Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 17, 2020

U.S. passes 8 million COVID-19 cases, Pfizer could seek vaccine authorization in November, and more


U.S. passes 8 million COVID-19 cases

The total number of COVID-19 cases reported in the United States has surpassed eight million, according to Johns Hopkins University's latest numbers. The U.S. has seen a rising number of new daily coronavirus infections with an average of more than 53,000 new cases a day in the last week, which is an increase of over 55 percent in about a month, CNN reports. Over 30 states reported more new cases in the past week than in the week prior, and on Friday, the U.S. reported at least 69,000 new cases, the most in one day since July. Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers told The New York Times, "We are headed in the wrong direction."


Supreme Court to consider whether Trump can exclude undocumented immigrants from census count

The Supreme Court will consider whether President Trump can exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count used to allocate congressional seats. Oral arguments in the case on Friday were scheduled for Nov. 30, by which point Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump's nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, may have been confirmed. This comes after a federal panel last month blocked the Commerce Department from being able to enforce Trump's July order, saying the census figures have historically included "every person residing in the United States at the time of the census, whether citizen or non-citizen and whether living here with legal status or without."


Pfizer could seek COVID-19 vaccine emergency authorization in mid-November

Pfizer could apply for emergency use authorization for its potential COVID-19 vaccine next month should it prove to be safe and effective, its CEO says. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company estimates it will have the safety data necessary to possibly seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the third week of November. "Assuming positive data," Bourla said, "Pfizer will apply for emergency authorization use in the U.S. soon after the safety milestone is achieved." The New York Times noted that Pfizer was "ruling out President Trump's assertion that a vaccine would be ready before Election Day." Bourla said Pfizer may know whether its vaccine is effective by the end of October.


New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wins 2nd term in landslide

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who drew widespread praise for her response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has won a second term. Results on Saturday with most votes counted showed that the prime minister's Labour Party won 49 percent of the vote and looked set to score an outright majority of seats in Parliament, while the National Party won 27 percent of the vote. After Ardern implemented strick lockdown measures in March, New Zealand is seeing no community spread of COVID-19, and wearing masks and social distancing is no longer required. "Now more than ever is the time to keep going, to keep working, to grab hold of the opportunities that lay in front of us," Ardern said on Saturday.


Trump reverses, approving wildfire relief for California

President Trump in a reversal on Friday approved wildlife disaster relief funding for California following the state's historically devastating fire season. Previously, the Trump administration had rejected California's request for aid, with officials explaining they had determined the effects of the fires were not severe enough to warrant further federal support. A series of wildfires in August and September included some of the state's largest-ever, and burned through millions of acres. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he would appeal the administration's decision, and spoke on the phone with Trump on Friday afternoon, apparently succeeding in convincing Trump to grant the funding. "Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request," said Newsom.


Town hall ratings show Biden had more viewers than Trump

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's Thursday town hall event on ABC averaged 14.1 million viewers, beating out President Trump's simultaneously-held NBC town hall event, which brought in an average of 13.5 million viewers. Trump's event was simulcast by two of NBC's cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC; the 13.5 million number combines viewers on all channels. Meanwhile, Biden's event was broadcast only on ABC. Biden scheduled his event after Trump dropped out of the town hall-style presidential debate they were set to appear in Thursday night. Trump later scheduled one at the same time with NBC. The Nielsen ratings count only TV viewers, not live-streaming on other devices. Trump was widely expected to snag more viewers, making the final tally a surprising boon for Biden.


Twitter stops blocking unsubstantiated article about Hunter Biden

Twitter on Friday reversed its decision to block users from sharing an unsubstantiated article from the New York Post about former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter. The company had previously stopped users from being able to post the story about alleged emails between a Ukrainian energy executive and Hunter Biden, citing its policy against sharing private information and against distributing "content obtained without authorization." But after facing backlash especially among Republicans including President Trump, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Friday that blocking links to the story "was wrong," and the company altered its policies so that it "will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them."


Romney criticizes Trump for not denouncing QAnon conspiracy theory

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in a statement on Friday criticized President Trump for not denouncing the false QAnon conspiracy theory. Trump during a recent town hall said "I know nothing about QAnon" after moderator Savannah Guthrie explained that it's a "theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior of that." Romney wrote that Trump's "unwillingness to denounce an absurd and dangerous conspiracy theory last night continues an alarming pattern: politicians and parties refuse to forcefully and convincingly repudiate groups like antifa, white supremacists and conspiracy peddlers." Romney added that "as the parties rush down a rabbit hole, they may be opening a door to a political movement that could eventually eclipse them both."


Federal deficit reaches record $3.1 trillion

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday said the federal budget deficit climbed to a record $3.1 trillion for the fiscal year 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This number surpassed the previous record of $1.4 trillion, which came in 2009 amid the Great Recession. The Treasury Department said the increase "reflects the effect of COVID-19 on the economy and legislation that created or enhanced programs to protect public health and support hard-hit industries, small businesses, and American individuals and families." The federal government in 2020 spent $6.5 trillion, with Congress passing a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March. Ultimately, the fiscal year's deficit was $2 trillion higher than had been forecast by the White House in February, as well as triple the 2019 deficit of $984 billion.


Actress Rhonda Fleming dies at 97

Rhonda Fleming, the actress known for her work in films such as Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, has died at 97. Fleming's assistant confirmed to The New York Times she died this week at a hospital in Santa Monica, California. The actress appeared in movies alongside stars from the 1940s and 1950s like Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston, and she also starred in several films with Ronald Reagan, including The Last Outpost. Among Fleming's other work came in movies like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and she was known as the Queen of Technicolor. "Rhonda Fleming always sparkled on screen," Turner Classic Movies tweeted. "Our thoughts go out to her family and friends."


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