Trump Declares Coronavirus Outbreak a National Emergency
By Josh Wingrove and Justin Sink | Bloomberg
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday over the coronavirus outbreak, opening the door to more federal aid for states and municipalities.
The declaration allows the government to marshal additional resources to combat the virus. It also marks a symbolic turning point for the president, who has repeatedly compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu and insisted that his administration had the outbreak under control.
The outbreak “could get worse,” Trump said at a press conference in the Rose Garden. “The next eight weeks are critical.”
As Trump’s press conference continued, U.S. stocks extended gains. The S&P 500 climbed more than 9%, providing some respite after stocks’ worst day since 1987 earlier this week.
Trump also said he was waiving interest payments on all student loans held by federal government agencies until further notice, and he instructed Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette to buy “large quantities of crude oil” for the U.S. strategic reserves.
“The price of oil went down quite a bit, so we’re going to fill it up,” Trump said.
Trump said he was also conferring new authority to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, enabling him to waive regulations and parts of laws -- such as hospital stay limits -- to give hospitals and health care providers maximum flexibility.
The president also addressed widespread criticism that the government has fumbled the distribution of test kits, announcing what he called a new partnership with the private sector to test for coronavirus.
“We want to make sure those who need a test can get a test,” Trump said. He estimated 5 million tests would be available within a month, but said he doubted so many would be needed. He encouraged people who weren’t showing symptoms to refrain from seeking a test.
On the government’s failure to provide sufficient test kits across the country, Trump said: “I don’t take responsibility at all,” adding that his administration has had to redesign the public health system around the circumstances of the outbreak.
Trump criticized Democrats, saying “we just don’t think they’re giving enough” on a bill proposed by the House this week to help address the crisis.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking about an hour before the Trump’s address, said the Democrats would vote on their bill Friday. She said it was focused on facilitating free coronavirus testing, including for the uninsured, adding that it would secure two weeks of paid sick leave for people affected by the virus and fund food programs for the poor, Pelosi said.
Part of the partnership Trump announced was done in collaboration with Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which will help direct potentially infected people to drive-through test sites at locations including Walmart and Target parking lots.
Senate Democrats had urged Trump to invoke the Stafford Act and other disaster declaration requests they say would free up more than $42 billion in funding for states available in the Disaster Relief Fund.
Trump said his declaration would open access to as much as $50 billion.
Elon Musk's Starlink is having a pernicious effect on astronomy
Satellite constellations could severely affect up to half of all exposures from certain observatories.
By Passant Rabie | Inverse
As Elon Musk's SpaceX launches yet another batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites into low-Earth orbit this weekend, astronomers on the ground are becoming increasingly worried about the mega-constellation's affect on our ability to observe the universe.
The upcoming launch, scheduled for 5:35 am Eastern on March 14 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is just the sixth batch of Starlink satellites, bringing their number to 300. It is just one of a number of launches planned for 2020 —ultimately, SpaceX wants to add 180 more satellites to its growing constellation by the end of the year.
These are just a tiny fraction of all the satellites that SpaceX plans to send into space, however. In total, Elon Musk wants to launch up to 42,000 satellites into space.
But this artificial constellation is getting in the way of our observations of the real stars and galaxies that make up our cosmos. The satellites already in place have started interfering with astronomical observations from Earth and a new study published this month reveals why astronomers are increasingly worried about each new batch.
Part of the reason why Starlink satellites pose such a threat to astronomy is down to their design. The satellites are very close to the Earth, at around 200 miles away, and remain in the same position in our skies. They have to be, if they are to provide the promised high-speed internet connection.
But that also means they present a growing physical barrier for our ground observatories, clogging up our telescopes' cameras and ruining astronomical observations.
Standing in the way
In the study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics in March, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) measured the effects of satellite constellations on telescope observations.
They found that satellite constellations would do the greatest damage to wide-field surveys of the cosmos, such as those conducted by the ESO's Very Large Telescope, which is in the Atacama desert in Chile. The ESO researchers found that there will be 250 of Musk's bright satellites above the horizon, in an area where many of the agency's astronomical observations take place.
As a result, as many as 3 percent of long exposure observations —such as whole sky surveys —would be totally ruined during twilight hours.
The future looks even more bleak for other observatories.
Some 30 to 50 percent of exposures from the United States' National Science Foundation's Vera C. Rubin Observatory, currently under construction in Chile, will be severely affected. When it comes online, the observatory is supposed to help spot supernovae and potentially dangerous asteroids —but Starlink could (literally) stand in its way.
The new research backs up a February 2020 statement from the International Astronomical Union, which warned wide-field astronomical observations would be “severely affected” by the satellites.
The Union has had its eyes on the satellites since June 2019, modeling the frequency, location, and brightness of a sample of 25,000 satellites.
“Apart from their naked-eye visibility, it is estimated that the trails of the constellation satellites will be bright enough to saturate modern detectors on large telescopes,” the agency said.
“Wide-field scientific astronomical observations will therefore be severely affected.”
The satellite constellation is particularly “worrisome,” the agency said, because they may also interfere with ground-based astronomy, radio, optical, and infrared observations. That means astronomers will need to find ways to mitigate the satellites' effects in order to continue with their work —and that costs money and resources.
SpaceX versus space science
To try and limit the future damage from these constellations, the Union is calling for international guidelines to regulate the brightness of man-made objects in the sky.
The Union and the American Astronomical Society are working with SpaceX to directly mitigate the effects of the satellites. In December 2019, the Society released a statement saying that they are in discussion with Elon Musk's company to try and reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, the ESO suggests the pernicious effects of the satellite constellation may be reduced by making changes to its telescopes, but that comes at a cost. Instead, the observatory is encouraging the space industry to make the satellites darker so they interfere less with observations.
SpaceX is also testing out its own way of tamping down the ill-effects of its satellites. One satellite included in a 60 satellites launched in January was outfitted with a non-reflective coating at the bottom to reduce its brightness as seen from Earth.
“We want to make sure we do the right thing, to make sure little kids can look through their telescopes. It’d be cool for them to see a Starlink. I think that’s cool. But they should be looking at Saturn and the Moon,” Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX, said during a meeting at the time with reporters at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
But that was just a test. It remains to be seen if the company privileges its own ambitions above those of scientists here on Earth.
Bill Gates steps down from Microsoft’s Board.
Ina Fried, Orion Rummler | Axios
Microsoft's Bill Gates stepped down from the company's board of directors on Friday to focus on philanthropy in arenas like global health and education.
The big picture: It's been a slow, long exit for Gates who has devoted more of his time to humanitarian efforts for more than a decade. He handed over the CEO reins 20 years ago and left full-time employment with the company more than a decade ago.
- Gates will continue to advise CEO Satya Nadella and other Microsoft leaders, the company said Friday
- He announced in 2006 that he would leave full-time Microsoft employment as of July 2008.
Our thought bubble: Though Gates has stepped away from most of his duties at Microsoft, he has remained an advisor on key projects, strategic direction and is a major shareholder.
What they're saying:
“The board has benefited from Bill’s leadership and vision. And Microsoft will continue to benefit from Bill’s ongoing technical passion and advice to drive our products and services forward. I am grateful for Bill’s friendship and look forward to continuing to work alongside him to realize our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more."
— Satya Nadella said Friday
New Coronavirus Test 10 Times Faster Is Approved
Tim Loh | Bloomberg
Roche Holding AG said it won emergency approval from the U.S. government for a highly automated coronavirus test, potentially speeding up the ability to test patients by a factor of 10.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted “Emergency Use Authorization” to the test, which runs on Roche’s cobas 6800/8800 systems. The tool also is available in Europe and countries that accept its CE marking for medical devices, Roche said.
The 8800 version is capable of testing 4,128 patients a day, and the 6800 can test as many as 1,440, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said.
“We are increasing the speed definitely by a factor of 10,” Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche’s diagnostics unit, said in an interview.
Testing is crucial to stem the spread of Covid-19 because it allows health care workers to identify the infected and quarantine them, even if they’re not experiencing many symptoms. That can potentially reduce the overall number of infections and buy time for drugmakers to come up with better treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine.
The U.S. and much of Europe have been criticized for testing their populations too slowly, allowing the virus to proliferate. Roche’s cobas systems, launched in 2014, are widely available globally, with 695 of the 6800 systems and 132 of the 8800 systems already installed.
“We definitely extended the capacity of the testing significantly throughout the U.S,” Schinecker said.
The cobas 8800 system can test patients about 10 times faster than Roche’s existing test for the coronavirus, which runs on its MagNA Pure 24 and the LightCycler 480 devices. While those instruments require more human attention, there are more of them in labs and hospitals around the world. They’ll continue to play a crucial role in testing people, especially outside the U.S., Schinecker said.
The cobas 6800/8800 systems provide test results within four hours. Roche can provide millions of tests every month for the systems and is “going to the limits of its production capacity,” the company said.
The tests analyze nucleic acids extracted from patients’ saliva or mucus, and compare them against sequences found in coronavirus strains, including SARS and the one that emerged in Wuhan, China.
Kevin Love kicks off support drive for arena workers with $100K pledge
DAVE MCMENAMIN| ESPN
With the NBA suspending its season indefinitely and closing the doors on its 29 arenas around the country for the foreseeable future with no games to be played, Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love pledged $100,000 Thursday to aid arena workers displaced by the league's response to the coronavirus.
"My hope is that others will step up!!" Love told ESPN via text message.
Love's act of generosity echoes the joint statement released by the Cavs and their home arena, the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, on Thursday when they vowed to develop "a compensation plan to continue paying our event staff and hourly workforce that is impacted with the changes to our regular event schedule."
There are "well over a thousand" workers employed at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and the Canton Memorial Civic Center for the Cavs and the Charge, the Cavs' G League affiliate, as well as for the AHL's Cleveland Monsters, NCAA events and concerts, according to a team spokesperson.
Love announced his donation on his Instagram account, accompanied by a photograph of the five-time All-Star taking a selfie with a crowd of construction workers during the Fieldhouse's recent renovation.
The photo was originally taken the day Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension with the Cavs in the summer of 2018
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. And the fear and anxiety resulting from the recent outbreak of COVID-19 can be extremely overwhelming," Love wrote as a caption to accompany the post.
"Through the game of basketball, we've been able to address major issues and stand together as a progressive league that cares about the players, the fans, and the communities where we work. I'm concerned about the level of anxiety that everyone is feeling and that is why I'm committing $100,000 through the Kevin Love Fund in support of the Cavs arena and support staff that had a sudden life shift due to the suspension of the NBA season. I hope that during this time of crisis, others will join me in supporting our communities.
"Pandemics are not just a medical phenomenon. They affect individuals and society on so many levels, with stigma and xenophobia being just two aspects of the impact of a pandemic outbreak. It's important to know that those with a mental illness may be vulnerable to the effects of widespread panic and threat. Be kind to one another. Be understanding of their fears, regardless if you don't feel the same. Be safe and make informed decisions during this time. And I encourage everyone to take care of themselves and to reach out to others in need -- whether that means supporting your local charities that are canceling events, or checking in on your colleagues and family."
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made similar assurances that those in his employ at the American Airlines Center also would be taken care of while the NBA is suspended.
"I reached out to the folks at the arena and our folks at the Mavs to find out what it would cost to financially support people who aren't going to be able to come to work -- you know, they get paid by the hour, and this is their source of income," Cuban said during a news conference Wednesday. "We'll do some things there. We may ask them to go do some volunteer work in exchange, but we've already started the process of having a program in place. I don't have any details to give, but it's certainly something that's important to me."
Tony Ressler, the Atlanta Hawks' majority and controlling owner, vowed to supply income for workers at State Farm Arena, telling The Athletic, "We are indeed and feel strongly it's both the right thing to do and good business."
Several other teams are putting together similar plans to provide help for displaced arena workers, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN. Some NBA teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers with Staples Center, do not own the building they play in.
Lakers star Anthony Davis, when asked about arena staff Wednesday, mentioned how mortgage payments were temporarily suspended in Italy amid the country's lockdown that was affecting some 60 million residents.
"That's something that can happen," Davis said. "I think that's only fair. It's not their fault that they can't work. Hopefully something comes out where they're able to help those guys out."
Call of Duty Warzone: 4 ways the new battle royale game can beat Fortnite.
Oscar Gonzalez | CNET
Activision released the free-to-play Warzone on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on Tuesday, which met with the kind of reception befitting a game in the high-profile Call of Duty franchise. Almost half a million viewers tuned in on Twitch and watched more than four million hours of Warzone in the first 24 hours, according to streaming analytic site Sullygnome. On Wednesday, Call of Duty's official Twitter account tweeted that 6 million people played Warzone in the first 24 hours after the game's launch.
From Apex Legends to PUBG, many have tried to become the new Fortnite -- which remains one of the most profitable games since it debuted in 2017. While interest in Fortnite isin decline, the revenue it generates continues to attract new entries in the battle royale category.
Developer Infinity Ward looks like it created a game that might be able to topple Fortnite. The Warzone team seemingly learned from the mistakes made with 2018's attempt at a Call of Duty battle royale game, Blackout, but success isn't guaranteed. Here are still some important steps it will need to take before becoming king.
Listen to the audience
Developers like Infinity Ward have a tough job balancing what players want while implementing their vision of the game. What's key is how quickly a developer will listen and respond to its players. Some will complain for the sake of complaining, but when there is a real concerted effort by the fanbase to make a change to the game, it's important for developers to be responsive.
Epic Games went through this issue with Fortnite last year when the team added a powerful mech to the game called the Brute. This robot immediately tipped the scales to whoever found it during a match, and fans made it clear they wanted the bot gone by using the hashtag #RemovetheMech. Epic countered by saying the Brute was intended to level the playing field for less-experienced players. The result, however, was a decline in interest in the game.
Reduce cross-play between PC and console players
Cross-play is a feature a few competitive games use that allows players across different platforms to compete with each other. It's a great way to make sure there is little wait for matches. This is important in the case of Warzone, which has 150 people in a match. Other battle royale games typically stick to 100. Where this becomes an issue is the advantages those on the PC have over those playing on a console.
When it comes to FPS games like Call of Duty, a mouse and keyboard are the best input option. A player with a mouse in hand is going to be far more accurate than someone who uses their thumb on a controller. There's also the advantage when it comes to hardware. A beefy PC gaming computer also has an advantage by displaying the game faster than a console, which can lead to a player on an Xbox One or PS4 falling to a PC player without even seeing the attacker.
Keep releasing new content
The battle royale formula is one of the most exciting types of multiplayer matches. It's thrilling, tense and once you win a match, the ensuing euphoria is overwhelming and addicting. Even with that rush of emotions, players still need something extra to keep them coming back. For many, this is where cosmetics and in-game events come into play.
When Apex Legends came out February 2019, it shot up in popularity over Fortnite. It was something fresh and new, which is what players wanted. Then a month went by and nothing. There was no new content to unlock or purchase, or special events. Vince Zampella, CEO of developer Respawn Entertainment, said his team would stick with a seasonal release of content. In comparison, Fortnite changes cosmetics to purchase daily, has a Battle Pass that can take 10 weeks to unlock everything and will do weekly changes to the game's map in preparation for season-ending events. The lack of more regular updates drove the number of Apex Legends players to flounder.
The same thing happened in Fortnite in its last season. It went on for 18 weeks, which was six weeks longer than other seasons. Players need something new to continue to play the same game over and over again.
Put heavy support into pro events
Not everyone who will play Warzone will be ready for a life as a professional gamer. In fact, hardly any of them will. Still, professional tournaments are an important aspect of any multiplayer game. These events don't just lure in a big viewing audience, especially when there's a lot of money at stake, but it creates influencers who will spend hours upon hours playing this one game.
The Fortnite World Cup has been one of the most-watched events on Twitch. Last year's event garnered more than two million viewerswho tuned in to watch Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf win the first-place prize of $3 million. Along with millions tuning in, Bugha is now an influencer for the game with his more than one million followers.
Activision already has the Call of Duty League with teams representing cities in US, Canada and Europe, all competing for big money. The team of eUnited won the 2019 championship and took home $800,000. Pushing Warzone tournaments at the same level as Call of Duty League will help sustain the battle royale game's popularity.