10 things you need to know today: July 23, 2020

California surpasses New York as the state with the most COVID cases, GOP senators split over extending jobless bonus, and more

A therapist in California
(Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

1. California surpasses New York as state with most COVID cases

California reported Wednesday that its tally of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 409,000, surpassing New York as the state with the most total infections as outbreaks continued to spike mostly in the West and South. U.S. states and territories reported more than 1,100 new coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the first time since May 29 that the nationwide total reached that high, The Washington Post reported based on its data. Texas reported the most new deaths, 197. Fatalities have been rising since June, which public health officials had warned would happen within weeks of a spike in new cases. Governors in Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota on Wednesday joined a growing number of states requiring face coverings to reduce the infection risk. More than 30 states now require people to wear masks.

The Washington Post

2. GOP senators remain divided over extending unemployment boost

Senate Republicans continued on Wednesday to hammer out their proposal for the next COVID-19 relief bill, with some pushing an unemployment boost extension. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently said the bill would not extend the bonus, but some GOP senators are pushing to reduce it from $600 to $100 per week when the original boost expires at the end of the month. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Republicans are considering a short-term extension. Republicans are also reportedly considering passing an unemployment extension as a separate measure if parties are unable to agree on broader stimulus bill negotiations. Democrats want to extend the $600/week benefit through the end of the year, and included it in the $3.5 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House in May.

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3. House votes to remove Confederate statues from Capitol

The House voted on Wednesday to remove statues of Confederate figures from the Capitol. "It's past time that we end the glorification of men who committed treason against the United States in a concerted effort to keep African Americans in chains," said bill co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). The bipartisan, 305-113 vote came after weeks of anti-racism protests across the nation that were sparked by the death of George Floyd in May. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is considered unlikely to allow a vote on the legislation in the Senate. He said the move was an attempt to "airbrush the Capitol," and was "clearly a bridge too far." Currently each state is allowed to send two statues to the National Statuary Hall, and McConnell favors leaving the selection up to the states.

The New York Times

4. D.C. mayor makes masks mandatory outside, even when alone

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Wednesday that everyone in the nation's capital must wear masks when outside, even if no one else is near. "You don't know if you're going to be able to maintain social distance," Bowser said. D.C. police will able to fine people who aren't following the order, though Bowser said she doesn't expect them to actually issue many fines. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) unveiled a similar order Wednesday afternoon for Ohioans aged 10 and up. The rule goes into effect Thursday. People with medical exemptions, a disability, or who are communicating with someone with a disability are also exempt from wearing masks. Both Ohio and D.C. have seen daily COVID-19 case counts increase over the past few weeks.

The Washington Post Cleveland.com

5. Sierra Club confronts founder's racist views

The Sierra Club is publicly acknowledging the legacy of racism left by its founder, the "wilderness prophet" and "founder of the national parks" John Muir. As Confederate statues are removed around the United States, "it's time to take down some of our own monuments, starting with some truth-telling about the Sierra Club's early history," Director Michael Brune said Wednesday. Muir, who is credited with the preservation of Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Forest, once called African Americans lazy "Sambos," and Native Americans he encountered on a legendary walk from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast "dirty." Critics also say Muir's legacy was tainted by his friendships in the early 1900s, including one with a man who helped establish the American Eugenics Society after Muir's death.

The Washington Post

6. Trump sends federal agents to crack down on crime in more cities

President Trump announced Wednesday that his administration is expanding a crackdown on violent crime by sending "hundreds" of federal agents to the Democratic-run cities of Chicago and Albuquerque. Attorney General William Barr said the "Operation Legend" program, which launched recently in Kansas City, Missouri, was different from the use of federal agents "against riots and mob violence," and that these agents would help local police "solve murders and take down violent gangs." New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said help with community policing was welcome, but that if it turned into the kind of protest crackdown seen in Portland, Oregon, the federal forces "have no business" in New Mexico. Portland's mayor was among people teargassed by federal agents outside a federal courthouse on Wednesday.

Reuters The Associated Press

7. Government orders 100 million doses of Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech on Wednesday announced that the federal government had placed a nearly $2 billion order for 100 million doses of their potential COVID-19 vaccine. The U.S. will be able to order up to another 500 million doses after the drug receives approval or authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech said that depending on how studies of the vaccine go, they aim to "be ready to seek Emergency Use Authorization or some form of regulatory approval as early as October 2020." If that goes forward, they'll look to manufacture up to 100 million doses globally by the end of the year and "potentially more than 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021." Pfizer shares rose by 5 percent after the announcement, and BioNTech's U.S.-listed shares jumped by nearly 14 percent.


8. Survey: Only 8 percent back opening schools without restrictions

Only 8 percent of Americans believe that K-12 schools should open in the fall without restrictions to prevent coronavirus infections, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll released Wednesday. About 3 in 10 respondents said there should be no teaching of children in classrooms at all, while 46 percent said major adjustments such as masks and social distancing are necessary to protect children and teachers. Most people said they had similar views on reopening colleges and universities this fall. Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to support a mix of in-person and virtual learning, and 9 in 10 Democrats said students and staff should be required to wear masks.

The Associated Press

9. Tesla to build new plant in Texas

Tesla announced Wednesday that it had selected the Austin, Texas, area as the future home of the electric-car maker's biggest assembly plant. The new factory will employ at least 5,000 workers and build Tesla's new Cybertruck pickup. It also will become the company's second production facility for the Model Y small SUV. Tesla will receive more than $60 million in tax breaks to build the factory on a 2,100-acre site near Austin. The company has promised to invest $1.1 billion in the facility, and pay workers at least $15 an hour plus health insurance and other benefits. Tesla CEO Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket company also has operations in Texas. Tesla shares rose 4 percent in after-hours trading after the company beat expectations, reporting its fourth straight profitable quarter.

The Associated Press CNBC

10. Cafeteria in White House complex closed due to coronavirus case

The White House closed a cafeteria and another eatery in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building this week after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus, NBC News reported Wednesday, citing three Trump administration officials. Contact tracing by the White House Medical Unit suggested the risk others were exposed was low, due to the use of masks, gloves, and plastic shielding. "There is no reason for panic or alarm," the White House said in an email, obtained by NBC, that was sent to officials Wednesday night. The Eisenhower Executive Office Building is across Executive Avenue from the West Wing, and houses senior White House staff, including the vice president's office, members on the coronavirus task force, and the National Security Council.

NBC News

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.