August 15, 2020

As the controversy over the state of the United States Postal Service grows, the agency on Friday night said it will stop removing letter collection boxes in at least several states after facing backlash from lawmakers.

Photos of the removal of collection boxes began circulating online Friday, prompting critics of the Trump administration to add the action to their list of examples, which include potential mailing delays and reduced post office operating hours, of why they believe the president may be trying to manipulate the 2020 election by making mail-in voting more difficult. Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for USPS, said the removals were routine and that the agency was moving "low-use boxes to high traffic areas."

Nevertheless, USPS spokesman Rod Spurgeon told CNN in a statement that the service would stop removing the boxes in 16 states — mostly in the West and Midwest — and in parts of two others until after the election. It wasn't clear if the moratorium would go into effect nationally, per CNN, although Spurgeon did tell NBC News that "we are not going to be removing any boxes." Read more at CNN. Tim O'Donnell

2:21 p.m.

Johnson & Johnson is set to resume shipments of its COVID-19 vaccine in Europe as the pause in the U.S. continues.

The European Medicines Agency on Tuesday said that "unusual blood clots" should be "listed as very rare side effects" of Johnson and Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, but it determined the vaccine's benefits "outweigh the risks of side effects," Axios and The New York Times report.

The agency, after reviewing eight cases of rare blood clots among the millions of people in the United States who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, found a "possible link" between the vaccine and the blood clots, but it said the "risk of having this side effect is very low."

"Healthcare professionals and people who will receive the vaccine should be aware of the possibility of very rare cases of blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets occurring within three weeks of vaccination," the agency also said.

U.S. health officials last week called for a pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while they examined these rare blood clotting cases. Johnson & Johnson says it will now resume shipment of its vaccine in the European Union, Norway, and Iceland. Meanwhile, the Times notes that an expert panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is set to meet later this week, and Dr. Anthony Fauci has predicted the vaccine's pause won't extend beyond this Friday. Brendan Morrow

2:09 p.m.

Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky believes she has found the site on Maryland's Eastern Shore where Harriet Tubman lived with her family during her teenage years, state and federal officials announced Tuesday, per The Washington Post.

Schablitsky, who works for Maryland's State Highway Administration, had been searching in the isolated area in Dorchester County for signs of the long-vanished cabin for some time when she found a coin from 1808 with her metal detector that suggested she had finally hit the jackpot. After that, officials said, bricks, pottery, a button, and a slew of other household items — all dated to the right time — further pointed to the location being the site of the property owned by Tubman's father, Ben Ross, whose enslaver freed him and granted him the piece of land. Tubman and her siblings were still enslaved (and their parents were far from safe) while they sheltered there.

The discovery is likely a crucial one and should help provide a lot of context to the famed abolitionist's story, experts told the Post. The wooded area where the cabin stood became Tubman's "classroom," biographer Kate Clifford Larson told the Post, explaining that it's likely where, with the help of her "committed" father, Tubman learned how to survive in such terrain and "read the night sky," skills that aided her during her days as a clandestine Underground Railroad conductor. Read more about the discovery at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

12:40 p.m.

With the jury now sequestered and cut off from the outside world, President Biden felt comfortable weighing in on Derek Chauvin's murder trial Tuesday.

Biden said he's praying for the "right verdict" and that the "evidence is overwhelming," indicating he believes Chauvin was responsible for George Floyd's death last May. He added that he has also spoken to Floyd's family over the phone.

Although Biden's stance on the trial seems clear, he once again called for "peace and tranquility" in response to the verdict, no matter what it is, amid government concerns about a potentially violent public reaction to an acquittal.

Some observers questioned Biden's choice to opine on the trial at all, even with the jury unable to access the public discourse at this point. Tim O'Donnell

12:26 p.m.

On Tuesday, Canada extended its border restrictions until May 21, according to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. Only essential travel will be permitted across Canada's border with the U.S., reports Reuters, continuing restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.

Canadian border restrictions have proven disastrous for residents of Minnesota's Northwest Angle, a geographical oddity surrounded on three sides by Canada, with a body of water on the fourth side. The Angle's only connection to land is its border with Canada's Manitoba province, but due to a surveyor's error, it's considered the northernmost part of Minnesota. As Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) explained in a Star Tribune op-ed, border restrictions have cut the 120-odd residents off from friends and family in the U.S. hoping to visit by road, devastated the local fishing lodges and other tourist attractions, and made it nearly impossible for residents to buy groceries or receive medical care without risking being stranded away from their homes.

Residents have pleaded with Canadian officials to open the 80-kilometer passage in Manitoba to allow tourists into the Angle, reports CBC News. Tourism has been deemed non-essential in Canada's border restrictions, but in the tourism-based economy of the Northwest Angle, it's about as essential as it gets. Beyond business concerns, residents report being separated from their families while waiting days for negative results from molecular COVID-19 tests.

"With the eyes of the national media focused on the chaos at America's southern border, few have any idea this problem exists," writes Fischbach. "But the northern border is in crisis, too." Anne St. Jean

12:12 p.m.

Ted Nugent, who falsely claimed the COVID-19 pandemic isn't "real" and says he's refusing to get vaccinated, has now tested positive for COVID-19.

In a Facebook video, the singer revealed he tested positive for the coronavirus after having flu-like symptoms for the past 10 days.

"I thought I was dying," Nugent said, adding that he could "hardly crawl out of bed the last few days."

Nugent has falsely claimed that COVID-19 is "not a real pandemic," a "scam," and a "hoax," while labeling those who wear masks "sheep." He has also questioned why the U.S. wasn't "shut down for COVID one through 18," even though the 19 in COVID-19 refers to the year the virus was identified. Apparently because of these past comments, Nugent in his Facebook video said "everybody told me I should not announce" that he tested positive.

Even though every adult in the U.S. is now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Nugent also said that he hasn't gotten one, falsely claiming that "nobody knows" what's in the vaccines. And he suggested that it served no real purpose for him to find out he had COVID-19, despite the fact that he also said he's quarantining after learning his diagnosis. Nugent ended his video, during which he coughed multiple times, by declaring he would now go "pee off my deck." Brendan Morrow

11:24 a.m.

Prescription-free rapid COVID-19 tests that can be taken at home will be on sale at some Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS stores starting this week.

One test kit, produced by Abbott Laboratories, will be sold at all three retailers, as well as online, while CVS stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts will sell another test made by the Australia-based company Ellume. The latter will be available online and in other states by the end of May, USA Today notes.

The benefits of the tests are clear — people don't need to visit a doctor or testing center (which should come in handy now that some mass testing sites have been converted into vaccination sites), and both deliver results in about 15 minutes.

There are concerns, though. For starters, antigen tests are less reliable than PCR tests, generally, and, while that issue could be countered by taking multiple at-home tests, both kits are fairly expensive. Abbott's cost $23.99 and Ellume's has a price tag of $38.99. Read more at USA Today. Tim O'Donnell

10:47 a.m.

Former President George W. Bush admitted Tuesday that the current iteration of the Republican Party is not what he "envisioned" when he left office more than a decade ago.

During an interview on NBC's Today, Hoda Kotb asked Bush how he would describe the GOP now. He replied that he believes it's "isolationist, protectionist, and, to a certain extent, nativist," and while he didn't sound pleased to acknowledge that, he said he's "just an old guy they put out to pasture," suggesting his opinion doesn't have much sway, either way. Bush did say he thinks a more moderate candidate has a chance to earn the party's nomination in 2024, however.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of Bush's critics weighed in on the comments, with Business Insider's John Haltiwanger questioning his self-awareness. Haltiwanger argued that there's a "direct line" between Bush's GOP and the current version led by former President Donald Trump, the connection largely driven by the war on terror. Tim O'Donnell

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