—TransCanada has filed an application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,200-mile-long oil pipeline that would connect the tar sands of Alberta to oil refineries in Nebraska. More here
—Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter he’s canceled his visit next week to the U.S. to meet with President Trump over the American leader’s insistence Mexico will pay for a wall the U.S. wants to build on its southern border to keep away illegal immigrants. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
TransCanada Files a New Application to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline
TransCanada has filed an application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,200-mile-long oil pipeline that would connect the tar sands of Alberta to oil refineries in Nebraska, according to Reuters. President Trump invited the Canadian energy company to re-submit the pipeline for approval in an executive order on Tuesday. The application now formally sets the Keystone XL pipeline back in motion, bringing the infrastructure project closer to reality. According to the same executive order, the U.S. State Department now has 60 days to approve or reject the company’s application, and it may not prepare a new environmental-impact statement for the pipeline.
The construction of the pipeline would represent a significant hit to former President Obama’s environmental legacy. In November 2015, Obama denied TransCanada’s first application to build the Keystone XL pipeline after it became a rallying symbol of the climate movement. Bill McKibben, a journalist and activist, said that the construction of Keystone XL would be “game over” for the planet, as it would allow the extraction and combustion of the especially dirty oil present in the Tar Sands. As I wrote on Wednesday, many U.S. environmental activists trace the origins of the country’s grassroots climate movement back to the mass protests opposing Keystone XL.
With no Keystone XL pipeline, many oil extractors have resorted to shipping oil across the continent on trucks or trains. On top of this, others have stopped exploring for oil in the tar sands, as crude prices are now too low to justify drilling. On Wednesday, Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, said that he wasn’t sure if shippers would use the pipeline if his company built it. Now we find out.
Chile Battles Its Worst Wildfires in Modern History
This post was updated on January 27 at 5:38 p.m ET.
The death toll has risen to at least 10 Friday in the wildfires that have spread throughout central Chile. Mario Fernandez, Chile’s interior minister, said Thursday the victims include two police officers were found in the Maule River, as well as four firefighters. Though wildfires are not uncommon in Chile, historically high temperatures and a nearly decade-long drought contributed to conditions that sparked blazes the likes of which Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said “we have never seen… never in Chile’s history.” Since Chile declared a state of emergency last week, the country has recorded more than 100 separate fires, which have burned nearly 500,000 acres—an area more than twice the size of New York City. Other countries, including the U.S., Russia, France, Peru, and Mexico, have contributed to the relief effort. As of Friday, Chile’s Conaf forestry service estimates that 72 fires have yet to be controlled.
Mexican President Peña Nieto Cancels Meeting with Trump
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter he’s canceled his visit next week to the U.S. to meet with President Trump over the American leader’s insistence Mexico will pay for a wall the U.S. wants to build on its southern border to keep away illegal immigrants. Trump on Wednesday issued an executive order affirming his intention to build the wall—in line with a longstanding campaign promise. Mexico has consistently said it will not pay for such a structure.
Esta mañana hemos informado a la Casa Blanca que no asistiré a la reunión de trabajo programada para el próximo martes con el @POTUS.
Last Bodies Recovered From Italian Hotel, Rescuers Say
The remaining bodies of the victims killed in last week’s deadly avalanche have been recovered from the wreckage, Italian authorities said Thursday, bringing the final death toll to 29. You can read more about the avalanche and the recovery process here.
Greece's Supreme Court Rules Against Extraditing Coup-Linked Turkish Soldiers
Greece's Supreme Court has ruled against extraditing to Turkey eight Turkish soldiers linked to last July’s coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The countries have had traditionally tense relations, but are both members of NATO and, as such, are allies. Turkey wants the soldiers, who fled to Greece by helicopter, returned so they can stand trial. Erdogan has cracked down on the military, the media, and government, and civil society after the coup attempt. Thousands of people have been arrested and tens of thousands have lost their jobs. The Greek Supreme Court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.
Updated at 9:20 p.m. ET on April 1, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people are now overthinking things they never used to think about at all. Can you go outside? What if you’re walking downwind of another person? What if you’re stuck waiting at a crosswalk and someone is there? What if you’re going for a run, and another runner is heading toward you, and the sidewalk is narrow? Suddenly, daily mundanities seem to demand strategy.
Much of this confusion stems from the shifting conversation around the pandemic. Thus far, the official line has been that the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, could be transmitted only through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. But recently, news reports have suggested that the coronavirus can spread through the air. After 60 choir members in Washington State rehearsed together, 45 fell sick, even though no one seemed symptomatic at the time. Now people who were already feeling cooped up are worrying about going outside. Many state guidelines are ambiguous, and medical advice can muddy matters further. When the writer Deborah Copaken came down with COVID-19 symptoms, her doctor chided her for riding her bike through New York City a week earlier. Going outside in the city wasn’t safe, the physician implied, with “viral load everywhere.”
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
More young people in the South seem to be dying from COVID-19. Why?
In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has gone from a novel, distant threat to an enemy besieging cities and towns across the world. The burden of COVID-19 and the economic upheaval wrought by the measures to contain it feel epochal. Humanity now has a common foe, and we will grow increasingly familiar with its face.
Yet plenty of this virus’s aspects remain unknown. The developing wisdom—earned the hard way in Wuhan, Washington, and Italy—has been that older people and sicker people are substantially more likely to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19 than their younger, healthier counterparts. Older people are much more likely than young people to have lung disease, kidney disease, hypertension, or heart disease, and those conditions are more likely to transform a coronavirus infection into something nastier. But what happens when these assumptions don’t hold up, and the young people battling the pandemic share the same risks?
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
The Trump administration has just released the model for the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. We can expect a lot of back-and-forth about whether its mortality estimates are too high or low. And its wide range of possible outcomes is certainly confusing: What’s the right number? The answer is both difficult and simple. Here’s the difficult part: There is no right answer. But here’s the simple part: Right answers are not what epidemiological models are for.
Epidemiologists routinely turn to models to predict the progression of an infectious disease. Fighting public suspicion of these models is as old as modern epidemiology, which traces its origins back to John Snow’s famous cholera maps in 1854. Those maps proved, for the first time, that London’s terrible affliction was spreading through crystal-clear fresh water that came out of pumps, not the city’s foul-smelling air. Many people didn’t believe Snow, because they lived in a world without a clear understanding of germ theory and only the most rudimentary microscopes.
Almost 10 million Americans have already filed for unemployment benefits. Congress can still act to stem the tide.
For the second straight week, the U.S. workforce set a dismal unemployment record. On Thursday morning, the Labor Department reported that 6.6 million people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week. That figure is twice as high as the previous record of 3.3 million, set just seven days ago.
This brings the two-week total of initial claims to nearly 10 million. That’s 10 million Americans who have lost their jobs—and, in many cases, their health insurance—in the spiraling chaos of a public-health crisis. Ten million Americans who have been thrust into unemployment-insurance programs, with their company on pause, their start-up ruined, or their business closed, and no clear timeline for reopening. Ten million Americans, many effectively quarantined by local law, simultaneously dealing with sudden confinement and sudden joblessness, separated from their daily habits and prohibited from leaving their apartment to commiserate with colleagues, or seek comfort in the arms of family.
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
Updated at 4:40 ET on March 30, 2020.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored. (It may also turn out to be the case that people who are immune to the disease can still pass it on under certain circumstances.)*
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
The extent of Oscar Health’s work on coronavirus testing hasn’t been previously reported.
On March 13, President Donald Trump promised Americans they would soon be able to access a new website that would ask them about their symptoms and direct them to nearby coronavirus testing sites. He said Google was helping.
That wasn’t true. But in the following days, Oscar Health—a health-insurance company closely connected to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—developed a government website with the features the president had described. A team of Oscar engineers, project managers, and executives spent about five days building a stand-alone website at the government’s request, an Oscar spokesperson told The Atlantic. The company even dispatched two employees from New York to meet in person with federal officials in Washington, D.C., the spokesperson said. Then the website was suddenly and mysteriously scrapped.
The rate that the economy is collapsing is one of the strongest predictors of whether an incumbent will win again.
For Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, many numbers matter: the number of Americans who get sick and perish from the coronavirus. The number of months before the economy begins to reopen and rebound. The number of Americans who lose their health insurance and home after losing their job. For political scientists, one number is of particular interest, and it currently stands at –18.3.
That is an estimate of how fast the economy is collapsing in the second quarter, an annualized rate derived by Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. It is a measure of how much less the American economy is producing as businesses close and joblessness swells and the pandemic kills. And it is one of the strongest predictors of whether an incumbent is likely to win reelection: An additional percentage point of GDP growth translates roughly into an additionalpercentage point of the vote share. Americans are seeing their economy evaporate at the fastest pace in modern history, and that foretells a Democratic landslide in the fall.