March 26, 2020

President Trump's re-election campaign sent cease-and-desist letters to local television stations on Wednesday, threatening them with legal action and potentially their broadcast licenses if they continue to air an ad from a Democratic group, Priorities USA. The ad plays audio of Trump downplaying the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic over a chart of the mounting number of cases in the U.S. — now at more than 69,000 — but the Trump campaign objected only to one clip, of Trump saying "this is their new hoax."

That quote comes from a Feb. 28 rally at which Trump repeatedly called his handling of the epidemic "one of the great jobs" and compared the Democrats "politicizing" of the coronavirus to the Russia investigation and Ukraine scandal. As The Washington Post noted in a fact-check cited by the Trump campaign, Trump said this:

They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything ... And this is their new hoax. But you know we did something that’s been pretty amazing. We have 15 people in this massive country and because of the fact that we went early, we went early, we could have had a lot more than that. [Trump, Feb. 28 rally]

Guy Cecil, who leads Priorities USA, said on Twitter that the point of the letter was "to stop this ad from airing because he doesn't want Americans to know the truth."

A super PAC supporting likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden also released an ad using Trump's "hoax" line, but gave a bit more context.

"Granted, Trump and members of his administration have played down the spread of the virus and falsely touted the strength of their response, as our numerous fact checks have pointed out," The Washington Post noted. "But that does not excuse this kind of video manipulation. ... This effectively skews reality and leaves the viewer to wonder what or who related to coronavirus is, in fact, a hoax?" Peter Weber

10:27 a.m.

New York City is looking more and more apocalyptic every day.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives in the U.S's coronavirus epicenter, every aspect of city's resources for managing the dead have been put on overload. So to deal with the influx of dead bodies that have overtaken morgues, funeral homes, and cemeteries, the city will soon begin using a park for temporary burials, New York City Councilmember Mark Levine announced Monday.

Levine, the chair of the council's health committee, explained in a Monday tweet thread how the city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is "now dealing with the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11." Deaths in hospitals are dramatically rising, but so are the numbers of deaths in homes; 20–25 people are usually reported dead in their homes every day in New York City, but that's risen to 200–215. Overall daily death counts have also doubled.

So to avoid "scenes like those in Italy" where bodies have been found on the streets, New York City will likely soon use a park for "temporary interment" where "trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line," Levine wrote.

New York City's death toll from coronavirus was nearing 2,500 as of Sunday morning, though Levine noted that a lack of testing means that number is surely an undercount. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:05 a.m.

You can call him Dr. Peter Navarro, at least technically.

Navarro, President Trump's top trade adviser, doesn't have a medical degree. But he does have a Ph.D in economics, he explained in a Monday morning CNN appearance, and claimed that leaves him qualified to disagree with the U.S.'s top coronavirus doctor Anthony Fauci when it comes to a potentially dangerous COVID-19 treatment.

While Trump has repeatedly claimed that the malaria-fighting drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are a "game changer" in the coronavirus fight, Fauci recently pointed out there are not enough studies and information to declare them safe treatments. Navarro defended Trump's side of things on Monday, saying "doctors disagree on things all the time," and because he's a "social scientist" who "understand[s] how to read statistical studies," he's qualified to disagree with Fauci. CNN host John Berman butted in to say "that doesn't qualify you to treat patients" and noted the potential "deadly" effects of untested hydroxychloroquine use, but Navarro only pushed on.

A study to determine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine just kicked off in New York last week. But so far, it's clear hydroxychloroquine can have detrimental effects on the health of some patients, including sometimes leading to cardiac arrest and psychiatric symptoms. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:53 a.m.

Tesla is offering a look at the ventilators it's working on making out of car parts amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Tesla engineers in a YouTube video uploaded Sunday explain they're "trying to make some ventilators out of some car parts so that we can help out the medical industry without taking away from their supply," showing a prototype for a ventilator that's "heavily based on Tesla car parts" and that makes use of the Model 3's infotainment system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who last month claimed that "coronavirus panic is dumb," in March pledged that the company would make ventilators "if there's a shortage," prompting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to urge them to do so. "New York City is buying," de Blasio wrote. New York has been facing a ventilator shortage, and de Blasio said Sunday that "we believe now we can get to Tuesday or Wednesday with the supplies we have."

Musk recently donated ventilators to New York that reportedly aren't the kind hospitals are most in need of. The Verge notes that Tesla "has been criticized for attempting to invent a new ventilator rather than utilizing an existing design." In the video, the Tesla engineers say they wanted to use parts "that we know really well," that "we know the reliability of," and that are "available in volume."

Asked on Sunday about Tesla's efforts, though, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said, "Nobody can make you a ventilator right now in two weeks. That's General Motors, that's Ford, that's Elon Musk. ... their time frame, frankly, doesn't work for our immediate apex because whether we're talking two days or 10 days, you're not going to make ventilators at that time." Brendan Morrow

9:45 a.m.

President Trump is very excited about hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, frequently touting it as a "game changer," and he isn't alone in his enthusiasm. His economic adviser Peter Navarro, who reportedly sparred with top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci about hydroxychloroquine, told Fox & Friends on Monday morning he would "bet on President Trump's intuition on this." Other boosters Trump is apparently listening to include his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the controversial television personality.

At Sunday night's press briefing, Trump said he hopes doctors use the drug, "because I'll tell you what, what do you have to lose?" He added: "I may take it. I'll have to ask my doctors about that." When a reporter asked Fauci about hydroxychloroquine, Trump stepped in and shut it down.

Most health officials and medical scientists, like Fauci, are unconvinced about the malaria drug's effectiveness at treating the coronavirus, noting that the evidence so far is anecdotal and contradictory. "I think we've got to be careful that we don't make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug," Fauci said on Friday's Fox & Friends. Hydroxychloroquine also has heath risks, including cardiac arrest in some cases.

Giuliani has been pushing hydroxychloroquine on Twitter, his podcast, and, he tells The Washington Post, in one-on-one calls with Trump. He said he has no financial stake in hydroxychloroquine. After watching Dr. Oz repeatedly tout the drug on Fox News, Trump said he wants to speak with Oz and told health officials it would be "a good idea" if they did, too, The Daily Beast reports. At least one official, Medicare administrator Seema Verma, spoke with Oz privately.

In mid-March, Reuters reports, "Trump personally pressed federal health officials" to green-light hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, and "shortly afterward, the federal government published highly unusual guidance informing doctors they had the option to prescribe the drugs, with key dosing information based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science." When asked about its guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Trump's coronavirus task force had requested the document. Peter Weber

8:49 a.m.

With a flying leap off a balcony, former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski became a WWE champion on Sunday night.

Gronk, who was the host of the two-day WrestleMania 36 in Orlando, Florida, had said earlier in the show that "I've won three major championships in my life and that's cool and all, but that's in the past. I wouldn't mind winning the 24/7 title before the end of tonight." And that he did, by vaulting over a balcony railing to flatten a crowd of wrestlers and pin his friend, Mojo Rawley, in order to take the 24/7 championship belt — which, as the name suggests, can be defended anytime anywhere.

ESPN reports that "Gronk relinquished his hosting duties and left the event immediately after winning the title." Jeva Lange

8:39 a.m.

Wisconsin's presidential primary remains scheduled for Tuesday with in-person voting even amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, an idea a group of mayors is calling "irresponsible and contrary to public health."

Amid calls for Wisconsin to postpone its primary as other states have done in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers (D), who previously issued a safer-at-home order, recently called a special session of the GOP-held legislature to consider canceling in-person voting and extending the deadline to mail in ballots. The legislature ultimately didn't do so. Wisconsin general elections are also set for Tuesday.

Now, a group of 10 Wisconsin mayors, including the mayor of Milwaukee, have written to the state's top health official, Department of Human Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm, asking her to take action and close the buildings where voting is to take place, Politico reports.

"We need you to step up and stop the state of Wisconsin from putting hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk by requiring them to vote at the polls while this ugly pandemic spreads," the letter, signed by 10 Wisconsin mayors representing 1.3 million people, reads. "...We believe it would be irresponsible and contrary to public health to conduct in-person voting throughout the state at the very time this disease is spreading rapidly."

Politico notes that in Ohio, the governor's top health official shuttered polling places when that state's primary was scheduled for March 17. In that case, Ohio subsequently extended absentee voting until April 28.

The Wisconsin mayors in their letter also urge the state's legislature to meet before Tuesday in order to "craft a procedure that protects public health and protects the right to vote," which they suggest would be "to mail every registered voter a ballot."

As the voting remains set to go ahead for now, NPR reports that "clerks are now dealing with a shortage of about 7,000 poll workers across the state." Brendan Morrow

8:10 a.m.

Ukrainian firefighters battled two wildfires on Sunday and Monday near the Chernobyl nuclear power station, which was evacuated during the Soviet era after a 1986 nuclear-reactor explosion, The Associated Press reports. Radiation levels at blazes, which covered dozens of acres in the 1,000-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, rose to 16 times above normal, said the head of the state ecological inspection service, Yehor Firsov.

The zone has been unpopulated, except for about 200 people who refuse to leave, since the disaster at the plant produced a cloud of radioactive fallout that drifted over Europe. Fires in the forests around the shuttered plant have been common. Radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, remained within the normal range. Harold Maass

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