with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

Before Sept. 11, 2001, government planners had not considered the possibility that hijackers would fly commercial airplanes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. There was no such failure of imagination ahead of this pandemic. Experts have not just warned for years about the inevitability of an outbreak like the novel coronavirus on American soil. They have also sounded the alarm about the risk of the kind of poor coordination between federal and local agencies that has characterized the initial U.S. response to covid-19.

A simulation called “Crimson Contagion,” organized by a Trump-appointed assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services from January to August in 2019, envisioned a respiratory virus beginning in China and infecting 110 million Americans, hospitalizing 7.7 million and killing 586,000. At least a dozen agencies, and another dozen states, were involved in the war-game-style exercise. A draft of the secret after-action report from October, first published Thursday by the New York Times, emphasized challenges related to coordination and highlighted friction between HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Chunks of the 63-page report could easily be cross-applied to describe the dropped balls and mixed messages related to the coronavirus response over the last three months. Consider these bullets from the executive summary: “Exercise participants lacked clarity on federal interagency partners' roles and responsibilities during an influenza pandemic response. … Confusion regarding the purpose of and target audience for national conference calls hampered coordination among state and federal response partners. … At times, HHS' Operating Divisions and Staff Divisions provided inconsistent and inaccurate response guidance and actions to healthcare and public health private sector partners. …

“HHS and DHS/FEMA’s use of disparate information management systems hampered their ability to establish and maintain a national common operating picture. Both HHS and DHS/FEMA submitted senior leader briefs to the White House National Security Council during the exercise, which caused confusion regarding the official source of senior leader briefs. … State, local, tribal, and territorial partners were unclear on the kinds of information they needed to provide … HHS’ regional staff lack clear guidance on the distribution of federal information management products to state and local partners. … Inconsistent use of terminology regarding vaccine types and stockpiles caused confusion among response partners at all levels of government.”

The Times also posted a 73-page report from July 2016 on lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak that highlighted the need to improve coordination between agencies. Christopher Kirchhoff, who transferred from the Pentagon to the White House to deal with Ebola, wrote that “the most defining event in the domestic management of Ebola” happened when Liberian citizen Thomas Duncan tested positive in Dallas in September 2014. He said that this “revealed gaps” in the federal government’s approach to domestic containment of viruses, especially involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“During such incidents, clarity of Federal roles and responsibilities and coordination across the Federal interagency are paramount. Little of this was present in Dallas,” Kirchhoff wrote. “Some had an expectation that CDC was going to help with healthcare delivery, yet healthcare delivery is not a function of CDC. CDC’s initial forward deployed team was built against a set of technical health requirements and was not equipped to manage the conflicts that developed between the hospital, state, and local authorities. … The CDC also was not equipped, and did not have clear authority, to perform incident command without being requested to do so by the state of Texas. The peculiarities of the local political environment meant that Dallas county and the state of Texas each set up parallel incident command structures that issued conflicting guidance, further confusing command and control.”

As it relates to the coronavirus, a stream of fresh revelations underscores early mistakes and failures to appropriately coordinate among and between federal and local public health officials. Early efforts to ramp up testing by the CDC were particularly abysmal. The first cases in the United States and South Korea were detected on the very same day, Reuters notes. By late January, though, Seoul had medical companies starting to work on a diagnostic test, and one was approved a week later. Today, Washington is still nowhere close to meeting demand for the tests.

“While the virus was quietly spreading within the U.S., the CDC had told state and local officials its ‘testing capacity is more than adequate to meet current testing demands,’ according to a Feb. 26 agency email,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The agency’s data show it tested fewer than 100 patients that day. … CDC officials botched an initial test kit developed in an agency lab, retracting many tests. They resisted calls from state officials and medical providers to broaden testing, and health officials failed to coordinate with outside companies to ensure needed test-kit supplies, such as nasal swabs and chemical reagents, would be available … When the Food and Drug Administration, also involved in the response, finally opened testing to more outside labs, a run on limited stocks of some supplies needed for the CDC-developed test quickly depleted stores. … Hospital and commercial lab operators said the government didn’t reach out to enlist their help until it was too late.”

The United States has more than 14,200 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 159 reported deaths. Both numbers are expected to grow rapidly in the coming days. More than 240,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed globally. The World Health Organization notes that it took three months to reach 100,000 —but only 12 days to reach the next 100,000.

When the coronavirus passed within a handshake of the president, no public health agency took charge,” Aaron Davis and Erin Cox report. “On March 8, a day after the New Jersey doctor’s positive test result was announced and as the extent of the doctor’s contacts at [the Conservative Political Action Conference] were becoming clear, officials said public health workers had begun to locate and notify conference attendees. The [CDC] ‘confirmed his attendance and is working with CPAC to notify all the attendees,’ New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli told reporters. In truth, no such effort was undertaken by the CDC, New Jersey or Maryland, according to officials in both states and with the CDC, who pointed to one another as the responsible party. They did not publicize the name of the doctor. …

Alerted by the doctor himself, political operatives who organized the conference undertook the responsibility themselves, attempting to identify attendees who might have been at risk. In a process that took days, CPAC organizers pieced together his movements, learning belatedly that he had attended a crowded kickoff event. They also persuaded the doctor to review photos on his iPhone he had taken from the event, … including a photo the doctor had taken with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla). By the time they alerted Gaetz, he was on Air Force One with the president after having spent two days at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with members of the first family. Ultimately, the organizers notified close to 100 attendees, according to Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, the lobbying group that puts on CPAC. On Tuesday, D.C. officials announced that another man who had attended the conference, a 23-year-old District resident, had also tested positive. … 

The approach stands in stark contrast to aggressive actions taken by some countries that slowed the spread of the virus in its early days. In Singapore, for instance, public health officials not only interviewed the sick but also obtained patients’ travel itineraries and used security camera footage to track their movements to help identify every person possible with whom they had incidental contact.”

The CDC now appears to have been sidelined, with its messages increasingly disrupted or overtaken by the White House. Despite the early mistakes, this is still the country’s leading public health agency. “Neither CDC Director Robert Redfield nor Anne Schuchat — the principal deputy director who has played key roles in the agency’s emergency responses stretching back two decades, including the 2009 influenza pandemic — have appeared on the podium during White House briefings by the coronavirus task force for more than a week,” Lena Sun reports

The CDC has not conducted its own telephone briefings for reporters in more than a week. Recent CDC recommendations on school closures and mass gatherings were overtaken by different guidelines issued by the coronavirus task force, creating confusion. … The CDC has not conducted a briefing since March 9. … Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for Pence, who took over the task force from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar late last month, said Redfield has been joining daily task force meetings. 

Azar has blamed Redfield for the testing fiasco, several senior administration officials said, although some White House officials contend the blame is misplaced. Redfield is also not viewed as a strong public speaker by experts inside and outside the agency; he has had to issue corrections to misstatements in recent testimony before Congress. Ever since Pence’s team took over the response, they have treated the outbreak as a public relations crisis as much as a public health crisis and have tightly managed communications of top health and administration officials, officials have said.”

Better understanding the virus

Scientific models offer two insights on what's next.

“In the worst-case scenario, America is on a trajectory toward 1.1 million deaths. … If Americans embrace drastic restrictions, … we could see a death toll closer to the thousands and breathe a national sigh of relief as we prepare for a grueling but surmountable road ahead,” William Wan, Joel Achenbach, Carolyn Johnson and Ben Guarino report. “Doing that will require Americans to ‘flatten the curve’ — slowing the spread of the contagion so it doesn’t overwhelm a health-care system with finite resources. That phrase has become ubiquitous in our national conversation. But what experts have not always made clear is that by applying all that downward pressure on the curve — by canceling public gatherings, closing schools, quarantining the sick and enforcing social distancing — you elongate the curve, stretching it out over a longer period of time. Success means a longer — though less catastrophic — fight against the coronavirus. And it is unclear whether Americans — who built this country on ideals of independence and individual rights — would be willing to endure such harsh restrictions on their lives for months, let alone for a year or more.

“Here is another thing that hasn’t been spelled out in our national conversation about flattening the curve: There will probably be more than one curve. If we’re lucky, the coming months will probably look less like a mountain and more like a string of bumpy hills, say epidemiologists. But if authorities ease some measures in coming months or if we start letting them slip ourselves, that hill could easily turn right back into the exponential curve that has cratered Italy’s health system and that U.S. officials are desperately trying to avoid replicating.”

Why is the coronavirus killing vastly more men than women?

“Nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in Italy. Men make up nearly 60 percent of people with confirmed cases of the virus and more than 70 percent of those who have died,” Chris Mooney, Sarah Kaplan and Min Joo Kim report. “A study of 99 patients at a hospital in Wuhan, where the virus originated, found that men made up two-thirds of patients. … More recent figures from China’s Center for Disease Control, based on tens of thousands of cases, showed a strong gender breakdown of deaths, which were 64 percent male. … The gendered death gap was also seen in the smaller SARS and MERS outbreaks. … 

These statistics could be a product of behavior, biology or both, scientists say. For one thing, demographic figures suggest many men have more health risks to begin with. … Women tend to live longer than men. … Men also drink and smoke more. … But there are also underlying biological differences between men and women that may make covid-19 worse in men. … Years of research have found that women generally have stronger immune systems than men and are better able to fend off infections. The X chromosome contains a large number of immune-related genes, and because women have two of them, they gain an advantage in fighting disease. … Studies have also found that estrogen was protective in female mice infected with the virus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak.”

Rural areas may be more vulnerable than urban centers.

“Biostatistician and infectious disease specialist Nicholas Reich from the University of Massachusetts is participating in the White House Coronavirus Task Force modeling efforts. He said the death rates from flu for people over 50 could be a good indicator of vulnerability for covid-19, though they are ‘probably not a perfect measure but a good place to start,'" Dan Keating and Laris Karklis report. “The push for social distancing and isolation make dense crowds and public transportation in big cities seem like the deadliest environment. The pattern of flu deaths over the past five years, however, shows that big metro areas are not hot spots for high flu death rates. 

Most of the deaths are among the large population in big cities, but the risk for any individual person goes up dramatically where homes are sparse. Very rural areas have a 60 percent higher death rate from flu than the big metro areas, according to analysis of CDC death records. Collectively, the 68 most rural counties of Kansas, for instance, have nearly 14 deaths per 100,000 people age 50 or older, well over double the rate for the county around Topeka (6.6), the state capital. And the rate around New York City (3.4) is around half of that. 

The higher rates in remote areas may be due to difficulty getting health care. Rural residents have greater travel distances for more limited resources. … Flu mortality is very notable for low rates in the warmest states: California and the belt of states from Arizona to Florida. But as Reich said, the flu is not a perfect predictor for covid-19. It’s not known if warm weather will provide protection against the new coronavirus the way it does with the standard flu.”

The congressional response

Senate Republicans unveiled their draft stimulus bill.

“The legislation would provide checks of $1,200 per adult for many families, as well as $500 for every child in those families," Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis, Erica Werner and Paul Kane report. "Families filing jointly would receive up to $2,400 for the adults. The size of the checks would diminish for those earning more than $75,000 and phase out completely for those earning more than $99,000. The poorest families, those with no federal income tax liability, would see smaller benefits, though the minimum would be set at $600. Limiting the payment amount for those without federal tax liability was a change from the original White House proposal, and caught some Republicans off-guard, provoking criticism. … An early analysis showed the vast majority of middle class people would receive the cash payment, but the percentage doing so falls dramatically toward the bottom of the income distribution. About 22 million people earning under $40,000 a year would see no benefit under the GOP plan, according to an initial analysis by Ernie Tedeschi, a former Obama administration economist. … 

Democrats were working on their own proposals, which shun corporate loan programs being included by Republicans — such as $50 billion for airlines — suggesting that there will be difficulty in reaching bipartisan agreement. … The bill also outlines in greater detail the terms for receiving targeted federal help from the federal government, as proposed earlier by the Trump administration. The legislation includes $50 billion in ‘loans and loan guarantees’ for passenger airlines; $8 billion for ‘cargo air carriers’; and $150 billion for other ‘eligible businesses,’ a category administration officials have suggested could include the hotel and cruise industries. The legislation appears to give the Treasury Department wide authority in determining which businesses qualify for this $150 billion fund.”

GOP senators are under fire for dumping stocks before markets tanked.

“Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who had expressed confidence in the country’s preparedness for the coronavirus outbreak, sold a significant share of his stocks last month,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee, John Wagner and Teo Armus report. “The sales included stocks in some of the industries that have been hardest hit by the global pandemic, including hotels and restaurants, shipping, drug manufacturing, and health care. … Burr reportedly was receiving daily briefings on the threat of the virus. In mid-February, he sold 33 stocks held by him and his spouse, estimated at between $628,033 and $1.72 million. … It was the largest number of stocks he had sold in one day since at least 2016, records show. … 

“Then, at a Feb. 27 luncheon, Burr compared the potential impact of the novel coronavirus to the deadly 1918 flu pandemic. His remarks at the private event were obtained by NPR and aired Thursday. His remarks prompted scrutiny over whether Burr had offered a more frank warning at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by North Carolina business leaders than he and his colleagues were sharing more broadly. … Burr’s office declined to answer specific questions about his stock sales. About a week after those sales, the stock market sharply declined. … Insider trading prohibitions apply to all members of Congress, congressional staff and other federal officials, under the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act of 2012. Burr was among three senators who voted against the legislation at the time.”

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) also dumped millions in stock after being briefed on the virus. In fact, she reported the first sale of stock jointly owned with her husband on Jan. 24, the very day that the Senate Health Committee she sits on hosted a private, all-senators briefing from administration officials, the Daily Beast reports. She shared a picture of herself in the briefing on social media. “One of Loeffler’s two purchases was stock worth between $100,000 and $250,000 in Citrix, a technology company that offers teleworking software and which has seen a small bump in its stock price since Loeffler bought in as a result of coronavirus-induced market turmoil. Loeffler is the wealthiest member of Congress. The Atlanta businesswoman, whose husband is the chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, is worth an estimated $500 million.

Loeffler said she does not make investment decisions for her portfolio. “Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband's knowledge or involvement,” she tweeted.

And Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) sold as much as $400,000 in stock on Jan. 27, including holdings in PayPal, Apple and Brookfield Asset Management, a real estate company, per the Times. 

Quote of the day

“Maybe there’s an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately. Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said of Burr's stock sales. “There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis. That appears to be what happened.”

Meanwhile, with her eyes possibly on 2024, Nikki Haley quit the Boeing board. The former ambassador to the United Nations and ex-South Carolina governor, widely believed to harbor presidential ambitions, said she disagreed with the company’s request for a federal bailout. She wrote an open letter to Boeing’s chief executive arguing it's not the federal government’s role to give financial assistance to some companies and industries and not others. (Douglas MacMillan)

Members of Congress are rethinking the tradition-shattering idea of voting remotely. “Someone needs to devise a very secure way of remote voting, with fingerprints or facial recognition,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.). “I hate the idea, because I think our face-to-face contact is so important, but it’s inevitable.” (Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis)

Trump’s response

Trump took direct aim at China for allowing the spread of the virus. 

“The president dug in on his use of the term ‘Chinese virus’ to describe the novel coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, late last year and did not rule out directing economic retaliation toward Beijing,” Anne Gearan reports. “Asked whether he is considering ‘repercussions for China’ or a realignment of the supply system in which some American manufacturers rely on Chinese labor or raw materials, Trump suggested he was open to the idea. …[He claimed] China could have stopped all spread beyond the Wuhan area but deliberately chose not to do so.”

The president keeps making promises he can’t keep. 

“Day after day, many of the president’s boldest pronouncements at the White House have failed to materialize as quickly as he has promised or turned out to be more complicated than he has suggested. The upshot, Trump’s critics said, is that he has contributed to widespread confusion and uncertainty among the public he is attempting to reassure,” David Nakamura reports. “Asked Thursday about the gap between his rhetoric on testing and the pleas from hospitals across the nation that testing is severely lagging, Trump failed to come up with a cogent explanation. ‘Well, I can’t — I cannot explain the gap,’ he replied.” 

A drugmaker doubled the price of a potential coronavirus treatment touted by Trump. 

“Rising Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey based company, increased the price of chloroquine — an antimalarial, which is one of the drugs that is being tested against Covid-19 — on January 23. … The drug price rose 97.86 per cent to $7.66 per 250mg pill and $19.88 per 500mg pill,” the Financial Times reports. “Rising said the price rise was ‘coincidental’ and it restored the old price once it realised that the drug might be in demand because of the outbreak. … Trump said on Thursday that the [FDA] had approved chloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19 — but the FDA commissioner contradicted him, saying the regulator was simply taking a closer look at the drug. The drug is already approved for treating malaria. There is no solid evidence that chloroquine improves the condition of coronavirus patients. But there are several trials under way and the drug is being used on a ‘compassionate use’ basis in some countries.”

A change in U.S. law makes millions more masks available to doctors. 

“New legislation signed Wednesday provides manufacturers of N95 face masks protection against lawsuits when selling certain masks to healthcare workers, [Vice President] Pence said. That will free producers including 3M and Honeywell to sell tens of millions more masks per month to hospitals,” Jeanne Whalen reports. “Those figures are still well short of the [estimated] 3.5 billion N95 respirator masks the U.S. could need in a serious pandemic.”

The shortage of testing kits amplifies inequities in our health-care system.

“Actors, politicians and athletes have had quick and easy access to coronavirus tests while other Americans — including front-line health-care workers and those with obvious signs of infection — have been out of luck,” Juliet Eilperin and Ben Golliver report. “Asked Wednesday if the rich and powerful should have easier access to coronavirus testing than the general public, President Trump replied, ‘No, I wouldn’t say so, but perhaps that’s been the story of life.’ … On the same day that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert fell ill in Oklahoma and was tested for the coronavirus this month, a female paramedic lay in a Tulsa hospital bed a little more than a hundred miles away, unable to obtain a test. … Her doctors did not receive approval to get her tested until March 12 and had to wait two more days for the result. … At least two individuals treating the patient are now in quarantine … out of concern that they may not have been wearing proper protective gear before she was diagnosed.

“Joshua Sharfstein, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins and former FDA official under President Barack Obama, said that widespread testing for the general public is at least ‘a couple weeks away.’ Generally, he said that tests should be administered based on the severity of symptoms. The government’s lack of an ‘organized response to testing’ has made that difficult, if not impossible, to implement nationally, and set up institutions such as the National Basketball Association for criticism.”

The cascading domestic fallout

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on March 19, that Los Angeles County will close all nonessential places of work to slow the spread of coronavirus. (The Washington Post)
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ordered all Californians to stay home.

“The mandatory order allows Californians to continue to visit gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, takeout and delivery restaurants, banks and laundromats. … It exempts workers in 16 federal critical infrastructure sectors, including food and agriculture, healthcare, transportation, energy, financial services, emergency response and others,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

Other states extended their shutdowns.

Illinois reported three more coronavirus deaths. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) extended school closures through at least April 20, per the Sun-Times. Non-life-sustaining businesses were ordered to close their physical locations in Pennsylvania, per the CBS Philly affiliate. The Texas Tribune reports that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) closed bars, restaurants and schools. Abbott estimated the number of Texas cases will skyrocket to the tens of thousands over two weeks. Florida authorities are shutting down bars, nightclubs, beaches and parks in an attempt to keep raucous spring breakers away from the state’s aging population, Anthony Faiola, Souad Mekhennet, Terry Strickland and Lori Rozsa report. A 34-year-old man died in California days after visiting Disney World in Orlando, Fox 11 reports.

The National Guard anticipates tens of thousands of its troops will be mobilized.

More than 2,000 members of the National Guard have been activated across 27 states, but the Pentagon expects that to double by the weekend and then mushroom from there, said Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau. Members of the National Guard have distributed food in the epicenter of New York’s outbreak, collected samples for virus testing in Florida and delivered a half-million test kits in Tennessee. Other roles will include supporting state health agencies and various logistical missions. (Alex Horton)

The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to deploy 3,000 medical personnel to bolster the effort to combat the virus, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Politico. 

D.C. saw its highest single-day increase in cases as the region’s total rose to 274. 

“Maryland added 22 cases Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 108. Virginia reported 17 more cases Thursday, for a total of 94. The District reported 32 new patients Thursday evening, its highest single-day increase, for a total of 72,” Dan Hedgpeth and Rachel Chason report. “Metro Transit police closed two rail stations at 5 p.m. Thursday to discourage crowds from filling Metro cars and gathering in groups to view the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in the District.”

  • New York state reported more than 5,200 cases, up from 3,000 on Wednesday, as testing capacity increased. At least 29 people have died in the Empire State. (NYT)
  • Four NBA teams, including the Lakers and the Celtics, said members of their organizations tested positive for the virus. (Ben Golliver)
  • Bank of America will let borrowers pause their mortgage payments during the virus on a “case by case” basis. The payments will be added to the end of their loans. (Housingwire)
  • Saints coach Sean Payton tested positive. (Mark Maske)
  • FAA administrator Steve Dickson is self-quarantine after interacting with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who tested positive earlier this week. (Michael Laris)
  • After shutting some national parks over coronavirus, the Trump administration waived entrance fees at many others. (Darryl Fears)
  • Despite dire warnings, some coronavirus deniers and hoaxers continue claiming the pandemic is just “mass hysteria.” (Annie Gowen)

The global impact of the pandemic

South Asia, home to nearly 2 billion people, could be the next hot spot. 

Experts fear that India and its neighbors may be at the start of the deadly curve seen elsewhere in the world, Joanna Slater and Niha Masih report.

  • The State Department warned all Americans not to travel abroad and advised those abroad to either return immediately or prepare to remain in place indefinitely. (John Hudson)
  • Trump canceled the Group of 7 meeting scheduled to be held in June at Camp David. He will hold a video conference instead with foreign leaders, per Reuters. But NATO is still holding meetings in Brussels, Michael Birnbaum reports.
  • Israel is using cellphone surveillance to warn its citizens they may already be infected. (Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash)
  • The Japanese Olympic Committee broke with the International Olympic Committee and called for the postponement of the Tokyo Games. The IOC is “putting athletes at risk" by sticking to the schedule, said Kaori Yamaguchi. (Des Bieler)
  • Hong Kong reported a record jump in new cases, as the region braces for an uptick in illness involving travelers who rushed back home to beat widening travel restrictions. (Siobhán O’Grady)
  • China recorded no new local cases for the second day in a row. All 39 cases reported this morning were imported from abroad, officials claimed. (Siobhán O’Grady and Lyric Li)
  • The British food supply is starting to show strains. (FT)
  • Jordan will seal off entrances to its capital. (China.org)
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Venezuela to release six imprisoned oil executives as the virus spreads there. (Carol Morello)
  • An Italian poet published his phone number on social media for anyone to call if they needed to chat with someone. More than 100 calls have come in from all across the country. (Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli)

Other developments that should be on your radar

A third of the U.S. is at risk of flooding this spring. 

“The Northern Plains and Upper Midwest are forecast to be most at risk, but flooding concerns stretch along the entire Mississippi River, [according to the National Weather Service]. As spring rains increase and snowmelt to the north surges into river basins, a number of rivers and streams may overflow their banks and inundate nearby land,” Matthew Cappucci reports. “Particularly vulnerable this season is the Deep South, where many cities have already had close to 30 inches of rain since the start of the year and soils are saturated."

The acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center was fired.

Russell Travers was removed “in what insiders fear is a purge by the Trump administration of career professionals at an organization set up after 9/11 to protect the nation from further attacks,” Ellen Nakashima reports. “Travers, a highly regarded intelligence professional with more than 40 years of government service, told colleagues he was fired by acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell. … Also removed at the NCTC was Travers’s acting deputy, Peter W. Hall, who is returning to the National Security Agency.”  

Tulsi Gabbard dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed Biden. 

The retiring Hawaii congresswoman gained little mainstream Democratic support but gained traction with some on the far left and the far right. In a video message, she said she “may not agree” with the former vice president on every issue, but said she believes he can “help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart.” Gabbard endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016, Amy Wang and Felicia Sonmez note. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), another former presidential candidate who ripped Biden during a debate last year, also backed Biden's candidacy. She expressed openness to being his No. 2 in an interview with Annie Linskey.

Social media speed read

The Olympic torch, which used hydrogen for the first time in order to be more environmentally friendly, made its way to Japan:

Two doctors shared an important message:

The Border Patrol chief shared an image of detained migrants wearing masks:

And here's a Trump tweet from six years ago today:

Videos of the day

Samantha Bee is trying to make it through the quarantine without attacking her spouse:

Bernie Sanders is spending the quarantine playing with his grandson: 

And a resourceful man in Cyprus had a drone walk his dog:

5th day quarantine. Stay Home Safe but don't forget your dog happiness.. 🦠🦠🦠😇😇😇 IG: Vakis78 For media you can use the link below: 👇👇👇👇 https://youtu.be/ntKSj0qBYlA For video permission contact to storyful. Thank you. 😇🤗🙏 licensing@storyful.com

Posted by Vakis Demetriou on Wednesday, March 18, 2020