August 6, 2020

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

5:25 p.m.

The Pentagon announced Friday that it will remove all troops from Somalia by Jan. 15, five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Virtually all of the 700 troops, largely Special Operations forces on training and counterterrorism missions against Islamist insurgents, will leave. Many will be "repositioned" to nearby Kenya, a Pentagon official told The New York Times. It's unclear if diplomats and the U.S. ambassador in Somalia will be leaving as well.

President Trump has reportedly been rushing to withdraw American troops from around the world in his last weeks in office, including from Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump campaigned in 2016 on a promise of leaving Afghanistan, and reportedly has at least a draft order circulating that would cut troop deployment there in half. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:10 p.m.

President Trump's Pentagon purge isn't over yet.

Since losing the 2020 election, Trump has systematically ousted top Defense Department officials and replaced them with people more favorable to him. That removal operation even extended to the typically nonpartisan Pentagon Defense Business Board on Friday, where the White House fired nine members and installed Trump allies in their place.

On Friday, nine members of the board received a "form letter" telling them their "membership on the Defense Business Board has expired or is coming to an end, its now-ousted chair Michael Bayer tells Politico. Bayer said he was "surprised" the White House would make this kind of "11th-hour move" regarding an advisory board with a "record of nonpartisan support." "This kind of a move really will weigh heavily on people on the future and their willingness to serve on these outside advisory boards if they're going to be subjected to political loyalty tests," Bayer added.

In the members' place, the White House installed a collection of loyalists, including Trump's 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Also installed was David Bossie who, along with Lewandowski, was among Trump allies who've been challenging the 2020 election results.

Trump also recently nominated Scott O'Grady, another loyalist, to a top Pentagon spot. O'Grady, along with freshly pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, shared a wild petition on Twitter that compels Trump to "declare limited martial law to temporarily suspend the Constitution" and hold a new presidential election.

After the election, Trump removed former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the top official overseeing the Defeat ISIS Task Force, and members of the Defense Policy Board, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:37 p.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to always wear masks indoors when they're not in their homes.

The CDC made this recommendation for the first time in a report on Friday, stressing the importance of "consistent and correct" use of face masks as the United States enters a "phase of high-level transmission" in the COVID-19 pandemic, The Washington Post reports.

"Compelling evidence now supports the benefits of cloth face masks for both source control (to protect others) and, to a lesser extent, protection of the wearer," the CDC said.

Wearing face masks is "most important in indoor spaces and outdoors when physical distance of ≥6 feet cannot be maintained," the CDC said, also recommending officials "issue policies or directives mandating universal use of face masks in indoor (nonhousehold) settings."

The CDC's report also explained that masks should also be worn within households if "a member of the household is infected or has had recent potential COVID-19 exposure," and it warned against "nonessential indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings," as exposures at both "pose a preventable risk to all participants." Brendan Morrow

2:36 p.m.

Disavowed Trump lawyer Sidney Powell is back with another confusing allegation of voter fraud that makes even less sense than usual.

Powell has spent the past few weeks claiming, with no proof, that fraud in the 2020 election stole votes from President Trump and gave Biden the win. But in a Friday filing, she seemingly flipped her case, baselessly alleging that Dominion Voting Systems somehow took ballots from President-elect Joe Biden and gave them to Trump.

In a filing as part of her voter fraud lawsuit in Georgia, Powell writes that "machine-controlled algorithms deliberately run by Dominion Voting Systems ... took more than 2.5 percent of the votes from Mr. Biden and flipped them to Mr. Trump, for a more than 5 percent fraudulent vote increase for Mr. Biden." Beyond the fact that Powell hasn't provided any actual evidence of this alleged flipping, it's also confusing that she'd claim voter fraud actually benefited Trump. But since she flips back to Trump's favor by the end of the sentence, it seems the contradictory allegation was likely a typo.

In the first few weeks after the election, Powell frequently appeared as part of Trump's legal team, conjuring up allegations of voter fraud with Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis. The Trump campaign disavowed Powell after she made some particularly outlandish claims, but she has continued advocating on Trump's behalf, even telling Georgians not to vote in their Senate runoffs in January because she didn't believe the vote was secure. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:22 p.m.

It looks like Oscar Isaac's wish was Sony's command.

Isaac is set to star as Solid Snake in Sony's upcoming film adaptation of the video game Metal Gear Solid from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline reported on Friday.

If something about the idea of Isaac starring as Solid Snake seems a bit familiar, it might be because the Star Wars star last year made it known that he was interested in the gig. In an interview back in March 2019, when asked if he'd ever consider doing a video game movie, Isaac expressed interest in Metal Gear Solid.

"I'm throwing my hat in for that one," Isaac said. Asked who he'd specifically like to play in the movie, he clarified he, naturally, had the lead role of Solid Snake in mind.

This is the latest major role Isaac has nabbed coming off the Star Wars sequel trilogy after the actor earlier this year was reported to be in talks to play Moon Knight in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All in all, when it comes to the Metal Gear Solid casting, we’d say Vogt-Roberts certainly made a solid choice. Brendan Morrow

1:48 p.m.

The House of Representatives has taken a historic vote to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level.

The House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which would federally decriminalize marijuana and create "a process to remove prior convictions," in a 228-164 vote on Friday, CNN reports. The bill also includes a five percent tax on marijuana to fund programs for "individuals most adversely impacted by the war on drugs," Axios reports.

The MORE Act is not seen as having a chance at passing in the Republican-controlled Senate, but the move was still significant in that it was the first time that one of the chambers of Congress voted to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, Axios noted.

House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in a statement on Friday said this "long overdue legislation would reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color."

Republican leaders criticized Democrats over the vote on the MORE Act amid negotiations on COVID-19 relief, with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) calling it "tone-deaf" and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sarcastically saying, "The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis."

But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who co-sponsored the legislation, said Friday, "My Republican colleagues today will make a number of arguments against this bill, but those arguments are overwhelmingly losing with the American people." Brendan Morrow

1:08 p.m.

After six months spent pushing for a more-than $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is fine with something smaller.

Earlier this week, a team of bipartisan lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus relief. It's smaller than the $1.5 trillion deal the House's bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus drew up in September, and yet this time around, President-elect Joe Biden's win and forthcoming coronavirus vaccines have Pelosi ready to accept it.

Pelosi went on to explain that she had held out for a bigger bill with longer-lasting provisions before she knew who would be the next president — essentially, she thought she wouldn't get a second chance at a stimulus package if President Trump was re-elected. But with "a president who recognizes that we need to depend on science to stop the virus" and that "America's families need to have money in their pockets," Pelosi said she was confident she could work out many more smaller relief provisions in the future.

What hasn't changed is that millions of Americans are still out of work, likely in more dire straits than they were a few months ago as unemployment benefits begin to expire and bills continue to pile up.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) still hasn't said he'll back the bipartisan relief bill, but a growing number of Senate Republicans have said they're willing to support it. Kathryn Krawczyk

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