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Coronavirus Vaccine, China, Baseball: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. The U.S. is giving Pfizer and a German partner nearly $2 billion to produce up to 600 million doses of a potential virus vaccine, with the first 100 million before the end of the year.

The vaccine still needs to be proved safe and effective in clinical trials, above. A similar effort is underway in Europe, where Germany recently took a 23 percent stake in a German firm, CureVac, that President Trump once tried to lure to American shores.

The news came as California reached a painful milestone: More than 417,000 cases have been announced there over the course of the pandemic, more than any other state — surpassing even New York’s more than 413,000 known cases.

And on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans and White House officials are discussing a short-term extension of the $600 weekly unemployment supplement. It isn’t clear whether Democrats will accept the temporary fix.

2. A bright spot: In just over two months, the Northeast went from America’s worst virus hot spot to its most contained.

From Delaware through Maine, like above in Portland, new case reports remain well below their April peak. As of Wednesday, six of the country’s 11 states with flat or falling case levels are in that Northeastern corridor.

How did they do it? Aggressive lockdowns and big investments in testing and tracing efforts in the spring led to residents largely following social distancing rules. “It’s acting like Europe,” one expert said.

But heartbreak remains elsewhere in the country. A Florida family lost two siblings to the coronavirus. Byron Francis, 20, and his sister Mychaela, 22, became ill less than two weeks after they got back from a family trip to Universal Studios in Orlando.

3. Anecdotes of coronavirus reinfection are just that — stories without evidence of the phenomenon, according to experts who study viruses.

It may be possible for the coronavirus to strike the same person twice, but it’s highly unlikely that it would do so in such a short window or to make people sicker the second time, they said. What’s more likely is that some people have a drawn-out course of infection weeks to months after their initial exposure, as what may have happened to Megan Kent of Salem, Mass., above.

While we’re on the topic of correcting anecdotes: The rise in testing is not driving the rise in U.S. virus cases. This graph explains why.

4. The Trump administration is sending hundreds more federal agents to cities, President Trump and Attorney General William Barr said — but to fight crime, not confront protesters.

The Justice Department will send roughly 200 additional agents to Chicago to bolster violent crime task forces working with the local police. Other cities will also get agents, in keeping with Mr. Trump’s re-election theme of law and order and portrayals of “Democrat-run cities” as “going to hell” amid a spike in shootings.

The announcement comes less than 24 hours after 14 people were shot near a funeral home in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the crime-fighting help would not resemble the deployment in Portland, Ore., which local leaders say has only made things worse.

Sending “unnamed special secret agents onto our streets to detain people without cause and to effectively take away their civil rights and civil liberties without due process — that is not going to happen,” she said.

5. The U.S. abruptly ordered China to close its consulate in Houston by Friday, accusing diplomats of aiding economic espionage and attempted theft of scientific research.

China vowed to retaliate. Hours after the Trump administration issued its order to the ambassador, consulate employees burned papers in open metal barrels in a courtyard of the Houston building, prompting police officers and firefighters to rush to the area.

The order comes amid rising tensions that have been inflamed by the pandemic and Beijing’s repressive moves in Hong Kong, and fanned by President Trump’s campaign strategists, who have been seeking to deflect attention from his failures on the pandemic. Those tensions now touch on virtually all aspects of the U.S.-China relationship.

6. New clarity on global warming.

For more than 40 years, scientists have discussed it as a range of possible temperature increases. Now a team of researchers has sharply tightened it: The planet will warm between 2.6 and 4.1 degrees Celsius if carbon dioxide levels double. The narrowing is critical to inform international efforts to address climate change.

In other climate news, the Trump administration made public the federal government’s first proposal to control planet-warming pollution from airplanes. But the draft regulations would not push the airlines beyond emissions limits they have set for themselves. The standards appear timed to put the government in compliance with a legal requirement that it begin regulating airplane emissions, averting a lawsuit.

7. The fashion and publishing industries are being reshaped under new pressures.

Women who worked at Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire described a culture of sexism, racial discrimination and bullying at Hearst Magazines, a Times investigation found. The toxic environment started at the top: Former employees say the company’s president, Troy Young (above with the microphone at a 2018 event), made multiple sexually offensive remarks and emailed pornography.

He denied the accusations.

And in fashion, Diane von Furstenberg’s glamorous personal brand masked the fact her company had been losing money for years. The coronavirus changed that. Now Ms. von Furstenberg, once the face of American fashion, plans to transform her company from a brick-and-mortar operation into primarily an intellectual property business.

8. The summer of Mars continues.

China’s Tianwen-1 mission, expected to launch Thursday, aims to place the country in the upper ranks of spacefaring nations with a landing on the red planet. It includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover, which China will attempt to operate all at once, a first in space.

The mission is called Tianwen-1, after a classical Chinese poem from the Third century B.C. called “Questions to Heaven” or “Heavenly Questions.”

So far, only the U.S. and, briefly, the Soviet Union have achieved Mars landings. NASA is set to launch another Mars mission next week, and the United Arab Emirates launched its Hope orbiter on Monday from Japan.

9. It’s time for the weirdest season of baseball in recent memory.

Major League Baseball returns on Thursday, looking a whole lot different from what teams planned for in spring training. With 60 games, no fans (for now) and a universal designated hitter, some teams will be in a better position than others. First up: Yankees versus Nationals, and Giants versus Dodgers.

10. And finally, an unexpected boon for book sales.

If you want to sell books during a pandemic, it turns out that putting them within reach of eggs, milk, dried goods and toilet paper may the best place to do it. Book sales jumped this spring at big-box stores like Walmart, Rite Aid, Target and Costco (above, one in Marina del Rey, Calif.), which stayed open and stocked essentials while other businesses were locked down.

In some cases, according to publishing executives, book sales tripled or quadrupled. The stores tend to sell books that are highly commercial. And other big hits were, no surprise, puzzle, children’s and educational books.

Have a page-turning night.

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