August 25, 2020

Researchers at Israel's Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have put a stake down in the race for an inexpensive, rapid COVID-19 test, reporting in the journal ACS Nano that their breath test has shown promising results in a trial of 140 people in Wuhan, China. The smartphone-sized prototype developed by Israeli and Chinese researchers requires only that users breathe into the breathalyzer-like device for 2 to 3 seconds.

"There are no accessories, it requires no lab processing, and it gives results within 30 seconds of blowing," Techion's Hossam Haick told The Times of Israel. The test uses an array of gold nanoparticles to identify a volatile organic compounds (VOC) particular to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Haick said the test is based on a cancer-detecting breathalyzer test he developed a few years ago; the cancer test is still being assessed by regulators, but he said "if everything goes well with further clinical studies, I hope it will be available and regulated within six months." He emphasized that unlike other rapid, noninvasive tests, this one has been peer-reviewed and published in a journal. Haick said he expects the tests will cost $2 to $3 apiece.

In the trial, the breath test correctly identified COVID-19 in all 49 confirmed patients, and gave false positives for seven others. Public health officials are searching for an inexpensive test that doesn't require invasive, uncomfortable nasal swabs or the long processing time those swabs need in a lab. Peter Weber

10:56 a.m.

Nomadland's Chloé Zhao further cemented herself as the favorite to win Best Director at the 93rd Academy Awards on Saturday when won the top prize at the 73rd annual Directors Guild of America Awards. She is only the second woman (Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker in 2009), and the first woman of color, to earn the DGA award, Variety notes.

Zhao will likely be taking home more hardware this awards season; in addition to her expected Oscars win, Nomadland is the top contender for Best Picture. But she clearly isn't one for gloating. In her virtual acceptance speech, Zhao spoke briefly, using most of her time to praise her fellow nominees, including Minari's Lee Isaac Chung, Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell, Mank's David Fincher, and Trial of the Chicago 7's Aaron Sorkin, the only one of the four who isn't also up against Zhao later this month at the Oscars (Another Round's Thomas Vinterberg is the fifth nominee). She took a moment to specifically address how each of her peers and their respective films affected her personally. Watch the heartfelt speech below.

Read more at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Tim O'Donnell

9:26 a.m.

Four fictional Minnesota local news anchors portrayed by Ego Nwodim, Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon, and Alex Moffat, all agreed in the latest Saturday Night Live cold open that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd's neck for several minutes during an arrest before Floyd died last May, should be found guilty in his ongoing murder trial. But they couldn't quite agree on whether that will actually happen.

The characters played by McKinnon and Moffat, who are white, were convinced a guilty verdict was a no doubter, while the anchors played by Nwodim and Thompson, who are Black, were far from ready to trust the legal system. "Let's just say we've seen this movie before," Nwodim's character said, referring to other cases in which police officers evaded conviction.

That led to a few more disagreements over issues like reparations, how to protest effectively, and whether it was worth discussing Prince Philip's death. Eventually, the four of them wound up united again, thanks to shared disdain for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Watch the full sketch below. Tim O'Donnell

8:05 a.m.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to have been the primary target in former President Donald Trump's improvised, insult-laden speech Saturday night at a Republican National Committee gathering at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, The Washington Post and Politico report.

In a familiar turn of events, Trump, who doesn't get the opportunity to vent his frustrations on Twitter these days, reportedly boasted about tossing his "boring" prepared remarks before tearing into McConnell for several minutes. At one point Trump called him a "dumb son of a b----" for not fighting the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6. "If that were [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) instead of this dumb son of a b---- Mitch McConnell they would never allow it to happen," Trump said, per the Post. "They would have fought it."

He also reportedly deemed his former ally a "stone cold loser" and complained that McConnell never thanked him for hiring his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whom he also reportedly mocked for resigning in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

McConnell wasn't alone, however. Trump went after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, as well. "Have you ever seen anybody that is so full of crap?," Trump reportedly asked the crowd.

Former Vice President Mike Pence was seemingly spared the name calling, but Trump did reportedly reiterate the fact that he's disappointed Pence didn't have the "courage" to block the election certification.

Beyond the personal attacks, Trump reportedly continued to push false claims that he won the 2020 election, which he described, once again, as "rigged," and he did not appear to express any regret about his role in the Capitol riot, though he did reportedly brag about the size of the crowd at his speech that took place just before the event. Read more at The Washington Post and Politico. Tim O'Donnell

April 10, 2021

There could one day be a COVID-19 equivalent to a carbon monoxide detector.

General Electric is developing a new sensor which could potentially detect the coronavirus and other viruses in the air, on a surface, or on someone's breath, Fast Company reports. The National Institutes of Health awarded the company a two-year research grant to work on the project, which will build upon two papers published by GE's principal scientist, Radislav Potyrailo, and his team.

The sensor that would detect the virus would be a microchip "smaller than a dime," Fast Company reports. Potyrailo is hopeful about the long-term prospects of the project, but he acknowledged the system is hard to build because it needs to be small enough to keep larger contaminants like pollen out to ensure only the right particles are detected.

If a prototype is available in the next couple of years, GE reportedly envisions the sensors in grocery stores, hotel rooms, and perhaps even within individuals' phones and watches. An actual GE COVID-19 sensor is a long way off, and there are many questions to answer, such as how long one would remain reliable before breaking down. But it's all in the works. Read more about how the sensor could detect viruses like the novel coronavirus at Fast Company. Tim O'Donnell

April 10, 2021

The Supreme Court has once again ruled against California in a case concerning religious worship during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 5-4 decision, mostly along ideological lines, the court ruled late Friday night that California cannot enforce its three-household limit on at-home religious meetings, such as prayer groups and Bible studies. Conservatives were in the majority, with only Chief Justice John Roberts splitting off and siding with the three liberal justices.

A panel of the 9th Circuit of Appeals had previously upheld the state's restrictions on at-home gatherings since it was a blanket ban that applied to secular and non-secular gatherings, alike. The Supreme Court's minority argued along similar lines; in a dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that California is not required to "treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons."

But the majority wasn't satisfied with that explanation, suggesting the state was treating secular businesses, like movie theaters and restaurants, more favorably. "The state cannot assume the worst when people go to worship, but assume the best when people go to work," the unsigned majority opinion said. "This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise." Read more at Politico and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

April 10, 2021

Prince Philip, the late husband of the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II, will be laid to rest next Saturday, Buckingham Palace has announced.

The ceremony, which will take place at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, will reportedly contain many traditional customs associated with the death of a royal family member; however, attendance will be scaled down because of COVID-19 restrictions. The Duke of Edinburgh, who died Friday morning at 99, will not lie in state anywhere accessible to the public so as not to draw oversized crowds, but the funeral will be televised, and eight days of national mourning will precede the event. A Land Rover will carry the duke's coffin from Windsor Castle to St. George's, a nod to his preference for driving himself without a chauffeur, CNN notes.

Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex and Prince Philip's grandson, will travel from the United States to the U.K. for the funeral. His wife Meghan Markle, who is pregnant, will remain at their home on the advice of her doctor. Read more at CNN and BBC. Tim O'Donnell

April 10, 2021

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) revealed Saturday that he underwent emergency surgery on his left eye a day earlier after a doctor discovered his retina was detaching. The surgery "went well" he said, but it will require a long and likely arduous recovery. "I will be effectively blind for about a month," he explained, adding that a "few more prayers that my vision will get back to normal ... wouldn't hurt." While he recovers, he'll be mostly "off the grid," he said.

It was a "terrifying prognosis" for Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who was hit by an IED blast during a mission in Afghanistan's Helmand province in 2012. The injury cost him his right eye and badly damaged his left, his vision only returning after several surgeries, The Dallas Morning News notes. Crenshaw said "it was always a possibility that the effects of the damage to my retina would resurface, and it appears that is exactly what has happened."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Crenshaw a "fighter" who "has the support of every one of his colleagues" in Congress. "He's going to win this battle, too," McCarthy wrote on Twitter. Tim O'Donnell

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