June 25, 2020

Texas is hitting pause on its reopening.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Thursday announced a "temporary pause" of the state's reopening amid a surge of new COVID-19 cases.

"As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families," Abbott said.

Businesses that were previously allowed to resume operations as part of Texas' reopenings can still do so, however, with the governor saying, "the last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses." Additionally, Abbott announced that Texas will halt elective surgeries in the biggest counties in the state, The Associated Press reports.

Texas on Wednesday reported more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases, leading Abbott to describe the spike as "a massive outbreak of COVID-19 across the state." Now, Abbott says pausing the reopening will "help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business." Brendan Morrow

7:01 p.m.

Now a tropical depression, Beta is stalled over the Texas coast, hovering about 40 miles north of Port O'Connor with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Beta made landfall as a tropical storm late Monday night, about five miles north of Port O'Connor. As of Tuesday evening, it is moving east-northeast at 5 mph, and by the end of this week, Beta is expected to move over Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Forecasters are worried there could be extensive flooding in the Houston area, and some parts have already seen up to 14 inches of rain, the National Hurricane Center said. Since Monday evening, fire officials in Houston have conducted nearly 100 water rescues from city roads, The Associated Press reports, and residents are being asked to stay home.

"Your sedan is not a submarine," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. "Your minivan is not magical. So stay off the roads right now. Your destination is not worth your life. It's not worth the life of the first responder that's going to have to come and rescue you if you drive into high water and are stuck there." Catherine Garcia

5:37 p.m.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) are both in jeopardy of losing their re-election bids, and polls show President Trump is also struggling in Maine and Colorado, so it seems like the GOP's platform isn't registering in the two states. Still, there's hope among Republicans that voters will split their tickets between the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, and down-ballot Republicans. But, Peter Nicholas writes for The Atlantic, that's fading as the GOP pushes to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee as swiftly as possible.

In Nicholas' view, Collins, Gardner, and others would likely get a boost if Trump put off the nomination, allowing the winner of the presidential contest to make the selection. At the very least, he writes, he could announce the nominee during the lame-duck period, meaning senators wouldn't have to cast polarizing votes before their elections. (Collins said she won't vote for the nominee because it's an election year, while Gardner said he's prepared to approve Trump's unnamed nominee.)

As things stand, both those scenarios are unlikely, which has some Republican advocates worried they'll lose crucial down-ballot votes. "I need suburban women to be ticket splitters, and I can't lose them as ticket splitters," Sarah Chamberlain, the CEO of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, told The Atlantic. "If we don't handle this correctly as a party, we're going to have a problem."

While there's a sense Trump is willing to abandon senators like Gardner and Collins, some analysts think Trump is also being left out to dry — by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Read more at The Atlantic. Tim O'Donnell

5:16 p.m.

The city of Louisville, Kentucky, is seemingly preparing for uproar after a update in Breonna Taylor's case.

Police shot and killed Taylor in March while serving a no-knock warrant at the wrong apartment, later sparking protests in Louisville and around the country. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is expected to deliver an update on the case soon, prompting Louisville's mayor and police department to seemingly prepare for more protests this week, the Louisville Courier Journal reports.

Police first started blocking access to downtown Louisville and setting up no-parking zones on Monday, prompting downtown businesses to start boarding their windows. The Louisville Metro Police Department also canceled vacation and time off requests for officers for the indefinite future. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer bolstered those moves on Tuesday, using an executive order to block on-street parking downtown and shut down five parking garages. A second executive order implemented a state of emergency in the city.

Fischer and the LMPD's interim chief insisted Tuesday they don't know when the results of the state's investigation into Taylor's killing will come out. Cameron denied a report earlier that month that he was ready to present his findings to a grand jury.

The city of Louisville announced a $12 million wrongful death settlement with Taylor's family last week. Taylor's mother Tamika Palmer renewed calls for the arrest of the officers involved in Taylor's death in a press conference after the settlement. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:26 p.m.

The Food and Drug Administration is poised to roll out new, rigorous standards for an emergency approval for a coronavirus vaccine, The Washington Post reports.

The standards, which appear to be an example of the agency's efforts to increase public trust amid the politicization of vaccine development, could be unveiled as soon as this week and are expected to be much tougher than what was used for the controversial emergency clearances of potential COVID-19 treatments hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma, per the Post. Manufacturers will be asked to follow vaccine trial participants for at least two months after they receive their second shot, two individuals familiar with situation told the Post on condition of anonymity. The agency will also reportedly be looking for at least five severe COVID-19 cases in the placebo group for each trial, as well as some cases of the disease in older people to see if the vaccine works.

Given the new standards, plus the time it will take companies developing vaccine candidates to apply for an emergency use authorization and for the FDA to review the data, "it's hard to imagine how an EUA could possibly occur before December," Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and FDA vaccine advisory board member, told the Post.

That will likely allay at least some fears that the White House will try to push a vaccine out before the November election, although there are some people who think the FDA shouldn't grant an EUA for a vaccine at all since there'd still be less safety data required for approval than under normal circumstances. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

4:19 p.m.

Expect Halloween 2020 to look quite a bit different than we're used to.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines on celebrating Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that many of the holiday's "traditional" activities "can be high-risk for spreading viruses." For one, the CDC lists "traditional trick-or-treating" as a higher-risk activity and recommends avoiding it. Other activities it says should be avoided this year include attending a crowded indoor costume party, going to a crowded indoor haunted house, and going on hayrides or tractor rides with people from outside your household.

However, the CDC lists some activities that are "lower risk" and can be "safe alternatives" for celebrating Halloween, including carving or decorating pumpkins either with those in your household or outside with others while practicing social distancing, as well as holding a "virtual Halloween costume contest." It also says that a "Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house" would be a lower-risk option.

Additionally, "one-way trick-or-treating" involving lining up goodie bags of treats so families can grab them while practicing social distancing is listed as a more "moderate risk" activity, as is going to an outdoor one-way haunted forest and having an outdoor costume party where masks are worn and social distancing is practiced. When it comes to dressing up, though, the CDC stresses that a mask you'd wear as part of a costume "is not a substitute for a cloth mask" and that a costume mask shouldn't be worn over a cloth mask.

This new guidance also touches on celebrations for upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving, warning that "large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household" should be avoided and that in general, "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others." Brendan Morrow

2:52 p.m.

The first 2020 presidential debate is just a week away, and its topics have now been set.

The Commission on Presidential Debates on Tuesday announced that moderator Chris Wallace has selected six topics for the first debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, which is scheduled to take place on Sept. 29. The topics will be "the Trump and Biden records," "the Supreme Court," "COVID-19," "the economy," "race and violence in our cities," and "the integrity of the election."

The announcement said that these debate topics are subject to change based on "news developments," and they won't necessarily be brought up in that order.

This highly-anticipated first debate face-off between Trump and Biden will be held at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, and it comes as Trump moves to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court prior to November's presidential election. Trump has said he will announce his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday, three days before the debate is scheduled to take place. The debate will also be occurring a week after the United States passed 200,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Fifteen minutes will be devoted to each of the debate's six topics, and the event is scheduled to last 90 minutes. The second debate is set for Oct. 15, while a third and final debate will take place on Oct. 22. There will be also be one debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Biden's running mate, on Oct. 7. Brendan Morrow

2:48 p.m.

The clearest way for the U.S. to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, Stat News reports, is to achieve herd immunity through vaccination. Experts estimate that will occur once 50 to 70 percent of the population is protected. But, as Kawsar Talaat, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University points out, "the most effective vaccine in the world is useless if no one will accept it."

There's a lot of skepticism about a coronavirus vaccine across the political spectrum in the U.S. A new Axios poll released Tuesday showed that only 43 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of Republicans would take a first-generation vaccine as soon as it's available, and the numbers have trended downward rapidly over the last few months.

The expectation is that there will be more than one vaccine rolling out over time, so it's possible those numbers would go back up as safety and efficacy become more clear, but there's certainly a disconnect between the public and the government and scientific community on the issue. "I think people will die because of a lack of faith in the system," Talaat said, arguing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have wavered on testing guidelines, and the Food and Drug Administration has been undermined by the optics of political interference from the Trump Administration. Stat notes that others want vaccine makers to be more transparent about the process.

Either way, Talaat said, "you can't talk your way into trust. You need to demonstrate that you're trustworthy, and that the process is trustworthy." Read more about how the pandemic may play out over the course of the next year at Stat News. Tim O'Donnell

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