10 things you need to know today: March 20, 2021

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1.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to meet with Asian American leaders following this week’s deadly shooting that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent. In public remarks after the meeting, Biden alluded to a recent increase in violence against Asian Americans, saying they’ve spent a year “living in fear of their lives.” He called on other Americans to “speak out” because “our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit.” Harris, meanwhile, said the Biden would not “stand by” in the face of racial violence. Authorities on Friday identified four victims of the shootings at two Atlanta spas, all four women of Asian descent. The shooting suspect’s church on Friday also condemned the “extreme and wicked act” as a “total repudiation of our faith and practice.” [ The Associated Press, The New York Times]

2.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance for schools, saying students who are wearing masks can remain three feet apart in classrooms. Elementary school students should remain at least three feet apart from one another while continuing to practice universal mask use, says the CDC. Middle and high school students should follow the same guidance, except in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high, in which case the CDC says they should stay six feet apart. Teachers and adult faculty are still recommended to maintain six feet of distance, and the CDC says students should maintain six feet of distance when they can’t wear masks and during activities such as band and sports. The change “lays the groundwork for districts to reopen full-time for in-person classes,” The Washington Post writes, noting that the previous guidance recommending six feet of distance for all students was criticized as “overly cautious.” [NBC News, CNN]

3.

U.S. and Chinese officials on Friday wrapped up their talks in Alaska without reaching any diplomatic breakthroughs. That was to be expected, but both sides suggested that, despite a contentious start to the high-profile meeting, there were some positives. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Beijing’s team got defensive when the U.S. side raised allegations of Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as cyberattacks and pressure on Taiwan, but he also said there were intersecting interests on Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and climate change. “We expected to have tough and direct talks on a wide range of issues, and that’s exactly what we did,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, told China’s state-owned CGTN that the discussions were constructive, “but, of course, there are still differences.” [Reuters]

4.

The U.S. has administered its 100 millionth COVID-19 vaccine dose since President Biden took office, the White House confirmed on Friday. One day earlier, Biden announced the U.S. was set to hit this milestone “weeks ahead of schedule” compared to his initial promise to distribute 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office. Friday marked his 58th day in office. Biden’s goal “meant increasing vaccine supply and then turning vaccines into vaccinations,” said the White House pandemic response team in a tweet. “Given the 7-day average of new reported doses, the U.S. is currently on pace to have roughly 50 percent of the population vaccinated by May,” reports Axios. [Axios]

5.

France and Poland became the latest European countries to enter some form of pandemic lockdown amid a rise in coronavirus infections that officials worry could turn into a third wave. Around 21 million people in 16 areas of France, including Paris, are affected by the new measures, and trains to unaffected parts of the country were quickly booked, BBC reports. Poland began its nationwide restrictions Saturday after health officials warned they were necessary because of the spread of the more contagious variant first identified in the United Kingdom. The vaccine rollout in continental Europe has gotten off to a slow start, likely making it more challenging for countries to slow the spread. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, achieved a positive milestone Saturday with half of all adults receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. [BBC]

6.

The murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is set to continue, as a judge has declined to delay it or move it to a new location. An attorney for Chauvin, charged over the death of George Floyd in May 2020, had requested Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill delay and move the trial after the city of Minneapolis reached a $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family. The attorney argued this news could “taint the jury pool.” But on Friday, Cahill denied the motion, concluding the case has received publicity in all parts of Minnesota. Cahill, however, previously dismissed two jurors, as they said hearing about the settlement would make it difficult to remain impartial. 12 jurors have been selected, and opening statements will begin on March 29. [NBC News, The Week]

7.

The International Olympic Committee and local organizers announced Saturday that foreign spectators will not be allowed at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to begin July 23, because of coronavirus restrictions. Word about the decision had been spreading for a while, but it’s now official. About 1 million tickets have reportedly already been sold to fans from outside Japan. Organizers have promised refunds, but that will ultimately be determined by so-called Authorized Ticket Resellers that handle international sales, The Associated Press reports. Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, said if it weren’t for foreign spectators having to secure flights and accommodations, it would have been possible to wait until the “very last moment” to decide if it was safe to allow international visitors, but, in reality, doing that would cause “a lot of inconvenience.” [The Associated Press, BBC]

8.

A fifth aide in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office has accused him of sexual harassment. Alyssa McGrath, who is the first current employee of the governor’s office to speak publicly about allegations of harassment there, told The New York Times that Cuomo would “ogle her body, remark on her looks, and make suggestive comments to her and another aide.” She also told the Times that another current aide who accused Cuomo of groping her in the Executive Mansion described the encounter in detail to her after the New York capitol region’s Times Union reported the allegation last week. McGrath added that her co-worker, who has not been publicly identified, said Cuomo specifically asked her not to tell McGrath about the alleged incident. Cuomo is under investigation after several women accused him of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. [The New York Times]

9.

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck northeastern Japan on Saturday, initially prompting a tsunami warning that has since been downgraded to a “tsunami forecast” of slight changes in sea level, per CNN. The earthquake occurred off the coast of Ishinomaki, a city just 65 miles from Fukushima, the site of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in 2011 that caused a tsunami that damaged several nuclear reactors in the area. More than 20,000 people were killed or went missing in the aftermath. Officials said there were no immediate reports of injury or major damage this time, however, and nuclear reactors in eastern and northeastern Japan are reportedly secure. [CNN, Deutsche Welle]

10.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was hit with four lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct on Friday, bringing the total number of such suits filed this week to seven — and Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, who has filed all of the complaints, said he will soon file an additional five lawsuits against the NFL star. Each case involves a pattern of assault against female masseuses; ESPN reports that “while six of the lawsuits allege these were one-time encounters… one woman alleges she was sexually assaulted by Watson on multiple occasions.” One claimed to have been forced to perform oral sex on Watson, and, like the other alleged victims, now suffers from panic attacks and depression. The NFL is investigating, and the Texans said they are taking the matter “seriously.” Watson has denied the allegations.

[ESPN, The Week]

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