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With half a million Covid deaths, Biden moves to even the vaccine distribution playing field

Boeing grounded more than 100 planes after United passengers watched flaming engine fall from sky.
Image: Volunteers deliver water to local residents in vehicles at Butler Stadium after an unprecedented winter storm in Houston
Millions of Texans still don't have access to clean drinking water after days of record low temperatures damaged the state's water infrastructure.Adrees Latif / Reuters

Good morning, NBC News readers.

The country passed another once unfathomable milestone in the fight against Covid-19 Sunday with more than half a million people now killed by the virus.

This morning we're taking a look at what President Joe Biden is doing to level the playing field in terms of vaccine distribution and changes to one of the major pandemic relief loan programs.

Here's what's happening this Monday morning.

'We're doing the opposite': Biden is upending Trump's calculation of who gets federal vaccination help

In the little more than a month since taking office, President Joe Biden has not only made halting the spread of Covid-19 his top priority, but he's upended the politics of the fight, NBC News' senior political analyst Jonathan Allen writes.

Biden has moved to strengthen the federal government's hand in coordinating vaccination efforts across the country — particularly by empowering the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the lead response agency.

In contrast, former President Donald Trump used his power over federal resources and contracting dollars to reward governors, senators and business leaders who praised him privately and publicly as he sought re-election, Allen writes.

Now, Biden has prioritized vaccinating people who are both vulnerable and representative of his political coalition.

"Heavy emphasis on communities of color, minority communities, economically and socially disadvantaged," one FEMA official said. "Anything Trump did, we're doing the opposite."

The moves come as Biden is also expected to announce changes Monday to the Paycheck Protection Program aimed at ensuring that more small and minority-owned businesses are able to qualify for federal assistance as a result of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.

Biden had previously criticized the small-business loan program, which started during the Trump administration, for having helped larger businesses with existing banking relationships while smaller businesses struggled to obtain relief.

The changes are aimed specifically at helping minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses, as well as those in rural areas, administration officials said.

More Covid-19 coverage:

Boeing suspends 777s after engine failure on United flight

Boeing suspended operations for more than 100 of its aircraft Sunday.

The move comes after an engine on a United Airlines flight from Denver caught fire and fell apart Saturday, scattering debris in a Colorado neighborhood before the plane landed safely.

A pilot on United Flight 328 to Honolulu reported a "mayday" and told air traffic control that the plane had had an "engine failure," authorities said.

The Boeing suspensions apply to the airplane model used in Saturday's flight to Hawaii, the 777 powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines, the company said in a statement.

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  • Judge Merrick Garland, Biden's nominee for attorney general, is expected to face questions during his confirmation hearing Monday on issues including investigations into Hunter Biden and former President Donald Trump and his allies.
  • Millions of Texans waking up Monday morning still don't have safe drinking water.
  • Why Texas Democrats lost the 2020 voter turnout battle, even among Latinos.
  • Biden has sent a clear signal to the Saudi crown prince: The days of sweeping access during the Trump years are over.

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Caught on camera

A hot air balloon ride took a frightening turn for one Utah couple when they ended up plunging into icy water.

Luckily, everyone made it back to shore safely. After their unforgettable landing, the couple already have plans to do it again next year.

"It was a super fun event," said Carlie Ann Gallagher. "I would definitely come again."

Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

Thanks to Yasmine Salam for filling in for me last week. Much appreciated.

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Thanks, Petra