Daily Briefing

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

Harold Maass
The WHO sign


White House notifies U.N., Congress of WHO withdrawal

The Trump administration has notified the United Nations that the United States is formally withdrawing from the World Health Organization, White House officials said Tuesday. Congress received the notification, too. President Trump has criticized the WHO throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for not adequately warning the world about the virus, and accused the organization of spreading disinformation from China about the early outbreak. He said earlier this year he would halt funding to the organization. The withdrawal comes as cases in the U.S. continue to surge even while other countries see their virus spread slow. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the move "chaotic and incoherent," and Republican senators had tried to talk Trump out of the decision. [The Wall Street Journal, NBC News]


Trump says public schools 'must open'

President Trump said Tuesday that K-12 public schools "must open" for in-person classes this fall, vowing to pressure governors to order a return to normal despite rising coronavirus infections in many states. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday scoffed at proposals to open public schools in some districts for just a few days of in-person instruction per week because of the coronavirus pandemic. "School must reopen, they must be fully operational," DeVos said in a call with governors. Trump said Democrats were pushing to keep learning virtual "for political reasons, not for health reasons." Health officials acknowledge that reopening school buildings is important to students' educational development, and access to meals and mental health services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month issued guidance suggesting staggered schedules, separating desks, and other social distancing measures. [ABC News, The Associated Press]


Trump's niece claims he paid someone to take his SAT exam

President Trump's niece Mary Trump says in her memoir, Too Much and Never Enough, that the president paid someone to take the SAT for him when he was in high school. She says in the book, set for release next week, that the proxy's scores were enough to get Trump into Fordham University and then the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — an education Trump brags about to this day, The New York Times reports, citing an advance copy of the book. Mary Trump, a psychologist, also warns against armchair diagnoses of the president and shares that Trump's sister had huge doubts and criticisms of his 2016 campaign. The Trump family has tried to suppress the memoir's publication, but publisher Simon & Schuster announced Monday it will come out two weeks early. [The New York Times]


Brazil's president tests positive for coronavirus after downplaying threat

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced Tuesday that he tested positive for COVID-19. The news came after Bolsonaro downplayed the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, even dismissing it as a "little flu." Bolsonaro said he got tested Monday after starting to feel sick on Sunday. "Everyone knew that it would reach a considerable part of the population sooner or later. It was positive for me," he said, adding that his wife, first lady Michelle Bolsonaro, also had been tested. He said he would continue working via videoconference. Bolsonaro added that he had been treated with azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine, a drug both he and President Trump have boosted as a coronavirus treatment. [CNN]


U.S. to pay Novavax $1.6 billion to fast-track vaccine development

The federal government is paying drug maker Novavax $1.6 billion to speed up its effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine. The commitment to Novavax, a Maryland company that has yet to bring a product to market, is the biggest yet under a government coronavirus vaccine and treatment push dubbed Operation Warp Speed. The money will be paid to Novavax to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine by the start of 2021, provided the vaccine clears clinical trials. rials. The deal brings the federal government's investment in companies working on COVID-19 vaccines to $4 billion. British drugmaker AstraZeneca got $1.2 billion to help it develop its vaccine, and Moderna Therapeutics, another company that has never brought a product to market, has received more than $500 million. "We are grateful to the U.S. government for its confidence in our technology platform," Novavax CEO Stanley C. Erck said. [The New York Times]


WHO to examine aerosol transmission of coronavirus after warning

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that there was "evidence emerging" of airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus. The announcement came after a group of scientists urged the WHO to review the evidence and revise its guidance on how the coronavirus spreads. "We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19," Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, said in a briefing at the Geneva-based agency's headquarters. In an open letter published Monday in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, 239 scientists in 32 countries spelled out evidence suggesting that the virus floating in the air, not just in droplets that fall on surfaces, could infect people as they breathe. These exhaled particles can remain in the air due to their smaller size. [Reuters]


Facebook, Zuckerberg fail to sway ad-boycott organizers

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday met via Zoom with civil rights groups that organized the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which has called for companies to pause ads on Facebook and demand it change the way it deals with hate speech on the platform. After the meeting, one of the organizations, Free Press, released a statement expressing disappointment that they "didn't hear anything today to convince us that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking action," while NAACP President Derrick Johnson told The New York Times "there was just no response" to the campaign's list of demands. Color of Change head Rashad Robinson said Facebook seemed to be "expecting an A for attendance." [The New York Times, CNN]


Amy Kennedy wins nomination to challenge former Democrat now backing Trump

Amy Kennedy — a former schoolteacher whose husband, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, is a nephew of former President John F. Kennedy — beat Brigid Callahan Harrison in New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District primary, winning the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew. Van Drew is a freshman congressman from southern New Jersey who left the Democratic Party and joined Republicans in late 2019 after voting against impeachment and pledging his "undying loyalty" to President Trump. Kennedy's win marked a setback for longtime New Jersey powerbrokers who had backed Harrison. The primary was conducted mainly with mail-in ballots, making it a key early test of the voting method that is becoming increasingly common under social distancing efforts aiming to curb the spread of the coronavirus. [CBS News, The New York Times]


Deutsche Bank to pay $150 million for ignoring Epstein suspicions

Deutsche Bank has agreed to pay a $150 million fine for letting financier Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in jail awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, make payments to Russian models and make suspicious withdrawals averaging $200,000 per year. The fine is part of a settlement between the German bank and the New York State Department of Financial Services. It is the first settlement with a financial institution related to the notorious sex offender. "For years, Mr. Epstein's criminal, abusive behavior was widely known, yet big institutions continued to excuse that history and lend their credibility or services for financial gain," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. The case was the latest setback for Deutsche Bank as it struggles to restore its reputation and finances after five years of losses. [Reuters]


Mary Kay Letourneau dies of cancer at 58

Mary Kay Letourneau, the former Washington middle school teacher who married a former student after being convicted of raping him, has died of cancer, her family confirmed in a statement Tuesday. She was 58. In 1997, the Seattle-area teacher was convicted of second-degree child rape of her former student, 12-year-old Vili Fualaau; she was 34 at the time. Letourneau was paroled in 1998 and prohibited from having any contact with Fualaau, but twice became pregnant with his children before he was 15. After her release, she was found with him in a car, and was returned to prison to serve the remainder of her seven-year sentence. Letourneau and Fualaau married in 2005, and divorced in 2019. She had four children from her first marriage and two with Fualaau. [People, NBC News]