10 things you need to know today: August 10, 2020

Harold Maass
·7 min read

1.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 5 million on Sunday, with about 163,000 deaths. The number of daily new infections appears to have leveled off, with the average over the last week hovering around 54,000, still below the peak seven-day average of 67,902 recorded on July 19. The latest milestone came as states continue to take different prevention approaches in the absence of a clear national policy. After infections and deaths fell sharply in early epicenter New York, there were sharp increases in the South and West, especially in states that lifted lockdowns early so businesses could start reopening. Now cases are spiking in other parts of the Midwest and West, with infections rising in Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and the Dakotas. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]

2.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called President Trump's executive orders on coronavirus relief "absurdly unconstitutional," and she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said they were restarting talks on a new aid package. The White House and Democrats last week hit an impasse on legislation that was to include extending extra unemployment benefits, eviction protection, and other measures. Trump on Saturday bypassed Congress by signing four actions, including one aiming to provide up to $400 in enhanced unemployment benefits that states would have to help cover. The other actions would extend the moratorium on evictions, defer payroll taxes on people making less than 100,000 per year, and pause student loan payments. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called the actions "unconstitutional slop," and Pelosi said she shared that view. [CNN, Reuters]

3.

Jimmy Lai, a 72-year-old media tycoon and activist who is a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party, was arrested early Monday, accused of colluding with foreign forces. This is a crime under Hong Kong's new national security law that aims to stifle dissent, and anyone found guilty could receive life in prison. Lai's company, Next Digital, publishes the Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, and a person familiar with the matter said several company executives were also arrested on Monday, The Washington Post reports. In a statement, the Hong Kong Police Force said seven men between the ages of 39 and 72 were arrested on suspicion of breaching the security law, but did not release their names. Mark Simon, one of Lai's close aides, said two of Lai's sons were among those arrested. [The Washington Post]

4.

A 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck two miles outside Sparta, North Carolina, on Sunday, near the state's border with Virginia. The temblor shook buildings in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and the mountains of western North Carolina, and it was felt in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia as well. It was the most powerful quake to strike North Carolina since a 5.2-magnitude temblor hit in Mitchell County, about 50 miles northeast of Asheville, on July 8, 1926. No injuries or severe damage was immediately reported, but Sparta Mayor Wes Brinegar said there were "a lot of scared folks" near the epicenter. "It felt like a big locomotive going by and a big wave coming underneath the bed," the mayor said. "I've lived here my whole life and have never felt anything like that." [The Charlotte Observer, CNN]

5.

Anti-government protesters clashed with police in Lebanon for a second straight day on Sunday, venting anger over last week's massive explosion at Beirut's port and calling for top government leaders to resign. Two government ministers have stepped down in response to mounting complaints that the government did nothing to prevent the explosion of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, which killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000. The country's top Christian Maronite cleric, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, said the entire cabinet had to go. "The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough … the whole government should resign as it is unable to help the country recover," he said in his Sunday sermon. [Reuters]

6.

Nine coronavirus cases have been reported at a Georgia high school that attracted national attention last week after a viral photo showed a hallway crowded with returning students, most of them without masks. North Paulding High School Principal Gabe Carmona wrote in a letter to parents that classes would be held remotely for two days after six students and three staff members tested positive, all after spending "at least some time" at the school. The infections came as educators and families nationwide express concerns about the new academic year, with many pushing for exclusively online learning. At least 97,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July. Public health authorities fear that infected young people could spread the virus to older, more vulnerable relatives. [The Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

7.

Chinese fighter jets briefly flew into the middle of the Taiwan Strait on Monday as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited the island in a show of President Trump's support. Taiwan's military said the planes were "driven out" after it tracked them with land-based anti-aircraft missile systems. China, which claims Taiwan as its own, condemned Azar's visit, which comes at a time of high U.S.-China tensions. Beijing has vowed unspecified retaliation to the trip. A senior Taiwan official told Reuters that the incursion of Chinese military planes beyond the Taiwan Strait's median line for just the third time since 2016 was a "risky move" that clearly was "targeting" Azar's visit. China's defense ministry declined to immediately comment. [Reuters]

8.

In Belarus, protesters took to the streets of Minsk on Sunday night after a government exit poll predicted the authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko will win a sixth term, with 80 percent of the vote. Witnesses said riot police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets, and water cannons to break up the crowd. Hundreds of protesters were detained. Lukashenko, 65, has been in power since 1994, and is often referred to as being "Europe's last dictator." Opposition leaders said they expected the vote to be rigged, and observers were not allowed to monitor the election. The exit poll gives Lukashenko's primary challenger, former teacher Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 7 percent of the vote, but she said during a press conference that she believes "my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us." [BBC News]

9.

Amazon is negotiating with mall-owner Simon Property Group to transform empty department-store spaces into Amazon fulfillment centers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. The vacant stores include Sears and J.C. Penney locations that have been closed as malls struggle but online shopping surges during the coronavirus crisis. A deal would show that Simon, the nation's biggest mall operator, is willing to give up spaces it needs to attract mall traffic to secure a steady tenant. It wasn't immediately clear how many fulfillment centers Amazon would add, but Simon malls have 63 Penney and 11 Sears stores, according to a May public filing. J.C. Penney, which filed for bankruptcy protection in May, is closing 154 stores this summer. Long-struggling Sears also plans to close dozens of its remaining stores. [The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch]

10.

Collin Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship Sunday in San Francisco, the 23-year-old golfer's first career major title. In his second major tournament, and the first ever without spectators, Morikawa closed with a 6-under-64, giving him a two-shot victory over Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson. His weekend rounds of 65-64 were the lowest 36-hole weekend score in PGA Championship history, boosted by the lowest closing round by a PGA champion in 25 years. Morikawa is the third-youngest winner of the PGA Championship since World War II, behind Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus, and the sixth-youngest winner overall. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the PGA Championship was moved from May to August, and there were no spectators. [Golfweek, ESPN]

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