April 28, 2020

No experts are remotely advocating for people to take up smoking to prevent COVID-19, but some researchers have theorized nicotine may be playing some role in keeping the virus at bay, Vice reports. That's because there's a surprisingly low rate of smokers among coronavirus hospitalizations.

In France, for example, 25 percent of the population smokes, but only 5.3 percent of coronavirus patients have been recorded as smokers, and studies have found low rates in China and New York City, as well.

Greek cardiologist and tobacco harm-reduction specialist Konstantinos Farsalinos thinks nicotine (crucially, not tobacco) might be lessening the intensity of cytokine storms, an overreaction of the body's immune system which seems to be the cause of the most severe coronavirus symptoms. French researchers have a slightly altered theory that nicotine prevents the virus from entering cells (the difference lies in the type of receptors the virus latches onto), and they're hoping to test out nicotine patches on patients to see if they help fight off COVID-19. The French government suspended the online sale of patches to make sure people don't buy in bulk and try to treat themselves that way.

The seemingly out-there theory has piqued the interest of scientists across the world, though many are urging caution. The lower rates could be a result of some other chemical in tobacco producing a protective effect, or it could be that the number of smokers is being underreported.

"Smokers who have developed chronic disease have likely quit because of their disease," Michael Siegel, a community health sciences professor at Boston University, said. "Many of the smokers who are continuing to smoke are doing so because they don't have disease yet. So this would be expected to skew the sample of hospitalized patients toward people who do not smoke." Read more at Vice. Tim O'Donnell

10:54 a.m.

President Trump can't block a subpoena for his financial records from a New York prosecutor, the Supreme Court has ruled.

In a 7-2 decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. can see financial records from Trump's accounting firm, The Washington Post reports. Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, who Trump nominated to the Supreme Court, sided with the majority, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, per CBS News.

"The president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

Prosecutors in New York had subpoenaed eight years of the president's personal and business tax records as part of an investigation into hush money payments made to two women who allege they had affairs with Trump. Trump's legal team requested "temporary presidential immunity" while Trump is in office.

Vance in a statement celebrated the Supreme Court's ruling, saying it's a "tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one — not even a president — is above the law." Brendan Morrow

10:35 a.m.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch sided with the court's liberals — and delivered a powerful decision — in a case over whether Native Americans can be prosecuted by states.

The court ruled 5-4 Wednesday in favor of the Creek Nation against the state of Oklahoma, saying they and other Native Americans cannot be tried in a state court for "major crimes committed in Indian country." Gorsuch wrote the court's majority opinion, channeling the history of how the Creek Nation was forced along the Trail of Tears to their current tribal lands and declaring that land was set to be "secure forever." Kathryn Krawczyk

9:40 a.m.

Italy has hit an incredible milestone in its fight against COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, Italy has no more COVID-19 cases in its ICU ward, Italy's wire service ANSA reports. It's the first time the hospital can say that since it admitted its first coronavirus case on Feb. 23, 137 days ago.

Bergamo is at the center of Italy's Lombardy region, which was one of the earliest and hardest hit areas in the coronavirus pandemic. Italy at one point had the most COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world, and Lombardy led that count, ABC News notes. Nearly 35,000 people have died in Italy due to COVID-19, giving it the fourth highest death toll of any country.

Meanwhile the U.S. has taken over as the coronavirus capital of the world, and shows no sign of slowing down. Where Italy announced 193 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the U.S. reported a record 62,751 — and proportional differences between the two countries' populations don't explain away that yawning gap. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:37 a.m.

Another 1.31 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

This number of new claims was less than economists expected, as experts were projecting there would be about 1.39 million claims, CNBC reports. Last week, the number of new jobless claims was a bit more than economists expected, topping 1.4 million. This news on Thursday somewhat lessened "concerns of a renewed downturn in the labor market," Bloomberg writes.

Additionally, continuing unemployment claims on Thursday fell "sharply," CNBC reports, declining by 698,000 to 18.06 million. Still, CNBC notes that this is the 15th week in a row that new initial unemployment claims have topped one million; before the coronavirus pandemic, the record for most claims filed in a week was 695,000.

These new numbers come after last week, the Labor Department released a better-than-expected jobs report for June, which showed 4.8 million jobs were added and the unemployment rate declined to 11.1 percent. Experts were quick to note, though, that this unemployment survey was taken in June prior to COVID-19 cases surging in numerous states. Brendan Morrow

8:04 a.m.

The total number of U.S. coronavirus cases reached 3 million on Wednesday as officials confirmed a record 60,000-plus new cases over the previous 24 hours, and the national death toll rose above 132,000. States in the South and West continued to report spiking new infections. California and Texas both reported more than 10,000 new cases on Wednesday. U.S. deaths, which had been trending downward, rose by more than 900 for the second straight day, the highest level since early June, Reuters reports. Hospitalizations also have increased in the states where infections have jumped, including Florida, where 56 intensive care units this week reached capacity, and Arizona, where ICUs are rapidly filling up, too. Infections have risen in 42 of the 50 states over the past two weeks, according to Reuters. Harold Maass

8:04 a.m.

A "massive search operation" is underway for the mayor of Seoul, who has been reported missing, The Associated Press reports.

South Korean police on Thursday said they're searching for Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon after he was reported missing by his daughter, according to Reuters. She says Park left "a will-like" message before he left their home, and she called police after not being able to reach him on his phone, which officials say is turned off, the AP reports. A signal from Park's phone was reportedly last detected in Sungbuk.

A government official confirmed to the AP that Park, who was elected mayor of South Korea's capital in 2011, didn't come to work on Thursday and canceled his schedules. Police say the search operation for Park consists of 150 officers, as well as a drone and a police dog. Brendan Morrow

7:08 a.m.

The Supreme Court will reveal Thursday morning whether Congress, New York state prosecutors, and ultimately the American public will be able to see what's in the tax documents President Trump has worked so hard to keep secret. But on Wednesday night, the White House finally addressed another, lower-profile accounting of Trump's finances, his annual financial disclosure report, that was supposed to be handed in more than a week ago. The filing, required under federal ethics rules, is the only official document publicly detailing Trump's personal finances.

A White House official told The New York Times that Trump had requested an extension because the report was "complicated" and Trump has "been focused on addressing the coronavirus crisis and other matters." This is Trump's second coronavirus extension: The partial disclosure of his assets, debts, and family business performance was actually due in May, but all White House employees had been given a 45-day extension, until June 29, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vice President Mike Pence filed his disclosure report by that deadline.

Trump's delay follows conversations between ethics officials and his representatives over a draft of the disclosure report, people briefed on the matter tell the Times. The Office of Government Ethics and Trump Organization declined requests for comment on the filing. Peter Weber

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