showed how hard it is to track the fast-spreading variant in real time and how poorly the agency has communicated its uncertainty, experts said.

Omicron is still spreading extremely fast, but it does appear milder than earlier variants. Covid-19 deaths have declined since vaccines became widely available, but unvaccinated people are still at high risk of severe disease and death.

For many younger and white Americans, Covid is now responsible for a higher share of deaths from all causes than it was earlier in the pandemic.

2. Some businesses are confused about the C.D.C.’s new guidance, which halved the recommended isolation period for infected people, to five days from 10.

The guidance will provide relief to airlines and other companies struggling with staffing shortages, but labor representatives warned that the move could push some employees back to work too soon. Small business owners struggled to understand the shifting messages. The N.B.A. also cut isolation times as dozens of players tested positive.

“This goes against the science, and the fact the time it takes for people to clear their virus is quite variable,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, who urged more testing.

In other virus news, New York City will eliminate its current policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to Covid. Instead, the nation’s largest school system will deploy more testing to allow students to remain in classrooms safely.

“This is what my daughter found here: death,” her father said.

The shooting has reignited a debate over the role the police should play in keeping communities safe. This year, L.A.P.D. officers fatally shot 18 people, The Los Angeles Times reported, more than twice the number from last year.

Separately, the police in Denver said a single gunman went on a spree in which he killed four people and wounded a police officer. The suspect died during a shootout.

4. Russia’s most prominent human rights group must fold, the country’s Supreme Court ruled.

The ruling was a blow to the group, Memorial International, which has long chronicled political repression in Russia. For decades, the group held up the abuses of the Stalin-era labor camps as a cautionary tale.

The decision comes after a year of broad crackdown on political opposition and dissent, led by President Vladimir Putin.

Memorial was “the last barrier on the way to complete Stalinization of the society and state,” an opposition politician said, adding, “I am afraid it can turn way worse.”

5. Chile is rewriting its constitution to confront climate change head on.

Amid what they call a “climate and ecological emergency,” 155 elected citizens are deciding who owns the country’s water and what say local communities have over mining.

Chile has a lot of lithium, which is essential to the world’s transition to green energy. Prices are soaring, and politicians and mining companies are keen to increase production.

But the country also faces a crippling drought, dangerous pollution and growing anger over a political system that has long privileged extractive industries. The assembly is aiming to have a draft constitution ready by July, followed by a national vote.

6. Titan, a moon that orbits Saturn, has one of the most hostile environments in the solar system. A scientist in Dallas is trying to recreate it in a test tube.

He calls it “Titan in a Jar.” Other planetary scientists are also simulating worlds, trying to study parts of the universe they’ll most likely never visit.

Sometimes they use a “terrestrial analogue” — an often-desolate geological landscape that resembles another planet. Or they try to remake materials, like the unusual soil on Mars. One ecologist is farming in a simulated version of the dirt, trying “to boldly grow where no plant has grown before.”

7. A new generation of professional cowgirls is changing rodeos across the U.S.

But challenges remain, and women have limited opportunities in the sport. Only two of seven individual events are open to women. Financial rewards are small. And many athletes have to juggle family responsibilities with grueling schedules and their determination to ride.

In December 2020, when Jackie Crawford was six months pregnant, she won the breakaway roping title at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association National Finals. In March 2021, two months after giving birth, she was back on the road to compete, her newborn and 4-year-old son in tow.

8. Tetris is finding new life, and the competitors are getting younger.

The creaky computer game has always enjoyed a devoted following, and many top competitors have played for decades. Now, teenagers are taking over, wielding new finger-tapping techniques that astonish the older players.

“He didn’t play like a normal being,” a 31-year-old devotee said, speaking of a 16-year-old upstart. “He was like an alien.”

Separately, Riot Games, the maker of video games like “League of Legends” and “Valorant,” agreed to pay $100 million to settle a gender discrimination suit involving more than 2,000 current and former employees.

9. How will Americans eat in 2022?

Food industry leaders say it will be another pragmatic, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of year, shaped by the needs of people working from home.

Climate change is top of mind. Mushrooms from small urban farms may replace some animal products. Plant-based chicken is coming, and coming fast. And look for kelp, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To drink: Sweet and colorful cocktails from the 1980s — maybe brewed with hibiscus —  are making a comeback. Coffee is changing. Robusta, a bitter, heavily caffeinated bean, is replacing arabica, which is more expensive and at risk because of climate change.

10. And finally, Our Lady of Basketball?

Porretta Terme, a town in Central Italy, is fanatical about basketball, and residents want the Vatican to recognize its local saint as the national patron of the sport. The Italian Bishops Conference already approved the application in May.

For centuries, locals credited the Madonna of the Bridge — named after a 16th-century drawing of the Virgin Mary on a rock near a bridge — with performing miracles. More recently, they say, she has taken her talents, and divine interventions, to the basketball court.

“Bless and protect my team,” a local priest recently prayed, in the Madonna of the Bridge chapel with a single basketball-shaped window.

Have a miraculous evening.

Bryan Denton compiled photos for this briefing.

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