Who will Georgia voters pick?, doctors warn of 'fierce' flu season: 5 Things podcast

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On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast: Georgia Senate runoff draws record turnout

Warnock and Walker are once again in a tight race. Plus, cities are adopting more LGBTQ-friendly policies and doctors warn that the flu is worsening.

More: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Cherie Saunders:

Good morning. I'm Cherie Saunders filling in for Taylor Wilson. This is 5 Things you need to know Tuesday, the 6th of December 2022. Today, voters in Georgia are heading to the polls for the runoff Senate election. Cities adopt more LGBTQ-friendly laws, and doctors say this flu season will be fierce.

Incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker are once again in a tight race ahead of Georgia's runoff Senate election. Producer PJ Elliott spoke with USA TODAY National Political Correspondent Phillip M. Bailey to talk about what to expect, and when we might get results.

Phillip M. Bailey:

Democrats have already nabbed the majority in the US Senate, but if Senator Raphael Warnock beats Republican challenger Herschel Walker, it extends the Democratic majority to 51 seats. What that means for Senate Democrats is, they will have clear control of every committee, rather than it being evenly split. It means they will not have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris for any tie-break votes. Importantly, for a lot of progressive Democrats in Georgia and elsewhere, it's a bit of an insurance policy in terms of senators who are more moderate or conservative on the Democratic side, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

PJ Elliott:

We've seen some races over the past few years where the results have taken a few days till a winner was announced. How long should we be expecting to wait for the results from this runoff?

Phillip Bailey:

The expectation is that we should know on election night, right? The runoff rule is disqualified here, it's just the two of them. So, no one has to get to the 50% threshold. Georgia did an excellent job during the November elections. There were very few incidents or issues, very few reports of any intimidation or problems at the polls, besides some minor issues here and there. But the same time, we don't know what's going to happen until the votes are actually counted.

PJ Elliott:

At what point did Georgia turn from a very red state to this purple state, and what's been behind its transition?

Phillip Bailey:

Well, look, I think over the past 10 years, the easy thing to say is, Stacey Abrams, her and her organization, their level of registration changed the electorate in Georgia. Georgia's a state that has changed demographically in the census. It's becoming a state that is, I believe, majority-minority at this point. But it's not just demographically a change, its electoral system changed, and that's because of people like Stacey Abrams and others who really committed themselves for the past 10 years, of registering as many Georgians as possible, and it worked.

PJ Elliott:

Phillip, as always, thanks for your time.

Phillip Bailey:

No problem, man.

Cherie Saunders:

A report from the Human Rights Campaign says cities and municipalities are adopting more LGBTQ-inclusive laws, policies and services. That's even while LGBTQ legislation is being considered at the state level. The report saw an increase in the number of cities receiving perfect scores, and the highest ever national average since the 2012 inaugural index. It evaluated more than 500 cities in the report. A record number of 120 cities earned the highest score of 100 in 2022. HRC says that's up from 11 in the 2012 inaugural index.

Almost all cities with scores of 100 had LGBTQ-friendly policies enacted, like reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI, having an LGBTQ liaison to the city executive, and providing contractor non-discrimination policies. Kate Oakley, HRC's state legislative director and senior counsel, said many of the cities who received high scores this year found progress in blocking out divisive rhetoric at the state level by listening to the personal needs of their community members. She added, they were able to see cities "sidestep the nastiness because of those personal connections. I think that when cities are focused on what makes us special, it takes them away from this idea of dividing people apart."

COVID-19, RSV, and influenza, aka the tripledemic, continues to be a problem in many places, but experts say the flu is beginning to hit the country hard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 20,000 people were hospitalized with the flu last week. That's nearly double the number from the week before. In a briefing yesterday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said flu hospitalizations "continue to be the highest we have seen at this time of year in a decade."

So far this season, the CDC has reported over eight million cases of the flu, including over 70,000 hospitalizations and nearly 5,000 deaths. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headache, and fatigue. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said this year's flu vaccine is a good match for the three strains he's seeing most often.

As for the other two components of the "tripledemic," Schaffner said he's seen the first signs that RSV infections may be stabilizing, while COVID-19 is "smoldering" Experts say Covid cases no longer give an accurate picture of the pandemic, as Americans test at home and many results go unreported. But CDC Director Walensky said that health officials are seeing an uptick in cases and hospitalizations since Thanksgiving.

Inflation is hovering near a 40-year high, driven by steep increases in food prices, housing, and utilities. But there is a sliver of hope as things start to ease a bit and gas prices drop. Producer PJ Elliott spoke with USA TODAY Money reporter Medora Lee to find out more.

Medora Lee:

I think that people are not buying as much, because they don't have as much income now that inflation's been eating away at people's income and savings for the past year, but also because supply chains have eased. So, a lot of stores now have a lot of inventory that they want to move, they're well stocked.

PJ Elliott:

Medora, are we seeing prices in stores starting to drop? Is that part of this whole ease in inflation?

Medora Lee:

This is always such a tricky thing, because inflation doesn't mean that prices are dropping. That would be deflation. Moderating inflation just means that they're not rising at such a fast pace anymore. So, when we have... I think the last report was what? 7.7% inflation rate, and that's down from 9.2%. So, the prices aren't dropping, but they're just not rising as much.

PJ Elliott:

Well, we're definitely seeing a drop in price at the gas pumps. What's causing the price dip there?

Medora Lee:

Yeah. Gas is a pretty volatile area, which the Fed likes to take that out when it really looks at its inflation numbers, because that is caused by so many factors. The biggest factor that's made the gas prices drop lately, though, is that China continues to pursue its "no Covid" policy or "zero Covid" policy. If they reopen their economy and they go full blast like we did... Remember when our economy reopened and everything went to the moon? That could happen with oil if they started to demand more oil. Also, just a global recession could lower the demand for oil as well.

Cherie Saunders:

Finally, from the Statesman Journal, a USA TODAY Network paper, we have the story of a sad but growing trend in homelessness: forest living. Climbing rents, and limited social support networks in the central city of Sisters, Oregon are sending some lower-income residents to live in tents on public lands. Many camp illegally for long periods, sometimes using public transportation to get to areas where the city meets national forest.

While recreational campers also leave trash behind, unhoused forest dwellers often lack the means to get rid of their garbage, leaving the Forest Service to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars taking care of it. The land is often patrolled by Forest Service employees who typically have backgrounds in forestry or fish, not social work. 66-year-old Gerald "Buddy" Blair and his wife Adrian spend their days working at the Sno Cap Drive In, a popular hamburger restaurant in the touristy town of Sisters.

Gerald "Buddy" Blair:

We both love working there. It's a community little restaurant, but between both of our incomes, we don't make enough to get into anything, and we make too much to qualify for low income. So, we're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard spot.

Cherie Saunders:

Blair and his family live in central Oregon's Deschutes National Forest. That family includes two boys, one four and the other 17, and a blue healer named Namu. The family showers at a park in town, four minutes for 25 cents, and they used the porta-potties at a campground down the road. Blair said he'd never been homeless before he moved to the area a year ago.

According to Jeremy Fields, a forest protection officer in the Sister's Ranger District, up to 100 long-term campsites surround the Three Sisters Mountains. Blair and his family, and others like them, indefinitely living on forest land, are technically breaking the law, but with nowhere else to go, law enforcement have been reluctant to move them. Needless to say, as winter approaches and temperatures drop, the Blair family and others in the forest will need to use all of their resources just to survive.

In other Tuesday headlines, the Department of Homeland Security announced yesterday that the REAL ID deadline would be extended another two years, delaying implementation until May 7th, 2025. The previous deadline was May 3rd of 2023.

And Kirstie Alley, star of "Cheers" and "Look Who's Talking," has died from an undisclosed battle with cancer. She was 71.

Thanks for listening to 5 Things. You can listen to us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like the show, please subscribe and leave us a rating. We'll be back tomorrow for more of 5 Things from USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia runoff preview, inflation and gas prices ease: 5 Things podcast