November 14, 2015

At the Democratic debate in Iowa on Saturday night, Bernie Sanders defended his proposal to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, saying we need to "put money in the hands of working people."

Martin O'Malley jumped in to highlight his governorship in Maryland, where he raised the minimum wage to $10.10, and also said he supported a $15 federal minimum wage. Hillary Clinton, not so much.

"If you go to $12 it would be the highest historical average we've ever had," Clinton said, expressing skepticism about going higher.

O'Malley countered: "It should always be going up. [...] We need to stop taking advice from economists on Wall Street." Stephanie Talmadge

12:50 p.m.

The State Department on Friday temporarily halted "all training programs related to diversity and inclusion," Reuters reports.

Reuters obtained an internal cable detailing the decision, which was made in response to an executive order issued by President Trump in September forbidding federal agencies to teach "divisive concepts" such as the idea that the United States is "fundamentally racist or sexist." Before that, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a memo telling government officials they couldn't use taxpayer money to fund sessions focused on subjects like critical race theory or white privilege. The Trump administration's efforts to cut back on such programs comes amid a nationwide debate about racial injustice in the U.S. — both contemporarily and historically — which was fueled in large part by protests against police brutality earlier this year.

The State Department cable said the pause will allow the OMB "to review program content." Per Reuters, a report from an independent federal watchdog released this year said "longstanding diversity issues exist" in the State Department, particularly in senior ranks. The report noted that the overall proportion of racial or ethnic minorities working at the agency has increased, but the proportions of Black and female employees have declined. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

11:27 a.m.

Coronavirus vaccine trials conducted by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are preparing to resume, the pharmaceutical companies said Friday.

Both studies were put on hold after two volunteers who enrolled in AstraZeneca's vaccine trial developed a possible neurological side effect, and another person who enrolled J&J's study reportedly suffered a stroke. AstraZeneca, which had already restarted its trial in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, said independent monitoring committees and international regulators agreed it was safe to resume the trial in the U.S, as well. The Food and Drug Administration reportedly did not find the vaccine candidate to be responsible for the neurological symptoms, but the agency was also unable to definitively rule out a link.

Similarly, investigators concluded the J&J volunteer's illness did not appear to be related to the vaccine candidate, although there was "no clear cause" of the incident. Paul Stoffels, the chief scientific officer at J&J, told Stat News the company could begin enrolling patients for the vaccine study — the only major one to test just a single dose — again early next week. Read more at The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:53 a.m.

President Trump on Saturday joined the more than 50 million Americans who have already cased their ballots ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. The president, who spent Friday evening at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, voted in-person early in the morning before getting ready to depart the Sunshine State for three campaign rallies in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Ohio, all crucial battlegrounds.

After exiting the booth, Trump told reporters he was very impressed with how secure the voting process was, especially compared to mail-in voting, which has become a major point of contention between Republicans and Democrats due to the increase in absentee ballots nationwide in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but Trump has continually reiterated his belief that the system is vulnerable to it. "When you send in your ballot, it could never be secure like that," Trump said Saturday. (Observers pointed out that the president mailed in his Florida primary ballot in August amid his criticism.)

Trump ended his quick exchange with the press on a lighter note, declaring that he voted "for a guy named Trump." Tim O'Donnell

8:41 a.m.

Polish President Andrzej Duda tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, a presidential minister said Saturday. Duda is the latest among a handful of world leaders, including President Trump, to contract the virus. He reportedly "feels good" and is in isolation. Poland's president guides foreign policy and signs legislation, but most duties designated for the office are ceremonial, and day-to-day governance is the responsibility of the prime minister.

Duda's positive test result comes amid a wave of infections in Poland, which saw low rates earlier this year when the virus first struck Europe. On Saturday, the country recorded 13,628 new COVID-19 cases and 179 deaths, marking new 24-hour highs since the pandemic began. The government imposed new restrictions Saturday that fall just short of a lockdown in the hopes of curbing the outbreak, The Associated Press reports.

The virus continues to surge in other European countries, as well, including the Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France. Those five countries currently have the highest rate of infection worldwide, CNN reports.

Italy and Spain, which were hit hard by the virus early in the pandemic, are also dealing with case increases. Several regions in Spain have announced new night curfews in the coming days, while the governor of Italy's Campania said he is imposing a regional lockdown "for 30 to 40 days" after the country reported a daily record of infections Friday. Read more at The Associated Press and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

8:08 a.m.

The United States on Friday recorded more than 85,000 new coronavirus cases, The New York Times reports. That set a new single-day record, breaking the previous mark from mid-July by nearly 10,000 cases. Hospitalizations have also been rising steadily since the start of October, and while deaths have mostly remained flat, they are often a lagging indicator.

The current surge is most heavily concentrated in the Midwest and West, but it's spread out more widely than the previous waves from the spring and summer, which occurred primarily in the Northeast and Sun Belt, respectively. More than 170 counties across 36 states were designated rapidly rising hotspots, an internal federal report produced Thursday for Department of Health and Human Services officials that was obtained by The Washington Post revealed.

Earlier in the pandemic, health care workers would move around to help ease the burden facing overwhelmed hospitals, but "that's just not possible when the virus is surging everywhere," Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told the Post; experts have warned of shortages of medical staff and supplies.

Additionally, Murray said, "we are starting this wave much higher than either of the previous waves. And it will simply keep going up until people and officials decide to do something about it." Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

October 23, 2020

It looks like the final 2020 debate match-up between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden didn't draw quite as big of a TV audience as the first one.

Preliminary numbers from Nielsen on Friday showed that Thursday's debate between Trump and Biden averaged 55.2 million viewers across six networks, CNN and The New York Times report. This, CNN notes, was down roughly 11 percent from the 62 million viewers who tuned in on those networks to the first debate last month.

Nielsen will provide updated figures later on Friday taking into account viewers on other channels. When those final figures from Nielsen were added for the first debate, the total came out to about 73 million viewers, which made it the third highest-rated general election debate Nielsen has recorded, the Times notes.

The second debate between Trump and Biden was widely seen as more of a success than the first one, which was derailed by frequent interruptions from Trump. Thursday's debate was originally meant to be the third for the 2020 election, but a second was scrapped after Trump refused to particulate over plans to hold it virtually. Brendan Morrow

October 23, 2020

Reopening schools doesn't seem to be a major contributor to coronavirus community spread, data from random testing in the U.S. and Britain reveals. That's especially true of elementary schools, the data shows.

Children, even young ones, can and have been infected with COVID-19 and can transmit the virus to adults. But even as coronavirus surges once again across the U.S. and Britain, random testing data shows young children aren't the ones causing coronavirus spikes, experts who've seen the data say. "The more and more data that I see, the more comfortable I am that children are not, in fact, driving transmission, especially in school settings,” Brooke Nichols, an infectious disease modeler at the Boston University School of Public Health, told The New York Times.

The risks among children in middle and high schools are less clear, experts acknowledge. But they believe "these schools may be able to contain the coronavirus, provided the community prevalence is low and the schools take abundant precautions," the Times reports. It all led Dr. David Rubin, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania, to conclude it's worth at least reopening elementary schools in lower-risk areas. "I think there’s a pretty good base of evidence now that schools can open safely in the presence of strong safety plans, and even at higher levels of case incidence than we had suspected,” he said. Kathryn Krawczyk

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