Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 8, 2020

Harold Maass
Medical staff hug


Coronavirus death toll spikes in New York but spread slows

The U.S. coronavirus death toll neared 13,000 on Tuesday. New York reported that 731 people died on Monday, state's biggest daily increase since the outbreak began. "That's 731 people who we lost. Behind every one of those numbers is an individual," Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said. "There's a family, there's a mother, there's a father, there's a sister, there's a brother." Despite the record, the number of new cases in New York, the hardest hit state in the U.S., has seen a slight daily decrease, raising hopes that the spread there is slowing. The number of people infected in the state reached more than 139,000. The national total neared 400,000. [The Associated Press, CNBC]


China lifts Wuhan lockdown after 11 weeks

Chinese authorities officially lifted the ban on travel in the city of Wuhan, where the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak was first reported. The city's 11 million residents spent 11 weeks on lockdown under the government's effort to contain the virus. Wuhan residents still can only leave the city if they have official authorization confirming that they are healthy and have had no recent contact with an infected person. The government uses a mandatory smartphone application to track people's status. Restrictions have been gradually relaxed in Wuhan over the last few weeks, including the reopening of public transportation and businesses after weeks under a strict stay-at-home policy. [The Washington Post]


Trump removes Pentagon watchdog leading coronavirus fund oversight

President Trump has removed the acting Pentagon inspector general, Glenn Fine, as head of the panel overseeing how the federal government's coronavirus relief package is spent. After Trump approved $2.2 trillion in federal spending, a panel of inspectors general from across Cabinet departments picked Fine as chair of the oversight panel, which was established to ensure that the bailout money was distributed and spent as intended. Trump ousted Fine from the department on Monday, thus removing him from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. A Pentagon spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed Fine was removed both from office and the committee. Trump designated EPA Inspector General Sean O'Donnell as the Pentagon's temporary IG and head of the accountability committee, and nominated Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to fill Fine's Pentagon job. [Politico]


White House press secretary reportedly out after 9 months

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham is leaving her post, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN. Grisham reportedly will return to work for Melania Trump, becoming the first lady's chief of staff. Grisham's departure comes as former Rep. Mark Meadows replaces Mick Mulvaney as President Trump's chief of staff and "shakes up" the White House communications team, CNN says. Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany is reportedly under consideration to replace Grisham. Grisham was Melania Trump's deputy chief of staff before she joined the West Wing in July 2019. In her nine months on the job, Grisham never once held a press briefing like the ones that used to be daily in previous administrations. [CNN]


Acting Navy secretary resigns after insulting ousted commander

Defense Secretary Mark Esper accepted the resignation of Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly on Tuesday, after a Sunday recording surfaced in which Modly mocked Navy Capt. Brett Crozier. Modly dismissed Crozier from his post on the USS Theodore Roosevelt after Crozier sounded the alarm about a COVID-19 outbreak on board, saying Crozier's decision to distribute his email widely enough to be leaked resulted in "a loss of trust and confidence." Modly addressed Crozier's former crew on Sunday, and they recorded and leaked him calling Crozier "too naive or too stupid" to lead the ship. Modly had only been in his position for a few months after Esper fired former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer in November. [CNN, Politico]


Congress considers boosting loan program for small businesses

Congress could approve $250 billion more in aid for small businesses as early as this week as the federal government pushes to respond to overwhelming requests from companies trying to stay afloat through the coronavirus crisis. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday contacted top Democrats and Republicans to request the extra money to help small businesses get bank loans. The $2 trillion economic stimulus package already approved by lawmakers won't be enough to cover all of the immediate need, Republican and Democratic leaders have agreed. Members of Congress also are discussing another bailout package that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said could exceed $1 trillion. [The New York Times]


Wisconsin holds in-person voting despite pandemic

Wisconsin voters went to the polls Tuesday wearing surgical masks, trying to stay six feet apart in long lines after the state Supreme Court overturned Gov. Tony Evers' (D) last-minute order to delay in-person balloting due to the coronavirus crisis. The votes in the Democratic presidential primary, as well as state and local elections, won't be counted until Monday. Democrats had pushed for in-person voting to be postponed, but Republicans, backed by the state Supreme Court's conservative majority, insisted on holding the vote on schedule. One of the key races will fill a spot on the high court, and a lower turnout is widely seen as helping the conservative candidate. President Trump urged his supporters to "get out and vote NOW" for the conservative judicial candidate. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Associated Press]


Trump says WHO 'called it wrong' on coronavirus

President Trump on Tuesday accused the World Health Organization of failing to be aggressive enough in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and threatened to withhold funding. "We're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it and we're going to see," Trump said during the daily White House coronavirus briefing. "They called it wrong." Trump has faced many of the same criticisms that he leveled at the WHO, including failing to recognize the threat of the pandemic and mounting an aggressive early response. The WHO declared a "public health emergency of international concern" before the Trump administration declared an emergency. Trump also criticized the WHO for not supporting his Jan. 31 ban on some travel from China. [The New York Times]


Most of Antarctic cruise ship's passengers test positive for coronavirus

Nearly 60 percent of the 217 passengers on the Greg Mortimer, an Antarctic cruise ship, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The cruise liner, operated by Australia's Aurora Expeditions, has been stuck off the coast of Uruguay after departing March 15 on a trip that was to take it to Antarctica and South Georgia. Passengers from Australia and New Zealand will be evacuated, while those from Europe and America who have tested positive will have to stay on board until they test negative. Then they will be able to leave through Brazil. "There are currently no fevers on board and all are asymptomatic," said Aurora Expeditions, the Australian operator of the ship. [CNN, The New York Times]


Singer-songwriter John Prine dies of coronavirus complications

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Prine, the country and folk legend who inspired Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, died Tuesday in Nashville from complications of the COVID-19 coronavirus, his family said. He was 73. Prine, a two-time cancer survivor, was hospitalized in March after testing positive for the virus, and was put on a ventilator. Prine got his start in music singing at open-mic nights while working as a mailman in Illinois. In 1970, Roger Ebert caught one of his performances and gave him a rave review in the Chicago Sun-Times. Prine credited Ebert with getting his music career going, and he went on to release a dozen albums over five decades. [CNN]