March 31, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering whether to update its guidelines on the new coronavirus to advise Americans to wear homemade masks outside of the home — not so much to protect the people wearing the mask but as another tool to limit the spread of COVID-19, The Washington Post reports. The new virus can be spread through saliva droplets emitted during a cough, sneeze, or even talking, and having a mask to capture those drops would presumably keep sick, especially asymptomatic, coronavirus carriers from spreading the disease.

The CDC currently recommends keeping six feet apart, among other social distancing practices, and washing hands frequently and thoroughly for 20 seconds. It would not recommend people use surgical or N95 masks, in short supply and great demand for doctors, nurses, and other first responders treating COVID-19 patients. Instead, people would be urged to make their own masks out of old T-shirts, sheets, and paper towels, as Jeremy Howard, a University of San Francisco research scientist and advocate for the DIY approach, explains in the video below.

Many Asian countries recommend citizens wear masks to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and the homemade masks have some prominent proponents in the U.S., including former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb; Thomas Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security; and former National Institutes of Health director Harold Varmus. Other health experts worry that encouraging mask-wearing would instill a sense of false security and make Americans more reckless, might inadvertently contaminate someone else who handles the mask, and could further deplete the personal protective equipment stockpiles needed for medical professionals. Peter Weber

10:05 a.m.

Friday morning's stunning job report is already being celebrated by the White House as unemployment unexpectedly fell to 13.3 percent in May. But even as forecasters have scrambled to understand how their predictions were so far off, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman stressed on Twitter that "whatever happened, these numbers should make you more, not less, pessimistic about the economic outlook."

Huh? As Krugman goes on to explain, the seemingly encouraging job report could actually "reinforce the White House inclination to do nothing and let emergency aid expire."

That's alarming to Krugman and other analysts because what May's job numbers do seem to prove is that the Payroll Protection Program, which encouraged small businesses to keep workers on payroll during the pandemic, was instrumental in helping bring back workers in May. "U.S. unemployment [is] at 13 percent [with] trillions in government aids," wrote The Washington Post's Jeffrey Stein. "What happens when huge infusion runs dry in July?"

But as of Thursday night, the Post was reporting that President Trump's recovery plan "largely amounts to optimism that as pandemic restrictions are loosened, the nation's economy will turn the lights back on by itself." As the Post goes on to explain, Trump is hesitant to offer states further aid, and opposes extending the soon-to-expire $600 unemployment bonus for laid-off workers.

White House economic adviser Stephen Moore seemed to confirm Krugman's fears. "There's no reason to have a major spending bill," he said in response to Friday's job numbers. "The sense of urgent crisis is very greatly dissipated by the report."

Not everyone shares the opinion that the job report lets the federal government off the hook. "The jobless rate, even if it declines, I believe is going to stay extremely high through the end of the year," former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen told the Post. "It's absolutely essential to have another package that will extend unemployment benefits beyond the summer. That's going to be tremendously needed." Jeva Lange

9:57 a.m.

The economy is finally brushing up.

In a twist that shocked many of the nation's top economists, the U.S.'s May jobs report released Friday showed the country added 2.5 million jobs last month, lowering the unemployment rate from 14.7 percent to 13.3 percent. A large chunk of that gain stemmed from the health care industry, which regained 312,000 jobs between April and May. Around 244,000 of those jobs stemmed singularly from dentists' offices, making that industry responsible for a full tenth of May's jobs gains.

As freelance business reporter Matthew Zeitlin noted, pretty much all of the job gains last month came from temporarily laid off workers heading back to work. The number of unemployed people on temporary layoff decreased by 2.7 million to 15.3 million in March, but the number of permanent job losses rose by 295,000 to 2.3 million in May.

University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers called the shrinking temporary job losses the "good news" of the May jobs report. And while there's still some "bad news" in permanent job loss, it seems clear that the overall unemployment "hole isn't getting any deeper." Kathryn Krawczyk

8:22 a.m.

Attorney General William Barr has declared a loose collective of anti-fascist activists to be domestic terrorists. Events haven't substantiated his claim.

Barr announced Sunday that FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) were working with state and local partners to nab "violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law," singling out "antifa another other similar groups" as agents of "domestic terrorism." On Wednesday, prosecutors in Las Vegas said the JTTF had arrested "three alleged members of the 'Boogaloo' movement" — generally far-right anti-government extremists — on terrorism charges, alleging they planned to use Molotov cocktails and other explosives to trigger violence at George Floyd rallies.

Twitter said Monday it had suspended a fake antifa account, @ANTIFA_US, that on Sunday urged fellow "Comrades" to "move into the residential areas ... the white hoods ... and we take what's ours." The account was linked to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, Twitter said. Donald Trump Jr. and conservative sites like Red State and Hot Air amplified the fake antifa tweet, and Fox News claimed Wednesday that armed antifa rioters were "coming to the suburbs," citing one anonymous "government intelligence source."

False rumors spread on Facebook and Nextdoor that buses filled with thousands of antifa agitators were coming to loot "white neighborhoods." Facebook said Tuesday it suspended fake accounts tied to the white nationalist Proud Boys and American Guard groups that had masqueraded as antifa organizers asking members to bring weapons to the protests.

Barr and President Trump have fanned the flames, blaming antifa "terrorists," without evidence, for the looting and vandalism at the fringes of peaceful protests. There may be more than just politics at play, Bryan Bender writes at Politico.

Trump has threatened to send active-duty soldiers to cities under the 1807 Insurrection Act. If governors oppose him sending in the Army to enforce state laws, Trump could deploy troops only to enforce federal laws, Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Politico. "That might set up: 'We couldn't get these federally declared terrorists under control so we have to call out the military to quell the civil unrest on grounds of federal terrorism law,'" she said. "The more the attorney general can identify a federal interest in what is basically a state law matter — destruction of property, failure to abide by curfews — they potentially orchestrate a basis." Peter Weber

8:09 a.m.

In a notable change from 2014, a clear majority of Americans in a new poll say George Floyd's killing was not an isolated incident but part of a larger racial injustice problem.

In an ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Friday, when asked if they believe Floyd's death "is an isolated incident or a sign of broader problems in the treatment of African Americans by police," 74 percent of respondents said it's a sign of broader problems, with just 26 percent believing it to be an isolated incident.

ABC notes this is a "significant shift" from December 2014, when a similar question in an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 51 percent of Americans saw the recent deaths of Michael Brown, a black man shot by a white police officer, and Eric Garner, a black man who was put in a chokehold by a white police officer, as isolated incidents, while only 43 percent said they were signs of a larger problem.

In the new poll released on Friday, in fact, a majority of whites, blacks, Hispanics, Democrats, Republicans, and independents were all on the same page that Floyd's death is part of a larger problem, ABC reports, whereas in 2014, 60 percent of whites saw the deaths of Brown and Garner as isolated incidents.

The ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted by speaking to a random national sample of 706 adults from June 3-4. The margin of error is 4.3 percentage points. Read more at ABC News. Brendan Morrow

4:53 a.m.

Protests sparked by Minneapolis police killing George Floyd have spread to at least 430 U.S. cities and towns, Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "This isn't happening just in our urban centers," he noted. "These demonstrations are everywhere" and they're "uniting Americans of all backgrounds — you may have noticed that Boise, Idaho, does not have a lot of black people."

"And please don't buy the false narrative that these are lawless mobs," Colbert said. "The vast majority of these protests have been peaceful," though "in many places, police are using curfew as an excuse to bring the smackdown on peaceful protesters." He showed several examples.

Still, Colbert said, "the attack that everyone is still talking about is Monday's military assault on peaceful protesters so that Donald Trump could shamble across the street to get handsy with a Bible. Trump has been criticized by a lot of people for misuse of the military," most powerfully his first defense secretary, James "Mad Dog" Mattis. Colbert re-nicknamed him "Principled Pooch."

"Mattis' decision to speak out is yet another indication of the truly precarious moment we're in," said Late Night's Seth Meyers. "Trump and the police establishment are obviously threatened by widespread popularity of the protests," which "have profoundly swayed public opinion. And this kind of massive, sustained political mobilization represents a direct threat to the unjust system of predatory policing we currently have, which is why the people who benefit from that system are lashing out so aggressively."

"Protests are continuing nationwide, but it seems that some common ground is being reached," at least in some cities, Jimmy Kimmel said. "In Washington, where law enforcement has taken a much more forceful approach, including tear-gassing peaceful protesters, things are not as amicable — authorities there are busy erecting another fence that will go around the existing White House fence," he said. "So it looks like Trump is finally getting his wall built after all. How long before we find out Don Jr. invested in a fence company?"

The new fence should work great — "unless protesters resort to the act of pushing," Jimmy Fallon deadpanned at The Tonight Show. "So far, Trump's turned out the White House lights, hid in a bunker, and is now building an ugly chain-link fence. He's like every crazy neighbor rolled into one." He recited a pitch-perfect Trump version of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:22 a.m.

In the 72 hours since the Trump administration used tear gas and other nonlethal force to violently clear Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters before President Trump's walk to St. John's Church, "the White House has been transformed into a veritable fortress," The Washington Post reports, with tall security fencing and concrete barriers erected to keep protesters from an expanded secure zone. "Armed guards and sharpshooters and combat troops are omnipresent." According to Google Maps, the new fencing stretches about 1.7 miles around the White House.

"The White House is now so heavily fortified that it resembles the monarchical palaces or authoritarian compounds of regimes in faraway lands — strikingly incongruous with the historic role of the executive mansion," known as "the People's House," the Post adds. "The resulting picture is both jarring and distinctly political — a Rorschach test for one's view of Trump's presidency. His supporters see a projection of absolute strength, a leader controlling the streets to protect his people. His critics see a wannabe dictator and a president hiding from his own citizenry."

"I think the need to fortify your house — and it's not his house; it's our house — shows weakness," said Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. "The president of the United States should not feel threatened by his or her own citizens."

White House officials tell the Post that Trump wasn't involved in the decisions to ramp up security and put up the new fencing, and they noted he has left the White House twice this week, including the brief St. John's spectacle. "The president has been sensitive to the perception fanned by his critics that he is cowering in a bunker and fearful for his own safety," and he's "livid that the media found out" about him being rushed to the bunker last Friday, the Post reports. This probably won't help dispel that perception. Peter Weber

1:59 a.m.

The last person to receive a pension from the Civil War has died.

Irene Triplett, whose father Mose Triplett served in the Confederate Army before defecting and joining the Union, died Sunday at age 90, following complications from a broken hip. The North Carolina resident was able to receive her dad's Civil War pension — $73.13 every month — because she had cognitive impairments and qualified as a helpless adult child of a veteran.

Military records show that after two years as a Confederate soldier, Mose Triplett "deserted" in 1863, just one week before his old regiment was nearly wiped out during the Battle of Gettysburg. He applied for his pension in 1885, and Irene Triplett was born in 1930, when her father was 83 years old. Her mother, 27 at the time, was his second wife. Mose Triplett died in 1938 at age 92.

One of Irene Triplett's relatives told The Wall Street Journal she had a rough childhood, with kids saying her father was a "traitor." Later in life, she found friendship with other residents at Accordius Health, a nursing home in Wilkesboro. Jamie Phillips, the activities director, told The Washington Post Triplett like playing Bingo, listening to gospel music, and telling her friends about what she heard on the news. "I never saw her angry," she said. "Everything was funny." Catherine Garcia

Editor's note: The dates in this story have been amended to reflect the correct order of events leading up to Mose Triplett's defection to the Union. We regret the error.

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