March 19, 2020

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the former governor of Florida, is desperately begging people to stop crowding the beaches amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott spoke on CNN on Thursday following reports that warnings from health officials are falling on deaf ears among some who are still flooding beaches in Florida. In a viral video that drew outrage online Wednesday, CBS News interviewed young spring breakers in Miami who scoffed at the dangers of gathering in large crowds during the pandemic. "If I get corona, I get corona," said one. "At the end of the day, I'm not gonna let it stop me from partying."

"Get off the beach," Scott said on Thursday. "I mean, unless you can figure out how to completely be isolated from anybody else ... individuals have got to take responsibility."

Scott scolded those still gathering on beaches in large crowds this week, saying, "What are you thinking? Stop doing it! Now!"

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has so far not ordered the state's beaches to close. "What we're going to be doing for the statewide floor for beaches, we're going to be applying the CDC guidance of no group on a beach more than 10 and you have to have distance apart if you're going to be out there," DeSantis said this week, NBC News reports.

Scott didn't specifically say whether the beaches should all be closed but urged officials to "do everything they can to stop people from being on the beach." He added, "if we don't individually take responsibility, this is going to be much worse, and we're going to lose many more of our loved ones." Brendan Morrow

8:28 p.m.

A Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified on Thursday that the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery was heard using a racial slur while standing over Arbery's body.

Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed black man, died in February after being shot while jogging through a Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood. Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan have all been charged with Arbery's murder. The hearing held on Thursday was to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold a murder trial.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Richard Dial testified that Travis and Gregory McMichael were in one truck and Bryan was in another when they chased Arbery and boxed him in. Travis McMichael got out of the truck to confront Arbery, and later told police when Arbery refused to get down on the ground, he shot him in self-defense. Video recorded by Bryan shows Arbery was shot twice in the chest and once in the hand.

The McMichaels were arrested on May 7, and Dial told investigators that a week later, Bryan told investigators that before police arrived at the scene of the shooting, Travis McMichael stood over Arbery's body and called him a "f---ing n---er." Bryan was arrested on May 21.

Gregory McMichael has claimed they thought Arbery was a burglary suspect, and Dial said he told police "he didn't know if Mr. Arbery had stolen anything or not, but he had a gut feeling." Dial also testified that investigators found at least two more racial slurs in messages on Travis McMichaels' phone and police body camera footage showed a Confederate flag sticker on his truck's toolbox. At the end of the hearing, Magistrate Court Judge Wallace Harrell found there is enough evidence for cases against all three defendants to proceed. Catherine Garcia

7:21 p.m.

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended the way peaceful protesters were cleared from Lafayette Square near the White House on Monday, saying they were becoming "increasingly unruly" before being pushed out.

Security personnel used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, shortly before President Trump walked over to stand in front of St. John's Church. Barr, who has been leading the federal response to the protests against the death of George Floyd, said he did not know Trump was going to visit the church when the decision was made to clear out the protesters.

"The president is the head of the executive branch and the chief executive of the nation and should be able to walk across the street to the church of presidents," he said. "I don't necessarily view that as a political act." Barr accompanied Trump to St. John's Church, and said he did so at the president's behest. "I think it was appropriate for us to go over with him," he added. Catherine Garcia

5:45 p.m.

The NBA's board of governors voted Thursday to approve a 22-team, one-location playoff to finish its 2019-20 season, ESPN reports.

The top nine teams from the NBA's eastern conference and top 13 from the western conference, based on standings from when the season was suspended in March, will play an additional eight regular-season games to determine seeding and to tune up. They'll then move to a standard 16-team playoff bracket with a seven-game series determining each round's winner.

All the teams will live and play in a "bubble-like environment at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World," The Washington Post reports, with no fans allowed and visitors strictly limited. Games begin July 31 and the tournament is slated to end in October. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:55 p.m.

Rev. Al Sharpton on Thursday delivered a stirring eulogy for George Floyd, who was killed in police custody last week, saying it's time to "stand up" in his name.

Sharpton spoke at the Minneapolis memorial service following emotional remarks from Floyd's brother, saying his death was due to a "common American criminal justice malfunction" and calling the gathering one that has become "too common."

"George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks," Sharpton said. "Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations, and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck."

"What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country," said Sharpton, but now, "it's time for us to stand up in George's name and say, 'get your knee off our necks.'"

Amid the nationwide protests over Floyd's killing, Sharpton said that "none of us" at the service condones looting or violence but noted that "there's a difference between those calling for peace and those calling for quiet," as there are some who "just want us to shut up and suffer in silence." He at one point got in a swipe at President Trump as well, referencing his recent church photo-op in which he held up a Bible — "I would like him to open that Bible," Sharpton said. Brendan Morrow

4:45 p.m.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came face to face with protesters for the first time on Thursday, and it went over about as well as you'd expect.

As protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality against black people have taken over New York City in the past week, de Blasio's response has made him neither a friend of the protesters nor the NYPD. That became clear at a memorial service for Floyd on Thursday, where de Blasio was drowned out by a booing crowd from the moment he walked onstage even after the reverend who introduced him asked for "respect."

De Blasio, who frequently seeks to align himself with progressives, hasn't actually attended any of the protests, and has repeatedly defended the police department's tactics, even saying he hasn't seen any videos of police attacking peaceful protesters. Yet members of the NYPD don't seem to be fans of de Blasio either, going so far as to doxx his daughter Chiara de Blasio when she was arrested protesting over the weekend. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:00 p.m.

Gabrielle Union has filed a discrimination complaint following her ouster from America's Got Talent.

Reports emerged last year that Union was not brought back as a judge for AGT after complaining about a toxic workplace culture and alleged racist incidents on the set; last week, NBC announced an investigation found that "concerns raised by Ms. Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract."

But through her lawyer Bryan Freedman, Union just filed a complaint with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which names NBCUniversal and producers FremantleMedia and Syco, Simon Cowell's company, Variety reports. The complaint alleges Union was terminated because she refused to "silently endure the racist and misogynistic conduct on AGT," per Deadline.

Union is also reportedly now alleging that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy tried to threaten and silence her.

"In sharp contrast to NBC's recent statement on race, what was truly an 'outrage' was the fact that Paul Telegdy, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, actually threatened Ms. Union in an attempt to silence her from telling the truth about racist actions that took place on the show," her lawyer said, per Variety. "There is no place for this type of racial bullying in the workplace, and it is going to take more than a Tweet from NBC to demonstrate that NBC intends to create an environment free from racism."

Variety notes that complaints like the one Union filed are "often precursors to lawsuits," while Deadline wrote she is "clearly moving towards either a lawsuit she now has the right to pursue or arbitration." Brendan Morrow

3:45 p.m.

PAC-MAN might be the key to munching our way through the coronavirus pandemic.

Okay, so the ghost-eating yellow blob has nothing to do with stopping a deadly virus. But a gene editing technique that borrows the video game's name could prove effective in "scrambling" COVID-19's genetic code and stopping it from growing, Science Daily reports.

Stanley Qi's bioengineering team at Stanford University started working last year to develop a way to use the CRISPR gene-editing tool to fight influenza, calling their technique "PAC-MAN." It sends a virus-killing enzyme into a virus' RNA — DNA's instructional messenger — that in turn tells the enzyme to attack the virus' genetic material.

The arrival of the novel coronavirus, with no clear cure or treatment, presented a new opportunity for PAC-MAN. "By scrambling the virus's genetic code, PAC-MAN could neutralize the coronavirus and stop it from replicating inside cells," Science Daily writes.

But there was still the dilemma of how to actually deliver the PAC-MAN technique into lung cells. So after publishing a preprint of their study on the technique, Qi's lab found the Biological Nanostructures Facility at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry. The facility focuses on using lipitoids to deliver therapies, and after a first test, the lipitoids "performed very well" at delivering the gene-scrambling treatment, Science Daily writes. Read more at Science Daily. Kathryn Krawczyk

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