10 things you need to know today: November 27, 2020

Tim O'Donnell

1.

President Trump said Thursday he will "certainly" leave the White House if the Electoral College, as expected, casts its votes for President-elect Joe Biden on Dec. 14, formalizing his victory. Taking questions from reporters for the first time since the election after addressing U.S. troops stationed around the world on Thanksgiving, Trump was asked if he would depart on his own accord. "Certainly I will, and you know that," he said. The Washington Post notes it was the first explicit commitment Trump has made about vacating the White House, although his advisers have maintained he would for some time. That said, Trump remains determined to expose widespread voter fraud in swing states, despite there being no evidence. "It's going to be a very hard thing to concede," he said. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

2.

For the first time since the pandemic began, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the United States surpassed 90,000, The Wall Street Journal reports, and the U.S. hit a hospitalization record for the 17th straight day, per CNN. The number of people in intensive care units was also at an all-time high of 17,802 on Thursday. Infections recorded over the last 24 hours did drop sharply Thursday to around 110,000, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed, but a lack of reporting on Thanksgiving is likely behind the dip. That trend could continue throughout the weekend before heading back up, the Journal notes. Still, individual states, like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas all reported record numbers, while New York hit its highest mark since April 25, when the state was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. [The Wall Street Journal , CNN]

3.

A Venezuelan judge found six American executives guilty Thursday, sentencing them to lengthy prison terms three years after they were arrested on corruption charges. The defendants are all employees of the Houston-based refining company Citgo, which is owned by Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA. They maintain their innocence. Five of the men, all U.S. citizens —Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano — were sentenced to eight years and 10 months, while Jose Peireira, a permanent resident of the U.S., received 13 years. In November 2017, the so-called Citgo 6 arrived in Caracas for what they told was a business meeting. Once they were in the boardroom, however, Venezuelan military intelligence officers entered, demanded their passports, and arrested them. They were charged with embezzlement tied to a never-executed proposal to refinance $4 billion of Citgo bonds, NPR notes. Appeals will be made for the defendants. [AP News, NPR]

4.

Black Friday is taking a different shape this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. Several retailers like Saks and Macy's that closed during the spring have since reduced their inventories, which has led them to scale back on the traditional discounts associated with the post-Thanksgiving shopping event. Health and safety measures will also be in place at many stores. Best Buy, for instance, is employing contactless self-checkout and doubled the number of parking spots available for its pick-up service. When all is said and done, though, sales are expected to be made. The National Retail Federation expects November and December sales, excluding autos, gasoline, and restaurants, to rise somewhere between 3.6 and 5.2 percent. Last year, sales jumped 4 percent, and the average year-over-year increase the past five years is 3.5 percent. Online sales are expected to shoot up from 20 percent to 30 percent. [Reuters, The Wall Street Journal]

5.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service reportedly briefed the country's lawmakers on actions North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has taken amid the coronavirus pandemic. The intelligence account, which could not be independently verified by news organizations, included claims that Kim oversaw the executions of a high-profile money changer in Pyongyang last month after holding the person responsible for a falling exchange rate, as well as a government official in August for violating regulations restricting goods brought from abroad. North Korea has also reportedly banned fishing and salt production to prevent seawater from being infected with the coronavirus, and several areas, including Pyongyang, have reportedly been placed under lockdown, although Kim's government maintains the country is COVID-19-free. Additionally, one of the South Korean lawmakers briefed by the NIS said North Korea unsuccessfully tried to hack into the network of a South Korean company developing a coronavirus vaccine. [The Washington Post, The Associated Press]

6.

The Supreme Court issued a ruling late Wednesday blocking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) from limiting attendance at religious services to 10 or 25 people during the coronavirus pandemic. The court divided 5-4, mostly along ideological lines, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the three liberal justices. Earlier this year, the court narrowly rejected challenges to virus-related restrictions on churches in California and Nevada, so the latest ruling is perhaps a sign of a rightward shift after Justice Amy Coney Barrett replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Politico suggests. The majority opinion argued New York's restrictions violated religious freedom and singled out houses of worship while many businesses did not face similar limits. Roberts, in his dissent, said the injunction was unnecessary at this time because the plaintiffs no longer face those restrictions and can hold up to 50 percent capacity. [NBC News, Politico]

7.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed continues to dismiss mediation efforts as the federal government remains mired in conflict with the northern region of Tigray. Envoys from the African Union on Friday met with Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, in the hopes of ending the hostilities, but he said he was only willing to strike up dialogue with representatives "operating legally" in Tigray. Both governments consider the other illegitimate. Abiy told the AU envoys he appreciated their concern, but if his government failed to enforce the rule of law in Tigray it would "nurture a culture of impunity with devastating cost to the survival of the country." People continue to flee Tigray's capital city, Mekele, as the Ethiopian army allegedly marches toward it. [The Associated Press]

8.

Despite confusion over the results of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trial, the United Kingdom is moving forward with its plans for a potential rollout of the candidate. The government, which has secured 100 million doses of the vaccine, asked the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to assess the vaccine, which was described as a "significant first step" in getting it "approved for deployment." AstraZeneca is amending its study after accidentally discovering that the vaccine appeared most effective when patients were given a half dose before a full dose, as opposed to two full doses. The 90 percent rate, however, applied to only 2,741 volunteers, a fraction of the full trials that showed similar numbers for Moderna and Pfizer. The full dosing regimen was only 62 percent effective, although that is still above the United States' 50 percent threshold, and the European Union will not set a minimum efficacy level. [BBC, Reuters]

9.

Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer legend, died after suffering a heart attack, his agent confirmed Wednesday. He was 60. On Thursday, tens of thousands people, many displaying great amounts of emotion, filed past his publicly-displayed coffin in Buenos Aires over the course of several hours. He was then buried in a private ceremony. Maradona is considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time, known for leading Argentina's national team to the 1986 World Cup title in Mexico. En route to the final, he scored a goal that has become known as the "Hand of God," in which he punched the ball into the net with his fist against England in the quarterfinals. He remained beloved in Argentina in his post-playing days, during which he dealt with numerous health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. [The Associated Press]

10.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has tested positive for COVID-19, ESPN reports. The Ravens are experiencing one of the worst outbreaks in an NFL locker room since the season began. After Jackson and three other players received positive results Thursday, the team now has at least a dozen players who have contracted the virus this week, as well as multiple staff members. Baltimore was scheduled to play Thanksgiving night against their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the NFL postponed the game to Sunday. That too looks to be in jeopardy, especially after Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told players they would not be allowed back to the team facility until Monday at the earliest. Still, the league has not made an official announcement. [ESPN]

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