10 things you need to know today: August 16, 2020

FDA authorizes potentially pandemic-changing saliva test, South Korea, New Zealand see upticks in coronavirus cases, and more

Food and Drug Administration.
(Image credit: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

1. FDA authorizes potentially pandemic-changing saliva test

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for the SalivaDirect COVID-19 diagnostic test developed by the Yale School of Public Health in partnership with the National Basketball Association. The test processes saliva to rapidly determine whether a person has been infected with the coronavirus and does not require any type of swab or specific collection device. Andy Slavitt, a former acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Obama administration, said the test has a chance to become one of the first "major game changers in fighting the pandemic." He praised the physical comfort level of the test, as well its affordability, turnaround time, and accuracy, noting that it could come in handy for schools, universities, and office buildings.

The Week Food and Drug Administration

2. South Korea, New Zealand see upticks in coronavirus cases

Two of the countries that have had the most success containing the coronavirus are experiencing new flare-ups. South Korea on Sunday reported 279 new confirmed infections, the highest 24-hour jump since early March. The vast majority of the cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Health authorities have reportedly struggled to curb transmission linked to churches, nursing homes, schools, and restaurants in the country's largest city and capital. In New Zealand, which did not report a non-travel related case for 102 days, reported 13 new infections Sunday, bringing the country's number of active cases up to 69. Most of the cases were from community transmission and are linked to a cluster in Auckland, which is under a new lockdown.

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The Associated Press The Guardian

3. Trump's younger brother dies at 71

President Trump's younger brother, Robert Trump, died Saturday, the president announced in a statement. He was 71. The younger Trump, whom the president described as his "best friend," had reportedly been suffering from a serious, but undisclosed illness for several months. President Trump went to visit his brother at a New York City hospital on Friday and did not provide details about his condition other than telling reporters "he's having a tough time." Robert Trump, a former top executive at the Trump Organization, was one of four siblings to the president, including the late Fred Trump Jr. The president's two older sisters, Maryanne Trump Barry and Elizabeth Trump Grau, are still living.

The Hill CNN

4. Trump plans unilateral move to reinstate Iran sanctions after U.N. defeat

President Trump said on Saturday that "we knew" what the result of the United Nations Security Council vote on the United States' bid to extend a global arms embargo on Iran would be and the White House is prepared to respond to the resounding defeat. "We'll be doing a snapback," he said. "You'll be watching it next week." Only the Dominican Republic backed the U.S. effort to renew the embargo, which is set to expire in October under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. U.S. allies like the United Kingdom, France, and Germany abstained, leaving the Trump administration to try to trigger sanctions on Tehran unilaterally through a provision in the 2015 deal that would "snap back" the penalties into place. The U.S.'s European allies are skeptical that will work, however, since Trump withdrew from the deal.

The Wall Street Journal The Guardian

5. Russia prepared to offer Belarus military assistance

The Kremlin on Sunday said Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko that Moscow was ready to offer Minsk military assistance if necessary to quell anti-government protests in Belarus. Russia also said external pressure was being applied to the country, but did not say from where. The announcement comes after Lukashenko appealed to his longtime ally in the wake of demonstrations calling for his resignation after a disputed presidential election victory. Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years, but the so-called "last dictator in Europe" is facing one of the most serious challenges to his reign yet. The relationship between Lukashenko and Putin has been more precarious than usual lately, with the former eschewing deeper economic and political ties with Moscow, but Russia reportedly fears Belarus leaving its sphere of influence.

BBC Reuters

6. Trump to deliver remarks critical of Biden before DNC acceptance speech

President Trump's re-election campaign on Saturday announced the president will deliver remarks next Thursday on "Joe Biden's record of failure" just hours before Biden, a former vice president and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is schedule to give his acceptance speech at the mostly-virtual Democratic National Convention. Trump's address will take place in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, just a few miles outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which happens to be Biden's birthplace and early childhood hometown. Pennsylvania is considered a crucial swing state. Trump narrowly won the state over Hillary Clinton in 2016, but several polls show him trailing Biden there ahead of November's contest.


7. Israel eyes additional agreements after phone service with UAE launches

Telephone service between Israel and the United Arab Emirates began working Sunday, and several Israeli news sites that had been blocked by UAE authorities can now be accessed after the two sides reached a U.S.-brokered deal to open diplomatic ties. The historic accord was viewed by many as a foreign policy victory stateside, but Palestinians believe it jeopardizes the chances of finding a long-term resolution to the Middle East conflict. Regardless, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Sunday the country is expecting additional agreements with other countries in the Arabian Gulf and Africa, including Bahrain, Oman, and Sudan. Bahrain and Oman praised the Israel-UAE deal, but have not yet commented on the possibility of normalizing their own relations with Jerusalem.

The Associated Press Reuters

8. Extreme heat, fires continue to plague California

Searing heat and wildfires continued to plague California on Saturday, with the former prompting another round of rolling blackouts in parts of the state to help relieve the larger grid. The heat wave that is expected to affect most western states through next week is one of the most intense in years. Meanwhile, the explosive Loyalton Fire north of Lake Tahoe has burned through about 20,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained. On Saturday, it formed into a rare phenomenon known as a fire tornado, which the National Weather Service called "extremely dangerous fire behavior." Mandatory evacuations are in place for three counties in the surrounding area as the blaze continues to burn.

Fox News The Los Angeles Times

9. U.S., South Korea to begin scaled-down joint drills

South Korea and the United States will begin joint military exercises this week. The drills are an annual affair, but this year's event comes with several layers of added controversy. The two countries had to cancel their springtime exercises because of the coronavirus pandemic, and now South Korea is dealing with another outbreak. The drills will go ahead, but they'll be scaled back. Even before the pandemic, President Trump had suspended large-scale field training after growing wary of the costs of maintaining U.S. troops in South Korea. Still, even when scaled down, the exercises could anger North Korea, which has long viewed the joint training as invasion rehearsals.

The Associated Press

10. Former Illinois Gov. James Thompson dies at 84

Former Illinois Gov. James Thompson (R) died Friday night. He was 84. Thompson, known as Big Jim, was the state's longest-serving governor, which The New York Times attributes to his fondness for campaigning and "uncanny understanding" of Illinois politics. He was first elected governor in 1976 and was re-elected to four consecutive terms, ending his run in 1991. Thompson was considered a moderate Republican, and several Illinois Democrats sung his praises while remembering him this weekend. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he and Thompson were "political adversaries yet personal friends," and current Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said his predecessor "set an example for public service of which Illinoisans should be proud."

CNN The New York Times

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