Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 18, 2020

Trump calls to 'liberate' states from coronavirus restrictions, Health experts: COVID-19 testing must double or triple before economy can reopen, and more

1

Trump calls to 'liberate' states from coronavirus restrictions

On Friday, Trump sent out repeated tweets calling to "liberate" some states, seemingly in support of protesters demanding their governors reopen businesses and restart the economy amid the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. "Liberate Michigan!", "Liberate Minnesota!," and "Liberate Virginia, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" Trump said in three separate Friday tweets. The tweets came just minutes after Fox News covered protests outside the Minnesota governor's office. Trump's tweets seem to support an immediate return to normalcy for those states, but a recent Pew Research study shows 66 percent of Americans say they're afraid state governments will lift COVID-19 restrictions too soon, as opposed to 32 percent that worry they won't be lifted soon enough. Many states, however, have cautiously begun to look at ways to eventually reopen their economies.

2

Health experts: COVID-19 testing must double or triple before economy can reopen

The U.S. has hit a relative plateau of around 150,000 coronavirus tests per day. President Trump and Republicans are still pushing to restart economic activity as soon as possible, but experts say the U.S. needs to at least double or triple its testing capacity before that can happen. The number of tests are often limited to hospitalized patients, which have reported shortages in swabs and other supplies needed to conduct tests. As a result, only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has been tested. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said the U.S. needs to be performing 500,000 tests a day to consider reopening. Other experts say that number should be more like millions or tens of millions of tests each day.

3

Trump announces $19 billion plan to help agriculture sector during pandemic

President Trump announced Friday that the United States Department of Agriculture will offer $16 billion in direct grants to farmers and ranchers who are struggling amid the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the department will purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat to distribute to food banks, community organizations, and charities. The money will come from the $2.2 trillion congressional coronavirus economic relief bill, as well as separate USDA funds. The payments, which are expected to go out at the end of May, will reportedly account for 85 percent of farmers' and ranchers' losses between Jan. 1 and April 15. The plan also seeks to address disruptions in the supply chain by using commercial distributors like Cisco to package bulk products into pre-approved boxes of dairy, meat, and produce products.

4

Stocks climb amid promising coronavirus drug trials

U.S. stocks surged on Friday amid reports of promising coronavirus drug trials and headway in some states beginning to reopen their economies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 704 points by closing, while the S&P 500 jumped 2.7 percent and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 1.4 percent. On Thursday, a University of Chicago infectious disease specialist overseeing a clinical trial of the antiviral medicine remdesivir on COVID-19 patients said nearly all patients are recovering quickly. While the trials are still in early stages, the initial results have been positive enough to inspire some optimism among health experts, and subsequently, investors. In addition to the science news, President Trump announced new federal guidelines for slowly reopening economic activity, and some states are working to return to normal quickly, though health experts advise against rushing the process.

5

Nursing homes account for roughly a fifth of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

More than a fifth of America's 31,600 coronavirus deaths have been linked to nursing homes, according to new analysis by The New York Times. Since the country's outbreak began in a nursing home outside of Seattle, some 6,900 deaths have occurred either in, or in connection to, such facilities, a number that is "far higher than previously known." "They're death pits," said former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey, who founded a nonprofit aimed at stopping hospital-acquired infections. "These nursing homes are already overwhelmed. They're crowded and they're understaffed. One COVID-positive patient in a nursing home produces carnage." To date, more than 36,000 nursing home residents and employees are known to have contracted COVID-19.

6

Some Florida beaches reopen amid pandemic

Beaches and parks reopened in and around Jacksonville, Florida, on Friday afternoon with the permission of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) amid the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. People are supposed to continue to practice social distancing in the recreation areas, most of which will only be accessible between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. each day. Chairs, coolers, sunbathing, towels, and blankets are not allowed, as exercise — not lounging — is meant to serve as the primary reason for people to head to the beach, but that reportedly wasn't the case Friday when people, many without masks, were reportedly seen lounging on a crowded Jacksonville Beach. Officials have said they aren't afraid to close beaches again if people don't abide by the restrictions.

7

Hong Kong police arrest at least 14 pro-democracy activists in raid

Police in Hong Kong arrested at least 14 pro-democracy activists Saturday in connection with the city's mass demonstrations throughout last year. Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former legislators Martin Lee, Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, and Au Nok-Hin were among those arrested. Lee is reportedly considered the founding father of Hong Kong's democratic movement and helped write the city's Basic Law when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Per Al Jazeera, the raids were the biggest crackdown on the movement since the anti-government protests began last June. Because of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, tensions between Beijing and Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement had eased slightly in recent months as the focus shifted to the virus.

8

NASA announces May 27 launch date for SpaceX's 1st launch carrying humans

Veteran astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been scheduled to depart U.S. soil May 27 — the first time that's happened in nearly a decade, NASA said in a Friday announcement. While American astronauts have made trips into space in the past 10 years, they haven't departed from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida since NASA retired the space shuttle program in 2011. They typically rocketpool with Russian cosmonauts, paying around $83 million for a ride. Hurley was on the last U.S. shuttle mission. The mission will also be a first for Elon Musk's SpaceX. Its Falcon 9 rocket has ferried supplies to and from the International Space Station, but in May, its manned Dragon spacecraft will carry astronauts as well.

9

Comic-Con canceled for the 1st time in its 50-year history

San Diego Comic-Con was officially canceled on Friday for the first time ever. The convention had been scheduled to take place in July but was scrapped amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. This decision was widely expected as more and more large gatherings are called off, but organizers "hoped to delay this decision in anticipation that COVID-19 concerns might lessen by summer," the announcement said. However, it became clear that holding the event in July would not be safe, organizers said. This decision was announced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said earlier this week that "the prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine."

10

Ionescu goes no. 1 overall in WNBA draft

The New York Liberty selected University of Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu with the no. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, which was held virtually Friday during the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Ionescu had a prolific career for the Ducks, compiling an NCAA-record 26 triple-doubles over her four years in Eugene. She's also the first player in men's or women's basketball to record more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists. Her teammate, Satou Sabally, was selected no. 2 by the Dallas Wings. The WNBA also paid tribute to Gianna Bryant, who died in January along with her father Kobe, in a helicopter crash in California. The younger Bryant, who was 13, had dreams of playing in the WNBA, and she and two of her teammates, who were also killed in the crash, were selected as honorary draftees Friday.

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