March 25, 2020

After preaching calm, the Kremlin sounds like it's ready to take the coronavirus pandemic a lot more seriously, The Guardian reports.

There was a healthy amount of skepticism over the low coronavirus numbers Russia had been reporting in recent weeks, which seems to have been validated after Russian President Vladimir Putin changed his tune Wednesday, delaying a public vote (which was mostly a formality) on constitutional amendments that will allow him to remain in power until 2036, requesting people to remain at home, and announcing a week-long holiday during which workers will receive their salaries.

Moscow's Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin on Tuesday that the government was underestimating the number of coronavirus cases in the country, arguing "a serious situation is developing" and Russia's health care system could be overwhelmed as the spread accelerates. Before that the Kremlin's message was mainly to avoid panic.

The Russian parliament is reportedly prepared to get tough if they have to, as well. Parliament said Wednesday it will review legislation that could put quarantine breakers in prison for anywhere between three and seven years, while anyone found guilty of infecting others could face terrorism charges. Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

1:09 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is out, and former President Barack Obama is maybe, possibly in.

Sanders dropped out of the 2020 race on Wednesday, saying his "path toward victory is virtually impossible" but pledging to stay on primary ballots through the Democratic National Convention to gain influence in the party. That makes former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee, and leaves Obama free to campaign for his former second in command.

Obama has refused to endorse a primary candidate since the 2020 Democratic race's jam-packed beginnings, though reports did suggest he was quietly backing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Other reports suggested he wasn't thrilled about Biden getting in the race, and told Biden's campaign staff to make sure he didn't "embarrass himself." Biden meanwhile maintained he specifically asked Obama not to endorse him, though he has promised his presidency would essentially be a third Obama term.

But Sanders' departure leaves Obama with just one choice, effectively compelling him to take a stand as a Biden surrogate. Obama did reportedly expect to perform a lot of party unifying this summer, after all. There's just one problem: Obama didn't end up turning the tides when he did the same for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:07 p.m.

President Trump wasted no time commenting on Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) decision to end his Democratic presidential bid.

Trump took a shot at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for staying in the primary too long, suggesting she prevented Sanders from developing a wider coalition, and claimed the Democratic National Committee got what it wanted with Sanders' exit.

The president even went so far as to try to lure Sanders voters — many of whom have expressed dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party over the years — across the aisle and support Republicans going forward. That seems unlikely, but analysts view Trump's offer as an attempt to further divide Democrats ahead of the general election in November, when Trump will square off with former Vice President Joe Biden. Tim O'Donnell

12:30 p.m.

Chelsea Handler wants all her fans to be practicing proper precautions when leaving their homes, but she acknowledged that with "masks in short supply, we have to take matters into our own hands."

To help out anyone who's found themselves in a bind, the comedian demoed on Instagram how to transform a bra into a face mask. "Go like this," Handler said, wrapping the undergarment around her face, "and then just hook it together, like that."

Admittedly, going to the grocery store with a bra wrapped around your face could draw some stares, but Handler seemed convinced her method was good enough for anyone — "men included." Jeva Lange

12:29 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday officially conceded the Democratic presidential primary to former Vice President Joe Biden but said he will still stay on the ballot and continue to gather delegates through the party's convention.

After suspending his campaign for president, Sanders addressed supporters in a live stream, describing his decision to exit as "very difficult and painful." But he admitted it has become "virtually impossible" for him to win the Democratic nomination and he "cannot in good conscience continue" running, especially in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"If I believed that we had a feasible path to the nomination, I would certainly continue the campaign, but it's just not there," Sanders said.

Sanders also congratulated Biden, who is now the only Democratic candidate left in the race, describing him as a "very decent man." At the same time, Sanders said he will remain on the ballot in all remaining states and not stop gathering delegates.

"While Vice President Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions," Sanders said.

Biden in a lengthy statement on Wednesday praised Sanders and told his supporters, "I see you, I hear you. and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country. I hope you will join us." Brendan Morrow

12:25 p.m.

The race to supply hospitals with more ventilators has been a defining characteristic of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but not every doctor believes the devices are the best way to treat patients, Stat News reports.

Normally, the decision to put patients on ventilators who are suffering from respiratory problems is driven by how low blood oxygen levels are. But some doctors are wondering if they should rely so heavily on those figures after noticing, per Stat, that many patients who have very low oxygen levels, which could often be considered near-fatal, aren't gasping air or showing other signs lung impairment.

Some patients are reportedly maintaining low carbon dioxide levels, which means their lungs are still performing the critical task of removing it despite struggling to absorb oxygen. This, doctors say, is more reminiscent of altitude sickness than pneumonia, and could be reason wait longer before deciding to move to a ventilator. Some small studies have backed the theory up.

If that's the case, some physicians believe that non-invasive breathing aids are superior to ventilators even in more severe cases (though some provide a greater risk of transmission to health care workers). They also come with fewer risks; many older patients who survive sedation and forceful intubation reportedly can suffer permanent cognitive and respiratory damage.

Dr. Scott Weingart, a critical care physician in New York, said he thinks patients do "much, much worse" on ventilators than non-invasive devices. "I would do everything in my power to avoid intubating patients," he told Stat. Of course, it's crucial to note that the novelty of COVID-19 has health care professionals learning how to treat the disease on the fly, and much remains unclear. Read more at Stat News. Tim O'Donnell

12:04 p.m.

Top congressional Democrats are all for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) next coronavirus relief bill — with a few additions.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced their party was asking for an additional $250 billion in a so-called "CARES 2" act, doubling the size of the package McConnell had introduced. Their proposal would allocate more money to local and state governments and health care facilities, and ensure at least half McConnell's proposed funding goes toward "community-based financial institutions."

Pelosi and Schumer repeated McConnell's call for $250 billion in small business assistance in their Wednesday proposal, but wanted to make sure $125 billion of it will "serve farmers, family, women, and minority and veteran-owned small businesses and nonprofits in rural, tribal, suburban, and urban communities." In addition, they'd like $100 billion for hospitals, community health centers, and health systems; $150 billion for state and local governments; and an additional 15 percent support added to SNAP food stamp benefits.

McConnell hoped to pass his $250 billion plan with a unanimous voice vote on Thursday, as that's the only way for Congress to vote right now without returning to Washington. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:39 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is out of the 2020 presidential race.

The Vermont senator announced in a call with his staff on Wednesday he's suspending his campaign for president, CNN reports. This leaves former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic party's presumed 2020 presidential nominee.

Biden had maintained his lead over Sanders in the delegate count over the past few weeks after his impressive showings in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday. After suffering another series of primary losses to Biden last month, Sanders admitted he was "losing the debate over electability" to the former vice president.

This news comes after The Washington Post reported that some of Sanders' top aides, including his campaign manager, were urging him to consider dropping out of the race. Sanders also announced plans to speak to supporters in a live stream. Brendan Morrow

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