October 22, 2020

The number of Americans filing new jobless claims has declined to less than 800,000 for the first time in seven months.

The Labor Department on Thursday said that 787,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week, a decline of 55,000 from the previous week's revised level. This was significantly below the 875,000 claims economists had been expecting, CNBC reports. It's also the first time since the middle of March that the number of claims has been below 800,000, CNN notes.

Additionally, the number of continuing claims declined by about 1 million to 8.37 million claims, according to CNBC. Thursday's report came after last week, the number of new jobless claims unexpectedly rose to the highest level in almost two months.

At the same time, CNN notes that "23.2 million Americans received some form of government jobless benefits in the week ended October 3." The number of new jobless claims has also still yet to fall below 695,000, which was the record for most claims filed in one week prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Some recovery is better than no recovery, but we want this to be stronger," Evercore ISI managing director and policy economist Ernie Tedeschi told The New York Times. "It's at risk of getting knocked off its slow momentum if we get another shock, another wave of the virus." 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 for the bipartisan relief bill, but a growing number of Senate Republicans have said they're willing to support it. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:49 a.m.

Black Panther star Letitia Wright has taken down a tweet and said her "intention was not to hurt anyone" after coming under fire for posting an anti-vaccine YouTube video.

Wright, who's best known for playing T'Challa's sister Shuri in Black Panther, on Thursday night tweeted out a YouTube video to her more than 350,000 followers called "COVID-19 VACCINE, SHOULD WE TAKE IT." In it, a speaker from Light London Church "questions the legitimacy of" COVID-19 vaccination, Variety reports. He also describes himself as a "skeptic" of vaccines in general and says "I don't know if I'm going to take" a COVID-19 vaccine. The claims in the video "echo those of others who have baselessly criticized vaccine use," NBC News writes.

After being blasted as irresponsible, Wright complained that "you get cancelled" if "you don't conform to popular opinions," also saying she is not "saying don't take" a COVID-19 vaccine but is "concerned about what's in it." By Friday, she had deleted the original tweet and said "my intention was not to hurt anyone" but still defended herself for wanting to raise "concerns with what the vaccine contains and what we are putting in our bodies."

After a COVID-19 vaccine was approved in the U.K., and as two companies await approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their COVID-19 vaccines, health experts have expressed concerns over whether enough people will ultimately get vaccinated against the coronavirus, and numerous public figures including former presidents have volunteered to get a COVID-19 vaccine on camera in order to reassure the public that it's safe.

Writer Roxane Gay joined those blasting Wright for the tweets, writing, "Promoting anti-vaccine propaganda and shrouding it in intellectual curiosity is asinine. And dangerous." Wright's Marvel co-star Don Cheadle also described the video as "crazy" and said he "would never defend anybody posting this." Brendan Morrow

11:28 a.m.

Promising results from Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccines have raised hopes that an end to the pandemic may be in sight. But distribution issues aside, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology out last week is raising further concerns about those vaccines' effectiveness.

After initial human trials, Moderna reported its vaccine to be 94 percent effective in preventing coronavirus transmission, while Pfizer's was 95 percent effective and AstraZeneca's 90 percent. But these vaccines, along with many others still in development, share a potential weakness, MIT researchers report. Researchers used artificial intelligence and machine learning to examine a vaccine similar to these big developers', and found that while less than .5 percent of white trial participants didn't respond strongly to the vaccine, nearly 10 percent of Asian participants did not. This could mean "people of Black or Asian ancestry could have a slightly increased risk of vaccine ineffectiveness," the study's senior author David Gifford said in an article accompanying the study.

A lack of diversity in the vaccine trial pools may have led developers to calibrate the vaccine to a specific version of human genes — white people's genes in particular. But MIT researchers did offer a potential solution: "adding a small number of additional COVID-19 peptides" — strings of amino acids that make up proteins, which in turn make up a coronavirus — "to a given dose of the vaccine," MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab writes.

"The study's results highlight longstanding trends in health care" and clinical trials, Health IT Analytics notes. Minority groups are often underrepresented in trials, making it less certain how effective vaccines and drugs will be for them and potentially leading to the formulation of vaccines that are tailored for white people. That's especially troubling amid the coronavirus pandemic, as Black and brown people have disproportionately been hospitalized with and died of the virus. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:55 a.m.

The U.S. has seen more than 275,000 people die of COVID-19 as of Friday, with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus all reaching record highs across the country.

This week alone, 12 states and Puerto Rico hit daily death records, Axios notes. The U.S. itself hit a daily death record on Wednesday, when around 3,100 people died of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top coronavirus expert, warned Thursday that the U.S. hasn't even seen its expected post-Thanksgiving case surge yet.

While vaccine developments could bring an end to the pandemic next year, researchers predict there are still several dismal months ahead. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected in mid-November that 470,000 people in the U.S. would die of the virus by March 1. The institute's director Christopher Murray told The Washington Post that researchers are currently revising that estimate to project even more deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meanwhile rolled out an aggregated forecast of 37 coronavirus models on Thursday that projected anywhere from 303,000 to 329,000 people will die of COVID-19 by Dec. 26. Around 9,500 to 19,500 people are projected to die of the virus the week of Christmas alone. Hospitals across the country are struggling to keep up with the record hospitalizations, trying to bring back retired nurses and doctors and recruit nursing students who don't even have their licenses yet, The Associated Press reports. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:43 a.m.

The last jobs report to be released this year has arrived, and it's a major disappointment.

The Labor Department on Friday said the U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, which was down from the 440,000 jobs economists were expecting, CNBC reports. It was also "by far the lowest monthly total since the economy started its halting recovery," NBC News reports. In October, 610,000 jobs were added, the Labor Department says. The unemployment rate in November also dipped from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent.

"Today's report is a firm reminder that we're not out of the woods yet," Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao said, per CNBC. “Even with a vaccine on the horizon, many are bracing for a long winter ahead."

This disappointing report comes as COVID-19 cases spike around the United States, prompting states to implement new restrictions. The jobs numbers offered a "red flag that momentum is waning," The Washington Post's Heather Long wrote, while former White House deputy press secretary and CNBC contributor Tony Fratto said that although the addition of 245,000 jobs "would be a very good normal jobs day," this "isn't a normal jobs day and so it's quite a horrible number."

Politico's Ben White echoed that sentiment, writing that "the pace of jobs coming back is heading toward zero" and adding that "it's quite possible, given the pace we are on, that we could return to net job losses in December, especially with no new stimulus." Brendan Morrow

8:20 a.m.

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning "we're in a very precarious situation," even before the country experiences the "full brunt" of a post-Thanksgiving surge.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, spoke to NBC's Today after the U.S. on Thursday set another new record by reporting almost 213,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day, per The Washington Post. But when asked by Savannah Guthrie whether the U.S. is seeing a surge in recent days as a result of Americans traveling and holding gatherings for Thanksgiving, Fauci said there may be a "little bit of a blip" but warned there will be "more of a surge" in the coming weeks.

"We don't expect to see the full brunt of it [until] between two and three weeks following Thanksgiving," Fauci said. "So I think we have not yet seen the post-Thanksgiving peak. That's the concerning thing because the numbers in and of themselves are alarming, and then you realize that it is likely we'll see more of a surge as we get to two to three weeks past the Thanksgiving holiday."

Fauci added that this is particularly concerning because this would mean the COVID-19 surge would be occurring in December as Americans prepare to celebrate Christmas. Earlier this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel for the holidays, a warning also previously issued before Thanksgiving.

During the interview on Today, Fauci also confirmed he accepted an offer to serve as President-elect Joe Biden's chief medical adviser "right on the spot," and he added that he approves of the president-elect urging all Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office.

"I discussed that with him, and I told him I thought that was a good idea," Fauci said, though he added that "it might be that" wearing masks will still be necessary beyond those 100 days. Brendan Morrow

2:07 a.m.

The Bureau of Land Management said on Thursday that it will hold an auction in early January for drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As part of tax legislation passed by the GOP-led Congress in 2017, the Bureau of Land Management is required to hold two lease sales for drilling rights in the refuge's coastal plain within seven years, with the first one having to take place by December 2021. The auction is set for Jan. 6, just a few weeks before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Biden has said he will take steps to ensure the 19.64-million-acre refuge, the pristine home to migrating caribou and polar bears, is permanently protected.

NPR reports that the Trump administration has accelerated the sale, with the Bureau of Land Management not waiting the required 30 days for oil companies to tell the government the land they want included in the lease sale. The coastal plain covers 1.6 million acres, and is believed to hold billions of barrels of oil.

Conservation groups say drilling in the area could cause irreparable damage to the refuge and wildlife, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune telling CBS News auctioning off the leases is "a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate." Six banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citi, have told the Sierra Club they will not finance drilling in the refuge. Catherine Garcia

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