Current Events

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Current Events

Middle East Peace?

The White House negotiates historic peace deals between key Middle Eastern nations while the U.S. president puts one of the region’s major power brokers on notice for an alleged assassination plot.

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“Abraham Accords”

  • White House facilitated “pacts” between Middle East countries that previously had no formal diplomatic relations (officials don’t talk/meet).
  • Nations involved: Israel & United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel and Bahrain.
  • First significant peace deal in decades. Republicans and Democrats both support the pacts that Pres. Trump says will lead to the “dawn of a new Middle East.”
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Why It Matters:

  • Traditionally of opposing politics, the Jewish state of Israel & Muslim nations of UAE, Bahrain have only worked together “unofficially” or not at all.
  • Pacts open opportunity for potential cooperation – economically (trade), politically and beyond.
  • Other Arab nations may join, pulling together a new regional alliance that would be a direct affront to Iran (Muslim nation vehemently anti-Israel).

 

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“The UAE both betrayed the world of Islam, and [it] betrayed Arab nations and regional countries, and [it] also betrayed Palestine.”

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. An Arab-Israeli alliance brokered by the U.S. threatens Iran, creating a potential bloc that leaves Iran - a country that relied on anti-Israel sentiment to unify with its Arab neighbors - on the sidelines.
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Something To Consider:

  • How the pacts evolve from this point on remains TBD.
  • Foreign ministers – in contrast to heads of state PM Netanyahu and Pres. Trump – of UAE and Bahrain signed the pacts at the White House.
  • Rockets launched from Gaza (a Palestinian territory) into Israel on the same day of the White House signing ceremony. No damage reported. Gaza receives support from Iran and UAE.

 

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“Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”

Pres. Trump, on Twitter, on the eve of the historic peace deal ceremony with UAE, Israel and Bahrain. In a previous tweet, the President cited "press reports... Iran may be planning an assassination, or other attack, against the United States in retaliation for the killing of terrorist leader Soleimani."
Current Events

The pacts are called the "Abraham Accords" for Abraham, a key figure in 3 of the world's major religions: Judaism, Islam, & Christianity. One of the most obvious signs of change due to the deals: Plane flights between the nations, and the possibility for embassies in each other's nations. Who to watch for? Saudi Arabia.

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Current Events

“Temporary Pause”

One of the world’s largest vaccine trials aiming to combat COVID-19 halts after “an unexplained illness.”

What To Know

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The Basics

  • Vaccine invented by Oxford University who partnered with a U.K.- based drug company, AstraZeneca.
  • Clinical trials ongoing worldwide: U.K., Brazil, South Africa & America. U.S. Phase III trial (final stage) began on August 31st for 30,000 Americans.
  • Vaccine initially showed promising immune response, “no safety concerns”, some flu-like side effects during first trials.

 

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What Happened

We don’t know exactly but one participant developed an “unexplained illness.”

AstraZeneca: “In large clinical trials, illnesses will happen by chance and must be independently reviewed.”

New York Times report: participant developed inflammation of the spinal cord, often brought on by viral infections.

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How Vaccines Work

  • Not all vaccines are the same.
  • AstraZeneca vaccine uses a viral “carrier” (a common cold virus in chimpanzees) to deliver a small amount of SARS-COV-2 genetic material, to produce an immune response.
  • Moderna & Pfizer vaccines use manufactured SARS-COV-2 genetic material to spark an immune response (mRNA vaccine). No mRNA vaccines have been approved for human use.
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BIG PICTURE

  • Dozens of potential vaccines are in clinical trials *worldwide* ~ 100+ preclinical development. In the U.S., three vaccines are in final stage trials.
  • More than one vaccine *may* eventually combat COVID-19.
  • We are witnessing a historic race for vaccine development, both for the speed of trials and the type of vaccine itself (an approved mRNA vaccine would be the first of its kind).
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We have no way of knowing *if* the participant is reacting to the vaccine or separately ill. While we wait for more info, this once again puts focus on safety/efficacy in the race to a vaccine. This vaccine was thought to be a front-runner. TBD as to what happens next.

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Current Events

New Jobs Report

August Unemployment: 8.4%

Out of double digits, but not out of the woods.

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3 Quick Facts: Jobs Report

  • Better Than Expected Unemployment: Economists thought the unemployment rate would be closer to 10% but hiring was better than predicted.
  • Job Growth: 238,000 temporary jobs added by the government for the U.S. Census. Retailers added 249,000 jobs.
  • Hiring Slowed: Economy added 1.4 M jobs – that was down from July when it added 1.7M.
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“We’re in a very deep hole, and we’re working our way out of it. We continue to see very good improvement in the labor market, but I think the improvement is going to be slower going forward.”

Economist Gus Faucher PNC Financial Services Group. The Labor Dept. credited "resumption of economic activity" for the job growth in August, suggesting the driver is rehiring rather than new job creation.
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Something To Consider

HISTORIC: Previous to the pandemic, America had never recorded more than 700,000 people filing for unemployment benefits in one week. The 4-week moving average hovers under 1M.

LAYOFFS: United Airlines, Bed Bath & Beyond, & MGM Resorts recently announced major layoffs, sparking concern this reflects a permanent, rather than temporary, adjustment.

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The unemployment rate in January 2020 was 3.6% - the lowest in more than 50 years. The economy has shed more than 22M jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic - about half have been recovered. Story to watch? Lawmakers return to D.C. after Labor Day at odds over additional economic stimulus, incl. additional benefits for the unemployed. 

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Current Events

“We will never stop looking for you.”

How one investigation uncovers 39 missing children and what it teaches us about child trafficking in America.

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Operation Not Forgotten

  • Two-week operation in Atlanta & Macon, Georgia.
  • U.S. Marshals (federal forces) working with state and local law enforcement and the National Center for Endangered and Missing Children.
  • 26 children rescued & 13 missing children safely located.
  • Ages ranged 3-17 years-old.
  • 9 arrests made.
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Historical Context

  • U.S. Marshals: First *federal* law enforcement agency in U.S. history.
  • 1789: President George Washington appointed 13 Marshals.
  • 2006: Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act gave U.S. Marshals a new role finding fugitive sex offenders.
  • 2015: Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act empowered the U.S. Marshals to help with missing children cases with local law enforcement.
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“We will never stop looking for you. That’s [the] message. There is no more meaningful work that law enforcement does than rescuing children. Our children are not for sale and they are not ever forgotten.”

U.S. Marshals Director Washington on 'Operation Not Forgotten.' Local media reported of the 26 minors rescued, 15 were being sex trafficked, a crime the Natl Center for Missing & Exploited Children says happens in all 50 states.
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The U.S. Marshals arrest 361 people on average each day. Famous U.S. Marshals include Frederick Douglas, appointed in Washington D.C. in 1877 (first African-American U.S. Marshal) and Wyatt Earp, who along with his brothers participated in a famous western "showdown" at the O.K. Corral.

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Current Events

COVID & DAYCARES

The CDC shared new data on COVID cases in childcare facilities in Rhode Island.

The Major Takeaways
Why It Matters

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Backstory

  • Rhode Island allowed hundreds of its childcare centers to open in June & July with new COVID-19 policies.
  • Policies incl. reduced capacity, frequent cleaning, universal *adult* mask-wearing and symptom screenings.
  • The CDC released a report on what happened and hosted a briefing with researchers and reporters. SmartHER News participated in the media briefing as well.
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Here’s The Data

  • 666 of 891 (75%) daycare programs reopened in Rhode Island, with capacity for 18,945 children.
  • 101 *probable* cases of COVID emerged by July 31st of kids/staff; about half of those cases officially tested or diagnosed as positive.
  • Secondary transmission (one case spreading to many others) was limited.
  • Bottom Line: Cases emerged but spread was contained.
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Something To Consider

  • Of 666 daycares, 29 had COVID-19 incidents by end of July.
  • Of the 29, 20 had one case & no further transmission within daycare, five had 2-5 cases; four had 2+ cases w/secondary transmission unable to be ruled out.
  • While we know the number of daycare facilities & their capacities, we don’t know how many children/staff were actually in attendance to give the number of cases appropriate context.
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One Case Featured

A sick 2-year-old attended childcare 3 days before COVID-19 symptoms emerged & 3 days immediately after the symptoms ended.

10 of the 11 child care contacts in the same class were tested for COVID-19.

No additional students tested positive for the virus.

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“…what we’re asking the American public to do is to bring this virus to its knees…It’s in our grasp. But it is going to require all of us to embrace these mitigation steps. And we are going to need to do that for 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks and then we will see this outbreak get under control.”

CDC Dir. Robert Redfield believes social mitigation efforts like smaller class size made a difference in limiting spread in Rhode Island daycares.
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The study states the prevalence of cases in Rhode Island at the time was "low ... relative to other U.S. states." However, we don't know what "low" means in this case to understand how this example can apply elsewhere. We reached out to Rhode Island's Dept of Health and are awaiting a response.

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Current Events

Free Britney?

As social media rumors swirl about her personal life,
Britney Spears officially asks a California court to restrict the role of her father in her affairs.

Why & What To Know

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“We are now at a point where the conservatorship must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes.”

Samuel D. Ingham III, attorney for Britney Spears, on Tuesday asking the courts to prevent her father, Jamie Spears, from returning to his role as her sole conservator after he had temporarily stepped aside last year. Mr. Spears is expected to challenge this request.
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What Is A Conservator?

There are many different types of conservatorships (aka guardianships) and specifics vary by state, but generally  …

  • A conservator is appointed to manage a person’s finances, personal affairs (ex: healthcare decisions), or both.
  • When someone can’t manage their finances or care for themselves, a court may appoint them a conservator *after* conducting an investigation & hearing.
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Backstory

  • After a public “breakdown” 2007-2008, a court appointed Britney Spears’ dad and attorney as co-conservators over BOTH her personal affairs and finances.
  • Britney later described that breakdown as partly due to too many people trying to control every aspect of her life.
  • At the time of this latest court filing, Britney’s dad doesn’t have a legal role in her personal affairs but does over her finances.
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The Latest

  • Concerns over Spears’ mental health have existed for years. Recently the #FreeBritney movement gained steam.
  • Some fans speculated, without evidence, that some of her social media posts signal a cry for help.
  • Spears has rarely commented directly on her conservatorship, so her public court filing is a marked change.
  • Spears wants to cut ties with her dad in a legal sole supervisory role of any kind.
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“All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. The world don’t have a clue… It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.”

Britney's dad, Jamie Spears, responding to accusations that he is abusing the conservatorship by restricting her freedom and spending her money without her permission. Britney has not directly responded to the allegations concerning her father or her health.
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Britney Spears has sold over 100M records worldwide. Court filings reveal no public performances are imminent by the 38-year-old. Courts regularly review conservatorships to see if they are needed - but anyone, including Britney, can challenge them if they are able.

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Current Events

What’s the drama over the USPS and the 2020 Election?

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USPS

United States Postal Service

Unofficial creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

“The Postal Service receives NO tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.” (USPS)

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Important Background

  • The USPS is a financial mess.
  • Why? Less business & huge liabilities (debt, pensions, etc.). It lost $78B from 2007-2019.
  • Your state determines how you vote. The federal government DOES NOT administer elections – state election boards do. The federal gov’t has oversight over the USPS which assists delivery of absentee & mail-in ballots on a state level.
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A 2020 Warning

  • Mail-in ballots and delays surged during COVID-19 elections; Two of NY’s June congressional races took 6 weeks for final count.
  • Some state election boards are trying to make mail-in ballots more accessible in part to enable voters to avoid crowds.
  • In July, USPS warned 40+ state election offices to plan for potential delays and recommended they send ballots to voters as early as possible.
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Whats Happening Now?

  • The House of Representatives, led by Democrats, carved out $25B for USPS as part of an emergency economic stimulus bill to cushion the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic, PLUS $3.6B to states to help manage the election.
  • Pres. Trump calls this funding a “bailout” – an unnecessary add-on. Pres. alleges Democrats want to increase mail-in voting in order to tilt the election against him and risk voter fraud.
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And then there’s this…

  • A new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, took over in June.
  • DeJoy is a businessman and Republican donor who has promised to help USPS cut costs and shore-up finances.
  • Democrats accuse him of purposefully cutting resources right when the nation needs it most, and asked the FBI to investigate. He denies any wrongdoing and postponed any changes until after the election.
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“Nice try, Postmaster General DeJoy, but the House will still be passing our bill to ensure the delivery of the mail through the election. We will deliver for America by voting on Saturday. #DontMessWithUSPS”

House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) called her colleagues back to D.C. (they were expected to be in their districts until September) to vote on a bill prohibiting any proposed changes to USPS's operations and service standards until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
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“…(Democrats) want to send in millions and millions of ballots…They’re being lost, they’re being discarded. They’re finding them in piles. It’s going to be a catastrophe. So — and this is beyond the Post Office.”

Pres. Trump alleging Democrats want funding for Post Office to increase mail-in voting that will favor them. The President's critics accuse him of voter suppression for his unwillingness to give additional money to the USPS.
Current Events

The head of one of the postal workers' unions calls the potential challenge of extra votes a "piece of cake" with proper planning. The fate of the bill remains TBD. A previous COVID-19 economic stimulus bill granted a $10B loan to the USPS. The USPS has repeatedly borrowed from the Treasury in recent years.

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Current Events

COVID & KIDS

What we’ve learned about the nation’s most serious cases of COVID-19 in children.

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Backstory

  • The CDC issued a new report on children hospitalized due to COVID-19 in America between March 1 – July 25.
  • The CDC looked specifically at 576 hospitalizations across 14 states – *not* TOTAL COVID-19 hospitalizations in children nationwide.
  • Around the same time, children under 18 represented about 7% of COVID-19 cases in America and 1% of hospitalizations.
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Big Picture

CDC: Children are “at risk” for severe cases of COVID-19 BUT “most reported cases of (COVID-19) in children under 18 appear to be asymptomatic or minor.”

  • Children hospitalized = 8 per 100,000
  • Adults: 164.5 per 100,000

Once hospitalized, children had about the same chance of being admitted to the ICU (about 1 in 3) but lower rate of death.

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Characteristics

Median Age: 8 years old

Median length of hospital stay: 2.5 days.

  • Highest hospitalization rates: 2 years old and under (majority under 2 months old); “substantially lower” in those 2 to 17 years old.
  • Greatest number of hospitalizations overall: 12-17 year olds who made up nearly 42% of the group.

 

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Notable

Respiratory distress, shortness of breath were *not* the most common symptoms in children. Top 3 common symptoms:

  • fever/chills
  • poor eating
  • nausea/vomiting.

Cough was listed 4th along with a runny nose/congestion.

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Black and Hispanic children were much more likely to be hospitalized than white (this disparity is also seen in adult cases of COVID). The specific reason why remains unknown and data remains incomplete. One important statistic: 42% of ALL children had 1 underlying condition, the most prevalent, obesity.

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Current Events

Do You Have COVID?

Researchers want to streamline categorizing your symptoms and try to predict your outcome.

New study reveals their current findings.

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Backstory

  • The list of symptoms for COVID-19 has evolved, including common ailments.
  • Researchers at King’s College used a database of 4M people from a “symptom tracker app” to identify symptoms, and grouped symptoms found in a subset of 1600 people.
  • They identified 6 separate categories of COVID-19 symptoms, and then attempted to associate these categories to potential severity of disease.
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The 6 Categories

1. Flu-like with no fever

2. Flu-like with fever

3. Gastrointestinal

4. Severe level 1, fatigue

5. Severe level 2, confusion

6. Severe level 3, abdominal and respiratory

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Potential “Early Warning”?

  • First three categories had lower rates of severe cases, hospitalization.
  • Researchers used symptoms experienced on Day 5 of infection & factored-in other variables (e.g. age, weight) to assign patients a category.
  • Since hospitalization often occurs more than a week into a COVID-19 infection, researchers want to create a model to help predict a more serious case and enable doctors to intervene early.
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“Certainly, we will have to see how this performs in the ‘real world.’ With widespread use, it should ‘learn’ and become progressively more effective.”

UC Berkeley professor of infectious disease and vaccinology Dr. John Swartzberg, who did not work on the study but says it could start helping doctors with care plans.
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For a complete list of category symptoms, click on our source page. The study is not "peer reviewed" - an important step that helps validate medical research. In the midst of the pandemic, many studies released to the public have not been peer reviewed as scientists have scrambled to understand this new illness.

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COINS & COVID

Has the pandemic left us short-changed?

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Cash, Coins & COVID-19

  • Under the Treasury Dept, the Bureau of Engraving & Printing makes paper currency; the U.S. Mint makes coins.
  • The Mint delivers coins to the 12 Federal Reserve Banks that distribute coins to (& receive coins from) our financial institutions, like banks & credit unions.
  • Before COVID-19, 70%+ of U.S. transactions were conducted in person (as opposed to online) & 35% of those were paid using cash.
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Short-Changed By COVID?

  • Problem: Recent closures and reduced hours at banks and stores caused major disruptions to both the supply and typical circulation pattern of coins.
  • Result: SLOWER movement of coins – NOT fewer coins overall, but a smaller inventory of coins in some areas.
  • Solution: The Federal Reserve says coin inventory issues will resolve as the economy opens and more people resume in-person banking & shopping.
Current Events

“While there is adequate coin in the economy, the slowed pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coin are not readily available where needed. With establishments like retail shops, bank branches, transit authorities and laundromats closed, the typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin.”

The Federal Reserve on June 30.
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In The Meantime …

  • The Federal Reserve created a task force and is temporarily overseeing the allocation of the existing coin supply.
  • Stores are doing their best to conserve coin inventories, with Wawa, CVS, & Dollar Tree asking customers to pay with exact change.
  • Some stores are asking customers to round up their purchase up to the next dollar rather than take their change, promising to donate it to charity.
Current Events

DID YOU KNOW? It costs about $0.019 to produce and distribute a penny - that's nearly double its value.

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Current Events

For the second day, the President provided an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.

3 Highlights To Know

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“Nationwide, beyond the outbreak in several states, cases remain low and very stable.”

Pres. Trump says the percentage of Americans testing positive for COVID-19 is declining and lower than in the spring. Meanwhile, California surpassed New York Wednesday as the state having had the most cases of COVID-19 in the nation (413,000+). Ohio, Minnesota & Indiana issued statewide mask mandates; the Pres. said a decision about mask requirements on federal property is coming in the next 24 hours.
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“…we’re requiring increased testing of the nursing home personnel in states where you had the worst outbreaks.”

Pres. Trump said the federal government would distribute 15,000 rapid tests to nursing homes, calling the 5-15 minute tests "very accurate." *Separately,* The New England Journal of Medicine this week highlighted Congress allocating $1.5B for rapid, point-of-care COVID-19 testing with the hopes of being able to test 2% of the U.S. population, or 6 million people per day, by this fall.
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“Our strategy is to shelter the highest-risk Americans, while allowing younger and healthier citizens to return to work or school while being careful and very vigilant. “

Pres. Trump repeated that more than half U.S. COVID deaths are attributed to a group that makes up less than 1% of the U.S. population: those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. The President said he is "comfortable" letting his child/grandchildren go back to school.
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The President said the U.S. gov't is looking carefully at how children transmit COVID-19 and to expect more information "over the next week." The President said the gov't secured doses of a potential vaccine, is focusing on therapeutics, and he remains hopeful for a "cure."

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Current Events

The President updated the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s Three Highlights

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“Ultimately, our goal is not merely to manage the pandemic but to end it.”

Pres. Trump says a vaccine remains a "top priority" and two candidates are moving ahead into the final stage of clinical trials. The President says the median age of those who died from COVID-19 is now 78-years-old - about 50% of all fatalities are those who resided in long-term care facilities or nursing homes, and fewer than 1% are children.
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“It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better.”

Pres. Trump noted that some areas of the country have made significant progress, while others - such as the Sun Belt - have seen concerning rises - primarily in those aged between 18 to 35-years-old. President Trump said "nearly 7,000 National Guard and military medical personnel" are supporting areas where the federal government is particularly watching hospital capacity: Texas, California, Florida, and Arizona
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“I’m getting used to the mask, and the reason is — think about patriotism.”

The President asked all Americans to use face masks, saying they can "potentially help." Pres. Trump said he "gladly" wears masks when he needs to do so, when social distancing is not possible. Remarking on the change in mask guidance over the last several months, the President said of health officials: "If they change their mind, that’s good enough for me."
Current Events

On Tuesday, Pres.Trump held the first White House COVID-19 news conference since April. Unlike the earlier briefings with the COVID-19 task force, only the President spoke. He said the next economic relief package (phase 4) is in the works and that both sides want "to get it done" in order to protect workers, schools, and families.

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