July 31, 2020

Hong Kong is delaying its upcoming election by a full year.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday said the Legislative Council election that was scheduled to take place on Sept. 6 will be postponed due to coronavirus concerns, CNN reports. This comes as Hong Kong has seen its number of coronavirus infections rise after previously having no locally transmitted cases for weeks.

"It is a really tough decision to delay but we want to ensure fairness, public safety and public health," Lam said, per The New York Times.

But critics slammed the move and cast doubt on the reasoning behind it, with pro-democracy legislator Eddie Chu previously saying such a postponement would be a "strategic retreat" and arguing that the Chinese Communist Party simply wanted "to avoid a potential devastating defeat" from pro-democracy opposition candidates, per the Times.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung also told The Wall Street Journal that this move suggests the government is "trying to buy time" because "they foresee a landslide win for the democratic camp and they want to prevent that from happening." Chinese University of Hong Kong associate professor Ma Ngok told the Times the coronavirus explanation likely "won't be very convincing," though, as people in Hong Kong "are allowed to go to work, take the subway, take the bus, stand in long queues and then not allowed to vote?"

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said this week that Hong Kong's elections "must proceed on time" and suggested that if they don't, this will "simply prove that the Chinese Communist Party has now made Hong Kong just another communist-run city." After President Trump on Thursday floated the idea of delaying the U.S. presidential election, Times reporter Daniel Victor wrote, "A lot of people's worst fear in the U.S. is actually happening in Hong Kong." Brendan Morrow

Opinion
3:18 p.m.

Will a COVID-19 vaccine be available this year? President Trump seems to think so — in fact, he told Geraldo Rivera in an interview Thursday it might be ready by Election Day. Though he said he is "rushing it," Trump hastened to insist he is "doing it not for the election," but because he wants "to save a lot of lives."

Be that as it may, the election timing — and possible political benefit — has clearly occurred to him, and he hardly conceals his abhorrence of defeat. But it's not clear that a vaccine would be an electoral guarantee.

On the one hand, I find plausible a secondary, economic bump for Trump, as is argued in this July article at Fox Business. Before the pandemic, two decades ago or whenever that was, Trump made the economy a major portion of his re-election pitch. Insofar as that's a strong selling point for keeping him around, a vaccine-induced economic rebound might well win him some votes. It likely would need to be a jobs rebound, though, not merely a rising stock market.

On the other hand, I wonder what the early compliance rate with a COVID-19 vaccine may be. First there are the standard issue anti-vaxxers. A January poll found one in 10 Americans think vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. Then there are the specific political fears and biases of this situation. On the right, some think the pandemic is wildly overblown and being used to introduce totalitarianism. It's difficult to imagine anyone who refuses a mask accepting an injection. On the left, I've encountered suspicion that Trump and "big pharma" are rushing the COVID-19 vaccine for their own gain. The number of Americans who will refuse "the Trump vaccine" won't be zero. And still more people will worry, on nonpolitical grounds, about a rushed vaccine's safety. They might decide to wait a while, just to be sure.

These reasons are how we get survey results saying the vaccine compliance rate might be as low as 50 percent. The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk has made a case for greater optimism, however, and he might be right. Hopefully we'll get the chance to find out sooner than later — maybe even, as Trump hopes, by Election Day. Bonnie Kristian

3:01 p.m.

Experts are warning this hurricane season could be one of the most active ever recorded.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an updated forecast on Thursday said it's anticipating a potentially "extremely active" Atlantic hurricane season in 2020, with somewhere between 19 and 25 named storms, CNN reports.

As the NOAA notes, the Atlantic hurricane season that started in June and ends on Nov. 30 is "off to a rapid pace" with nine named storms already, whereas "historically, only two named storms form on average by early August," and there are usually an average of 12 named storms during a season. The NOAA's forecast suggests that of the up to 25 named storms, between seven and 11 will become hurricanes, and between three and six will be "major" hurricanes during a season that could be "one of the busiest on record."

"This year, we expect more, stronger, and longer-lived storms than average," Gerry Bell, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, said in a statement. Bell also told The New York Times that "we've never forecast up to 25 named storms before."

This projection by the NOAA comes after Isaias, which made landfall as a hurricane in North Carolina before being downgraded into a tropical storm, left at least nine people dead and knocked out power for millions. Brendan Morrow

2:37 p.m.

A study now backs up what many scientists expected about the coronavirus all along.

People who are infected with COVID-19 but don't show symptoms carry about as much of the virus in their nose, throat, and lungs as those with symptoms, a study published Thursday in JAMA Internal Medicine shows. They also carry that viral load just as long as symptomatic people, revealing that even asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers can spread the very contagious virus, The New York Times reports.

While COVID-19 can be devastating and even deadly for people who contract it, approximately 30 percent of people who have the disease show no symptoms, the study showed. That essentially makes it impossible to know if a person is transmitting the virus or not, and is a big reason coronavirus is so hard to contain, the Times notes. Still, there have been debates over just how contagious people are before they begin showing symptoms, versus whether completely asymptomatic people spread the disease just as much.

This study largely clears that up. Measuring the virus' genetic material, researchers determined there was just as much of it in asymptomatic patients as in symptomatic. Following a person's chain of transmission or growing a live virus would've helped prove the similarities more definitively, the Times continues.

The study looked at 193 symptomatic patients and 110 asymptomatic people in isolation in South Korea, with a median age of 25. A previous study showed children, who are largely asymptomatic when infected with the disease, also hold as much of the virus as adults. Kathryn Krawczyk

Opinion
1:32 p.m.

Minneapolis residents won't get to vote this fall on a ballot measure to eliminate their city charter's mandatory ratio of police officers to population. Nixing that proportional requirement is one step in dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department, a plan that gained majority support on the city council after George Floyd was killed during an MPD arrest in May.

The ballot measure delay was imposed Wednesday by the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which argued council members pushing for an overhaul haven't adequately explained what they'll do next. "The council says, 'Trust us. We'll figure it out after this is approved. Trust us,'" said the commission's chair, Barry Clegg. "Well, I don't. ... We need more time to fill in these blanks so voters can make a decision based on an actual specific plan and not the promise of one."

Clegg's demand is reasonable. The best modern example we have of unmaking an entire police department is from Camden, New Jersey. The new department there has had some remarkable successes. It also hired back most of the old department's officers and now has more officers overall. Minneapolis residents should know what they're voting for: What, exactly, will change in the new "Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention"? How is this not the same cops by a different name? How will violence actually be prevented?

Black Minneapolitans particularly deserve answers to these questions, and some have for weeks raised objections to the city council's move toward sweeping changes without acceptably elaborating its alternative. Activist Raeisha Williams, for example, supports major MPD reforms but called the council's haste "grotesque" if it cuts back on emergency response services "when they had nothing else in place for who was going to protect the community the right way."

This local skepticism was reflected in a national Gallup poll released Wednesday. Black Americans mostly oppose defunding the police: 61 percent said they want police presence in their area to stay the same, and 20 percent want more policing. The problem isn't necessarily how many police there are but how they're policing. Black communities can be subject to over- and under-policing at once: too much harassment over petty concerns while frightening, violent crime goes unsolved. A rushed plan, heavy on symbolism, will be ill-equipped to address this paradox. Bonnie Kristian

1:29 p.m.

The governor of Ohio has tested positive for COVID-19 just before he was to meet with President Trump.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Thursday took a COVID-19 test "as part of the standard protocol" to meet with President Trump at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, as the president visits the state, and the result came back positive, the governor's office said. DeWine, who will return home to quarantine for two weeks, said he isn't showing any symptoms.

DeWine is the second governor in the United States to test positive for COVID-19 after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), Axios notes.

Additionally, CNN's Jeremy Diamond observes that this is another instance in which the White House's testing protocol prevented Trump from being exposed to the coronavirus. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) recently tested positive for COVID-19 at the White House after he had been set to travel with Trump to Texas. Brendan Morrow

12:58 p.m.

Testing accessibility has always been a problem when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. And even as that has improved, a slow turnaround rate has often made test results useless.

That's why some researchers and public health experts are starting to emphasize rapid result coronavirus tests even if they're less accurate than the time-intensive PCR tests, The New York Times reports. Their logic? "Even if you miss somebody on Day 1, If you test them repeatedly, the argument is, you'll catch them the next time around," said Omai Garner, director of clinical microbiology in the UCLA Health System.

The experts who back an emphasis on quicker tests cite the failure of long-term tests to stem coronavirus spread throughout the U.S. "If you had asked me this a couple months ago, I would have said we just need to be doing the PCR tests," said Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California. But, she added, it's now "kitchen sink time, even if the tests are imperfect."

Still, PCR coronavirus tests rely on laboratory procedures to generate their results, and even quick-result tests require "specialized machines that are neither cheap nor easy to produce in bulk," the Times writes. But antigen tests, which identify a protein in the coronavirus, could be performed at any doctor's office or even at home, and could be mass-produced to cost just a few dollars each. Some companies are focused on developing these low-cost tests and ramping up their production until a vaccine is found.

Read more about the testing transformation at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:40 p.m.

The attorney general of New York has filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday announced she has filed a lawsuit against the NRA "to dissolve the organization in entirety for years of self-dealing and illegal conduct," alleging the pro-gun group is "fraught with fraud and abuse" and that senior leadership diverted millions of dollars "into their own pockets."

Four defendants are named in the lawsuit, including Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who James described as the "central figure behind this scheme." James has accused the defendants of failing "to follow numerous state and federal laws, which contributed to the loss of more than $64 million in just three years." They allegedly put millions of dollars from the non-profit organization to personal use, including for "lavish" trips.

James also accused the NRA of "awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty."

The New York attorney general had been investigating the NRA for 18 months. The attorney general of Washington, D.C. on Thursday also announced a lawsuit against the NRA Foundation for alleged misuse of charitable funds.

President Trump on Thursday decried James' lawsuit as "terrible," recommending the NRA "move to Texas and live a very good and beautiful life." Brendan Morrow

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