Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 2, 2020

Harold Maass
Workers at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

1.

U.S. coronavirus death toll surges above 5,000

The U.S. coronavirus outbreak hit another grim milestone on Wednesday, with the national death toll jumping by more than 1,000 in a single day for the first time and rising to 5,137 overall. Authorities in New York rushed to bring in medical volunteers to reinforce overwhelmed nurses and doctors as the statewide death toll doubled in three days, reaching 1,900. More than 1,300 have died in New York City alone. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) warned that the crisis is going to get worse before stay-at-home orders help bring the outbreak under control. Department of Homeland Security officials told The Washington Post the nation's emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves, and other protective equipment has nearly run out as hospitals are overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]

2.

Pakistani court overturns convictions in Pearl murder

A regional court in Pakistan on Thursday overturned the convictions of four men for the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was found guilty of kidnapping but not murder. His death sentence was overturned and he was sentenced to seven years, so he now could be released after serving 18 years in prison. Three accomplices were acquitted and ordered released. Pearl was kidnapped by militants led by Sheikh, a British-born Pakistani, but the Center of Public Integrity's Pearl Project concluded that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed then took control of the operation and beheaded Pearl, filming the murder for al-Qaeda propaganda purposes. The case could be appealed to Pakistan's highest court. [The Washington Post]

3.

Pence suggests slow coronavirus response due to China and CDC, not Trump

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and China were largely responsible for the Trump administration's slow realization that dramatic measures were necessary to slow down the coronavirus pandemic. "I will be very candid with you and say that in mid-January the CDC was still assessing that the risk of the coronavirus to the American people was low," Pence said, noting that the first U.S. case involved someone who had recently traveled to China, where the outbreak started. "The reality is that we could've been better off if China had been more forthcoming." Pence said Trump's past statements downplaying the threat of the coronavirus outbreak were evidence of Trump's optimism, rather than a failure to recognize the seriousness of the situation. "I don't believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus," Pence said. [CNN]

4.

Report: China under-reported coronavirus numbers, U.S. intel concludes

The U.S. intelligence community reportedly concluded in a classified document that China, where the coronavirus pandemic originated, has under-reported COVID-19 infections and deaths. Two anonymous intelligence officials said the numbers out of China are fake. Officially, China has confirmed more than 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths, whereas the U.S. already has more than 200,000 cases and 5,000 deaths. Beijing implicitly acknowledged its stats were skewed when it changed its methodology to include some asymptomatic cases. It remains unclear how many asymptomatic infections were left out of the official count. The spotting of thousands of urns outside funeral homes also reportedly has led people to question the Chinese government's death total. [Bloomberg]

5.

Florida governor issues statewide stay-at-home order after criticism

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a stay-at-home order for the state's 21 million residents after facing weeks of criticism for holding off on drastic statewide measures to slow the spread of coronavirus. DeSantis previously had ordered residents of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties to stay at home, but made the policy statewide after a telephone call with President Trump, who warned Tuesday that up to 240,000 Americans could die from the novel virus. Trump had been pushing for most businesses to reopen in mid-April, but now has extended national social distancing to fight the pandemic. "That's a national pause button," DeSantis said. Florida has about 7,000 coronavirus cases. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), whose state has around 5,000 cases, also announced a stay-at-home order. [The New York Times, NBC News]

6.

Sailors begin evacuating aircraft carrier for quarantine in Guam

The Navy on Wednesday began evacuating sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt for onshore quarantine on Guam, shortly after the ship's captain wrote a scathing letter to his superiors calling for "decisive action" to protect those on board from a coronavirus outbreak. Sailors began going ashore a week after the first coronavirus case was confirmed on the nuclear-powered vessel. The ship has about 5,000 crew members, and Captain Brett Crozier called for more than 4,000 to be allowed to leave the ship so they could be properly isolated. Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said he disagreed with Crozier's assertion that 90 percent of the crew could be removed, saying more are needed to "maintain the safety and security of the ship." [Reuters]

7.

FDA calls for removal of Zantac due to possible cancer-causing contaminant

The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it has asked manufacturers to stop selling all versions of the heartburn drug ranitidine, sold under the brand name Zantac, due to a potentially cancer-causing contaminant that can build up when the medicine is stored for a long time. The agency also recommended that consumers who have the drug, in tablets or liquid, stop taking them and throw them away. The FDA has been investigating levels of the contaminant, N-nitrosodimethylamine or NDMA, since 2019. Sanofi, the manufacturer of the brand-name version of Zantac, said in a statement that it recalled the product in October, and urged retailers and consumers to return or destroy it. [CNN, The New York Times]

8.

T-Mobile completes purchase of Sprint to form new wireless giant

T-Mobile has completed its acquisition of smaller rival Sprint in a deal valued at $31.6 billion at T-Mobile's Tuesday closing stock price. The merger creates a third wireless giant rivaling AT&T and Verizon. The two companies announced plans to merge two years ago, but state and federal authorities objected. The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice approved the deal last year, but as a condition the DOJ insisted the companies set up satellite TV company Dish as a new wireless carrier to boost competition. State attorneys general sued to block the deal, saying it would reduce competition and drive up prices for consumers. A federal judge ruled in favor of the companies earlier this year. T-Mobile says joining forces with Sprint will result in a better network and lower prices. [The Associated Press]

9.

44 Texas students test positive for coronavirus after spring break in Mexico

Forty-four out of about 70 University of Texas at Austin students who took a spring break trip to Mexico have tested positive for coronavirus since returning, university officials said Wednesday. The students flew on a charter plane to Cabo San Lucas about two weeks ago. Some in the group returned to Texas on separate commercial flights. The students, all in their 20s, are the latest group of young people who have become infected after ignoring social distancing guidelines, sometimes under the mistaken impression that people who are young and healthy are less likely to be infected than old people. Students at the University of Tampa, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and other schools also have tested positive, after returning from spring break trips to such places as Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee. [The New York Times]

10.

Ellis Marsalis, Fountains of Wayne's Schlesinger die after COVID-19

Ellis Marsalis Jr., a New Orleans jazz pianist and teacher and patriarch of a jazz dynasty, died Wednesday at age 85. His sons said the cause of death was pneumonia brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus. Marsalis' six sons include jazz greats Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Musician Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of the rock band Fountains of Wayne and an award-winning songwriter for the television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, also died Wednesday of coronavirus complications. He was 52. Schlesinger was a Grammy and Emmy Award winner, and wrote the theme song for Tom Hanks' 1997 film That Thing You Do! He recorded five albums with Fountains of Wayne; their biggest hit, "Stacy's Mom," was released in 2003. He is survived by two daughters. [The Associated Press, Variety]

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