3 To Know: FEMA app update, tweaked boosters

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1. FEMA gives mobile app big update

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is releasing the largest update to its mobile application in a decade, the agency announced.

The update makes the app more like social media. It also makes the app more user friendly to people with disabilities.

Federal Emergency Management Agency

"We are better helping communities plan, protect and recover from disasters through clear, effective and relatable communication," FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a statement.

The previous version of the app had a list of categories for notifications and looked like a directory or listserv. In the updated version, users can customize what they see based on their preferences and location.

A FEMA truck is shown as Department of Homeland Security personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

For accessibility, the app now works with technologies such as screen readers and voice-overs, is scaled for different screen sizes and has a more consistent layout. Gloria Huang, digital engagement and analytics branch chief for FEMA, said improvements for people with disabilities will continue.

She said in the future the agency plans to make the app more accessible for people with visual impairments or reading disabilities. – Drew Costley/AP

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2. DeSantis touts civics program criticized by teachers as 'Christian fundamentalist'

Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his civics education initiative in the wake of complaints that a new teacher training program is ideologically driven with strong “Christian fundamentalist” overtones.

Teachers who went through the civics training this month told the Miami Herald that it “was very skewed” and sought to “propagandize particular points of view.”

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A slide used by the trainers say it is a “misconception” that “The founders desired strict separation of church and state.” Teachers also took issue with how the trainers framed the history of slavery in the United States and how they emphasized a conservative legal theory for interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

The teacher training program was developed with input from groups such as Hillsdale College, a private Christian school.

“There was this Christian nationalism philosophy that was just baked into everything that was there,” Nova High School social studies teacher Richard Judd told the Herald.

DeSantis held a press conference in Sanford Thursday, where he said the state is “unabashedly promoting civics and history that is accurate and that is not trying to push an ideological agenda.”

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“You're learning the real history, you're learning the real facts, but it’s not going to be done in a way that’s trying to indoctrinate students with whatever modern agenda that somebody may have,” he added. – Zac Anderson/USA Today

3. Tweaked COVID boosters must target new strains

U.S. regulators told COVID-19 vaccine makers that any booster shots tweaked for the fall will have to add protection against the newest omicron relatives.

The Food and Drug Administration said the original vaccines would be used for anyone still getting their first series of shots. But with immunity waning and the super-contagious omicron family of variants getting better at dodging protection, the FDA decided boosters intended for fall needed an update.

Syringe with a label that says COVID-19 booster vaccination.

The recipe: Combination shots that add protection against the omicron relatives named BA.4 and BA.5 to the original vaccine. Those mutants together now account for just over half of new U.S. infections.

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It’s still a gamble as there’s no way to know if an omicron relative still will be a threat as cold weather approaches or if a newer mutant will take its place. And the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines still offer strong protection against COVID-19’s worst outcomes as long as people have gotten already recommended boosters.

But the combination approach, what scientists call “bivalent” shots, would allow the boosters to retain the proven benefits of the original vaccine while adding to its breadth of protection. It’s a common vaccine strategy: Flu shots, for instance, can protect against four influenza strains and are tweaked annually depending on what’s circulating. – Lauran Neergaard and Matthew Perrone/AP