10 things you need to know today: November 23, 2020

Harold Maass


U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to an all-time high of 83,227 over the weekend, even as daily new infections retreated from Friday's record of 195,542. Hospitalizations climbed to record levels on 12 consecutive days. The seven-day average of new cases continued to rise, hitting 169,217 on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reported, based on its analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. Health experts continued to advise Americans against traveling for Thanksgiving, or attending holiday gatherings as the fall wave intensified, with new daily cases rising nearly 14 percent in a week. "Moving through airports or travel hubs, I think that will increase people's risk," Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said on Fox News Sunday. "Even if they're driving from point to point, unfortunately, we don't know if we're infected when we walk into a gathering." [The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post]


President-elect Joe Biden plans to name his longtime foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Bloomberg News reported late Sunday, citing three people familiar with the matter. Blinken was an Obama administration deputy secretary of state, and served as Biden's national security adviser. He is described as having "mind meld" with Biden, who plans to make rebuilding foreign alliances a focus early in his presidency. In further signs of his aim to rely on veterans of the foreign policy establishment, Biden reportedly plans to name former Hillary Clinton aide Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former career foreign service officer and African-American woman, as ambassador to the United Nations. Biden's transition team says he plans to name his first Cabinet picks on Tuesday. [Bloomberg, The Washington Post]


The first Americans could receive a COVID-19 vaccine 24 hours after the Food and Drug Adminstration grants emergency-use approval, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser for the government's "Operation Warp Speed" vaccine program, told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday. The first shots, expected in mid-December, would launch what is expected to be the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history. "Within 24 hours from the approval, the vaccine will be moving and located in the areas where each state will have told us where they want the vaccine doses," Slaoui said. FDA outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to approve the vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech. Each state will decide who will receive the first doses, with health-care workers, front-line workers, and the elderly recommended to get priority. [Reuters]


The Trump administration on Sunday officially withdrew from the Open Skies treaty, State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown said in a statement. The decades-old, 34-nation pact was meant to reduce the chances of an accidental war by letting the participating countries conduct reconnaissance flights over allies' territory. President Trump started the six-month withdrawal process earlier this year when he announced plans to leave, saying Russia had "flagrantly" violated the pact. "Six months having elapsed, the U.S. withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020, and the United States is no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies," Brown added. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called the move "reckless" and urged President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin after his inauguration, calling Trump's withdrawal "a violation of domestic law." [The Hill, The Washington Post]


Trump campaign lawyers on Sunday filed an appeal of a federal judge's decision to throw out Trump's effort to block the certification of Pennsylvania's election results. The appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit came a day after a federal judge, Matthew Brann, issued a scathing ruling rejecting the campaign's request to stop the certification due to corruption claims that were not supported by evidence. Brann said the campaign was asking the court to "disenfranchise almost seven million voters" without providing proof of any corruption. Trump's lawyers had argued that Pennsylvania violated the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law because some counties let voters fix problems with mail-in ballots while others didn't. [Fox News, The Hill]


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday told Tigrayan regional forces to surrender within 72 hours or face a military offensive against the regional capital of Mekelle, where the rebels are based. "We urge you to surrender peacefully within 72 hours, recognizing that you are at the point of no return," Abiy said via Twitter on Sunday night. Tigrayan forces did not immediately respond. A military spokesman said before the prime minister's ultimatum that advancing Ethiopian troops would surround the city with tanks and shell it until Tigrayan forces give up. The Tigray People's Liberation Front has previously said it would not give up rule over the region. Federal troops already have used aerial bombing and ground troops to take over other towns in the region. [Reuters]


Several more prominent Republicans on Sunday called for President Trump to end his legal challenges of President-elect Joe Biden's election victory, and start cooperating in the transition process. Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and Trump confidant, called the actions of Trump's lawyers a "national embarrassment," saying they were relying on false conspiracy theories rather than evidence of voter fraud. "Elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn't happen," Christie said on ABC News' This Week. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said Trump should concede because his lawyers had "exhausted all plausible options." Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) also said it was time for the Trump administration to work with the transition to the incoming Biden administration. [The Washington Post]


Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca announced Monday that their COVID-19 vaccine candidate was 70 percent effective in its Phase Three trial of 20,000 volunteers in Britain and Brazil. And Oxford Vaccine Group director Andrew Pollard told BBC Radio 4 Today that the vaccine appeared to be 90 percent effective when people were given a half-dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose. Britain has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and if U.K. regulators approve it for emergency use, the country is ready to roll out an aggressive immunization program. Rival vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna proved to be 95 percent effective, but 70 percent effectiveness would be really good for a vaccine. The Oxford vaccine also requires only refrigeration, not freezing or subfreezing temperatures like the other vaccines. [BBC News, The Independent]


President Trump's campaign on Sunday distanced itself from one of the lawyers who appeared with Rudy Giuliani at a recent press conference and advanced false claims of voter fraud. The lawyer, Sidney Powell, made outlandish allegations, including that Republican officials had been involved in a corrupt scheme to manipulate voting machines. During that event, Giuliani said Powell was a member of Trump's "elite" legal team, but the campaign released a statement Sunday saying that Powell was "practicing law on her own," and is not a member of the Trump legal team. The repudiation came after Trump's election challenges were rejected by numerous courts in battleground states, all but eliminating his effort to reverse President-elect Joe Biden's victory. Powell was not directly involved in those cases. [The New York Times]


Pat Quinn, a co-founder of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, died Sunday, the ALS Association said. He was 37. The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $200 million for ALS research. Quinn was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2013, and fought it "with positivity and bravery and inspired all around him," the ALS Association said in a statement. "Those of us who knew him are devastated but grateful for all he did to advance the fight against ALS." In 2014, along with Pete Frates, Quinn popularized the challenge, which involved people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads and posting a video of it online, challenging others to do the same or donate to the ALS Association. The challenge, the organization said, was "the greatest social media campaign in history." [The Associated Press]

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