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

5:11 p.m.

CIA Director Gina Haspel is reportedly keeping a tight lock on Russian intelligence.

Nine current and former officials tell Politico that Haspel "has become extremely cautious about which, if any, Russia-related intelligence products make their way to President Donald Trump's desk." She has also reportedly been cracking down on the agency's "Russia House," which produces intelligence on the country — but exactly why she's doing so is up for debate.

Last year, Haspel started having the CIA's general counsel review "virtually every product that comes out of Russia House" before it heads to Trump — an "unprecedented" workflow, Politico reports. Haspel's "scrutiny" has led to some "recent dust-ups" with Russia House analysts, including the firing of the house's head this year, four current and former officials tell Politico. Another Russia House analyst reportedly quit after Haspel said he had lied about intelligence. "She calls analysts liars all the time,” said one former CIA official.

But another official said it's not a matter of Haspel trying to censor the agency from Trump, who is "extraordinarily sensitive around the subject of Russian meddling," Politico reports. It's more about "quality over quantity," the official said. "Scrutinizing intelligence product and process is exactly what is expected of Director Haspel," said CIA Press Secretary Timothy Barrett, adding she "ensures intelligence is corroborated, double-checked, and then run through the wringer once more." Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:47 p.m.

Leaked audio from internal Facebook meetings revealed by The Verge on Wednesday touches upon serious subjects like civil rights, the 2020 election, and whether the social media giant should present itself as politically neutral, but reporter Casey Newton said he sought to present a holistic view of the company through the recordings. And, subsequently, there were some more light-hearted elements, as well.

In one question and answer session, Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed flummoxed by a question about how free office snacks were no longer available to employees now that most folks are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Whoever submitted the question noted that the free food was "a major sell" to job applicants, and now "we've lost a huge financial part of our package." Zuckerberg, Newton writes, responded with "polite disbelief" by noting he hadn't see any data suggesting the snacks are "anywhere near the list of primary reasons that people come to work at this company."

Zuckerberg also has a self-deprecating side, Newton reports. At one point, he addressed a viral photo of him surfing wearing an inordinate amount of sunscreen. Zuckerberg joked that he's never "under the illusion that I look particularly cool at any point with what I'm doing" and that he was wearing "quite a bit more sunscreen" than he realized. But, ultimately, safety comes first. "I'm not going to apologize for wearing too much sunscreen," he said. "I think that sunscreen is good, and I stand behind that."

Dermatologists will be happy to hear that. Read more at The Verge. Tim O'Donnell

4:36 p.m.

Eric Trump's excuses weren't enough to keep him from addressing a fraud investigation into his family's real estate business.

Trump's lawyers said he was willing to meet with investigators regarding a probe into the Trump Organization, but that he was too busy to do so until after the election. New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron shot that request down on Wednesday, giving Trump a deadline of Oct. 7 to testify, The New York Times reports.

New York Attorney General Letitia James had subpoenaed Trump, a top executive at the Trump Organization, in an investigation into whether President Trump inflated his assets' values to get loans and tax benefits, CNBC notes. Eric Trump was set to meet with James' team in July, but he canceled, leading James to seek a court order to enforce her subpoena for his testimony and documents "withheld by the Trump administration."

Engoron's Wednesday order will give James access to those documents as well as force Trump to testify. James' team had argued that Trump "can't delay compliance for another two months," and Engoron agreed, saying Wednesday he found Trump's excuse "unpersuasive."

James' investigation stems from Michael Cohen's testimony before Congress last year. Cohen, President Trump's former fixer, testified that the president had "inflated" his assets to get loans and insurance coverage. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:45 p.m.

A grand jury decided not to charge the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor with any counts directly related to her death, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced Wednesday.

The decision to only charge one officer with endangering people in a neighboring apartment to Taylor's immediately sparked protests in Louisville. MSNBC host Joy Reid, meanwhile, appeared on the network to condemn the indictment. "There's nothing in this charge that accounts for [Taylor's] life or the value of it," Reid said, following up in a tweet to say the lack of charges implies "no one killed Breonna Taylor."

Activist April Reign had a similar take on the situation, tweeting that "the grand jury didn't just decide that Breonna didn't matter; they decided that she didn't exist."

CNN's Omar Jimenez meanwhile noted Cameron's comments make it seem likely the officers will never be charged over Taylor's death.

Taylor, a Black woman, was shot and killed when officers served a narcotics investigation warrant unrelated to her. Taylor's boyfriend Kenneth Walker fired at the officers, as he claimed he thought someone was breaking in. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:43 p.m.

California Gov. Newsom (D) on Wednesday signed an executive order that requires all cars sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035.

Newsom described the move as the biggest step yet in California's fight against climate change, which he has emphasized as the driving force behind the state's destructive wildfires. The transportation sector, Newsom said, is responsible for more than half of carbon pollution in the Golden State. "Our cars shouldn't make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air," he said. "Cars shouldn't melt glaciers or raise sea levels, threatening our cherished beaches and coastline."

The order is focused on new car sales, so people who own or want to sell their gas-powered cars will still be able to do so after 2035.

It's a lofty goal, but it's unclear how it will play out in reality, seeing as electric vehicles made up less than 8 percent of new car sales in 2019. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

3:39 p.m.

Dr. Deborah Birx is reportedly "distressed" over the White House coronavirus task force's direction and is unsure whether she can stay in her job.

Birx, the White House coronavirus task force's response coordinator, has "told people around her that she is 'distressed' with the direction of the task force" and is "so unhappy with what she sees as her diminished role" on it that "she is not certain how much longer she can serve in her position," CNN reported on Wednesday. She has reportedly spent less time with the president in recent weeks.

This report comes after the White House added a new member to the task force, Dr. Scott Atlas, who has no background in infectious diseases and reportedly touted a controversial herd immunity strategy. Birx, according to CNN, views Atlas as an "unhealthy influence" on President Trump and believes that he is providing the president with "misleading information" about the efficacy of face masks in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Birx has also described "the situation inside the nation's response to the coronavirus as nightmarish," CNN writes.

A White House spokesperson told CNN that Trump "relies on the advice and counsel of all of his top health officials every day and any suggestion that their role is being diminished is just false." Birx herself didn't comment for the story, but one source cast doubt on the idea that she might leave the task force, saying, "She is a good soldier. I don't think she's going anywhere." Brendan Morrow

2:25 p.m.

After Tenet's disappointing debut, it seems movie studios are increasingly throwing in the towel on releasing major blockbusters in 2020.

Disney on Wednesday announced another set of movie delays, and Marvel's Black Widow, which was scheduled to be released on Nov. 6 and was one of the last big movies still set to hit theaters in 2020, has been delayed to May 2021. It was previously delayed from May 2020. Subsequent Marvel movies were also delayed, with Eternals moving from February to November 2021 and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings being postponed from May to July 2021.

The studio also delayed Steven Spielberg's West Side Story a year to Dec. 2021, placing it out of contention for the upcoming Academy Awards. Disney hasn't fully cleared out of 2020 just yet, with Pixar's Soul set to still hit theaters in November and Death on the Nile now set for December. Black Widow, though, was expected to be one of the year's highest-grossing films, and it leaving 2020 is another blow for reopened movie theaters, which experts have said may have to close again due to a lack of major new films to show.

All of this comes in the wake of Tenet opening in the United States in September, which the industry hoped would signal a return to moviegoing amid the pandemic. But with major markets like New York City and Los Angeles closed, the film's earnings in the U.S. have been seen as disappointing. Warner Bros., the studio behind Tenet, delayed its Wonder Woman sequel by nearly three months shortly after Tenet debuted in America.

With Black Widow delayed, one of the only giant 2020 blockbusters still standing is the James Bond movie No Time to Die. But experts aren't sure if it will ultimately be released in November, with The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit tweeting, "For those who think that they'll still be seeing movies this year, I'm sorry to give you bad news." Brendan Morrow

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