President Trump traveled to Arizona yesterday, touring an aerospace plant that had been expanded to manufacture medical respirators. It was the president's first official trip outside the Washington, DC region since the beginning of the pandemic. The visit comes ahead of likely travel to New York in June for the US Military Academy graduation and an Independence Day trip to Mount Rushmore.
Coincidentally, Arizona reported 33 deaths yesterday, its highest single-day death toll since the outbreak began. The state has missed the worst of the virus so far, reporting roughly 9,300 total cases and 395 deaths. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) loosened a stay-at-home order Friday and businesses have been slowly reopening throughout the week. Overall, the US has reported 1.2 million cases, with 71,078 deaths, as of this morning (real-time map).
Separately, the White House signaled it would wind down its coronavirus task force while still consulting its top experts on future strategy. Vice President Mike Pence said the administration was targeting Memorial Day weekend to transition back toward having federal agencies manage the response. The White House will block task force officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, from testifying before the House, but will allow testimony before the Senate.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said it began human testing of a potential vaccine. It joins a handful of other candidates to have advanced into clinical trials. If successful, the vaccine could be ready for use by September. See the status of leading vaccine candidates here (as of May 1).
In New York City, 15 children have reportedly been hospitalized with a rare condition known as Kawasaki disease. Doctors think the cases, which involve inflammation of blood vessel walls, may be linked to the coronavirus.
Researchers in France may have identified a coronavirus death from late December, predating the earliest confirmed death in Europe by a month. If confirmed, it would once again revise the pandemic's timeline, raising questions over how long the virus was circulating before being reported.
Finally, variations of this article about a dominant mutation of the coronavirus being more contagious should be taken with a grain of salt. The study has not been peer-reviewed, and some scientists say the headline was exaggerated (plus see this Twitter takedown).
Trade representatives from the US and the United Kingdom kicked off talks on a potential free trade agreement yesterday, the first major trade discussion between the two since the latter formally left the European Union in January. The two countries are major partners, exchanging more than $250B in total trade each year (see factsheet). The US is the UK's largest export market (not counting the EU), while the UK is the fifth-largest market for the US.
Tariffs between the two are already low and estimates say a deal would boost the respective economies by as little as 0.1%. Still, some thorny issues are likely to emerge, most notably prescription drug prices. US pharmaceutical companies have sought to loosen price caps imposed by the UK's National Health Service on many drugs.
The current deal is covered by an agreement with the EU that expires at the end of the calendar year. See a primer on free trade deals here.
Gig Economy Lawsuit
California sued ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft yesterday, arguing the companies have long misclassified drivers as individual contractors instead of employees. A 2019 state law effectively classified a range of gig economy workers as employees, but the two companies have resisted making the change, and have planned a November ballot initiative to create exceptions to the law.
Though there are many nuances, classifying workers as contractors allows companies to avoid paying many benefits afforded to employees (go deeper). It can also make it easier to bring on new workers while often giving them more flexibility, for example, in setting their own schedule. Notably, the companies aren't required to pay into state unemployment insurance funds, and contractors weren't eligible for benefits (the recent stimulus bill provided a temporary exception).
Uber, which has about 22,000 employees but nearly 1 million drivers in the US, has argued it's not a transportation company, but a technology firm ($$, Wired).
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In the Know
Sports, Entertainment, & Culture
> Barack and Michelle Obama to deliver commencement addresses at “Dear Class of 2020” virtual graduation; June 6 YouTube event will also include remarks by Condoleezza Rice and Malala Yousafzai (More)
> New York attorney general investigated sexual misconduct at NBC News last year; former “Today” host Megyn Kelly provided testimony (More) | NBC News chairman Andrew Lack forced to resign Monday (More)
> Tom Cruise to partner with SpaceX and NASA to shoot the first narrative film shot in outer space; reports say untitled movie is in early development and not with a studio yet (More)
Science & Technology
> Repurposed CRISPR test is capable of detecting as few as 100 coronavirus particles on a swab; the gene-editing technique could provide cheap, at-home diagnostic testing (More)
> Study links sleep regulation to gene variants that influence how fluid flows in the brain; sleep is believed to promote the flow of cerebrospinal fluid as it cleans waste from the brain (More)
> China makes debut launch of newly designed spacecraft, the next step in plan to build its own orbiting space station; China doesn't participate in the International Space Station, led by the US and Russia (More)
Business & Markets
> US stock markets up (S&P 500 +0.9%, Dow +0.6%, Nasdaq +1.1%) as relaxed pandemic restrictions drive hope of economic recovery (More) | Oil soars 20%, sees fifth straight day of gains (More)
> Airbnb to lay off 25% of staff (1,900 workers) as revenues crater amid pandemic (More) | United Airlines plans 30% reduction in management staff by October (More)
> Restaurants begin to experience meat shortages, Wendy’s pulls beef from 20% of locations (More)
Politics & World Affairs
> Rick Bright, former director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, files whistleblower complaint; Bright says government officials ignored early warnings about the coronavirus and pushed the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine (More) | Read complaint (More)
> Venezuela says it is holding two American mercenaries accused of participating in a failed raid and coup attempt against President Nicolás Maduro; US government denies involvement (More)
> Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg back in hospital with an infection caused by a gallstone, will still hear arguments via phone; the 87-year-old was most recently hospitalized in November with a fever (More)
Historybook: Famed neurologist Sigmund Freud born (1856); HBD baseball great Willie Mays (1931); Hindenburg disaster kills 36 (1937); Roger Bannister becomes first person to run a mile in under four minutes (1954); RIP actress and singer Marlene Dietrich (1992).
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