September 20, 2020

Standing in front of the Brooklyn high school once attended by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Sunday night vowed to fight against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said he will push to have the Senate vote on President Trump's nominee to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

McConnell blocked former President Barack Obama from being able to select a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016, claiming it was too soon before the November election. By calling for a quick vote now, when the presidential election is just 44 days away, McConnell is displaying "blatant, nasty hypocrisy," Schumer said. He urged voters to call their senators and tell them "not to listen to Mitch McConnell, not to be afraid of Mitch McConnell."

Ocasio-Cortez said it is "extraordinarily important that we understand the stakes of this vacancy. Our reproductive rights are on the line, our labor rights are on the line, our right to health care is on the line, labor and union protections are on the line, our climate is on the line." A Trump appointment puts "all of our rights, the rights that so many people died for ... at risk," she continued.

People need to "mobilize on an unprecedented scale to ensure that this vacancy is reserved for the next president," Ocasio-Cortez said. She encouraged Americans to call their senators and lawmakers to "use every procedural tool available to us to ensure we buy ourselves the time necessary." Everyone must be "more courageous," she added, and let McConnell know "that he is playing with fire. We need to make sure that this vacancy is protected, that our election continues, and that the American people have their say." Catherine Garcia

11:24 a.m.

The Department of Justice and Purdue Pharma have reached an $8.3 billion settlement regarding the OxyContin maker's role in the opioid crisis, the DOJ announced during a Wednesday press conference. In addition, Purdue will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, The Associated Press reports.

Purdue will plead guilty to offering doctors kickback payments if they wrote more prescriptions for Purdue's painkillers, as well as using health record software to push for those prescriptions. The company will also have to admit it held up Drug Enforcement Administration investigations into the company as part of the settlement. It will forfeit at least $2 billion to the federal government, pay at least a $3.54 billion criminal fine, and fork over $2.8 billion in damages, among other charges. Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, preventing it from paying the criminal fine right away.

The settlement doesn't absolve Purdue's owners and executives from criminal liability, as a criminal investigation into them and the company is still ongoing. It will turn Purdue into a public benefit company managed by a trust and remove its owners, the Sackler family, of any involvement. The company also still has to deal with thousands of claims from local and state officials over the opioid epidemic as they dealt with more than 450,000 overdose deaths in the past 20 years. Purdue has suggested paying $10 billion to settle them all. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:47 a.m.

Pope Francis has reportedly backed civil unions for same-sex couples in a "major step" for the Catholic Church.

The pope in a documentary that premiered on Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival expressed support for creating "a civil union law" for same-sex couples so that "they are legally covered," Catholic News Agency reported.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," Francis reportedly says in the film Francesco. "They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."

The pope also reportedly says in the documentary, "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

This, Catholic News Agency noted, was a significant departure from the Vatican's stance on the issue and from the position of Francis' predecessors. The remarks were confirmed by The Associated Press, which noted that Francis had supported civil unions for same-sex couples as archbishop of Buenos Aires but had never done so as pope.

Jesuit priest and America Magazine editor James Martin praised the pope's remarks, describing them as "a major step forward in the church's support for LGBTQ people."

David Gibson, director of Fordham University's Center on Religion and Culture, also told The Washington Post, "This is huge. Looking behind all this, he's basically saying, again, we're not out here to be culture warriors. We're not out here to pick fights. We are out here to build up the family." Brendan Morrow

10:14 a.m.

After months of fruitless negotiations to develop and pass a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly told the White House on Tuesday to give up until after the election. But the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members, is still trying to talk McConnell out of it.

The caucus' 18 Republican and 25 Democratic members declared in a Wednesday statement that "it is critical Congress act immediately to pass bipartisan relief legislation," as "time is running out for the American people." If talks stop until after the election, it could be February until they begin again, the caucus noted. So it's encouraging the Trump administration to include a national testing strategy in the next relief bill, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed for. And it wants McConnell to take a vote on the House and White House's proposal. Without these measures, families and businesses "will continue to suffer needlessly as a result of Congress failing to do its job," the caucus said.

The last coronavirus relief package expired in July, ending boosted unemployment insurance for millions of Americans who remain without jobs. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:44 a.m.

A pair of peer-reviewed studies suggest there has been a "sharp" drop in COVID-19 death rates among patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, NPR reports.

One of the two new studies, which will be published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, looked at NYU Langone Health system hospitalizations and found "mortality has dropped among hospitalized patients by 18 percentage points," from 25.6 percent to 7.6 percent, since March, according to the report. Another study that will be published in Critical Care Medicine observed "an unadjusted drop in death rates among hospitalized patients of around 20 percentage points since the worst days of the pandemic" in England, NPR writes.

A number of factors may be contributing to this apparent decline, NPR reports, including doctors improving their ability to treat COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. Leora Horwitz, one of the authors on the first study, also suggested that mask-wearing may help lessen the severity of coronavirus cases.

At the same time, Horwitz pointed out that even with this decline, the COVID-19 death rate is "still higher than many infectious diseases, including the flu," and while "I do think this is good news," it "does not make the coronavirus a benign illness." She added that COVID-19 "still has the potential to be very harmful in terms of long-term consequences for many people." But Bilal Mateen, who conducted research for the second study, told NPR, "I would classify this as a silver lining to what has been quite a hard time for many people." Read more at NPR. Brendan Morrow

8:35 a.m.

President Trump won 52 percent of Catholic voters in 2016, versus 44 percent for Hillary Clinton, Pew Research estimates. Now, Trump is losing the Catholic vote to Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 12 percentage points, 52 percent to 40 percent, according to a poll released Tuesday by right-leaning EWTN News and RealClear Opinion Research.

Biden would be the second Catholic president, after fellow Democrat John F. Kennedy, but American Catholics are evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic parties. Democrat John Kerry, the last Catholic nominee, narrowly lost the Catholic vote to George W. Bush in 2004, exit polls found.

"Catholic voters have emerged as perhaps the key demographic cohort in the 2020 campaign," says RealClearPolitics' Carl Cannon. This year they are "increasingly non-white, trending more liberal in their younger ranks, and intensely concerned about jobs, the coronavirus, and health care." They also prefer Biden's policies over Trump's, 53 percent to 41 percent, and favor Biden's temperament, 59 percent to 33 percent, the poll found.

"Similar to national tracking polls, Biden's standing — in many cases, a 20-plus-point advantage — among Catholic women, Hispanics, independents, and voters under 55 (especially millennials and Gen Z) make it very challenging for Trump to narrow the gap in the final days," said John Della Volpe, who directed the poll. EWTN News notes that Biden's lead "narrows significantly in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin."

The poll also found that a 46 percent plurality of likely Catholic voters support the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic, while the rest are either opposed (28 percent) or don't have enough information to make a judgment (27 percent). Also, 45 percent of Catholic voters favor upholding Roe v. Wade, while 25 percent want all abortion outlawed and 18 percent want it left to the states. "There is no gender gap on this issue and it's worth emphasizing that support for keeping Roe is high even among Catholics who attend Mass daily," Cannon notes. "Simply put, this election isn't about abortion. It's about the economy and the coronavirus. It's a referendum."

The ETWN News-RealClear Opinion poll was conducted Oct. 4-11 among 1,490 likely Catholic voters contacted online in English and Spanish. It has a confidence interval of 2.79 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Peter Weber

8:03 a.m.

Members of Congress have an expert Twitch streamer among them.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday made her Twitch debut for a live stream of the popular video game Among Us, which she held to get out the vote in the 2020 election. It was evidently a massive hit, as CNET reports her stream "peaked at 439,000 views, making it the third highest viewed single stream in history."

Ocasio-Cortez wasn't the only member of Congress on the stream, in fact, as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) also took part. This was just Ocasio-Cortez's latest foray into reaching out to her followers through the world of video games. Back in May, she got into the Animal Crossing craze and briefly opened her Twitter direct messages so she could visit other players' islands.

Ocasio-Cortez during the Twitch stream urged viewers to make a voting plan ahead of Election Day.

"Figure out if you want to vote early, mail-in, in person, day of," she said at the end of the stream. "Make your plan and stick to it. Thank you everyone so much for playing, and let's all participate in this election and save our democracy."

While this might have been Ocasio-Cortez's first Twitch stream, gamers can evidently expect her to return, as she noted, "I hope it's not the last." Video of the full stream is available to watch on Twitch. Brendan Morrow

7:10 a.m.

Most people recover from COVID-19 within four weeks, but one in 20 patients is still ill after eight weeks and one in 40 continues to have symptoms after 12 weeks, a new study from Kings College London found, according to BBC News. The researchers pored over self-reported data in the COVID Symptoms Study app, looking for patterns that could predict if a patient who contracts the new coronavirus will have "long COVID" or recover more rapidly. They found several traits that appeared to increase the risk of longer-lasting COVID-19.

"Having more than five different symptoms in the first week was one of the key risk factors," Dr. Claire Steves at Kings College London told BBC News. Patients with a cough, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, headaches, and fatigue would be at higher risk than somebody with just a cough, for example. People over 50 also had increased odds of long COVID, as did people with asthma or lung disease, and women.

"We've seen from the early data coming out that men were at much more risk of very severe disease and sadly of dying from COVID, it appears that women are more at risk of long COVID." Steves said. There are no set symptoms for long COVID, but fatigue is common, BBC News notes. You can find more examples in this new PSA on long COVID from Britain's Department of Health and Social Care. Peter Weber

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