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Microsoft Shows Minimal Increases in Ranks of Black, Latino Employees

Microsoft Corp., which in June announced a plan to double the number of Black managers and leaders at the company, released new annual diversity data today that show the company still struggling to meaningfully increase Black and Latino representation in its workforce.

The software maker said it increased the proportion of both groups by 0.3 percentage points in the past year, with Black workers rising to 4.9% of its U.S. workforce and Latino employees increasing to 6.6%. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates each group accounts for more than 13% of the country’s population. “Racial and ethnic minority communities have largely seen incremental progress and there is still much work to be done,” wrote Chief Diversity Officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre in a blog post. The percentage of women in the company’s global workforce rose slightly to 28.6%.

Read more:  From Apple to Facebook, Tech’s New Diversity Pledges Follow Years of Failure

Black and Latino workers are even more poorly represented in management roles, with Black employees making up between 2.6% and 3.7% of the people at various levels of manager and executive. For Latino employees, those numbers range between 3.3% and 5.4%. In the past year, two Black vice presidents —  Marc Brown and Kevin Dallas — left the company, in Brown’s case last week.  So did one of the company’s most senior women, Peggy Johnson, who departed to become Chief Executive Officer of Magic Leap.

That’s why Microsoft announced $150 million in additional funding for its diversity initiatives and a program that looks to double the number of Black managers, senior leaders and senior contributors by 2025, changes made in the wake of a focus on diversity and social justice after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. 

The company has said it will expand its leadership development program to more Black employees at lower rungs of its management structure in order to prepare them for advancement. It will also strengthen measures to hold vice presidents and general managers accountable for diversity goals when determining compensation and promotions. Microsoft’s new programs have provoked scrutiny from the U.S. Labor Department, which is asking how those efforts comply with laws limiting the consideration of race in employment.

Microsoft also released data on the number of employees who identify as disabled, putting that at 6.1% of its U.S. workforce. 

See more: How Diverse are America’s Biggest Companies

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Bolsonaro Slams Chinese Vaccine His Government Said It Would Buy

Brazil’s health minister Eduardo Pazuello — the third person to hold the job this year during the coronavirus pandemic — is in hot water with President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro took to social media to disavow his minister on Wednesday after a flurry of negative comments from his supporters opposing the purchase of the Coronavac vaccine being developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The deal to purchase the vaccine to be distributed nationwide was announced the previous day by the Health Ministry in conjunction with the state of Sao Paulo whose Butantan Institute is working with Sinovac.

“The Brazilian people WON’T BE ANYONE’S GUINEA PIG,” the President wrote on his Facebook and Twitter pages, adding that billions can’t be spent on medication that is still being tested. “My decision is to not acquire the aforementioned vaccine.”

Calling it “Joao Doria’s Chinese vaccine,” in reference to the Sao Paulo governor, Bolsonaro said his government won’t buy any vaccine before the Health Ministry and regulator Anvisa approve it. Doria, a former ally turned rival, has been promoting the work with the Chinese firm.

Following a meeting with Doria, Pazuello said the government had signed a preliminary agreement to acquire 46 million doses of the Butantan-Sinovac vaccine. The purchase would only be made after regulator Anvisa had approved the medication, according to a statement.

Doria responded to Bolsonaro by asking for greater comprehension about the medication and asking him not to take it out on the minister. Two of Bolsonaro’s health ministers exited this year over disagreements on his handling of the pandemic including lockdown measures and the use of unproven treatments.

Doria and Bolsonaro have publicly bickered about everything from social distancing to the use of face masks and whether vaccines should be obligatory or not throughout the tumultuous year. Municipal elections next month have added more tension to the public debate.

Earlier this week, the Sao Paulo government said that the phase 3 trial for Coronavac had shown the vaccine was the safest available thus-far, though it’s efficacy still needs to be proven.

The federal government has already agreed to buy the vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca and Covax, for a total of 186 million doses. Brazil has been one of the hardest-hit countries by the virus, with about 5.3 million confirmed cases and 154,837 deaths from the respiratory disease.

— With assistance by Simone Preissler Iglesias, Andre Romani Pinto, and Caroline Aragaki

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Meadows says Trump tweets to declassify Russia probe docs 'were not' direct orders

Mark Meadows on allegations against Hunter Biden

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows addresses allegations against Hunter Biden, social media giants facing backlash over censorship and coronavirus stimulus talks on ‘Fox & Friends.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows rejected suggestions this week that President Trump’s tweets earlier this month calling for the “total declassification” of all documents related to the Russia investigation and the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server were an explicit order to release more documents.

Meadows' comments came in a sworn, two-page declaration filed in federal court Tuesday as part of a lawsuit by media and other groups to declassify former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report, without redactions.

The president, on Oct. 6, tweeted: “I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax.”

He added: “Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!”

A federal judge had asked the White House to clarify whether the president had ordered that declassification in his social media posts — a position that conflicts with the Justice Department.

Meadows defended the president’s tweets, saying they were not a direct order to the Justice Department.

“The president indicated to me that his statements on Twitter were not self-executing declassification orders and do not require the declassification or release of any particular documents,” Meadows said.

“The president’s statements do not require altering any redactions on any record at issue in these or any other cases, including, but not limited to, any redactions taken pursuant to any discretionary FOIA exemptions.”

Meadows, later, in a statement to Fox News, said the president “is very clear.”

DNI DECLASSIFIES BRENNAN NOTES, CIA MEMO ON HILLARY CLINTON 'STIRRING UP' SCANDAL BETWEEN TRUMP, RUSSIA

“He’s been very clear a number of times on the fact that we need to make sure that the transparency on some of these documents as they relate to the whole Russia hoax investigation that the American people get to see exactly what’s there in an unreacted form,” Meadows said. “To take it beyond that is just not appropriate and I’m just trying to make sure we clarify that.”

Last year, the president gave Attorney General Bill Barr authority to declassify any documents related to surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016. Trump, at the time, also ordered members of the intelligence community to cooperate with Barr’s probe.

Allies of the president, including Republicans on Capitol Hill leading their own investigations into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, have criticized officials like FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel, claiming that the directors have been blocking the release of documents.

The president’s tweets come after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified documents that revealed former CIA Director John Brennan briefed former President Obama on Hillary Clinton’s purported “plan” to tie then-candidate Donald Trump to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server” ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Fox News first reported that Ratcliffe declassified Brennan’s handwritten notes – which were taken after he briefed Obama on the intelligence the CIA received – and a CIA memo, which revealed that officials referred the matter to the FBI for potential investigative action.

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"Today, at the direction of President Trump, I declassified additional documents relevant to ongoing Congressional oversight and investigative activities," Ratcliffe said in a statement to Fox News Tuesday.

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Business

Bing COVID-19 Tracker (10\/21): Argentina the Fifth Nation With 1 Million Cases

According to the Bing COVID-19 Tracker, global confirmed cases of the disease reached 40,652,097 today, up by 358,051 from the day before. Global confirmed cases often have risen by over 350,000 a day recently. This is above the sustained figure for any period since the spread of COVID-19 began.

Fatal cases have reached 1,122,036, after a one-day gain of 5,519.

The number of cases continues to rise quickly in the northern hemisphere, where winter is quickly approaching. In some nations in Europe, new daily cases have hit records. With most viruses, the rate of spread rises as people move indoors. This has been true of the flu for decades. At the same time, the southern hemisphere has not posted much improvement. Among the hardest-hit nations in the world are Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

The United States remains the country with the most confirmed cases at 8,362,181, after a 60,931 increase in a day. COVID-19 fatalities there stand at 224,308 and are likely to reach 225,000 by the end of the week. The rate of the spread has increased sharply in the past two weeks, sparking concern that coronavirus deaths may top 300,000 by year-end. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the spread will not be arrested until the average daily increase drops to under 10,000 per day, which certainly will not happen soon.

U.S. confirmed cases are concentrated in the largest states by population. California has 887,093 and Texas has 879,419. In Florida, there are 760,389 cases, and New York has 491,296. Yet, some of the states where COVID-19 is growing fastest have small populations, most notably North and South Dakota. New York continues to have the largest number of coronavirus deaths by far at 32,998, about 15% of the national total.

Currently ranked second in the world based on confirmed COVID-19 cases, India has 7,652,780. The coronavirus death count there stands at 115,969. Health care experts say that because of the size of the nation geographically, and its relatively primitive health care systems, more than 60 million people actually have been infected, which is about eight times the official number. The Indian Council of Medical Research puts the figure as high as 63 million.

Brazil has a confirmed case count of 7,652,780. New cases recently have risen at a rate of over 20,000 a day. Its COVID-19 deaths number 154,888. As with India, Brazil’s figures are too low. It is nearly impossible to count cases in the nation’s interior. In the poorest parts of the largest cities, packed with impoverished people, the disease is also difficult to track.

Russia has 1,447,335 cases, and fatal cases there number 24,952. Most experts say the death count is far too low to be real. It may be that the government has kept counts down to make it appear it has the pandemic under control. Confirmed cases rose by 32,019 yesterday, among the highest one-day counts in Russia since the pandemic began.

Argentina became the fifth nation to post a total of a million cases or more. The figure for the country hit 1,021,397. Coronavirus deaths there are at 27,175.

ALSO READ: America’s Highest Paid Governors


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Thailand Slashes at Media Freedom in Response to Anti-Establishment Protests

Controlling media and access to information has become a top priority for the Thai government, which has been rattled by shows of open defiance from pro-democracy protestors.

But it is not clear that increased censorship and media bans will have the desired effect.

The protestors have frequently altered their tactics and have used social media to conjure up new forms of protest and to foster connections with international social movements. These range from the democracy campaigners in Hong Kong to K-pop’s stans.

Thai citizens woke up last Thursday to discover that at 4 a.m. the military-backed government had announced a “severe state of emergency” decree, which exceeds the state of emergency with which it has ruled since March. The new order bans any meeting of more than four people and permits authorities to close off any area it chooses.

It also ups the stakes in Thailand’s already onerous censorship system and seeks to marginalize more of the media that is not allied with or directly controlled by the Prayut Chan-ocha government.

The decree bars the “publication of news, other media, and electronic information that contains messages that could create fear or intentionally distort information, creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order.” That was understood to mean no live news footage of anti-government demonstrations.

Protestors were quick to show their defiance. Crowds measured in their thousands gathered at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on Thursday afternoon. Still more gathered at multiple other locations in the capital the next day.

And Bangkok police were quick to use their new powers. They arrested a news reporter for Prachatai as he live-streamed a police dispersal operation on Friday evening.

Over the past weeks, demonstrators had been rallied in flash mob style, with only a few hours of notice. They used social media, especially Twitter, but also WhatsApp, Facebook and Line, to announce and then change the venues.

Over the weekend, the cry went out to switch to another messaging app, Telegram. Supposedly unhackable, it had been a favorite of the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. The Thai government quickly joined China and Russia in attempting to prevent downloads of Telegram. (As of Wednesday, it was functioning normally.)

Embarrassingly for the authorities, mobile fast-food vendors seemed better at keeping up with the crowds than the police, who seemed to fall for all the decoy moves and then get stuck in the city’s notorious traffic. By Sunday, anti-government protestors had mounted similar, peaceful actions in more than half of the country’s provinces.

Thailand’s mainstream media has also been left flat-footed. Some is possibly on the wrong side of history.

Cable TV providers, including TrueVisions, blocked out channels and news reports deemed sensitive. Nation TV, allied to The Nation newspaper group, hewed ever closer to the government line. Its rival, the Bangkok Post, stumbled, and then headed off in the opposite direction. (Surprisingly for 2020, both The Nation and the Bangkok Post still run separate daily print editions in Thai and in English.)

On Sunday, the Post ran a news story with the headline “Protestors Hit Bangkok Train Stations” atop a story explaining that the demonstrators gathering around five stations had forced the system-wide closure of the city’s electric train services. Hours later, it retracted and even posted an apology article, acknowledging its error: “The Bangkok Post would like to clarify that anti-government protesters were not responsible for the decision to shut down the services.” Two days later, on Tuesday, the Post ran an editorial: “Prayut Has Lost All Legitimacy: He Must Go.”

Just as telling, the authorities have repeatedly appeared to be a generation or two behind the public mood, and several technological steps behind the student-led protestors.

In August, a government order forced Facebook to shut down Royalist Marketplace, a popular discussion group operated by anti-monarchist Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who lives in exile in Japan. As it complied, Facebook complained: “Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves…”

Pavin relaunched the group under a new name and now counts more than 1.1 million adherents. Twitter and Facebook have shown themselves unwilling to comply with the totality of government take-down requests, though YouTube has been more pliant.

Last month, the Thai government was itself found to be a Twitter spammer. The messaging platform closed 926 Twitter accounts which it said “can reliably link to the Royal Thai Army (RTA)… These accounts were engaging in amplifying pro-RTA and pro-government content, as well as engaging in behavior targeting prominent political opposition figures.” The Thai Army consistently denies that it engages in information warfare.

Brooking no criticism, the government on Friday blocked access from Thailand to online petition operator change.org. The Ministry of Digital Economy & Society – very much in the front-line, given that computer crime regulations are being used more than Thailand’s infamously strict “lese majeste” laws – on Friday ordered internet service providers AIS, Dtac, and True to deny service. Petitions remain visible abroad.

The government had more success on Tuesday. It obtained a court order requiring the complete closure across all platforms of Voice TV, a channel which has shown a lot of protest footage. It is allegedly linked to Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire former prime minister who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Court actions against three other channels, The Standard, The Reporters, and Prachatai, are still pending.

But while the Thai government wages war on its own population and private sector media, the students have found solidarity from populations in neighboring Asian territories.

In some cases, these have been a reheating of the so-called Milk Tea Alliance, an online community linking (beverage drinking) youth in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand. The Alliance initially found its voice over the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement of 2019-2020, but has also rallied against Disney movie “Mulan,” which was fronted by a pro-government starlet and was partly filmed in China’s controversial Xinjiang region.

Legions of K-pop fans have opened their wallets to support the protests too. Some $150,000 (THB4.71 million) was donated over the weekend by the fans of Girls Generation, Super Junior, Blackpink and others, with the fan groups seemingly competing to outspend each other. (This was one instance where BTS’s ARMY failed to come out on top.)

Further authoritarian actions may yet be taken against protesters and Thailand’s media. And in places including Hong Kong and Belarus, the authorities have halted color revolutions. But the Thai government’s patchy and reactive methods seem unlikely to prevent the rest of the world from looking on.

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America\u2019s Highest Paid Governors

This November, in addition to the presidential election, 11 U.S. states as well as two territories will hold elections for governor. Governors are the highest-ranking public official in a state government, effectively serving as chief executives. While the general job description is the same across the 50 states, the details can vary considerably by state. Key differences include state-specific policy priorities and legislative hurdles, populations, and of course, compensation. 

The power wielded by state governors has been evident in 2020, as each state, under the direction of its governor, has adopted its own approach to combating the coronavirus. Some governors have chosen to ignore federal guidelines, while others have responded with even stricter measures.  

Unlike senators, who are also elected on a state-by-state basis, there is no set salary for governors. While senators earn an annual salary of $174,000, governors’ salaries vary by state — from as little as $70,000 to more than $200,000. 

24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2019 salary information from The Council on State Governments, a policy database, to identify how much America’s governors are paid in every state.

Despite their status as the highest-ranking public officials in state governments, governors are usually not the highest paid state employees. Reasons for this vary from state to state. Often, various state departments pay their leadership larger salaries in order to compete with the private sector for top talent. In politically divided states, a pay raise for the governor may lack the necessary legislative support. Also, importantly, governors do not typically run for office for the paycheck.

While there is no hard and fast rule, generally, states that collect more taxes on a per capita basis tend to pay their governors more than states that collect less taxes. Here is a look at how much Americans are paying in taxes on a state-by-state basis.

Click here to see America’s highest paid governors.
Click here to read our detailed methodology.

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Markets

GM ‘Going Forward’ With Nikola Partnership Talks on Trucks

General Motors Co. is moving ahead in its talks with startup Nikola Corp. over a proposed partnership to make electric and fuel-cell-powered trucks, a senior executive at the Detroit automaker said.

GM and Nikola announced a tentative agreement last month but have yet to come to final terms. Nikola’s stock price has plunged in the wake of allegations of deception by a short seller, raising questions from investors about GM’s due diligence and commitment to a deal.

“Right now we are going forward,” Mark Reuss, GM’s president, said in a Bloomberg TV interview taped Oct. 16. In what he called “the exciting piece” of those discussions, Reuss said GM plans to share hydrogen-fuel-cell technology developed with Honda Motor Co. with Nikola for use in both a pickup and big-rig trucks.

“They are taking what I believe is the best fuel cell in the world — with our fuel cell that is made in our joint venture with Honda right here in Michigan — and taking that fuel cell and looking at deploying it in the heavy-duty transport market with the large trucks — the Class 7 and 8s — and also in the light-duty Badger truck,” he said.

Nikola shares pared a gain of as much as 8.4% to trade up 3% to $21.35 as of 9:46 a.m. in New York.

The proposed deal would give GM an 11% stake in Nikola and allow the startup to use its hydrogen-fuel-cell technology. GM also said it plans to manufacture the Badger pickup truck for Nikola, which initially would be battery-electric and eventually fuel-cell powered.

Reuss said the Badger will have a different powertrain from the one GM will use in its new Hummer pickup, which will run on the Ultium battery-pack system the Detroit automaker co-developed with LG Chem Ltd.

“We won’t sell and market that truck. That is what Nikola is doing,” Reuss said. “It’s still a fuel-cell electric truck but quite different from what we are offering on our Ultium packs on the pure electric Hummer.”

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Pelosi 'optimistic' of stimulus agreement with the White House before the weekend. 'Both sides are serious about finding a compromise.'

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "optimistic" of agreeing a stimulus deal with the White House before the weekend, she said Tuesday.
  • A deal agreed this week could pass into law before the November 3 election, she said.
  • Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin found "common ground" Tuesday, and Pelosi said "both sides are serious about finding a compromise."
  • But Senate Republicans remain set to block the deal, set to be worth more than $1.8 trillion, from becoming law. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that she was "optimistic" of agreeing a stimulus package with the White House by the end of the week, after her and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin established more "common ground" during a phone conversation.

Pelosi is pushing for a $2.2 trillion stimulus package — the White House is offering $1.88 trillion, but Senate Republicans warned Tuesday they would likely block any deal worth $1.8 trillion or higher.

After her latest call with Mnuchin on Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi told Bloomberg: "I'm optimistic because I do think we have a shared value … we want to crush the virus."

When asked about the chances of agreeing a compromise this week, Pelosi said: "That's the plan. That's what I would hope."

Pelosi had previously set a Tuesday deadline for an agreement, but walked that back, and said that a deal agreed this week could pass into law before the November 3 election.

In a letter to House Democrats on Tuesday, Pelosi said her conversation with Mnuchin "provided more clarity and common ground as we move closer to an agreement."

The Tuesday deadline had "enabled us to see that decisions could be reached," she said, adding: "both sides are serious about finding a compromise."

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNBC that he hoped to see "some kind of agreement before the weekend."

Pelosi and Mnuchin had made "good progress" during talks, Meadows said, but added there was still "a ways to go" before a deal was agreed. "We're not just down to a difference of language and a few dollars," he said.

Pelosi and Mnuchin will speak again on Wednesday.

Even if the two sides agree a deal, Republicans in the Senate could stop it becoming law.

At a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned the White House against striking an agreement with Democrats before Election Day, the Washington Post first reported.

Later in a press conference Tuesday, McConnell said that if the House agreed to a comprehensive coronavirus stimulus package, "at some point we'll bring it to the floor," but he didn't specify how long the process would take or whether he would support such a deal.

Pelosi is pushing for a $2.2 trillion stimulus package. The Trump administration's offer has increased to $1.88 trillion, Meadows said, but President Donald Trump said Tuesday he was willing to go higher than even the Democrats were proposing.

Senator Mitt Romney told reporters Tuesday that a stimulus package costing $1.8 trillion or higher would most likely not make it through the Senate. "I don't support something of that level," he said, per Bloomberg.

Senator Richard Shelby also said Tuesday that the White House's proposal was too costly. "I'm not optimistic about us doing anything," he said.

 

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email [email protected] and tell us your story.

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Mortgage demand from homebuyers falls for the fourth straight week

  • Purchase demand is down nearly 7% compared with four weeks ago.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.02% from 3%.
  • The rate was a full percentage point higher one year ago.

Homebuyer demand is incredibly strong compared with last year, but there appears to be a slight pullback this month.

A drop in buyer demand caused total mortgage application volume to fall 0.6% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index.

Applications to purchase a home fell 2% for the week, the fourth straight week of declines. Purchase demand is down nearly 7% compared with four weeks ago. Volume, however, is still 26% higher than one year ago.

The drop may be seasonal, although not much has conformed to normal patterns in the year of Covid-19. It may be more a factor of the incredibly low supply of homes for sale. Inventory continues to set record lows, especially at the entry level of the market.

Strong demand is outstripping any new supply coming onto the market, thanks to consistently low mortgage rates, which set a new record two weeks ago.

Rates did move slightly higher last week. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.02% from 3%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. That rate was a full percentage point higher a year ago.

The tiny move higher did not dampen demand for refinances. That volume rose 0.2% from the previous week and was 74% higher than a year ago.

"Despite the uptick in rates, refinance activity held steady, with FHA refinance applications posting a 17.6% increase, helping to offset declines in the other loan types," said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 66.1% of total applications from 65.6% the previous week.

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A White House coronavirus task force member says Trump barely meets them anymore, and is only getting updates from Mike Pence and anti-lockdown advisor Scott Atlas instead

  • A member of the White House coronavirus task force has told NPR that President Donald Trump has not attended a meeting "for quite some time."
  • Dr. Francis Collins said that Trump mainly gets his updates from Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Scott Atlas, the task force member who has advised against lockdowns.
  • The US has entered its third wave of coronavirus cases, with the Midwest recording new spikes.
  • Collins said Pence is "incredibly engaged" in task force meetings but that the president appears to be prioritizing campaigning for his reelection. Election Day is in less than two weeks.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A member of the White House coronavirus task force has told NPR that President Donald Trump has not met with them "for quite some time," and suggested that he was more focused on campaigning for his reelection than attending meetings about the pandemic.

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes for Health (NIH) said that Trump is mainly getting his updates from Vice President Mike Pence and fellow task force member Dr. Scott Atlas, a health-policy expert who has been criticized by the medical community for his anti-lockdown advice. Neither Pence nor Atlas are infectious-disease experts.

"I think the president primarily is getting his information from the vice president, from Dr. Atlas, obviously it's a bit of a chaotic time with the election," said Collins.

"So, yeah, there's not a direct connection between the task force members and the president as there was a few months ago. But this seems to be a different time with different priorities."

Collins did not say how long it had been since Trump had attended a task force meeting, but told NPR: "The task force continues to meet regularly at least once a week and to wrestle with a whole lot of the issues, especially now that we see the worsening of the pandemic in the middle of the country, which is really quite a serious concern."

The US has entered its third wave of coronavirus cases, with the Midwest recording new spikes.

Collins added that Pence, who leads the coronavirus task force, presides over its meetings and is "incredibly engaged."

The White House did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment on Collins' interview.

The remarks underline the growing influence of Atlas with the president over other experts on the task force.

Atlas' specialisms are in health policy and neuroradiology, while other task force members have expertise in infectious diseases and public health. 

Like the president, Atlas is against lockdowns and has issued mixed messages on mask wearing. According to The Washington Post, he has also pushed for a "herd immunity" strategy, though he has vehemently denied it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, and CDC Director Robert Redfield have also questioned Atlas' scientific advice. Redfield was overheard saying last month that "everything" Atlas said "is false," while Fauci has said that he worried about Atlas passing misleading information to the president.

Atlas hit back at both of those criticisms in an interview with Business Insider earlier this month, adding: "I'm here because the country's off the rails."

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email [email protected] and tell us your story.

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