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500,000 Deaths, Trump Taxes, Digital Art: Your Monday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. The U.S. has lost nearly half a million people to Covid-19.

President Biden held a solemn memorial at the White House, above, for a “truly grim, heartbreaking milestone” as deaths from the coronavirus pandemic approached 500,000.

“The people we lost were extraordinary,” he said. “They spanned generations. Born in America or immigrated to America.” He noted that they “took their final breath alone in America,” with many in hospital wards separated from their family: “As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate.”

The president cited a death toll above 500,000, but a count by a New York Times database has not yet reached that figure. In any case, the U.S. virus toll is higher than that of any other country. More Americans have died from Covid-19 than did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. Mr. Biden is calling for lowering federal flags to half-staff for the next five days.

Despite the horrific death toll, there is hopeful news: New virus cases and deaths have slowed drastically, and the pace of vaccine distribution has picked up. The number of Americans hospitalized for Covid-19 is at its lowest since early November.

The scope of the investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office is not known, but court documents suggest it will delve into potential crimes like tax and insurance fraud. Prosecutors will soon begin combing through Mr. Trump’s financial records.

In a lengthy and angry statement, Mr. Trump lashed out at the Supreme Court and the investigation, which he characterized as “a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of our Country.”

Last year, The Times published a series of articles after obtaining more than two decades of tax returns for Mr. Trump and his companies.


3. England is relaxing lockdown restrictions, slowly.

“We’re setting out on what I hope is a one-way journey to freedom,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said, as he announced the plan to start lifting the nationwide measures prompted by a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus. Above, a 10-year-old doing distance learning at home in London in January.

Schools in England are set to reopen on March 8 and people will be allowed to socialize outdoors starting on March 29. Pubs, restaurants, retail shops and gyms will stay closed for at least another month. International travel remains banned. Britain rolled out a remarkably successful vaccination program, injecting 17 million people with their first doses.

Worldwide, the pandemic is receding. New cases have declined to half the level seen at the global peak at the end of 2020, which experts credit to improved social distancing and mask wearing, the seasonality of the virus and a buildup of natural immunity among groups with high rates of infection.


4. Is the U.S. headed for a post-Covid economic boom?

Economists always expected the pandemic to be followed by a period of strong growth, but in recent weeks, some have begun to talk of something bigger: a supercharged economic rebound.

The optimism stems from several factors. Coronavirus cases are falling, the vaccine rollout is gaining steam, the economy appears to have suffered less structural damage than feared, and some consumers are sitting on months of lockdown-enhanced savings.

Some economists predict that U.S. output will increase 4.5 percent this year, which would make it the best year since 1999. Some expect an even stronger bounce: Economists at Goldman Sachs forecast that the economy would grow 6.8 percent this year.

Separately, the Biden administration announced changes to the Paycheck Protection Program’s rules to steer more federal aid to the smallest and most vulnerable businesses, including a 14-day freeze on loans to companies with 20 employees or more.

5. Judge Merrick Garland said investigating the Capitol riot would be his first priority as attorney general.

Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, Judge Garland said that the United States faced “a more dangerous period” from domestic extremists than after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which he investigated as a prosecutor. He praised the early stages of the investigation into the “white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol” on Jan. 6 as appropriately aggressive.

We took a closer look at the violence on Jan. 6 and why it took nearly two hours for officials to approve an urgent request for the deployment of the National Guard.

6. Texans, in crisis, turned to an unlikely hero: the grocer.

As frustration swelled among Texans trapped in their homes without power or water over the past week, some started to remark, half-jokingly, that H-E-B should just take over. The grocery store chain has long been known for its logistical prowess responding to the coronavirus pandemic and to hurricanes, with stockpiles of water and emergency supplies ready to be deployed. Above, an H-E-B grocery store worker handing out flowers last week.

Meanwhile, authorities in Texas who refused to join interstate electrical grids and railed against regulation now have to answer to millions of residents who were left without power in last week’s snowstorm.


7. After Trump, Washington’s weekends are back.

Breaking news: President Biden did not do anything alarming this weekend. There were exactly eight tweets, each rooted in what can best be described as reality.

Mr. Biden’s demonstrable lack of interest in generating audacious headlines emphasizes how much the Trump-size hole in Washington has created a sense of free time, writes one of our White House correspondents. Reporters covering this new-old version of Washington say they are ready to get back to the type of journalism that does not involve deciphering a human mood ring.

The Times’s Washington bureau has announced its new White House team.

8. NASA released a new video taken from Mars, the first sent back to Earth from the planet.

The images are from the Perseverance spacecraft as it dropped through the Martian atmosphere last week, ending with the rover’s successful arrival on the planet’s surface.

It took a while for the visual files and data to make their way to Earth. There is no high-speed internet connection between Earth and Mars. Instead, the data had to be relayed through orbiting spacecraft passing overhead.

In other space news, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, will be one of four people on a SpaceX rocket that will circle Earth later this year. Ms. Arceneaux would be the youngest American to travel to orbit, and also the first person with a prosthetic body part.


9. An animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart body sold for almost $600,000.

Nyan Cat is a ubiquitous piece of web art that has been viewed and shared hundreds of millions of times. A unique version of it was just auctioned off to an anonymous buyer for about $580,000.

The sale was a new high point in a fast-growing market for ownership rights to digital art, ephemera and media called NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens.” The buyers are usually not acquiring copyrights or even ownership. They’re buying bragging rights and the knowledge that their copy is the “authentic” one.


10. And finally, a podcast born in the U.S.A.

Former President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen are liberal icons and rhapsodists about the dreams and travails of everyday Americans. Now, the two friends are also podcast hosts.

Spotify today released the first two episodes of “Renegades: Born in the USA,” in which the men discuss race, fatherhood and the painful divisions that persist in American society.

Although the show is positioned as an attempt to understand these divisions, Mr. Obama and Mr. Springsteen largely avoid politics and stick to personal stories. The show is a searching, high-minded discussion of life in the United States from two masters of the form.

Have a thought-provoking evening.


Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.

What did you like? What do you want to see here? Let us know at briefing@nytimes.com.

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