August 4, 2020

Ah, Florida, land of sunshine, beaches, and notoriously competent elections.

That's the picture President Trump painted Tuesday in a tweet where he finally acknowledged absentee voting and voting by mail are the same thing. "Whether you call it vote by mail or absentee voting, in Florida the election system is safe and secure, tried and true," Trump tweeted, despite falsely claiming the two terms were different and also wracked with fraud several times in the past. "Florida's election system has been cleaned up," Trump went on to claim, in an apparent attempt to overlook the hanging chads of past presidential elections.

Trump has explicitly and falsely claimed in the past that absentee voting and voting by mail are different, and that the latter is ripe for fraud; neither of these things are true. His attacks have ramped up as it becomes clear absentee voting will dominate the November election and make it safe for more people to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's unclear just what sets Florida's election system apart in Trump's mind — perhaps it's because Florida is a swing state that Trump will need a high turnout from elderly voters to win, or the fact that Trump has voted there by mail several times in the past. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:04 p.m.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at 87.

Ginsburg's death was announced in a statement from the Supreme Court, which said she died on Friday at her home in Washington, D.C. from metastatic pancreatic cancer complications.

Ginsburg served on the Supreme Court since 1993, when she was appointed by former President Bill Clinton after previously serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In July, she announced she was being treated following a "recurrence of cancer." She previously beat cancer four times.

Ginsburg was a part of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court; with her seat vacant, President Trump will have the opportunity to further solidify the court's conservative majority. According to NPR, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter days before her death, which reads, "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement on Friday, "Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice." Brendan Morrow

5:40 p.m.

It's time to break out the Greek alphabet.

The 21th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed on Friday, meaning forecasters have officially run out of planned names for storms this season. This is only the second time in recorded history that the Atlantic season has made it through the alphabet, and it's the earliest it has happened, as well.

The World Meteorological Organization lists 21 names for hurricanes and tropical storms at the start of each season, working its way through the alphabet but skipping Q, U, X, Y, and Z. Usually the hurricane season doesn't see enough intense storms to make it through that list, but the formation of Tropical Storm Wilfred on Friday marked the end of the line. Now, meteorologists will turn to the Greek alphabet. Subtropical storm Alpha already formed Friday and drifted into Portugal, and Tropical Storm Beta is currently swirling in the Gulf of Mexico. Wilfred, Alpha, and Beta also set a record by marking the first time three storms had formed in just six hours, Tomer Burg, a PhD candidate at the University of Oklahoma, told The Weather Channel.

The WMO has been naming storms since 1953, and it ran out of names for the first time in 2005. Wilma finished off the alphabet when it formed October 16, 2005, and eventually became a Category 5 storm. Five more storms followed it over the next two months. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:04 p.m.

Even in a year with an overwhelming number of excess deaths, the mortality rate of Black Americans stands out.

Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 this year, and data has shown the disease has disproportionately affected Black Americans. But the mortality rate for Black Americans is already so high that even if their coronavirus deaths weren't counted, Black mortality would be higher than white, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a demographer focused on mortality, racial inequality, and historical infectious disease, writes for Slate.

Black mortality was at its lowest in 2014, at a level of 1,061 deaths per 100,000 Black people in the country when adjusted for age, Wrigley-Field notes. But even with the coronavirus pandemic, white Americans' mortality in 2020 was far lower than that. Another 400,000 white people would have to die this year just to reach that lowest-ever year rate for Black Americans. From there, Wrigley-Field drew another conclusion: "If the Black population did not experience a single death due to COVID-19, if the pandemic only affected white people, Black mortality in 2020 would probably still be higher than white mortality."

"In reality, of course, COVID has hit Black populations hardest," Wrigley-Field writes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicated Black Americans were 2.6 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white Americans, were 4.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus, and were 2.1 times more likely to die of it. But Wrigley-Field notes these hypotheticals help point out one outstanding fact: "Racism gave Black people pandemic-level mortality long before COVID." Read more at Slate. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:37 p.m.

The ending of Lady Gaga's new video might not leave you quite as much of a blubbering mess as the last song in A Star Is Born, but it sure comes close.

Gaga on Friday released the music video for her song "911," which ends with an unexpected gut-punch: a (spoiler alert!) major twist ending revealing that the entire surreal video was just taking place inside her mind after a horrifying car accident.

On Instagram, Gaga said the video is "very personal to me," reflecting her "experience with mental health and the way reality and dreams can interconnect to form heroes within us and all around us." She has described the song as being "about an antipsychotic that I take," per Variety.

The video was evidently shot last month, and Gaga on Instagram thanked the crew "for making this short film safely during this pandemic without anyone getting sick." She also thanked its director, Tarsem Singh, "for sharing a 25 year old idea he had with me because my life story spoke so much to him," adding that "it's been years since I felt so alive in my creativity." Check out the video below. Brendan Morrow

4:10 p.m.

President Trump is once again claiming there will be a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, despite having no way of knowing if that's possible.

Apparently 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready before the end of the year, and "we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April," Trump said in a Friday press conference. Despite Trump's apparent confidence, no vaccine has been proven safe and effective for humans yet, and there's no telling when one will be. Moderna, a company developing a vaccine in the U.S., has found it hard to prove the vaccine candidate's effectiveness as COVID-19 cases decline, but suggested vaccines could be widely available early next year.

Trump's confidence in the matter may stem from his belief that he is the expert in the COVID-19 pandemic, not scientists and doctors. "How is it that you don't trust your own experts? Do you think you know better than they do?" Trump was asked at the Friday conference. "Yeah, in many cases I do," Trump, who has no medical or scientific background, responded.

Trump also accused Democratic nominee Joe Biden of spreading "anti-vaccine theories," as Biden has suggested Trump is trying to push vaccine development to score political points before the election, perhaps with unsafe consequences. In the past, Trump has spread false claims about the side effects of vaccines. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:08 p.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is walking back its controversial COVID-19 testing guidance change, which was reportedly not written by the agency's scientists and was published against their objections.

The CDC on Friday updated its website to recommend testing "all close contacts" of anyone infected with COVID-19, CNN reports. In August, the CDC's recommendation had been controversially tweaked to say that not everyone exposed to the coronavirus "necessarily" needs to be tested if they don't have symptoms.

This reversal on Friday comes after The New York Times reported that the controversial guidance change last month was "not written by CDC scientists and was posted to the agency's website despite their serious objections." A federal official told the Times a new testing guidance was expected on Friday.

The updated August guidance from the CDC had told those who were in close contact with someone with COVID-19 that if they don't have symptoms, "you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or state or local public health officials recommend you take one." But experts quickly decried this recommendation, noting the importance of testing anyone exposed to COVID-19 given the number of asymptomatic carriers.

This was emphasized in the CDC latest's guidance, as the agency now says "due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons." Additionally, the updated guidance, the Times notes, now explicitly tells those who have been exposed to COVID-19 and don't have symptoms, "You need a test."

Infectious Diseases Society of America President Thomas File Jr. expressed approval of the Friday guidance change, saying, "The return to a science-based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is good news for public health and for our united fight against this pandemic." Brendan Morrow

1:23 p.m.

Polls are pretty universally looking in Democrats' favors this fall.

Both national and swing state polls so far give Democratic nominee Joe Biden the advantage this fall, with FiveThirtyEight giving Biden a 77 percent chance of winning to President Trump's 22 percent. And in its Senate election forecast rolled out Friday, FiveThirtyEight also gave Democrats a slight edge when it comes to winning that body as well.

Several Senate seats Republicans currently hold are at risk of flipping to Democrats, FiveThirtyEight predicts. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Joni Ernst's (R-Iowa) races are essentially tossups, while Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Sen. Thom Tillis' (R-N.C.) seats tip in Democrats' favors. Sen. Martha McSally's (R-Ariz.) seat meanwhile seems safely headed to Democrat Mark Kelly.

Winning just four of those seats would be enough to give Democrats the majority in the Senate, though they may have to make up for a loss from Sen. Doug Jones (D) in Alabama; Jones has a 28 in 100 chance of holding his seat. That ground could be made up in Montana, where Gov. Steve Bullock (D) has about the same chance of beating current Sen. Steve Daines (R).

In all, FiveThirtyEight predicts Democrats have a 58 in 100 chance of winning Senate control. Find the whole forecast here. Kathryn Krawczyk

See More Speed Reads