Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 31, 2020

Harold Maass
A medical ship
BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images


U.S. coronavirus death toll rises over 3,000

The U.S. death toll in the COVID-19 pandemic surpassed 3,000 on Monday, with more than 160,000 confirmed infections. New York has more than a third of the country's cases, with 67,000, and 1,342 deaths. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) urged nurses and doctors from parts of the country that have not been hit hard to travel to his state to help treat patients. In New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, leaders are establishing field clinics. Navy hospital ships have arrived in New York and Los Angeles to relieve overwhelmed health-care facilities by treating non-coronavirus patients. In Illinois, officials plan to convert Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center, the largest in North America, into a facility with room for up to 3,000 coronavirus patients. [USA Today]


Judges block abortion bans imposed under state coronavirus measures

Federal judges on Monday temporarily blocked bans on abortion imposed in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama during the coronavirus pandemic. Officials in these and several other Republican-led states said abortions weren't medically necessary so they would have to be suspended to preserve medical supplies needed to address COVID-19 cases. The judges sided with abortion clinics and granted temporary restraining orders, blocking the policies pending court challenges. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin said the Supreme Court has "spoken clearly" on "a woman's right to a pre-fetal-viability abortion," and there "can be no outright ban on such a procedure." Iowa, Mississippi, and Oklahoma are among other states that have imposed similar restrictions to the procedure as the virus spreads. [Politico, CBS DFW]


Johnson & Johnson starts testing of coronavirus vaccine

Johnson & Johnson said Monday it would start human testing of its experimental coronavirus vaccine in September. The company said it would invest more than $1 billion to co-fund the research with the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Clinical data from the testing is expected by the end of the year. If all goes well, the vaccine could be available to be authorized for emergency use early next year. "The world is facing an urgent public health crisis and we are committed to doing our part to make a COVID-19 vaccine available and affordable globally as quickly as possible," chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky said. [CNBC]


Coronavirus laws give leaders emergency powers

Leaders of countries around the world are invoking emergency powers as they fight the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Israel's government has shut down courts and launched intrusive surveillance of citizens. Bolivia has pushed back elections. And Hungarian lawmakers have approved an emergency law giving the country's populist prime minister, Viktor Orban, the authority to rule as he sees fit, effectively suspending democracy in a European Union member nation. "We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close if not on the heels of a health epidemic," said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]


North Korea blames Pompeo for breakdown in talks

North Korea said Monday that it had lost interest in negotiating with the United States due to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's insistence on dismantling the country's nuclear weapons program. North Korea's Foreign Ministry said Pompeo was the reason U.S.-North Korea relations "remain remiss" despite "special personal relations" between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump. The statement came after North Korea criticized Pompeo for "reckless remarks" to other world leaders at last week's Group of Seven meeting on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Pompeo told G-7 leaders that "all nations must remain united in calling on North Korea to return to negotiations and stay committed to applying diplomatic and economic pressure over its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs." [The New York Times]


Fed economists estimate unemployment rate could hit 32 percent

Economists at the Federal Reserve's St. Louis District are now projecting the unemployment rate in the United States could hit 32.1 percent, placing 47 million people out of work. That estimate is up from the 30 percent figure previously publicized by St. Louis Fed President James Bullard. During the Great Depression, unemployment peaked at 25 percent. The numbers presented by the economists may be a slight overestimate because they don't account for people who may drop out of the workforce altogether or for the possible effects of Congress' stimulus package. Bullard previously predicted this moment in history won't necessarily mirror the depression in terms of length. [CNBC]


Trump expected to issue final rule rolling back Obama-era mileage standards

President Trump is expected to issue a final rule on Tuesday rolling back Obama-era vehicle mileage standards, undoing a major government effort to fight climate change. Environmental Protection agency spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said Monday that the policy "will benefit our economy, will improve the U.S. fleet's fuel economy, will make vehicles more affordable, and will save lives by increasing the safety of new vehicles." States and some automakers opposed the move, which will be the latest in a series of steps Trump has taken to undo policies of former President Barack Obama. The looser rules are expected to encourage people to buy gas-guzzling SUVs. Critics say the change will increase future tailpipe emissions, and the pollution will kill several hundred more Americans per year. [The Associated Press]


Meadows resigns from Congress to become Trump chief of staff

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) resigned from Congress on Monday to become President Trump's new chief of staff. Meadows replaces former colleague Mick Mulvaney, who had the job for just over a year. Meadows takes over as the White House rushes to contend with the coronavirus pandemic, which has become the focus of the administration after Trump downplayed it for weeks when critics say the federal government should have been doing more to prepare. Meadows has served five terms in Congress. He raised his profile when he filed a motion to oust then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner resigned the same year. Meadows then became chairman of the Freedom Caucus, and he has been one of Trump's most reliable defenders on Capitol Hill. [NBC News, The Hill]


Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum closed due to coronavirus

The Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands announced Monday that a painting by Vincent Van Gogh vanished after thieves broke into the building early in the morning. The museum shut its doors earlier this month as part of the effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Van Gogh painted the work, "Spring Garden," in 1884. It depicts the garden of the parsonage where his father lived as pastor. The painting was on loan to the museum. The thieves forced their way in through a glass door, triggering an alarm and alerting police. "I'm shocked and incredibly pissed off," museum director Jan Rudolph de Lorm said in a livestreamed statement. "This beautiful and moving painting by one of our greatest painters, stolen, taken from the community." [Gizmodo, The Associated Press]


Olympic organizers announce new dates for postponed Summer Games

Olympic officials announced Monday that the Tokyo Summer Games, which had been scheduled to start in July, will take place from July 23, 2021 through Aug. 8, 2021, instead. The decision came after organizers announced last week that the Olympics were being postponed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, although the new dates were not immediately set. "Humankind currently finds itself in a dark tunnel," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Monday, adding that the Games can be "a light at the end of this tunnel." Prior to last week's announcement, the Olympics had never before been canceled or postponed outside of World War I and World War II. [The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times]