A deadly, devastating apartment fire

·6 min read

At least 13 people were killed, including seven kids, after a fire ripped through a Philadelphia apartment building. And those fabric masks aren't cutting it with omicron.

Laura here. Nothing messes up your Friday like realizing it's only Wednesday. 😜 To make it better, here's the news you need to know.

But first, good job, Tinsley! 🐾 In a move straight out of "Lassie," Tinsley the dogled police to her injured owner, saving his life.

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'Tremendous loss of life'

A community is mourning after at least 13 people, including seven children, were killed in an apartment building fire Wednesday morning in what city officials called a "tremendous loss of life." Eight people were able to get out of the building, and two people were transported to a hospital, Philadelphia First Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said. The building, a house that had been converted into two apartments, was a Philadelphia Housing Authority property, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation, Murphy said. Smoke detectors in the building had 10-year lithium batteries in them, but "none of them operated," he said. At least 18 people lived in the upper apartment, which included the third floor and part of the second, and eight people were in the lower unit, which included the first floor and the other part of the second, Murphy said. The deputy fire commissioner said he could not say whether that was more than what would be allowed, but he called it a "tremendous amount of people to be living in a duplex."

A row house fire killed several people Jan. 5 in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia.
A row house fire killed several people Jan. 5 in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Trouble in Chicago

Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district voted to switch to remote learning, prompting Chicago Public Schools to cancel Wednesday classes for its 330,000 students. The Chicago Teachers Union voted to pause in-person learning and work remotely until Jan. 18, or until COVID-19 cases fall below a particular threshold. The union, which has roughly 25,000 members, demands the district require negative coronavirus tests from students and staff before returning to school. “This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety,” the union said in a statement. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a shift back to virtual learning would disproportionately affect children of color and teachers who did not show up would not be paid. “What we should not be doing is allowing CTU leadership to shut down an entire school system,” Lightfoot said.

The Chicago Teachers Union voted to switch classes to remote learning during the COVID-19 surge, and city leaders canceled classes.
The Chicago Teachers Union voted to switch classes to remote learning during the COVID-19 surge, and city leaders canceled classes.

What everyone's talking about

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Ditch the cute masks. Sorry.

As common as cloth face masks have become, health experts say they do little to prevent tiny virus particles from getting into your nose or mouth and aren't effective against the omicron COVID-19 variant. Omicron spreads more quickly and efficiently than other variants – even through thick fabric face masks. The experts urge the public to opt for three-ply surgical masks, KN95 or N95 masks, which offer more protection against the highly contagious variant. Several countries, such as Germany and Austria, have surgical mask requirements in public. "Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron," Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech, told NPR.

Cloth masks are no longer recommended for indoor activities.
Cloth masks are no longer recommended for indoor activities.

HBCUs receive bomb threats

Investigations are underway after at least nine historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats Tuesday that were unfounded but had students, faculty and staff evacuate campuses. Spelman College, Howard University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Norfolk State University, Texas Southern University, Prairie View A&M University, Florida Memorial University, North Carolina Central University and Xavier University of Louisiana received threats that have been cleared. It is not known whether the bomb threats are connected or racially motivated.

Howard University in Washington was among the colleges that received threats.
Howard University in Washington was among the colleges that received threats.

Real quick

Another storm looms

Freezing rain turned roads into dangerous skating rinks in the Northeast on Wednesday morning as the East braced for another snowstorm forecast for Thursday and into Friday. Plunging temperatures, combined with light rain and drizzle, produced freezing rain that coated roadways and led to scores of traffic accidents across portions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and southern New England. The chaos on the roads was a prelude to another snowstorm that was forecast to affect much of the region, forecasters warned. "Get ready! We have another storm on the way Thursday night into Friday," AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. Head over here for the full weather forecast and latest updates.

Wind-driven snow blowing east to west rolls over Dee-Mac Road between Washington and Eureka, Ill., on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
Wind-driven snow blowing east to west rolls over Dee-Mac Road between Washington and Eureka, Ill., on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.

A break from the news

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Philadelphia apartment fire, Chicago schools, bomb threats at HBCUs, winter storm trouble. It's Wednesday's news.

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