April 19, 2021

At this point, Natalie Shure writes in The New Republic, the "ongoing ubiquity" of outdoor masking has turned into "meaningless political theater," even as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The Atlantic's Derek Thompson seems to concur, writing that "mandating outdoor masks and closing public areas makes a show of 'taking the virus seriously,' while doing nothing to reduce indoor spread,'" adding that such rules may actually backfire in that they force people to gather inside, which is much riskier. Slate's Shannon Palus joined Shure and Thompson in arguing that outdoor masking makes little sense anymore, given how much more information there is about COVID-19 transmission these days.

Shure, Thompson, and Palus were quick to clarify that they're still very much in favor of wearing masks indoors, but they all pointed to several studies that found the risk of passing on the virus outdoors to be very small. The rare cases that do occur tend to "involve considerable close contact," as opposed to, say, "passing someone maskless on the street or in the park," Shure writes.

The counterargument is that wearing masks outdoors reinforces the idea that people should wear them indoors, but Thompson notes that Julia Marcus, a Harvard Medical School epidemiologist, found through some anecdotal interviews with mask skeptics that people became more open to adhering to indoor mandates when they learned outdoor masking wasn't as important. "The purpose of mask wearing isn't to send a message," Shure writes. "If it were we could just iron whatever slogan we wanted to onto a T-shirt. The point of mask-wearing is to reduce infection, and there's simply no reason to believe that wearing a mask while walking to the grocery store accomplishes this." Read more at The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Slate. Tim O'Donnell

8:57 p.m.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the number of coronavirus cases are down in all 50 states, President Biden announced on Monday.

This comes as 60 percent of Americans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. Despite the gains, "we're still losing too many Americans" to COVID-19, Biden said, and people who refuse to get vaccinated "will end up paying the price."

Biden also revealed that in June, the United States will send 20 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines abroad. "We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that's raging globally is under control," he said. "No ocean's wide enough, no wall's high enough, to keep us safe." Catherine Garcia

7:58 p.m.

Cyclone Tauktae made landfall in India's western state of Gujarat on Monday, bringing with it heavy rain and winds.

The cyclone was classified as being "extremely severe" — the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane — and has already killed 12 people since the weekend. About 150,000 people who live in low-lying areas were evacuated ahead of the cyclone making landfall, and are now in shelters. BBC News reports Tauktae is the strongest cyclone to hit the region since 1998.

The cyclone comes as India deals with a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases, with hospitals running out of oxygen and beds for patients. There are concerns that by moving so many people to shelters, this could lead to coronavirus outbreaks in the next few weeks. Catherine Garcia

7:07 p.m.

President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, and during their call expressed support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and encouraged Netanyahu "to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians," the White House said.

Over the last week, Israel has been conducting airstrike after airstrike in Gaza, and in return, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel. This is the worst fighting between the two sides since 2014, and so far, at least 200 Palestinians and eight Israelis have been killed.

Egypt and the United Nations have been trying to broker a ceasefire, but have yet to make any progress. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said any "diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we'll support," but "ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire."

The Biden administration said it is focusing on "quiet, intensive diplomacy," but some Democrats, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), are calling on the president to "push harder" on Israel and Hamas to stop the violence. "We can't continue to see this loss of civilian life," Schiff said on Face the Nation Sunday. "It's got to come to an end." Catherine Garcia

6:27 p.m.

Just as Americans finished filing their 2020 taxes, the president released his.

President Biden shared his tax returns on Monday evening, which Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointedly noted was restoring the time-honored and "transparent" presidential tradition ignored by his predecessor, President Donald Trump. Vice President Kamala Harris' taxes were released Monday evening, as well.

Notably, both Biden and Harris reported lower incomes than in 2019; they would, however, still "end up paying higher tax rates under Biden's American Family Plan based on their incomes this year," Bloomberg reports. The president's income fell to $607,336 in 2020, while Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff reported a federal adjusted gross income of $1,695,225.

The big reveal came on the heels of Monday's other tax-related news, in which the Biden administration shared it would "kick-start advance payments" of the American Relief Plan's child tax credit on July 15, per Insider.

Read more at Bloomberg and Insider. Brigid Kennedy

6:13 p.m.

Ariana Grande thought she'd end up with Dalton, and it was a match.

Grande and her fiancé Dalton Gomez, a real estate agent, got married over the weekend, TMZ reported and the pop star's representative confirmed to People.

"It was tiny and intimate — less than 20 people," the representative said. "The room was so happy and full of love. The couple and both families couldn't be happier."

The wedding reportedly took place at Grande's home in Montecito, California, though TMZ writes that "there was no real 'ceremony'" and that they "said their 'I dos' in an informal way." The "thank u, next" singer, who was previously engaged to comedian and actor Pete Davidson, announced her engagement to Gomez in December after the two started dating in early 2020.

"Forever n then some," she wrote on Instagram at the time while offering a look at her engagement ring. Make that eight rings, then! Brendan Morrow

6:07 p.m.

President Biden may begin issuing pardons before the 2022 midterms, The New York Times reports.

Per the Times, administration officials have begun evaluating clemency requests, and activists have said they feel they're getting the sense pardons and commutations may be signed by the president within the next year or two. "We asked them not to wait to the end of a term to execute pardon and commutation power for photo ops, and they definitely assured us that is not this administration's plans," DeAnna Hoskins, the president of the criminal justice group JustLeadershipUSA, told the Times. Hoskins participated in a Zoom call between White House officials and formerly incarcerated citizens last month.

While Biden appears to be getting the ball rolling early, the process itself will be quite deliberate and in conjunction with the Justice Department, which oversees a "rigorous application vetting process," the Times reports. That differs from former President Donald Trump's pardon approach, the Times notes, which often bypassed the Justice Department and instead relied on "an ad hoc network of friends and allies."

Not everyone loves that idea, though. Desmond Meade, a voting rights activist who is seeking a federal pardon for a decades-old military conviction for stealing liquor and electronics on Navy bases while he was serving in the Army, said the Justice Department's application is "way too bureaucratic" and "daunting." He tried to convince the Biden administration to move the process outside the department, but it appears they are not inclined to do so, the Times reports. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

3:54 p.m.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is reportedly set to receive a whopping $5 million for his book about the COVID-19 pandemic, which controversially debuted while the pandemic was still unfolding.

Cuomo has reported that he earned $3.12 million in 2020 from his book American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, and under the contract for the book, another $2 million will be paid over the course of the next two years, The New York Times reported on Monday.

A spokesperson for the governor told the Times that Cuomo netted a total of $1,537,508 from the book last year after expenses and taxes, a third of which was donated to United Way of New York State for COVID-19 relief and vaccination efforts. The rest of the money will be given to "a trust for his three daughters equally," the spokesperson said.

Cuomo faced criticism last year for his decision to release a book about New York's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2020 before the pandemic was over. In the subsequent months, his administration became engulfed in multiple scandals, including surrounding its handling of the number of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents and allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.

Last month, The New York Times also revealed that Cuomo was facing an investigation into allegations that he used state resources while writing American Crisis. Cuomo has said some staff volunteered to work on the book but has denied improperly misusing state resources.

Given that Crown, the publisher of American Crisis, previously announced it would not release a paperback edition of the book, the Times reported it was unclear whether the full advance would be paid. But the Times also notes that with about 50,000 copies sold, book sales for American Crisis "have been anemic." Brendan Morrow

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