Coronavirus, Democrats, Harvey Weinstein: Your Wednesday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering the spread of the coronavirus, last night’s Democratic debate and the fate of the students in the college admissions fraud.

Federal health officials said on Tuesday that an outbreak in the U.S. was a question of when, not if, and urged hospitals, businesses and schools to prepare.

“We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus,” Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, told a Senate panel. “And we need to be realistic about that.”

There are currently at least 57 people with the virus in the U.S., all of whom have either recently traveled to Asia or are closely connected to others who have. Infectious disease experts stressed that people shouldn’t panic. Here’s some of their advice.

From The Times: We’re starting an email newsletter that will feature the latest developments about the outbreak, as well as expert advice about prevention and treatment. Sign up here.

Related: The U.S. military said today that a soldier in South Korea had tested positive for the virus, the first American service member to become infected. Here are the latest updates and maps of where the virus has spread.

Another angle: In China, where the virus originated, the Communist Party has turned to propaganda to confront the biggest challenge to its legitimacy in decades. But our columnist reports that young people are openly questioning the official message. “News Coverage Should Stop Turning a Funeral Into a Wedding,” read the headline on one blog post.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

With a large slate of primaries looming, there was an unruly edge to Tuesday’s debate between seven Democrats, with candidates talking over one another and the CBS moderators struggling to direct the conversation.

Bernie Sanders, the race’s front-runner, faced attacks on all sides, notably for his support of some policies of Castro-era Cuba. Here are six takeaways from the night and a fact check of the candidates’ statements.

News analysis: After a landslide victory in the Nevada caucuses, Mr. Sanders “was never surprised, never entirely smooth and, when it was done, not necessarily looking any less the favorite than he did going in,” our reporters write.

Watch: Here are highlights from the debate in Charleston, S.C. The state’s primaries are Saturday.

Perspective: Writers from our Opinion section ranked the performances.

“The Daily”: Today’s episode is about the conclusion by American intelligence agencies that Russia is attempting to interfere in the election in support of Mr. Sanders and President Trump.

Nearly a million Syrians have fled toward the border over the past three months, as the government tries to retake control of the last rebel-held territory.

Many are living in tents or sleeping out in the open in the freezing cold. Ahmad Yassin Leila’s 18-month-old daughter was one of nine children who have died of exposure in recent weeks.

“I dream about being warm,” he said. “I just want my children to feel warm. I don’t want to lose them to the cold.”

What’s next: Facing a wave of refugees, Turkey has begun a modest counteroffensive, which the Trump administration supports. But the U.S. has ruled out military involvement.

Background: The uprooting of civilians in Syria is the largest of the nine-year civil war, which has displaced 13 million people.

Both critics and supporters of the French president agree that he has had a deeper effect on the country’s economy, society and politics than any other recent leader. And many in France despise him for it.

Nearly three years into his presidency, Mr. Macron has governed against a backdrop of constant turmoil. But his policies have begun to have an impact, and he is poised to succeed in his fight to overhaul the pension system.

Our Paris bureau chief writes: “The real question now for the president and his country is: At what cost or benefit to France, now and in the future?”

Egypt’s fallen autocrat: The death of Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday underscored how Egyptian hopes for democracy have been crushed after he was deposed in the Arab Spring of 2011, our Cairo bureau chief writes.

Potus vs. Scotus: President Trump cited an opinion last week by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and a years-old comment by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to demand that they recuse themselves from any cases involving him.

Inmate No. 06581138Z: Harvey Weinstein will go to Rikers Island prison, but he could end up in a medical unit with a TV and possibly a private pay phone.

College admissions scandal: None of the young people whose parents are accused of wrongdoing were charged with crimes, but they have still faced consequences.

Snapshot: Above, part of a $4 million model of the Mississippi River, recreated at 1/65th scale, at a laboratory near Boston. Engineers are using the model in a project to rebuild Louisiana’s vanishing coast, which is being lost to rising seas and sinking land.

Late-night comedy: Trevor Noah offered his take after the Democratic debate: “I haven’t seen white people go at each other that hard since khakis were on sale at Banana Republic.”

What we’re reading: This essay in Bloomberg News about one editor’s personal struggle with his father’s former prison mate, Bernie Madoff, who has asked to be released so that he can die at home. It poses a tough ethical question: Can you support an idea in the abstract, even if the specifics deeply upset you?

Cook: Pasta with chicken and pine nuts is a nourishing midweek meal.

Eat: The Texas border town of Brownsville is drawing attention for its thriving collection of distinctive taquerias.

Read: “The Mirror and the Light” concludes Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy with the fall of its protagonist, Thomas Cromwell. Here’s our review.

Smarter Living: Staring down an endless selection of wine, either on a menu or on a shelf, can be perplexing. Here are a few helpful tips to simplify the process.

Jason Horowitz, our Rome bureau chief, has been reporting from Milan on the spike in Italy’s coronavirus cases, and what it could mean for the rest of Europe. Melina Delkic, one of our Briefing writers, spoke to Jason on Tuesday to learn more.

What’s the feeling right now in the streets of Milan?

It’s this eerie sort of feeling. Milan is an extremely energetic, buzzing town. It’s the creative center of Italy, the economic center of Italy, the cultural center of Italy, I’d argue. It’s like somebody has let the air out.

Is the virus making this reporting harder?

The place that’s most affected is under quarantine, and the police stop you on the road and tell you that you can’t go places. People are freaked out and don’t want to talk about it a little bit. But also, it’s important not to be foolhardy and go places that put you and your colleagues in danger.

How are public officials handling it?

There’s total confusion about the guidelines. There’s confusion between the government in Rome and the local government in Lombardy, the state in which Milan and most of the closed-down towns are.

What the head of the region said today was, basically: Do those places that don’t have cases really have no cases, or are they just not testing? Their view of it is that they have a ton of cases because they’ve done a ton of testing, and they’re being whacked for it. But on the other hand, they also have a lot of people who have it.

What are you watching for next?

We’re watching for whether people from Lombardy are being turned away from other countries now when they arrive — as well as people from Lombardy spreading when they go to other countries.

This is a wealthy region with people on the move. This is the economic engine of Italy; they’re not going to stay put, unless they’re told to.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Chris

Thank you
Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today’s episode is about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Longtime partner of Ernie (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Two photographers for The Times, Erin Schaff and Doug Mills, won multiple awards from the White House News Photographers Association.

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