November 20, 2014

Wilhelm "Willy" Burgdorfer, the man who serendipitously found the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, died Monday in Hamilton, Montana, from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 89.

Burgdorfer was born in Basel, Switzerland, and moved to Montana in 1951 to perform tick surgery; he would dissect ticks to find out how they spread diseases, The New York Times reports. While studying deer ticks from Long Island in 1982, Burgdorfer discovered spirochetes, or corkscrew-shaped bacteria that cause disease. Although he wasn't studying Lyme disease — known then as Lyme arthritis — at the time, he soon determined that this was the way the disease was spread.

Burgdorfer spent much of his career studying the illnesses that can be spread by blood-feeding insects, and he became immortalized once the bacterium that causes Lyme disease was named after him: Borrelia burgdorferi. Catherine Garcia

4:11 p.m.

South by Southwest may have been called off this year due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but in some form, the film festival must go on.

Organizers of South by Southwest, the film, music, and technology festival that takes place every year in Austin, Texas, on Thursday announced it's bringing some movies that were set to premiere at the 2020 event to streaming on Amazon as part of a 10-day "online film festival."

As the novel coronavirus spread in the United States, South by Southwest was among the first major events to be called off; the decision came after Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster. It was a major blow to Austin's economy, not to mention to all of the filmmakers who'd been making preparations to debut movies at the festival, which would have kicked off on March 13.

Now, some of these movies can reach audiences online as part of "Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection." Those who were taking part in the festival this year will be invited to opt-in to the online version, the announcement said Thursday. The specific selection of movies hasn't been unveiled yet — The Associated Press notes it's probably safe to say Netflix won't be opting in — but filmmakers who participate will receive a screening fee.

"We're inspired by the adaptability and resilience of the film community as it searches for creative solutions in this unprecedented crisis," Janet Pierson, Director of Film at SXSW, said.

No specific date for the online festival, which will be free to watch in the U.S. and will require an Amazon account but not a Prime Video subscription, has been set, though organizers are "targeting" late April. Brendan Morrow

3:48 p.m.

Shortly after finally signing a statewide stay-at-home order on Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) quietly signed a second order that undermines the efforts of local governments to keep their citizens safe, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

DeSantis has faced criticism for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, from allowing spring breakers to continue to party on the state's beaches to permitting people to still gather in large groups for worship. On Wednesday, he became one of the last governors in the country to effectively order a "shelter in place" for his constituents, only to later order that the state's new guidelines "shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19." In other words, writes the Tampa Bay Times, "local governments cannot place any limitations that would be more strict than the statewide guidelines."

Authorities in the state, though, are in a panic trying to prevent their localities from becoming the next coronavirus hotspot; regions like Hillsborough County, for example, that had put into place stricter measures are now seeing those regulations rolled back. "For reasons I can't fathom, the governor is using his power to remove safe guards that Hillsborough County and other counties have put in place to save lives," explained Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.

DeSantis additionally deemed that gun and ammo shops are included as "essential services" that can remain open during his state's lockdown. The New York Times reports that coronavirus cases jumped by more than 1,000 on Tuesday in Florida's largest single-day increase, and by Thursday they had surpassed 8,000, with more than 100 COVID-19 deaths. Jeva Lange

2:57 p.m.

President Trump's campaign is accusing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions of trying to "confuse" voters into thinking he has the president's support amid his Alabama Senate campaign, The New York Times reports.

The Trump campaign's chief operating officer, Michael Glassner, in a letter to Sessions' campaign this week demanded the former attorney general "immediately stop circulating mailers" such as one in which Sessions makes frequent mention of Trump's name and calls himself a supporter of the president.

"The letter even makes the delusional assertion that you are President 'Trump's #1 Supporter,'" Glassner writes. "We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump's loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the president supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary runoff election. Nothing could be further from the truth."

As Sessions campaigns for his old Alabama Senate seat, Trump has endorsed his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, last month calling Tuberville a "REAL LEADER who will never let MAGA/KAG, or our Country, down!" When Sessions didn't win a majority in the Republican primary, Trump mocked him in a tweet saying the former attorney general didn't "have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt." Trump fired Sessions in 2018 and has long complained about his decision to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In the letter, Trump's campaign reminds Sessions that the president and his campaign "do not support your efforts to return to the U.S. Senate."

A spokesperson for Sessions' campaign told the Times that the mailer in question was put together before Trump endorsed his opponent. The spokesperson also said that Sessions "is indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda," and "no one can change that." Brendan Morrow

2:20 p.m.

A train engineer working at the Port of Los Angeles has been charged with stealing a locomotive and intentionally derailing it in an attempt to hit the USNS Mercy.

The Mercy arrived in Los Angeles last week to provide an additional 1,000 hospital beds to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Eduardo Moreno, an engineer at the port, told authorities he found the boat "suspicious" and drove a train toward the ship because "people don't know what's going on here," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Moreno steered the cargo train through barriers designed to stop its engine and a few fences, according to a court filing. The train still ground to a halt about 250 yards away from the Mercy, CNN reports. No one was injured in the crash, but it did cause a diesel fuel leak, which firefighters and hazmat crews quickly cleaned up.

Moreno tried to flee the scene after the crash, but was quickly apprehended, a court filing says. He allegedly took a video from inside the train, which shows him lighting a flare as he drove the train through the barriers. Moreno could end up in jail for up to 20 years upon conviction, per the Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:16 p.m.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration significantly rolled back restrictions on blood donations from men who have had sex with other men, citing an "urgent need for blood" caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The FDA's decision marks a dramatic shift from federal rules that have been in place since 1983, the height of the AIDS crisis, when the government ordered a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, NBC News reports. Those rules were slightly loosened in 2015, when it was changed to a year-long abstinence requirement. On Thursday, the FDA shortened the window of abstinence even further, to three months.

Peter Marks, the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the announcement that "[blood] donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives" since the outbreak began, and that "the FDA has concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply."

Activists, though, have long criticized restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood, BuzzFeed News notes, calling the rules scientifically unfounded and biased. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday that "these changes are based on the best science that we have today regarding the time that it takes to test positive for HIV" and that he encouraged all people to "do the right thing: donate blood." Jeva Lange

1:46 p.m.

Having someone who's got your back is everything, according to Zac Efron, who appeared on Thursday's episode of Hot Ones.

The High School Musical actor specifically told host Sean Evans about the first time he met his pal Leonardo DiCaprio. The pair were sitting next to each other at a basketball game, when the veteran star unexpectedly invited him over for breakfast. "He cooked waffles, and he burnt those, and then he made pancakes," Efron remembered, laughing.

Efron added that he had "a billion questions" for DiCaprio, particularly about dealing with the paparazzi. DiCaprio admitted "frankly, you're getting it a little bit different [than I did]," noting that there'd never been so many paparazzi at his house as when Efron came over.

DiCaprio nevertheless reassured the young actor. "He was like 'Don't worry about it, man. You're good,'" Efron said. "I really appreciate that he took that time … I feel like that's the biggest hand you can give someone in Hollywood, looking out for somebody younger." Watch the full interview below. Jeva Lange

1:29 p.m.

Say "oh, hello" to your latest quarantine binge.

Nick Kroll and John Mulaney have donned their turtlenecks once again to reprise their roles as Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, two old men who first bemoaned today's world on The Kroll Show and eventually their own Broadway show turned Netflix special. Not that you'll see their constantly frowning faces on this latest Oh, Hello iteration, seeing as it's a podcast devoted to one of Faizon and St. Geegland's favorite subjects: Princess Diana.

Kroll and Mulaney shared a trailer for Oh, Hello: the P'dcast on Thursday, saying at least the first episode will come out Friday. The trailer doesn't even feature Faizon and St. Geegland's exaggerated New York accents; instead we hear from This American Life producer Line Misitzis who says she started working with the duo a year and a half ago. The project apparently fell apart, but Faizon and St. Geegland have since realized "what the world needs is a podcast" — and by releasing it, they're going to "win the quarantine." Kathryn Krawczyk

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