We’ll be shutting down today’s blog shortly. Here’s a glance at the day’s top news items:

Another of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd has been released from jail, according to Hennepin County jail records.

The Associated Press reports:

Tou Thao, age 34, is the third former officer accused in Floyd’s death to be released on bond. He posted $750,000 bond on Saturday, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. All four officers on the scene of Floyd’s death have been fired and face criminal charges.

Floyd, who was Black and handcuffed, died on 25 May while being arrested. A white police officer used his knee to pin Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd begged for air and eventually stopped moving.

Besides the charges against the officers, Floyd’s death led to worldwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice.

Thao is set to appear in court on 11 September on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Two other former officers, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, face the same charges as Thao. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence. He remains in police custody.

Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane
This combination of file handout photos provided by the Hennepin County jail shows, left to right, ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane. Photograph: Hennepin County Jail/AFP/Getty Images

The Grim Reaper made a return appearance on Florida’s beaches over Fourth of July weekend.

Daniel Uhlfelder, an attorney who made national headlines in May for dressing as Death himself in an effort to warn Floridians of the dangers of gathering in too close a proximity, brought his scythe-wielding personal to Jacksonville Beach during the holiday, where a number of colorful exchanges with Donald Trump supporters ensued.

Florida man tells “grim reaper” that Joe and Hunter Biden went to China and brought the coronavirus back with them.

— Travis Akers (@travisakers) July 4, 2020

Florida health officials said on Sunday the state has reached a grim milestone with more than 200,000 people having tested positive for Covid-19.

State statistics released Sunday show about 10,000 new people tested positive. Saturday’s numbers, with more than 11,400 cases reported, marked a record new single-day high. More than 3,700 people have died statewide.

About 43% of the cases are in three counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

Study: Covid-fuelled spike in gun purchases led to firearm violence increase

A spike in gun purchases during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic was associated with a nearly 8% increase in firearm violence in the US, according to a new estimate from researchers at the University of California, Davis.

That increase translated into an estimated 776 additional shooting injuries in the US from March through May, the researchers found.

The pandemic appears to have inspired Americans to make 2.1m more gun purchases than under typical circumstances.

The new estimates, the first to quantify the effects of coronavirus gun-buying, come from the preprint of a study conducted by one of the leading US gun violence researchers. The results have not yet gone through peer review or been published in a research journal.

“We wanted to get this research out as soon as possible, because obviously there are important implications for public health and public safety,” said Julia Schleimer, a research data analyst at the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, and one of the study’s authors.

The researchers looked at increases in gun purchases and changes in firearms violence across 48 states and the District of Columbia.

They found that many demographic factors – including overall rates of firearm ownership, socioeconomic status, how urban a state was and levels of residential segregation by race – did not seem to make a difference in the relationship between increased gun purchases and firearms violence.

But states that had lower levels of violent crime pre-Covid saw a stronger connection between additional gun purchases and more gun violence.

The study used data from the Gun Violence Archive, which publishes information on shootings and firearms deaths based on media reports. The study did not examine the effect of firearms purchase increases on gun suicide, which represent the majority of gun deaths in the US.

States that ordered gun stores to be closed at some point during the pandemic, rather than naming them as essential businesses that could stay open, on average had smaller overall increases in gun purchases.


The White House press pool reports that Donald Trump is back at the executive mansion after a morning of golf at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia’s Loudoun County, his 124th round since taking office.

CBS News has shared a few images of Trump in action.

.@realDonaldTrump is playing golf today at his course in Sterling, VA. Visuals captured by @CBSNews...

— Arden Farhi (@ArdenFarhi) July 5, 2020

No word on who rounded out Trump’s foursome. His playing partner last Sunday was South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, who claimed the US president shot a two-over-par 74 on the day, which feels, er, charitable.

Artists and volunteers in Maryland have been putting the finishing touches on a 7,000 sq ft mural of Breonna Taylor in a historically black neighborhood in Maryland’s capital city.

Breonna Taylor mural
In an aerial view from a drone, a large-scale ground mural depicting Breonna Taylor with the text ‘Black Lives Matter’ is seen being painted at Annapolis’s Chambers Park on Sunday. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Taylor, 26, was killed in her Louisville home in March by police who were serving a no-knock warrant. Protesters have been calling for the officers involved in her death to be charged.

The sprawling depiction of Taylor, the latest work by muralist Jeff Huntington, has been organized by Future History Now in partnership with Banneker-Douglass Museum and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.

Breonna Taylor mural
The mural was organized by Future History Now in partnership with Banneker-Douglass Museum and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Huntington told the Capital Gazette his organization chose to paint Taylor to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to focus on a prominent female figure in the movement.

Reuters has more on Kanye West’s surprise announcement on Saturday night that he will be running for president. Though it probably warrants mention that West released the lead single for his forthcoming 10th studio album God’s Country on Tuesday and he’s never been shy about cannonballing into the news cycle by hook or by crook for the sake of an album rollout. (Just saying.)

If Kanye West is serious about running for president, the rapper and fashion designer will face major obstacles to mounting a serious campaign less than four months before the 3 November election.

West said he was running in a Twitter post on Saturday, the Fourth of July holiday.

If so, he will have to work fast to get his name on the ballot alongside Donald Trump and the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

There are two routes to doing so, said James McCann, a political scientist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

West could try secure the backing of a smaller political party. Without it, he could try to appear as an independent.

Donald Trump will reportedly hold an outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday, lending support to the theory his campaign has increasingly seen the New England state as crucial in the president’s reelection bid.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and New Hampshire’s four electoral votes, by a narrower-than-expected 0.6% margin in the 2016 general election.

One unnamed Trump adviser teased the campaign’s tactics, telling Politico that a win in New Hampshire combined with either Nevada or New Mexico (where Trump has also devoted significant resources), would create a path to victory even if Biden wins big in the Rust Belt.

“We don’t need 306,” the person said. “We just need 270. We can lose Michigan and lose Pennsylvania and still win.”

Austin’s Democratic mayor Steve Adler decried Donald Trump’s “ambiguous” messaging on the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, calling on the governor to empower local governments to order residents to stay home amid an alarming surge in statewide case numbers.

“It makes me angry,” Adler said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “You know, I understand he has a tough job, but it is dangerous not to be sending a clear message to Americans.”

“When they start hearing that kind of ambiguous message coming out of Washington, there are more and more people that won’t wear masks, that won’t social distance, that won’t do what it takes to keep a community safe,” he added.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler on infection numbers in his city: "If we don't change the trajectory, then I am within two weeks of having our hospitals overrun. And in our ICU's, I could be ten days away from that" #CNNSOTU

— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) July 5, 2020

Adler estimated the hospitals in the Texas capital are “within two weeks” of being overrun if his state doesn’t “change the trajectory”. ICUs could face the same problem even sooner, he said.

The mayor’s sentiments were echoed by Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo, who has been front and center of Houston’s response and agreed a stay-at-home order is needed in the state’s largest city.

Texas reported its highest daily increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases Saturday with 8,258.

The Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, may not have made many friends in the White House today, given his comment that if Donald Trump decides to hold a campaign rally in his state, attendees will need to wear masks.

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Hutchinson said he would expect people to follow his state’s guidelines by practicing social distancing or wearing masks. He understood the value of having national Fourth of July celebrations such as that at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday, he said, and that some Americans may be experiencing “virus fatigue”.

But people who attended Trump’s event on Friday should have been wearing face coverings to “set an example”, he said.

Trump has also recently held events in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Phoenix, Arizona; and Washington DC. He and many attendees did not wear masks.

Here’s Richard Luscombe’s report on Trump’s somewhat unorthodox approach to a weekend meant for national celebration:

Bolton shoots down Trump claim not to have known of bounties plot

Donald Trump’s claim not to have been briefed about intelligence suggesting Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill US soldiers is “just not the way the system works”, former national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday.

John Bolton.
John Bolton. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Bolton was appearing on Face the Nation, the Sunday talk show from ViacomCBS, the communications giant which owns Simon & Schuster, the publisher which put out Bolton’s Trump White House memoir, The Room Where It Happened, over the president’s objection.

Elsewhere on Sunday morning, former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice said Bolton would have known about the bounties intelligence while he was in the role, which he left in September 2019.

“I don’t buy this story that he was never briefed,” Rice told NBC’s Meet The Press. “I believe that over a year ago, when the information first came to light in 2019, that my successor, John Bolton, would have walked straight into the Oval Office, as I would have, and informed the president of this intelligence.”

Bolton’s book, a bombshell tell-all which sold nearly 800,000 copies in its first week in stores, is named for the Oval Office. But it does not include mention of the bounties plot.

I’m not going to disclose classified information,” Bolton told CBS. “I’ve got the struggle with the president trying to repress my book on that score already.

“I will say this. All intelligence is distributed along the spectrum of uncertainty. And this intelligence in 2020, by the administration’s own admission, was deemed credible enough to give to our allies. So the notion that you only give the really completely 100% verified intelligence to the president would mean you give him almost nothing. And that’s just not the way the system works.”

Current national security adviser Robert O’Brien has said information about the Russian plot was withheld by a CIA officer, even though it was in the president’s brief.

Bolton said any decision to withhold intelligence would “certainly not” be “made only by the briefer who briefs the president twice a week. That’s a decision that at least when I was there, would have been made by the director of national intelligence, the director of the CIA, myself and the briefer together.”

Though his book is an extensive anatomisation of Trump’s personality and fitness or otherwise for office, Bolton sidestepped a chance to criticise O’Brien, saying: “I don’t want to make this a matter of personalities.”

Nor would he say if he had known of the bounties intelligence or not.

“What was made public in 2018,” he said, “was Russian assistance to the Taliban, and that’s been known for some time. That alone is troubling.

“What is particularly troubling, if true, is this latest information that they were … providing compensation for killing Americans. And that is the kind of thing that you go to the president on and say, ‘Look … we may not know everything on this, but a nuclear power is reportedly providing bounties to kill Americans.’

“That’s the kind of thing you need to have in the president’s view so that he can think about it as he develops – well, at least as normal presidents develop strategy to handle Russia, to handle Afghanistan.”

Maanvi Singh has news on California’s trouble coping with the Covid-19 pandemic:

For a good while, it seemed California had skirted past calamity. It was the first US state to order residents to shelter in place in March, and its early, aggressive actions paid off. Despite it being the most populous state and an international hub with the largest number of direct flights to China, where the coronavirus first appeared, California’s death rate remained relatively low.

By May, Disneyland announced plans to reopen. The nation’s top health official Dr Anthony Fauci praised Governor Gavin Newsom’s leadership. And as the weather warmed, Californians flooded back to beaches and bars.

“We had reason to feel confident,” said Dr Bob Wachter, who chairs the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “And then, we hit some trouble.”

A few outbreaks sparked an explosion, with an average of about 6,000 to 7,000 new cases each day over the past week. Los Angeles county began to count more residents sick with Covid-19 cases anywhere else in the nation and Disneyland postponed its reopening. As hospitalizations surged, the death toll climbed past 6,000, and ICU beds in some regions began filling to capacity, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, ordered bars, restaurant dining rooms, cinemas and other indoor venues in the hardest-hit counties to close back up.

Now, health officials and epidemiologists sifting through the rubble are left wondering how the Golden state lost its status as the public health golden child.

You can read the full article below:

CNN has offered a rather pointed response to Donald Trump after the president attacked the network for “manipulating the words and meaning of my 4th of July Speech.” CNN, in fact, had disproven reports on the internet that Trump had made a historical error in his speech. “What. Are. You. Talking. About? CNN fact-checked and dispelled the video clip that made it seem like you’d said Desert Storm happened in Vietnam,” wrote CNN’s PR department on Twitter.

What. Are. You. Talking. About? CNN fact-checked and dispelled the video clip that made it seem like you’d said Desert Storm happened in Vietnam.

— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) July 5, 2020

Plenty of athletes have tested positive for Covid-19 as the sports world starts to resume. While most have proved to be asymptomatic, it is sobering to hear that even young, very fit people can feel the effects of the virus. The Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman, one of the best first basemen in baseball, has tested positive and his wife, Chelsea, posted on Instagram that the virus has taken a toll on her husband.

“He is someone who literally never gets sick and this virus hit him like a ton of bricks,” she wrote. “We’ve been really strict for the last 4 months. Haven’t gone to a grocery store, haven’t gone out to dinner once, haven’t seen our friends ... and still got it.” She added that her 30-year-old husband has suffered from “body aches, headaches, chills and a high fever.”

“It’s a serious matter,” Braves outfielder Nick Markakis said. “I hope Freddie heals up quickly. I know he’s young, healthy. I hope he heals up and gets back as quickly as possible because as you know with 60 games, one week can change things quickly.”

The Major League Baseball season is due to resume on 23 July.

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, rapper Kanye West declared his candidacy for US president.

The unlikely challenger to Donald Trump – of whom he has been a vocal supporter – and Joe Biden, chose American independence day to make the surprise announcement on Twitter, triggering a social media storm.

“We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future,” West wrote. “I am running for president of the United States.”

We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States 🇺🇸! #2020VISION

— ye (@kanyewest) July 5, 2020

The post was accompanied by a stars and stripes flag, an exclamation mark and “#2020VISION”. His wife, Kim Kardashian West, replied to the tweet with an American flag.

With just four months to go before polling day on 3 November, it was not clear whether West’s tweet would have been more fitting on April Fools’ day than American Independence Day.

Nor was it clear whether the 43-year-old had filed any official paperwork to appear on state election ballots. The deadline to add independent candidates to the ballot has not yet passed in many states.

But after businessman and reality TV star Trump won the White House in 2016, perhaps the idea of Kim Kardashian as first lady could be written in the stars as America’s fate.

And West, a 21-time Grammy award winner, picked up an immediate endorsement from Elon Musk, the chief executive of electric-car maker Tesla and another celebrity known for eccentric outbursts, who tweeted in reply: “You have my full support!”

A West-Musk ticket is not what anyone was expecting in an election that has already delivered a cornucopia of the unexpected.

West and his wife have visited Trump in the White House to discuss prison reform. At one bizarre meeting in 2018, West wore a red “Make America Great Again” cap and uttered words such as “motherfucker” and “infinite amounts of universe”. He said Trump made him feel like Superman, hugged him and declared: “I love this guy right here.”

Asked if West could be a future presidential candidate, Trump replied: “Could very well be.”

During his appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation earlier, Houston’s Democratic mayor Sylvester Turner was asked what he thought about Donald Trump’s comments that he wanted to fight the “radical left, Marxists, anarchists, agitators and the looters and the angry mob trying to tear down our statues and address our history.”

Turner said those looking to take down Confederate era statues in Houston had not caused problems.

“In Houston, we have taken them down, and they’ve been taken down very peacefully with the support, I would say, probably of most Houstonians in this city,” he says.

“... The fact is that those monuments were placed, for example, in Houston 80 to 100 years ago to glorify the bad things that were done to people like my ancestors. It has been past due time for those statues to come down. We did it in a respectful way. We’re not trying to erase history, but we are trying to take the power of placing these statues in public spaces away and to place them where they can be told, where the history can be told and placed in its context.”

Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser under Barack Obama, says she has trouble believing Donald Trump was not briefed on reports Russians paid bounties for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

“The president of the United States has demonstrated absolutely callous disregard for the safety and security of American forces in a war zone and there’s no explanation for this, she said on NBC’s Meet The Press. “Why ten days after this story was first published has he not come out and said to the American people ‘My top priority is to protect our men and women in uniform and I will get to the bottom of this intelligence. I will figure out why it is that Russia appears to be targeting our forces, and I will give the American people and the soldiers the appropriate response that it deserves.’ He said nothing ... I don’t buy this story that he was never briefed.”

She also did not rule out acting as a running mate for the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

“Joe Biden needs to make the decision as to who he thinks will be his best running mate and I will do my utmost drawing on my experience of years in government, years of making the bureaucracy work,” she said. “I’ve worked on multiple campaigns, presidential campaigns, I’ve been on the campaign trail as a, as a surrogate and I’m going to do everything I can to help get Joe Biden elected and to help him succeed as president, whether I’m his running mate or I’m a door knocker, I don’t mind.”


Houston mayor says city's hospitals could be 'in serious trouble'

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner has appeared on CBS’s Face The Nation to discuss the Covid-19 outbreak in his city. He says staffing at the city’s hospital is a particular problem.

“If we don’t get our hands around this virus quickly, in about two weeks our hospital system could be in serious, serious trouble,” he says. “... We can always provide additional beds, but we need the people, the nurses and everybody else, the medical professionals to staff those beds. That’s the critical point right now.”

Turner says that, as we have seen across the US, it is people of color who are more impacted but no one is immune – and that includes younger people.

“It’s having a disproportional impact on people of color. And right now, it’s especially within the Hispanic community,” he says. “But we are having young people being impacted as well. Just the other day, I now saw a young woman in her 20s with no underlying medical conditions that died as a result of Covid. So it’s anyone from their 20s into their 90s being impacted.”

Turner, who is a Democrat, says that he thinks Texas reopened too quickly. “So from the beginning, when we started opening too quickly and when you layer that on top of everything else, all the other activities that were taking place and people starting to re socialize then you started to refuel the virus,” he says. “And that’s when the numbers started to increase”.


New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, has appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press. New Jersey has been one of the worst-hit states in the US during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, and he says a national strategy is needed to combat Covid-19.

“This thing is lethal,” he says. “New Jersey’s paid an enormous price. We’ve [had] 13,000 confirmed fatalities from Covid-19. We’re starting to see small spikes in reinfection from folks coming back from places like Myrtle Beach and as well as in Florida, other hotspots.

“To me, it says we need a national strategy. We’re only as strong as our weakest link right now ... We need a national strategy I think right now masking has got to be at the core of that.”

He is asked whether facemasks should be required nationwide. “It’s become almost not even debatable,” he says. “Certainly when you’re going out and absolutely indoors. As I’ve mentioned, this virus is a lot more lethal inside than outside, but if you’re leaving your house, put on a mask. I think it ought to be a national, a national requirement.”

Murphy has received backlash after delaying the reopening of indoor dining in restaurants, particularly from business owners who said they had bought supplies and spent money on cleaning their premises.

“Listen, we have nothing but sympathy for them,” he says. “Believe me and it’s why we need direct federal cash assistance to states so that we can help those restaurants and small businesses out. But the choice is, either we open inside and or based on the data that we saw and as I said the lethality of this virus inside, or we lose people. We literally lose lives. When you combine indoors, lack of ventilation, sedentary, close proximity, and by definition, you have to take your mask off to eat, those are bad facts and we’re just not there yet. We’ll get there I hope, but we’re not ready for it.”

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said earlier today that it is “too early to tell” whether the Republican National Convention should take place in Florida next month as Covid-19 cases surge. Donald Trump’s campaign team relocated most of the convention to Jacksonville after a dispute with North Carolina over social distancing guidelines.

On Sunday Republican National Committees spokesperson Mike Reed said the RNC is still committed to Jacksonville.

“The RNC is committed to holding a safe convention that fully complies with local health regulations in place at the time,” said in statement to CNN. “The event is still almost two months away, and we are planning to offer health precautions including but not limited to temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols, and available Covid-19 testing. We have a great working relationship with local leadership in Jacksonville and the state of Florida, and we will continue to coordinate with them in the months ahead.”

Richard Luscombe has the latest Covid-19 data from Florida.

Worrying figures just in from Florida: the state recorded 10,059 new cases of Covid-19 overnight, bringing the overall total past 200,000. Florida’s death toll increased by 29 to 3,731, and the number of hospitalisations statewide rose by a further 160, to 15,595 since the pandemic began. The statistics show that in three of the five days of July so far, new coronavirus cases are above 10,000.

Senator Chris Murphy says Trump 'is running as George Wallace'

Connecticut Democratic senator Chris Murphy has compared Donald Trump’s divisive campaign – and its reliance for racist dog whistling – to that of segregationist George Wallace.

Wallace ran unsuccessfully for the presidency three times, and Murphy thinks Trump will meet the same fate this time around.

Last night the President called the words Black Lives Matter “a symbol of hate”.

No turning back now. He’s running as George Wallace. Unapologetic racism and division.

It won’t work.

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 5, 2020

“Last night the President called the words Black Lives Matter ‘a symbol of hate’. No turning back now. He’s running as George Wallace. Unapologetic racism and division. It won’t work,” wrote Murphy on Twitter.

Samuel G Freeman wrote for a column for the Guardian last week on the similarities between Trump and Wallace - but he believes they are unfair to Wallace, who at least showed some contrition later in life. Here’s an extract below:

On a Sunday morning in 1979, Wallace rolled his wheelchair down the aisle of Dexter Avenue baptist church in Montgomery, which had been Martin Luther King’s pulpit during the bus boycott in 1956, to ask forgiveness of its members.

“I have learned what suffering means,” he said, according to a biography by Stephan Lesher. “In a way that was impossible, I think I can understand something of the pain black people have come to endure. I know I contributed to that pain, and I can only ask your forgiveness.”

You can read the full article here:

Judge Lina Hidalgo, of Harris county, where Houston is located, has appeared on ABC’s This Week. Houston has been at the center of the resurgence of Covid-19 in Texas. She paints a grim picture of the situation.

“At this point, our hospitals here in Harris county, Houston, and 33 other cities, they are crossing, they’re into surge capacities. So their operational beds are taken up,” she says.

“What we’re seeing is that wishful thinking is neither good economic policy nor good public health policy. We had initially this increase back in March. I had the authority to issue a stay home order, and I did quickly, early. We avoided the fate of most other communities our size. But since then the state reopened. Now we know too early, too much.”

She adds that another stay-at-home order is essential. “We don’t have room to experiment. We don’t have room for incrementalism, we’re seeing these kinds of numbers, nor should we wait for all the hospital beds to fill and all these people to die, before we take drastic action,” she says.

Various photos have emerged from across the US, and across all sections of society, of people breaking social distancing guidelines during the holiday weekend as Covid-19 cases rise across America.

Here is the example the White House is setting for the nation on this 4th of July amid surging coronavirus case counts and as public health experts urge Americans to avoid large gatherings.
Almost no social distancing. Most people are not wearing masks.

— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) July 4, 2020

The party Gays at Fire Island Pines shaking their speedo butts inches from each other's faces and not a mask to be seen.#4thofJuly2020 #LGBTQ @DCHomos

— Chris Weidner (@CWNewser) July 4, 2020

Here’s the scene at Diamond Lake in Cass County, Michigan today. Looks like a recipe for disaster...🤦🏽‍♂️ #COVID19

— Max Lewis (@MaxLewisTV) July 4, 2020

FDA commissioner says prospect of Americans refusing vaccines is 'concerning'

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn has been a busy man today. After his appearance on CNN he’s now on ABC’s This Week and is asked about a poll that found 27% of Americans would be unlikely to accept a free coronavirus vaccine if it was available.

“It is a sizable number,” he says. “And it is concerning. And, of course, the issue of vaccines in this country has been around for a number of years.

“... One of the major reasons we issued this guidance was we wanted to give clarity about what we were going to look at, what we need to look at, and that the FDA has incredible scientific expertise and we will do our job to assess the safety and the efficacy of a vaccine candidate. I want to assure the American people of that and provide confidence that we’re on the job.”


Phoenix’s Democratic mayor, Kate Gallego, is on ABC’s This Week. Her state, Arizona, has the highest daily new cases per capita in the US.

We opened way too early in Arizona,” she says. We were one of the last states to go to stay-at-home and one of the first to reemerge.

“We had crowded nightclubs handing out free champagne, no masks. Our 20 to 44-year-olds, which is my own demographic, really led the explosion, and we’ve seen such growth in that area. We’re seeing a lot of people go to large family gatherings and infect their family members.”

She says getting proper testing has been a problem, and some people in Arizona have had to wait for eight hours to be tested. “It’s awful to see people waiting in a car, while you’re feeling sick, people were running of gas,” she says.

Gallego says that the messaging from the top has not helped matters. “President Trump was in my community, chose not to wear a mask, and he’s having large events while I am trying to push people that you need to stay at home and that events with more than 10 people are dangerous per the Centers for Disease Control,” she says.

Miami’s Republican mayor, Francis Suarez, is on ABC’s This Week. On Saturday, Florida registered a record rise in cases of Covid-19.

“We’ve been breaking record after record after record ... the last couple of weeks,” he says. “We instituted about a week ago a mask in public rule and we also increased the severity of penalties for businesses that don’t follow the rules.

Our county closed down the beaches for the July 4th weekend in the hopes that all these rules will have an impact – a positive impact. It takes a little bit of time to find out exactly but we’re obviously very closely monitoring hospitalizations and we’re very, very closely monitoring the death rate ... we have to take much stricter measures.”

He is then asked by host Martha Raddatz if Miami reopened businesses too soon after lockdown. “I was criticized for waiting so long,” he says. But there’s no doubt that the fact that when we reopened, people started socializing as if the the virus didn’t exist. And what we saw was before the stay at home order is we saw an increasing slope of 35 new cases per day. Right after we implanted the stay at home order, we started seeing that decline almost immediately.

“Just before this weekend, the incline slope was 91 new cases per day. So it’s almost three times a greater slope than it was prior to the stay at home order. So, you know, it’s extremely worrisome.”


The FDA commissioner, Stephen Hahn, is on CNN’s State of the Union. He is asked about President Trump’s assertion that 99% of Covid-19 cases are harmless. Host Dana Bash points out that WHO says 20% of people diagnosed with the virus need hospital treatment. Is the president wrong in that case?

Hahn, perhaps understandably given the scientific evidence against the president, dodges the question. “I’m not going to get into who is right and who is wrong ... [people should] follow the CDC guidance.” He then adds that the “data show [Covid-19] is serious”.

He is then asked about Trump’s appearance at Mt Rushmore on Friday, where many people in the audience did not wear masks. Hahn is asked whether that was sensible behaviour. “If you don’t follow guidelines you are putting yourself and your loved ones at risk,” he says.

Trump has said Covid-19 will “disappear”. Hahn, who you feel a bit sorry for at this point, is then shown a chart of US cases compared to the EU, Canada and South Korea. One line is going up sharply, the others are all going down - or are flat because they’re already way below the US’s total. Hahn is asked when he thinks the virus will “disappear”. He says “we’re seeing this surge in cases ... this virus is still with us. We have new therapeutics.” He admits the rise in cases across the US is “a concerning trend”.

Finally, he is asked about the Republican National Convention, which is due to take place next month in Florida, a state which has been recording new highs in cases most days. Does he think the convention should go ahead or be moved. “I think it’s too early to tell,” Hahn says. “We’ll have to see how this unfolds in Florida and around the country.”


News from Florida now, where Richard Luscombe reports on the status of Covid-19 over the holiday weekend.

Florida was bracing for more bad news on Sunday after the 4 July holiday brought yet another record surge in Covid-19 - 11,458 new cases on Saturday for a statewide total fast closing in on 200,000.

Of equal concern is the rising rate of hospitalisations. The Sun-Sentinel reported that almost a thousand patients were admitted with serious complications in the three days since Thursday. A month ago, that three-day figure was 429.

Today’s figures are expected at some point this morning.

Despite closures in the heavily-populated south-eastern counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, most of Florida’s beaches remained open for the holiday weekend, raising fears of another rise in numbers similar to the one that followed Memorial Day at the end of May.

Democrats are keeping pressure on Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, for his refusal to order a statewide mask mandate, similar to the one passed by his counterpart Greg Abbott in Texas last week.

“We’ve raised this issue repeatedly and have called on Ron DeSantis to follow the lead of experts,” said Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

“Ron DeSantis refuses to wear a mask most times when he appears in public, as does Donald Trump, which sets a bad example for everybody.”

DeSantis has been vocal in criticising the media for covering what many see as a botched response to the crisis now threatening to overwhelm his state. The governor, however, is still waiting for the “apology” demanded by right-wing National Review in May.

The LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik has an apology of sorts: “Sorry, you’re even worse than I imagined.”

Meanwhile, with coronavirus numbers continuing to soar, another troubling week looks to be in store for the Sunshine State state.

Those looking to escape into sports are also set to be disappointed. The Miami Herald reports that four players from the Marlins, the city’s Major League baseball franchise, have tested positive for Covid-19.

The Associated Press has the latest from Seattle, where one of two people hit by a car which drove into protesters early on Saturday morning has died:

“Summer Taylor, 24, of Seattle died in the evening at Harborview Medical Center, spokesperson Susan Gregg said.

Taylor and Diaz Love, 32, of Portland, Oregon, were hit by the car that barreled through a panicked crowd of protesters on Interstate 5, officials said. Love is in serious condition in the intensive care unit, Harborview, Gregg said.

Dawit Kelete of Seattle drove the car around vehicles that were blocking I-5 and sped into the crowd about 1.40am, according to a police report. Video taken at the scene by protesters showed people shouting “Car! Car!” before fleeing the roadway.

Love was filming the protest in a nearly two-hour-long Facebook livestream captioned “Black Femme March takes I-5” when the video ended abruptly. With about 15 seconds left, shouts of “Car!” can be heard as the camera starts to shake before screeching tires and the sound of impact are heard.

A graphic video posted on social media showed the white Jaguar racing toward a group of protesters who were standing behind several parked cars, set up for protection. The car swerved around the other vehicles and slammed into the two protesters, sending them flying into the air.

The driver, who was alone, fled the scene, Trooper Chase Van Cleave said. One of the other protesters got in a car and chased the driver for about a mile. He was able to stop him by pulling his car in front of the Jaguar, Van Cleave said. Troopers arrived, and the driver was put in custody.

Emergency personnel work at the site early on Saturday.
Emergency personnel work at the site early on Saturday. Photograph: James Anderson/AP

Kelete was described by offices as reserved and sullen, according to court documents. He also asked if the pedestrians were OK. Kelete was booked into the King County Correctional Facility on Saturday morning on two counts of vehicular assault. Bail was denied. He faces a second court hearing on Monday.

Officials were trying to determine motive as well as where Kelete got on to the interstate, which had been closed by the state patrol for more than an hour. Authorities said they suspect Kelete drove the wrong way on a ramp and went through a barrier that closed the freeway.

Troopers did not know whether it was a targeted attack, but impairment was not considered a factor.

Seattle has been the site of prolonged unrest following the 25 May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests. Dozens of people were arrested this week after authorities cleared the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” zone Wednesday morning.

The Washington state patrol said that it will no longer allow protesters to enter I-5 and will arrest pedestrians on the freeway, which protesters had shut down 19 days in a row.”

Donald Trump is very exercised about statues and their place in US life, and wants a “National Garden of American Heroes” to be erected by executive order, a slightly Blofeldian project if ever there was one.

There are all sorts of reasons why the project may never see the light of day, including Trump losing the White House in November and/or Congress refusing to pay for it. In the meantime, the president’s selection of such heroes – no Native Americans, Latinos or Asian Americans among them – is causing the expected fuss.

The Washington Post reports that Karen Cox, a history professor at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, “struggled for several minutes to describe the order outlining the proposed monument”.

“It’s just so random. It’s like they threw a bunch of stuff on the wall and just went with whatever stuck,” she said. “Nothing about this suggests it’s thoughtful.”

Precedent would suggest Professor Cox might be on to something, there.

Here’s our Washington bureau chief, David Smith, on how the capital is dealing with attempts to bring down statues of presidents and others:

More on the coronavirus count in the US, which Johns Hopkins University says dipped below 50,000 a day on Saturday for the first time in four days. As the AP puts it, “the lower figure does not mean the situation is improving: it could be due to reduced reporting on a national holiday”.

More from the AP:

The US leads the world in coronavirus infections (2.8m) and deaths (130,000), though the true toll is likely higher, given undetected cases. It is also on a steep upward curve.

US authorities were reporting fewer than 20,000 new infections a day as recently as 15 June. On Saturday, Florida and Texas reported more record daily increases in confirmed cases and virus-related deaths have begun to rise.

Donald Trump spoke in South Dakota on Friday and Washington on Saturday, but elsewhere communities canceled Fourth of July parades and fireworks and cautioned against large gatherings.

Texas, which reported a record daily increase of 8,258 confirmed coronavirus cases Saturday, is retreating from one of the country’s swiftest re-openings. Much of the state began mandating face coverings Friday, with a $250 fine. In Florida, which reported 11,445 confirmed infections on Saturday, bars are shut down and some regional attractions, such as Zoo Miami and Jungle Island, have closed. Officials in South Florida including in Miami-Dade county and the Florida Keys closed beaches through the weekend. Other beaches remained open.

California governor Gavin Newsom has ordered a three-week closure of bars and many indoor establishments.

Here’s Maanvi Singh’s report from Oakland on what went wrong in California:

Good morning…

…and welcome to another day of politics, protest and public health crisis in the US.

Donald Trump spoke at the White House on Saturday night, at a Fourth of July celebration, duly blaming China for the coronavirus outbreak and claiming “we’ve learned how to put out the flame”.

As the New York Times put it, “After delivering a divisive speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday night, President Trump … again waved away objections from some officials and public health experts who were worried the virus could spread through the events’ crowds.” Masks were optional, social-distancing not exclusively observed.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Saturday was the first day in four in which fewer than 50,000 new cases were discovered across the US. The figure was still 45,300, though, and the same source puts total US cases at 2.8m and deaths at nearly 130,000.

White House task force member Dr Anthony Fauci told the Senate this week “it’s pretty obvious that we are not going in the right direction”, and said 100,000 cases a day could be on the way as states which reopened too soon, Texas and Florida prominent among them, bear the brunt of the resurgence.

Trump, however, continues to insist more cases are only being found because more tests are being done.

“Now we have tested almost 40m people,” he said. “By so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless. Results that no other country can show because no other country has the testing that we have, not in terms of the numbers or in terms of quality.”

And so it goes on, as the Fourth of July weekend continues and many worry about the effects of gatherings for fireworks and cookouts in a land where wearing a mask has become a partisan issue. Here’s Robert Reich’s take:

Elsewhere, Kanye West has declared a run for president (it’s less clear if he’s actually filed anything or will be on any ballot) and as Trump’s attack on “far-left fascists” continues to reverberate – the Washington Post: For Trump, the threat now isn’t immigrants or other nations. It’s other Americans – protests over racism and police brutality continue. In Seattle, one of two women hit by a car that drove into a crowd early on Saturday has died.

More to come.


Bryan Armen Graham in New York (now) and Tom Lutz and Martin Pengelly (earlier)

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