Daily briefing

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

Health officials clarify new mask guidelines, U.N. chief calls for Israel-Hamas ceasefire, and more

1

Health officials clarify new CDC mask guidelines

U.S. public-health officials on Sunday made a push to address confusion surrounding the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's new masking guidelines. The CDC last week reversed a longstanding call for wearing face coverings, saying it was safe for fully vaccinated people to go without masks in most indoor and outdoor settings, although the agency left it up to local jurisdictions and businesses to set policies in specific places. "This is not permission for widespread removal of masks," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Sunday on ABC. Walensky emphasized that the looser policy on masks only applied to people who are fully vaccinated, while those who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

2

U.N. chief calls for Israel-Hamas ceasefire

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday called for Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza to end their "utterly appalling" conflict "immediately," and reach a ceasefire. "This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction, and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace," Guterres said during a U.N. Security Council meeting. The death toll from Israel's Sunday morning airstrikes on Gaza City rose to at least 42, according to Palestinian medics. Israel launched more strikes on Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel's airstrikes, saying they would continue at "full-force" and would "take time." He said Israel "wants to levy a heavy price" on Hamas militants that have been launching rockets into Israel.

3

Gas shortages ease as pipeline resumes normal operations

Gasoline shortages that hit the East Coast last week eased on Sunday as the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies 45 percent of the region's fuel, returned to normal operations after a six-day shutdown caused by what has been described as the most devastating cyberattack on record. After the shutdown of the 5,500-mile pipeline, which carries gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from Texas to much of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, panic buying and shortages plagued the region for days. Thousands of gas stations ran out of fuel, and many still had limited supplies on Sunday. Even though the pipeline is back in operation, the supply chain is still catching up, with refiners and distributors rushing to get things back to normal before the peak demand of the summer driving season.

4

CDC: Schools should keep requiring masks, social distancing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clarified over the weekend that it is still recommending schools stick to current guidelines and continue to have students wear masks and practice social distancing until the end of the school year. On Thursday, the CDC said fully vaccinated Americans don't have to wear masks inside or outdoors, but young people between the ages of 12 and 15 only became eligible for vaccination last week. Because most kids aren't vaccinated, the CDC said "systems and policy adjustments may be required for schools to change mask requirements for students and staff while continuing to ensure the safety of unvaccinated populations." CDC data shows that as of Sunday, more than 123 million Americans over age 12 are fully vaccinated — about 44 percent of the population.

5

Monitoring group says Myanmar's 2020 election was legitimate

An international monitoring group, the Asian Network for Free Elections, said in its final report on Myanmar's 2020 election that the vote was "representative of the will of the people," and the military's coup over alleged irregularities was an unjustified power grab. The Feb. 1 coup ended a decade of progress toward democracy as the military ousted elected leaders, including longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the party that swept the Nov. 8 elections. The monitoring group said the vote was not as free and fair as 2015 elections, but it was still legitimate. "Despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, 27.5 million people voted thanks to the hard work of polling staff and election or health officials," the group said. "Their voices cannot be silenced." The military junta did not respond to Reuters' request for comment.

6

2 dead in bleacher collapse at West Bank synagogue

At least two people were killed and more than 150 injured on Sunday when a bleacher collapsed at an unfinished ultra-Orthodox synagogue in the West Bank, Israeli medics said. The incident took place in the Givat Zeev settlement during evening prayers, ahead of the Shavuot holiday. Israeli medics said the people who died were a 12-year-old boy and a man in his 50s. Deddi Simhi, head of Israel Fire and Rescue, told Israel's Channel 12 the five-story synagogue "is not finished. It doesn't even have a permit for occupancy, and therefore let alone holding events in it." The chief of Jerusalem's police department said the collapse was caused by "negligence" and that arrests were expected.

7

4 Alabama police officers shot in search for suspect

A man suspected in two Sunday morning murders in Birmingham, Alabama, shot four police officers who were executing a search warrant on an apartment where they believed he was hiding. The officers returned fire, killing the unidentified man. Two of the officers were just grazed by bullets. None of the four had life-threatening injuries. Police had been searching for the suspect for hours since officers responded to a report of a shooting in a park. Officers found a man dead on a sidewalk, and a woman lying wounded in a road. She was rushed to a hospital, but died. Witnesses told police the suspected killer was "an adult white male, wearing a red shirt and overalls." The shootings appeared related to an altercation over a dog.

8

Wildfire spreads near Los Angeles

Mandatory evacuation orders affecting 1,000 people remained in effect on Sunday as a brush fire continued to spread in the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon. The suspected-arson fire broke out on Friday, and by Sunday it had scorched 1,325 acres. Residents in other areas were told to be ready to evacuate as firefighters struggled to contain the flames. "The biggest challenge right now is the terrain it is in," one firefighter said. "It is in very rugged, steep terrain that is inaccessible, except on foot. It is hard to get heavy machinery and heavy equipment in there to create a fire break." The fire was being fueled by dry vegetation, although fire crews hoped to take advantage of cool weather to bring it under control.

9

Musk tweet sends bitcoin price falling

Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested in Sunday tweets that the electric-car maker might sell its remaining bitcoin holdings. The Twitter exchange sent bitcoin's price tumbling by 8 percent to roughly $44,000. The exchange of posts started with a Twitter user called @CryptoWhale, who wrote: "Bitcoiners are going to slap themselves next quarter when they find out Tesla dumped the rest of their holdings. With the amount of hate @elonmusk is getting, I wouldn't blame him…" Musk responded: "Indeed." He later clarified that the company hadn't sold any bitcoin. The tweets came days after Musk said Tesla would hold rather than sell its remaining bitcoin holdings to use for transactions. Tesla last week said it had suspended acceptance of bitcoin as payment for vehicles, citing the heavy use of fossil fuels for bitcoin mining.

10

WSJ: Microsoft board members decided Gates should step down over affair

Microsoft board members concluded the software giant's founder, Bill Gates, should step down from its board last year during an investigation into an allegedly inappropriate relationship with a female Microsoft employee, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing people familiar with the matter. Board members hired a law firm to investigate the allegations in 2019 after a Microsoft engineer said in a letter she had a years-long sexual relationship with Gates, the Journal's sources said. Gates stepped down before the investigation was finished. A Gates spokeswoman said he had "an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably," but that his departure from the board "was in no way related to this matter." Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, announced May 3 they were ending their 27-year marriage.

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