December 19, 2019

There's no "I" in team — but there are a few in "Buttigieg."

The final Democratic debate of 2019 was largely about South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as he racked up nearly 20 minutes of speaking time and found himself at the forefront of several squabbles.

Buttigieg was attacked more than any other Democratic candidate, fielding at least nine callouts during the three-hour debate, according to NBC News. But Buttigieg didn't just play victim — he also went on the offensive 17 times. That's more than any other candidate, save for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who made 24 attacks.

Buttigieg's name was invoked throughout the evening, including in a particularly testy exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on the subject of his wine cave fundraiser. The two candidates also sparred over tuition assistance and, more broadly, campaign finance.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wasted no opportunity to go after her fellow moderate on the debate stage, first calling out Buttigieg for parroting "talking points" and then raising concerns over his experience and electability.

But Buttigieg should rest easy knowing there was at least one other non-Democratic candidate who was attacked more than him: President Trump. Marianne Dodson

7:33 a.m.

Authorities across the United States reported another day of record new coronavirus infections on Thursday, marking the sixth new high in 10 days, The New York Times reports. The surge of about 60,000 new cases was driven by spiking infections across the South and the West, mostly in states that eased lockdowns and reopened their economies early after the first spike in the spring.

At least six states — Alabama, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, and Texas — reported single-day infection records. At least two states saw their biggest death toll increases yet, with Florida reporting 120 deaths and Tennessee 22. Hospitalizations rose sharply in some areas, too, forcing many hospitals across the South and West to open up beds by canceling elective surgeries and discharging patients early. Harold Maass

7:08 a.m.

A rural mail carrier in West Virginia pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of attempted election fraud and another count of "injury to the mail," the U.S. Attorney's Office for Northern West Virginia announced. The contract mail man, Thomas Cooper, used black ink to alter eight primary ballot requests, marking five of them from "Democrat" to "Republican" and changing three in other ways, prosecutors said.

The Pendleton County clerk spotted the obvious alterations and alerted state officials, sparking an investigation involving the state attorney general's office, U.S. postal inspectors, and federal prosecutors. West Virginia mailed all registered voters absentee ballot requests to encourage mail-in voting in the state's June 9 primary. If the tampered ballot requests had not been caught, five people requesting to vote in the Democratic primary would have received Republican primary ballots.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted several states to move to mail-in voting out of safety concerns. Mail-in vote fraud does happen but it's very rare, and this case was pretty inconsequential. One of the investigators interviewing Cooper, 47, asked if he was "just being silly" and he replied yes, he did it "as a joke." He will be sentenced at a later date. Peter Weber

5:57 a.m.

The people in charge of putting together President Trump's Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, next month have several large, intertwined challenges: time, the state's raging COVID-19 outbreak, and money. The convention planners are "under pressure to raise tens of millions of dollars in the next five weeks to help finance the three-day convention," and as they struggle against this "almost impossibly rushed time frame," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is actively "hindering those efforts," The New York Times reports.

DeSantis "has directed his top fund-raiser, Heather Barker, to tell donors not to give to the convention because of a personal dispute between the governor and Susie Wiles, his former campaign manager who is serving as an informal adviser to the convention planners," the Times reports, citing multiple people familiar with his actions. DeSantis fell out with Wiles, a longtime, well-connected Florida GOP operative who lives in Jacksonville, last fall over suspicious she leaked an embarrassing personal memo suggesting DeSantis charge lobbyists for access.

Trump's campaign credits Wiles with helping it win Florida in 2016, when she served as its Florida political director, and when DeSantis told Trump over the phone that Wiles was overrated as an operative, "Trump did not respond, and changed the subject," the Times reports. DeSantis lobbied Trump to move the convention to Florida after North Carolina required masks, social distancing, and other measures from turning the RNC into another super-spreader event.

Most of the contributions for the Jacksonville convention are coming from national donors, so convention fund-raisers say DeSantis' alleged sabotage is having little effect, the Times reports. But still, "the governor's threat to hold up resources in his own state was seen by Republican officials as a stunning act of political pettiness." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

4:37 a.m.

Texas A&M College of Medicine is leading a consortium of research hospitals and medical schools in a Phase 4 trial to determine if the century-old tuberculosis vaccine can help blunt the damage from COVID-19, at least until a vaccine for the new coronavirus has been proven safe and effective.

"Scientists have known for decades that the tuberculosis vaccine, called bacille Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, improves immunity against some viruses," The Texas Tribune reported back in May, when the trial was just getting started. Jeffrey Cirillo, the Texas A&M microbial pathogenesis and immunology professor who is leading the trial, told Politico on Thursday that about 100 people have already been vaccinated, 200-300 more will get their shots over the next two weeks, and the goal is 1,800 subjects in the "randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled trial."

The TB vaccine has been used more than a billion times around the world, but it's not commonly used in the U.S., except to fight bladder cancer. The researchers at Texas A&M, Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard's School of Public Health, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are hoping the vaccine ramps up the immune system to fight off the disease, as it does the cancer cells. A similar trial is being conducted in the Netherlands.

The U.S. researchers will monitor the volunteers for six months, looking for statistically significant differences between those who get the BCG vaccine and the group that gets a placebo shot. "We're also doing a cognitive study in parallel to evaluate the cognitive effects of COVID-19," Cirillo told Politico's Myah Ward, using before-and-after MRIs and cognitive assessments to see if the vaccine reduces COVID-19's mental impairments. The vaccine is most effective in the first two to three years, he added, and if it is found to be effective, it could be used either as a stop-gap measure until a coronavirus vaccine arrives or in tandem with that vaccine to make it more effective. Peter Weber

3:22 a.m.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both testified Thursday that they were briefed earlier this year on U.S. intelligence that Russia was covertly paying bounties to Taliban and associated militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, though Esper was a little cagey about it.

When asked by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Esper said he did not recall a briefing that mentioned "bounties," but when pressed later by a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee, he said he had been briefed about Russian "payments" to the Taliban as early as January. He added that he had not elaborated in answering Turner's question because he did not want to politicize the issue. Esper and Milley both said defense intelligence agencies had not corroborated the Russian bounty plot, but they said they are looking into it.

President Trump initially called the Russian bounties on U.S. troops — first reported by The New York Times, then further detailed by several other national news organizations — "just another hoax" from the media. The White House maintains Trump was not briefed on the intelligence until after the Times article, though the intelligence was reportedly included in a Feb. 27 written briefing for Trump he may not have read.

Thursday's House Armed Services Committee hearing, the first congressional appearance by Esper and Milley since March 4, was mostly about Trump's militarized response to anti-racism protests. Both military leaders expressed regret at having accompanied Trump through the newly pacified Lafayette Square for a photo op in front of St. John's Church. Peter Weber

2:01 a.m.

When he retired in 1995, Sherman Hirsch discovered something he could do with his newfound free time: donating his platelets.

Since then, the 89-year-old Nebraska resident has donated his platelets more than 700 times, joking with Good Morning America that he is "definitely on a first name basis" with the staff at his local Red Cross.

While still working as a teacher, Hirsch regularly donated blood after school. It takes longer to donate platelets, about three hours, and Hirsch comes in to do this every other Monday morning. "I decided this is something I can do to help out other people and I've always been blessed with good health," he told GMA. "It's easy to do and it doesn't cost me anything."

The Red Cross says that platelets, tiny cells in the blood that form clots and stop bleeding, are needed every 15 seconds in the United States to help people fighting cancer, traumatic injuries, and chronic diseases. They can only be stored for up to five days, meaning new donors are constantly needed. Donating platelets has become "part of my life," Hirsch said, and he encourages "anyone to do it. If you don't have a lot of time, you can at least go in every eight weeks and donate blood." Catherine Garcia

1:49 a.m.

The World Health Organization updated its findings Thursday on how COVID-19 is transmitted, and there are two important changes. First, the WHO acknowledged growing evidence the new coronavirus may spread through aerosols, tiny droplets of saliva that linger in the air for hours, especially in enclosed and poorly ventilated spaces. The second change involved the risk of transmission by people who don't have symptoms. Both issues have broad implications for how to contain the disease.

The WHO maintains that the main route of transmission involves infected people projecting saliva droplets into the eyes, mouth, or nose of people in close proximity, via coughing, sneezing, talking, or singing. The agency also said spread through infected surfaces, or formite transmission, is "likely" though not yet proven. Urine and feces have been shown to contain viable amount of the new coronavirus, too.

The virus can be spread by people who don't have COVID-19 symptoms, the WHO said, but there is an "important" distinction between people who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic) and those who have yet to develop symptoms (presymptomatic), and "the extent of truly asymptomatic infection in the community remains unknown." As a practical matter, Michael Barbaro noted on Thursday's The Daily podcast, the WHO is "making distinctions that don't mean all that much to people who are trying to decide whether to go to work, whether to go to a restaurant, whether to see friends."

The WHO has long dismissed aerosols as a means of transmission except during certain medical procedures, but it now says airborne spread "cannot be ruled out." There's evidence aerosols may have been responsible for "outbreaks of COVID-19 reported in some closed settings, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship, or places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing," the WHO said, though larger droplets or contaminated surfaces might also have caused those outbreaks.

"Outdoors, any virus in small or large droplets may be diluted too quickly in the air to pose a risk," The New York Times reports. "But even a small possibility of airborne spread indoors has enormous implications for how people should protect themselves." The new brief mostly shows the WHO's experts interpret the data on aerosols differently, Oxford University's Dr. Trish Greenhalgh tells the Times. "The push-pull of that committee is palpable," she said. "As everyone knows, if you ask a committee to design a horse, you get a camel." Peter Weber

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