April 4, 2016

In a post online, Virgin founder Richard Branson shared his thoughts on the $2.6 billion acquisition of Virgin America by Alaska Air, writing that he would be "lying if I didn't admit sadness that our wonderful airline is merging with another."

Consolidation is a "trend that sadly cannot be stopped," Branson said, and because he's not American, the U.S. Department of Transportation "stipulated I take some of my shares in Virgin America as non-voting shares, reducing my influence over any takeover. So there was sadly nothing I could do to stop it." In the United States, only 25 percent of a U.S.-based airline can be owned by a foreign entity or non-U.S. citizen, Business Insider reports; Branson is British.

Branson also wrote about the history of Virgin and how Virgin America was started "out of frustration." Before Virgin America began service in August 2007, airlines were "more focused on the bottom line," he said, "and flying in the United States became an awful experience." Branson praised the Virgin America team, declaring that "without the radical belief that they could create an airline people actually love, the U.S. airline industry might not be where it is today," and ended his post on a hopeful note, writing, "despite the turbulence and head winds, the journey remains thrilling and joyful, and I look forward to more future flights with Virgin America." Catherine Garcia

9:37 a.m.

The U.S. unemployment rate declined to 10.2 percent in July, as the economy added 1.8 million jobs, the Labor Department said on Friday.

This came after the June jobs report last month showed the unemployment rate decline to 11.1 percent, with 4.8 million jobs added. The July report surpassed expectations, as experts were anticipating about 1.48 million jobs would be added and that the unemployment rate would decline to about 10.6 percent, CNBC reports.

But the unemployment rate is still higher than during the Great Recession, and experts raised concerns about the recovery's slowing pace.

"The economy is still in a massive hole, but we're crawling back out," University of Michigan economics professor Justin Wolfers tweeted. "The problem is that the pace of improvement has slowed to a crawl." MacroPolicy Perspectives economist Julia Coronado similarly told The Wall Street Journal, "The pace of recovery has really been set back by the resurgence of the virus. Given how far we have to go to re-employ the people who have become unemployed, that's very discouraging."

The Washington Post's Heather Long, noting that the U.S. has recovered about 43 percent of the jobs that were lost during the coronavirus crisis, additionally wrote, "There's still a lot of people hurting and a long way to go until we're back to 'normal.'" Brendan Morrow

8:15 a.m.

A key model has projected that the number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States could reach almost 300,000 by December.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has forecasted that the U.S. coronavirus death toll will reach 295,011 by Dec. 1. That's up from the over 160,000 COVID-19 deaths that have been reported in the U.S., per Johns Hopkins University. But the model also finds that mask-wearing could prevent tens of thousands of these deaths.

Specifically, the researchers say that if 95 percent of Americans wore masks when leaving their homes, the forecasted COVID-19 death toll could decrease by 66,000 to about 228,000. IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray stressed the need for Americans to continue measures like wearing masks, even in areas where COVID-19 cases are not spiking.

"We're seeing a rollercoaster in the United States," Murray said. "It appears that people are wearing masks and socially distancing more frequently as infections increase, then after a while as infections drop, people let their guard down and stop taking these measures to protect themselves and others — which, of course, leads to more infections. And the potentially deadly cycle starts over again."

Murray also explained to CNN that Americans have an "extraordinary opportunity" to save lives by wearing a mask.

"It's rare that you see something so simple, so inexpensive, so easy for everybody to participate in, can have such an extraordinary impact," he said. Brendan Morrow

1:53 a.m.

Anti-government protesters took to the streets of Beirut on Thursday night, demanding that top officials resign in the wake of Tuesday's massive explosion in the city, which left at least 145 people dead and 5,000 injured.

Several dozen protesters gathered in downtown Beirut, starting small fires and throwing stones at riot police, who in turn fired tear gas, BBC News reports. The demonstrators say government negligence caused the explosion, and people need to be held accountable.

Government officials have said the explosion, which leveled buildings and blew out windows miles away from the blast site, was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in unsafe conditions since 2013. Customs and port officials have asserted they asked numerous times for the ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizer and explosives, to be exported.

Two government officials have resigned since Wednesday: Marwan Hamade, a member of parliament, and Tracy Chamoun, the ambassador to Jordan. An investigation into the blast is now underway, and Lebanese state media said 16 people have been detained. Catherine Garcia

1:10 a.m.

Friends Angela Sun, Madeleine Zheng, and Mae Zhang want to make things easier on parents who are trying to juggle work and helping their kids with school, so they launched a free virtual tutoring service that provides assistance with everything from biology to economics.

Sun, Zheng, and Zhang are graduates of University High School in Tucson. They started Cov Tutors in July, and when they opened registration, five students signed up. "The very next day, numbers doubled," Sun, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, told KOLD. They offer one-on-one Zoom sessions, with each student receiving one to two hours of tutoring, one to three times a week.

The tutors help with homework and give lectures, so it feels like they are in "a classroom setting," Sun said. Some students have signed up to prepare for upcoming courses, while others need a refresher in certain subjects. Zheng, a student at Arizona State University, told KOLD that by offering tutoring, it "takes that burden away from the parent, especially because they have to work and right now it's kind of a financially stressful time as well." Catherine Garcia

12:18 a.m.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced on Thursday night that after testing positive for COVID-19 in the morning, he took a second test in the afternoon, and those results came back negative.

DeWine was supposed to meet President Trump when he flew into Cleveland in the morning, but that appearance was scrapped after he tested positive for the coronavirus. He said this was "a big surprise to me and certainly a big surprise to our family," and planned on going into isolation for 14 days at his farm in southwestern Ohio. DeWine also shared that he felt "fine. I have a headache, but I get a lot of headaches."

Later, DeWine, his wife Fran, and all of his staff members were tested for COVID-19, with PCR tests administered; these tests are very sensitive in detecting the virus, WLWT reports. The tests were all run twice, and came back negative each time. DeWine's office said it is confident these results are accurate, and "out of an abundance of caution," both DeWine and his wife will be tested again on Saturday. Catherine Garcia

August 6, 2020

On Thursday night, President Trump issued executive orders banning American people and companies from doing business with the Chinese parent companies of TikTok, a video-sharing app, and WeChat, a messaging app.

The executive orders did not explicitly say what business transactions will be prohibited; the bans go into effect in 45 days, and by that time, the Commerce Secretary must define what exactly is banned, The Associated Press reports.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, while WeChat is owned by Tencent; neither responded to AP's requests for comment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called TikTok and WeChat security threats, and earlier Thursday, the Senate voted unanimously in support of a bill banning federal employees from installing TikTok on government-issued devices.

TikTok has a separate U.S. enterprise, and has said it does not store American user data in China. WeChat has also denied sharing data with the Chinese government, saying it stores U.S. user data in Canada. Microsoft is now in talks with ByteDance to purchase TikTok's U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand entities. Catherine Garcia

August 6, 2020

Counties in Kansas that adopted a mask mandate have seen a drop in COVID-19 cases, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said.

In late June, Gov. Laura Kelly (D) issued a statewide mask guidance, but because the Kansas legislature limited her emergency powers, each county was able to decide whether or not to enforce the order, KSHB reports. During a press conference on Wednesday, Norman said 15 counties went along with the order, while 90 decided to make wearing a mask a recommendation only.

"What we've seen through this is that in the counties with no mask mandate, there's no decrease in the number of cases per capita," Norman said. "All the improvement in the case development comes from those counties wearing masks."

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has been interviewing people who have recovered from the virus, and Norman finds it worrisome how some can't seem to shake the symptoms, saying, "This serves to me as humbling, in many regards, and a reminder that we still know very little about this disease and its impact on the body." Catherine Garcia

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