Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 17, 2021

Biden joins a tour to promote the coronavirus relief plan, 8 killed in 3 shootings at Atlanta-area spas, and more

1

Biden joins tour to promote coronavirus relief package

President Biden hit the road to join the White House's tour to promote the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Biden started out in the key swing state of Pennsylvania, which helped seal his November election victory over former President Donald Trump. Biden visited Smith Floor, a Black-owned, unionized business in the Philadelphia suburbs, to highlight aid for small businesses included in the American Rescue Plan. "More help is on the way," Biden said. Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also are making stops in battleground states to talk about the package, which includes checks to individuals and money to help states, cities, and schools confront the pandemic. White House officials said the goal is to make sure Americans know their benefits.

2

8 dead in 3 shootings at Atlanta-area spas

A suspect, Robert Aaron Long, was arrested Tuesday following shootings at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead. Six of the eight victims were Asian women. Long, 21, is white. Authorities said Long was arrested in Crisp County, 150 miles south of Atlanta. The first shooting occurred at Young's Asian Massage Parlor in Cherokee County, leaving four people dead and one injured. The other two shootings took place at spas in northeast Atlanta. Police first responded to a robbery call at Gold Spa, and found three women dead inside. While there, officers received a call to investigate a shooting at Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where they discovered another woman who had been shot to death.

3

Report says Russia interfered in attempt to hurt Biden campaign

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a complex campaign to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election to hurt President Biden's campaign to the benefit of then-President Donald Trump, according to a declassified intelligence report released Tuesday. The report said Russia tried to influence people close to Trump, without naming individuals but appearing to refer to former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's claims of corruption by Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine. "Russian state and proxy actors who all serve the Kremlin's interests worked to affect U.S. public perceptions in a consistent manner," the report said. In addition to Russia, Iran allegedly tried to meddle by undercutting Trump's re-election campaign and undermining confidence in the election, the report said. China allegedly considered getting involved but decided not to for fear the effort would backfire.

4

Moderna starts testing COVID-19 vaccine on children

Moderna announced Tuesday it has started conducting a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in children between the ages of 6 months and 11 years. The company expects to enroll 6,750 healthy participants under 12 in the United States and Canada for the study, which will "help us assess the potential safety and immunogenicity of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate in this important younger age population," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted last month there should be enough data "to be able to say that elementary school children will be able to be vaccinated" by the first quarter of 2022, and he also said that high school kids should be able to get vaccinated "sometime this fall."

5

Homeland Security chief: Migrant surge could be biggest in 20 years

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday that the current surge of undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico could reach the highest levels in two decades. "We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years," Mayorkas said. "We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children." Border agents were finding 565 unaccompanied children crossing the border on average per day as of Sunday, NBC News reported, citing new government data. That figure stood at 313 last month. The influx has overwhelmed Border Patrol stations, which have nearly 3,000 children who have been held for longer than the 72-hour legal limit. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is rushing to build "decompression centers" in Texas to help the Health and Human Services Department take more minors out of Border Patrol custody.

6

European regulators say 'no indication' AstraZeneca vaccine caused clots

European Union drug regulators on Tuesday said there was "no indication" AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine causes blood clots, despite decisions by a growing number of the region's governments to suspend use of the shots pending further research. As Sweden became the latest government to halt use of the vaccine, the European Medicines Agency urged the region's leaders to resume use of the vaccine to help fight the pandemic as thousands of people in Europe continue to die daily, with many scientists warning more vulnerable people will die from delaying vaccinations than from rare side effects. "We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19 with its associated risk of hospitalization and death outweigh the risk of the side effects," said Emer Cooke, the head of the agency.

7

New hot spots emerge after nationwide COVID-19 decline

Public health experts in several states warned Tuesday that coronavirus cases were rising in several new hot spots after weeks of declining coronavirus infections, deaths, and hospitalizations. Numbers have risen in Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, and New Jersey. New coronavirus cases have stopped falling in New York City and neighboring counties despite ramped up vaccination efforts. "There's a resurgence going on here," said disease tracker David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He said it was too soon to call the changes a "wave," and that the rise likely would not approach the severity of the pandemic's winter surge. Nationally, there are about 55,000 new infections per day and more than two million vaccine shots administered. Infectious-disease experts said the numbers underscored the importance of remaining cautious as more businesses reopen.

8

Suspected extremists kill 58 in Niger

Gunmen on motorcycles killed at least 58 people as they were returning home from a livestock market in the volatile Tillaberi region of Niger, the West African nation's government said Tuesday. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but extremists from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara have been in the region. The attackers also destroyed granaries that housed valuable food reserves. Government spokesman Abdourahmane Zakaria announced the attack on Niger state television and declared three days of mourning. Niger's new president, Mohamed Bazoum, faces considerable security challenges after winning a late-February election to succeed Mahamadou Issoufou. Counterterrorism efforts against extremists in the region have fueled the rise of ethnic militias and exacerbated tensions along the border between Niger and Mali.

9

Senator says FBI Kavanaugh investigation may have been 'fake'

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for a review of the FBI's investigation into accusations of sexual assault and misconduct made against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation process. Whitehouse said the investigation appeared to have been "politically constrained and perhaps fake." In 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that while they were teenagers, Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, put his hand over her mouth, and attempted to take off her clothes; Kavanaugh denied the allegation. Whitehouse, who's on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said FBI investigators refused to take witness testimony and operated their tip line "more like a garbage chute." The Justice Department said it was reviewing Whitehouse's letter.

10

Archaeologists find dozens of Dead Sea Scroll fragments

Israeli archaeologists have found Dead Sea Scroll fragments dating to around the first century in the Judean Desert, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday. The 80 fragments were among artifacts apparently hidden in a cave by Jewish rebels during a revolt against Rome 1,900 years ago. The parchment fragments, the first to be found in the desert south of Jerusalem in 60 years, feature Greek text from the books of Zechariah and Nahum. The operation in Israel and the occupied West Bank also uncovered a 10,500-year-old intact woven basket. The site has been called the Cave of Horror since 40 skeletons were found there in the 1960s. The original Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s and 1950s, and are some of the earliest known Biblical texts.

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