CORONAVIRUS UPDATE… The number of reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. has reached 1,576,886 and the death toll stands at 94,688, according to figures released last night by Johns Hopkins University. A report released by disease modelers at Columbia University claimed about 703,975 cases and 35,927 deaths nationwide could have been avoided if preventative measures in place on March 15 had been enacted a week earlier. Columbia researchers also concluded that enacting preventative measures two weeks earlier would have prevented about 960,937 cases and 53,990 deaths.
U.S. WITHDRAWING FROM OPEN SKIES TREATY… President Trump announced yesterday that his administration is withdrawing the U.S. from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty allowing unarmed surveillance flights over member countries. The treaty was designed to help prevent against an accidental war with Russia. NATO allies and leaders of other countries friendly to the U.S. had urged Washington to remain attached. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith warned that the decision “weakens our national security interests” and “abandons a useful tool to hold Russia accountable.”
RATCLIFFE CONFIRMED AS INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR… The Senate voted along party lines yesterday to confirm Texas Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe as the new national intelligence director. Ratcliffe will replace acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell. He told the Senate intelligence committee during his confirmation hearing earlier this month that he would make China and the origins of the novel coronavirus his primary focus. Democrats maintained he lacked qualifications and experience for the job.
UNEMPLOYMENT NUMBERS SWELL… The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has swelled to nearly 39 million, the Labor Department announced yesterday. The total includes more than 2.4 million people who filed for unemployment last week. Last weekend, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell projected that U.S. unemployment could peak in May or June at 20 to 25 percent.
AGRICULTURE PRODUCERS GET HELP… The Department of Agriculture announced policy changes yesterday that will provide up to $1 billion in guaranteed loans to rural businesses and farmers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Agricultural producers that are not eligible for USDA Farm Service Agency loans can now receive funding under the Business & Industry provisions included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The USDA will also provide 90 percent guarantees on B&I CARES Act Program loans, set the application guarantee at 2 percent of the loan, accept appraisals completed within two years of the loan application date, not require discounting of collateral for working capital loans and extend the maximum term for working capital loans to 10 years. The loans can only be used by rural businesses, including farmers, that were operating as of Feb. 15.
LORI LOUGHLIN TO PLEAD GUILTY… Federal prosecutors in Boston announced yesterday that actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion-designer husband Mossimo Giannulli will plead guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with the college admissions cheating scandal. The two are accused of conspiring to fraudulently secure admission for their daughters to the University of Southern California and are the 23rd and 24th parents to plead guilty in the case. The 55-year-old Loughlin is best known for her role in the TV sitcom “Full House.” As part of a plea agreement, she will serve a two-month jail sentence, pay a $150,000 fine and perform two years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service. Her 56-year-old husband agreed to to five months in prison, a $250,000 fine, two years of supervised release and 250 hours of community service.
ESAI MORALES JOINS ‘MISSION’ CAST… Esai Morales has replaced Nicholas Hoult in cast of the upcoming sequel “Mission: Impossible 7.” Hoult had been cast in a villain role earlier this year but backed out due to a scheduling conflict created by a delay in production. Tom Cruise reprises his Ethan Hunt character in the newest installment of the franchise. Morales has recently appeared in the TV series “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Titans” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.” He has also made recent appearances on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Ozark.”
NFL CONSIDERS ONSIDES-KICK RULE CHANGE… NFL owners could be voting on a radical rule change proposed by the Philadelphia Eagles that would give teams an alternative to the onside kick. Instead of trying to recover an onside kick, teams would have the option of attempting to convert a fourth-and-15 play from their own 25-yard line. If they get the 15 yards, they get a first down and keep possession of the ball. If they don’t get the 15 yards, the other team would take over possession from wherever the play ended. The rule would take effect in the 2020 season. It would require the votes of 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners to pass.