Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: July 19, 2021

Surgeon General backs new local mask mandates, Merkel visits German town devastated by floods, and more

1

Surgeon General supports new local mask mandates

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said Sunday that he backs the reinstatement of mask mandates in response to local increases in coronavirus cases. Los Angeles County on Sunday put its new mask mandate into effect, requiring the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike to wear face coverings indoors at businesses and in public places. The decision came a month after the previous mask mandate was lifted. Los Angeles is the first major U.S. county to reinstate its mask requirement after the broad reopening that followed this year's sharp drop in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Coronavirus cases have jumped following the widespread loosening of restrictions as the highly transmissible Delta variant spread rapidly, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.

2

Merkel visits German town devastated by flood

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday visited a village destroyed in floods that have killed at least 183 people in Germany and Belgium. Merkel met with survivors and thanked volunteers, saying the destruction was "surreal and eerie." "The German language has no words, I think, for the devastation," Merkel said, promising that the government would help to rebuild infrastructure. Rescue teams continued to look for victims as heavy rains caused further flooding in the southern German region of Bavaria. Authorities expected the number of victims to rise as the flooding and searches continued. German meteorologists said the flooding was the worst in at least 500 years.

3

Wildfire forces hundreds to evacuate Lake Tahoe area

Hundreds of residents were forced to flee the Lake Tahoe, California, area on Sunday as a wildfire spread rapidly to cover 30 square miles. The Tamarack Fire, which remained zero percent contained late Sunday, has forced the evacuation of more than a half-dozen communities and two campgrounds near Markleeville, California, which has a population of fewer than 200 people. The wildfire was started by lightning on July 4 and has grown steadily since then. It forced officials to close part of the Pacific Crest Trail on Sunday. The blaze is one of more than 80 major fires burning across the drought-stricken West. The largest wildfire grew to cover more than 476 square miles in Oregon just north of the California border.

4

Number of Texas Democrats testing positive for COVID rises to 5

Two more Texas state House Democrats tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to Washington, D.C., last week to leave Republicans in their state short of the quorum they needed to pass new state voting restrictions. The new infections brought to five the number of Texas Democrats who have tested positive after the trip. The members were reportedly fully vaccinated. The group sought meetings with members of Congress to push for federal voting rights legislation, including the For the People Act, to counter new voting restrictions being pushed by numerous GOP-controlled state legislatures. "Democracy is in jeopardy, and we will not be stopped in our fight to protect it," said Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D), who said he tested positive Sunday.

5

Louisiana city removes statue of Confederate general

Local authorities removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton in the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, over the weekend, 99 years after it was donated by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Mouton was a slave owner, civil engineer, and sugarcane grower. He was killed in the Battle of Mansfield in 1864. An organization called Move the Mindset pushed to have the statue removed, and the city of Lafayette joined in their legal battle last year. Before a trial was set to start on July 26, the United Daughters of the Confederacy signed a settlement to move the statue, with the city agreeing to pay $20,000 for a new base but not yet saying where the statue will go.

6

Zoom to acquire Five9 in $14.7 billion deal

Zoom Video Communications said Sunday it had reached a $14.7 billion all-stock deal to acquire Five9 Inc., a cloud-based customer-service software provider. Zoom has seen explosive growth during the pandemic as people used it to meet online for work, education, and socializing. The acquisition is Zoom's biggest ever. It will help the company capitalize on its increased stock price to expand its services to businesses and tap into the $24 billion contact-center market. Contact centers, or call centers, provide agents to answer questions from customers over the internet. They have become increasingly popular among companies during the pandemic.

7

Report: Israeli spyware used to hack journalists', activists' phones

An Israeli firm's military-grade spyware was used to hack 37 smartphones of journalists, human rights activists, and businesses executives, The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing an investigation by the newspaper and 16 media partners. Among those targeted was the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Pegasus spyware reportedly was licensed by the Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, which licenses the software to governments looking to track criminals and terrorists. The journalists' and activists' phones were on a list shared with the Post by Paris-based journalism nonprofit Hidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International that included more than 50,000 numbers in countries known to spy on people. The NSO Group denied the report's findings.

8

Coco Gauff tests positive for coronavirus, will miss Olympics

Tennis player Coco Gauff announced Sunday that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not play in the Tokyo Olympics. Gauff said the news was a huge disappointment. "It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future," the 17-year-old tweeted. The U.S. Tennis Association said the team was "heartbroken for Coco," who had been expected to lead the U.S. in the first Olympics in a quarter century without Serena or Venus Williams playing for the U.S. Jennifer Brady, Jessica Pegula, and Alison Riske will represent the U.S. in women's singles.

9

OPEC, Russia agree to increase oil production

OPEC and oil-producing allies led by Russia agreed Sunday to increase daily oil production by 400,000 barrels a day. The move will restore capacity the producers cut when demand plummeted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The deal came as many economies around the world are recovering following a drop in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Oil prices had been rising as the loosening of coronavirus restrictions caused demand to rebound, but prices started easing recently in anticipation of a deal to increase production. Brent, the international benchmark, and West Texas Intermediate have dropped by about 5 percent from recent multiyear highs in recent days.

10

Morikawa wins The Open in 1st try

Collin Morikawa won the British Open on Sunday in his debut at the tournament. The victory at Royal St. George's Golf Club in England came after the 24-year-old held off fellow American Jordan Spieth by 2 strokes, finishing 4-under for the day and 15-under for the tournament. He played his final 31 holes without a bogey. Louis Oosthuizen, who entered the day in the lead, finished tied for third place with U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm. Sunday's victory was Morikawa's second major, following his PGA Championship win last year. Morikawa is the first professional golf player to win two majors in his first try. He is now the third-ranked male golfer in the world.

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