Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 28, 2020

Harold Maass
People wearing masks
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Stocks plunge into correction at record speed due to coronavirus fears

Wall Street took its sharpest plunge of an already terrible week on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling by 1,190.95 points, or 4.4 percent, as fear mounted about economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak. The S&P 500 also dropped by 4.4 percent, capping its fastest dive ever from a record high into a 10 percent-plus correction. The Nasdaq fell by 4.6 percent. All three of the main U.S. indexes posted their biggest single-day point drops ever. The losses brought Wall Street's six-day decline to more than 10 percent as news of the increasingly rapid spread of the virus outside China, where the outbreak started, fueled uncertainty about how bad the crisis would get. U.S. stock futures dropped sharply again ahead of Friday's opening bell. [The Wall Street Journal, CNBC]


Whistleblower: Health workers lacking gear, training met coronavirus evacuees

A whistleblower has filed a complaint saying the Department of Health and Human Services "improperly deployed" more than a dozen workers without proper virus-prevention training or gear to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, after the coronavirus outbreak started there. The workers were not tested for the virus later, said lawyers for the HHS senior official who filed the complaint. The whistleblower said she has been pressured to move to a new job since reporting the matter to others in the department, including people in Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's office. The whistleblower's complaint reportedly was filed with the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal watchdog, on Wednesday. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]


California monitoring more than 8,000 people for coronavirus

California public health officials are monitoring more than 8,000 people for the coronavirus in the state, and 33 patients have tested positive, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced Thursday. The people the state is watching all recently traveled to Asia. "This is a fluid situation right now and I want to emphasize the risk to the American public remains low," said Dr. Sonia Y. Angell, California Department of Public Health director. The announcements came a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a person who tested positive for the coronavirus in California might be the first U.S. case of community spread, as the patient hadn't recently traveled out of the country or come into contact with anyone who had the virus. [CNBC, Bloomberg]


Former Baltimore mayor sentenced to 3 years over book sales

U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on Thursday sentenced former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to three years in prison for engineered fraudulent sales of her Healthy Holly children's book series. The Baltimore Sun last March reported that Pugh had arranged a $500,000, no-bid deal to sell 100,000 of the books, which the paper described as "sloppily self-published," to the University of Maryland Medical System, where Pugh was on the board of directors. She also double-sold books, among other financial offenses, and netted more than $850,000 in all, according to prosecutors. Pugh, facing investigations, resigned from the board and her job as mayor. The judge called the case "a very large fraud." Pugh tearfully apologized in court. [The Baltimore Sun]


Obama demands South Carolina stations pull 'misleading' anti-Biden ad

Representatives for former President Barack Obama on Thursday sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Super PAC behind an anti-Joe Biden ad that uses a clip from Obama's 1995 audiobook Dreams from My Father. The TV ad, created by the pro-Trump Committee to Defend the President, has been playing in South Carolina ahead of Saturday's Democratic primary. In the clip, Obama is recalling a conversation he had with a barber in Chicago about "plantation politics," the barber describing anti-black policies not dissuading black voters from voting "the straight Democratic ticket." Attorney Patchen Haggerty said it's "clearly intended to mislead the target audience of the ad." The Committee to Defend the President said "we have every right to use [Obama's] own words." [CNN, The Washington Post]


Japanese island declares state of emergency over coronavirus

Japan's northern island of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency on Friday, aiming to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The island's governor, Naomichi Suzuki, urged the island's more than five million residents to stay inside over the weekend. Hokkaido has reported at least 66 coronavirus infections, more than any other prefecture in Japan. The country has confirmed more than 200 coronavirus cases, in addition to the more than 700 people infected on the Diamond Princess cruise liner that was quarantined in a Japanese port. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday called for local authorities to shut all schools, sparking intense criticism. Abe saying that schools and local governments should "make their decisions flexibly." [The Washington Post, Reuters]


At least 33 Turkish soldiers die in Syria airstrike

At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed and 30 more wounded Thursday in an airstrike in northwest Syria, said Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Hatay province in southern Turkey, where the Turkish casualties were sent. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said Turkey's death toll could be higher. Turkish officials blamed the attack on Syrian government forces, although Russian jets have been responsible for most recent airstrikes in the area. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held an emergency meeting of his top security officials Thursday night after making previous calls for Syria and Russia to end a two-month offensive and distance their troops from Turkish forces in Idlib province. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]


Death toll rises as police face criticism for handling of India riots

The death toll from India's worst religious riots in three decades rose to 38 on Thursday. Another 200 people have been injured. The violence erupted earlier this week when mostly-Hindu supporters of a controversial new citizenship law clashed with minority Muslims who say the measure discriminates against them. The two sides clashed again on Thursday despite claims by the government and police that the crisis was under control. Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi high court judge, slammed police for their handling of the riots, and called for an investigation into members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's governing Bharatiya Janata party on suspicion of inciting violence. Muralidhar was transferred to another court after the remarks, sparking protests from opposition politicians over what they said was an attempt to intimidate judges. [The Guardian, CBS News]


Pence leads his 1st coronavirus meeting

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday presided over his first meeting as leader of President Trump's coronavirus task force, a day after Trump named him as leader of the administration's response to the rapidly spreading outbreak. Pence projected calm, saying Trump "tasked us to take every step necessary to protect the American people." Democrats vying for the party's nomination to challenge Trump in November's election criticized Trump, saying he reacted too slowly to the threat of a pandemic. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) questioned the wisdom of putting Pence in charge of the coronavirus response. "I would think usually you might put a medical professional in charge," she said. [The Associated Press, The New York Times]


California regulator raises PG&E's fine to $2.14 billion over wildfires

California's utilities regulator on Thursday increased its fine against Pacific Gas & Electric to a record $2.14 billion for starting devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018. The California Public Utilities Commission had agreed to a $1.7 billion settlement in December. Critics had called that too lenient, given the massive destruction the fires caused in Northern California. PG&E was driven into bankruptcy early last year by the fires, which exposed it to potential liabilities of more than $30 billion. The company said it was disappointed by the decision to hike the penalty by $462 million, saying it had worked "diligently over many months with multiple parties" to hammer out the old deal. [The Associated Press, Reuters]