Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 19, 2020

Tim O'Donnell
Protest in Austin.
Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

1.

Protesters decrying lockdowns flock to state capitals

Protesters gathered in front of several statehouses across the U.S. on Saturday to protest stay-at-home orders amid the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Some occurred in states such as Michigan led by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has been singled out by President Trump for her response to the pandemic, but there were demonstrations in states led by Republicans, as well. One of the largest rallies took place in Austin, Texas, where about 300 people gathered, chanting things like "Let us work" and "Fire Fauci," referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been a leading voice on the White House coronavirus task force and a proponent of minimizing Americans' activity during the crisis. Meanwhile, in Maryland, protesters made some noise in Annapolis, but many never got out of their cars. [Slate, Business Insider]

2.

Trump ramps up criticism of China's coronavirus response

During his daily White House briefing Saturday, President Trump said if China was "knowingly responsible" for the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic "there should be consequences." Trump suggested the Chinese government was likely "embarrassed" about the virus getting out of control, adding that the question now is whether it was a "mistake" or deliberate. "There's a big difference between the two," he said. The president also questioned the legitimacy of the coronavirus death toll reported by Beijing. "Does anybody really believe these figures?," he asked. Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, agreed the numbers were "unrealistic." [The Guardian, Reuters]

3.

Pelosi says lawmakers are 'close' on more coronavirus aid

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday during an appearance on ABC's This Week that lawmakers are "very close to an agreement" on more coronavirus aid, echoing earlier reports that Republicans and Democrats are closing in on a solution. Pressure has been mounting for Congress to end its stalemate and pass the next phase of funding quickly; the small business relief fund has been depleted and 22 million Americans have lost their jobs over the last month. But Republicans and Democrats have clashed over the latter's preference to include more money for state and local governments, as well as hospitals. [Politico, ABC News]

4.

Coronavirus tests reportedly delayed because of contamination at CDC lab

Substandard practices reportedly exposed the novel COVID-19 coronavirus test kits manufactured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contamination. That in turn led to a delay in their rollout earlier this year, The Washington Post confirmed after speaking with scientists familiar with the matter on the condition of anonymity. The Food and Drug Administration also concluded the CDC violated its own laboratory standards in making the kits, per the Post. It appears the contamination occurred, in part, because the CDC chose to add a complex and unnecessary component to the kits for reasons that remain unknown. It's not exactly clear how the component was contaminated, but the Post reports it likely occurred when chemical mixtures were assembled into the kits in the same lab space handling synthetic, or man-made, coronavirus material. [The Washington Post, The Week]

5.

South Korea, Spain, Israel continue coronavirus progress as Russia sees spike in cases

The trajectory of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to vary around the world. South Korea, which has garnered praise for its handling of the crisis, reported only eight new coronavirus cases Sunday, the first time the number has fallen into single digits since mid-February. Seoul extended its social distancing policy for 16 more days, but has begun to ease some restrictions. Elsewhere, Spain recorded its lowest daily death toll since March 22. Madrid is expected to extend its lockdown through early May, but is also likely to loosen some components, including allowing children to go outside. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday his country has "succeeded in [its] mission so far" as infection rates have declined over the past two weeks. Consequently, some businesses will be allowed to reopen. Russia, meanwhile, added 6,060 new cases Sunday, the country's largest one day jump. [CNBC, Al Jazeera]

6.

Canada, U.S. extend border closure

The United States and Canada agreed Saturday to extend their shared border closure for another 30 days as both countries aim to slow the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. The shutdown, which was due to expire soon, applies to nonessential travel, but allows for trade to continue. Even with those exemptions, cross-border traffic has dwindled. Since April 1, tunnel traffic between neighboring cities Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, is reportedly down 88 percent compared to the same period last year. Canada has reported more than 32,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,340 deaths as of Saturday, while the U.S. has more than 720,000 cases and over 37,000 fatalities. [NPR, The Hill]

7.

Report: Neiman Marcus preparing to file for bankruptcy

Neiman Marcus Group is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection as soon as this week, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. It would become the first major U.S. department store operator to do so during the economic fallout of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The Dallas-based company has been forced to temporarily shutter all 43 of its Neiman Marcus locations, two dozen Last Call stores, and its two Bergdorf Goodman stores in New York. Many of its 14,000 employees have been furloughed, and the company reportedly skipped millions of dollars in debt payments last week. Once it files for bankruptcy, sources told Reuters, potential suitors could look to buy the company or some of its assets. [Reuters]

8.

U.S. reportedly shipped millions of facemasks to China earlier this year

Manufacturers in the United States shipped millions of dollars' worth of facemasks and other protective medical equipment to China in January and February, The Washington Post reports after a review of economic data and internal government documents. The shipments were reportedly encouraged by the federal government, suggesting Washington did not anticipate the novel COVID-19 coronavirus to reach the heights that it did at that point. The increase in the items exported to China was steep compared to the same time last year, growing by more than 1,000 percent, but the amount was reportedly still only a fraction of the U.S.'s overall need. [The Washington Post]

9.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill dies at 84

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill died Saturday at his home in Pittsburgh. He was 84. O'Neill had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer, and his family confirmed his death was not related to the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. O'Neill served as Treasury Secretary for 23 months throughout 2001 and 2002 under former President George W. Bush, but he was eventually fired after the two clashed over Bush's preference for tax cuts. O'Neill was known for speaking his mind. Before taking the role in the Bush administration, he was the CEO of Aluminum Co. of America, or Alcoa, where he oversaw a big increase in profits and safety standards. [Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal]

10.

ESPN's The Last Dance documentary to premiere Sunday night

The first two episodes of ESPN's 10-part documentary, The Last Dance, which chronicles Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during the 1997-98 NBA season, will premiere Sunday evening at 9 p.m. The long-anticipated series will feature never-before-seen footage shot during the season, which ended in the Bulls dynasty's final title in their second string of three straight championships in the decade. It will also include interviews with more than 100 people close to the team. The season was Jordan's last with Chicago, though he came out of retirement a few years later and played for the Washington Wizards. Releasing the unaired footage was subject to Jordan's approval, which he finally granted. [ESPN, CBS Sports]