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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Misinformation and mixed messages from leaders are compounding people's natural fear about the pandemic from the new coronavirus and diverting their attention from the steps scientists say are needed to quell the outbreak.

Why it matters: Even the best-case scenario is dire for Americans, and that's based on social distancing and other measures having the chance to take effect.

What's happening: The dichotomy between some of the White House rhetoric and what scientific experts expound is taking its toll on people who need clear communication on how to combat the novel coronavirus.

  • This is compounded by a frenzy on social media of lies that are helping undermine trust in governments and global health organizations.
  • A new trend to watch, says University of Washington's Jevin West, has been the appearance of "people who are not even experts in this field, who are gaining influence" and have become "influencers."
  • Plus there's a known proliferation of disinformation, West tells Axios, often promoted by bots and trolls based abroad. He points to a false study that went viral on how to tell if you have COVID-19 supposedly from Stanford, which quickly debunked it.

The latest: President Trump, who has been losing patience with the social distancing and travel restrictions necessary to contain and mitigate the virus, declared on Monday night that restrictions will be lifted "fairly soon" and the economy could be re-opened despite the pandemic.

  • Trump and other administration officials had been promoting a 15-day plan that was approved by economic adviser Larry Kudlow, as the U.S. economy — already facing multiple catastrophic shocks — could join what looks to be a coming global great recession.
  • But the administration's 15-day plan was tempered by the surgeon general's warning that it wasn't likely going to be long enough.
  • Now Trump is weighing a huge gamble that economic recovery will supersede what public health officials say is needed.
  • Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed frustration during an interview with Science on Sunday about how Trump sometimes conveys information in a manner that "could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are."
  • "But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push [Trump] down," Fauci added.

Between the lines: "This portends a rift between the administration and the public health people. This is not a happy picture," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Axios. The government "totally screwed up" its chance to prepare the nation.

  • "Now they’ve locked themselves and the country into a horrendous trade off.  The principles of public health say we need to have a national lockdown for a few more weeks. The principles of finance say that will lead to a second Great Depression," Moreno says.
  • To be sure, Moreno adds, a depression does bring its own "knock-on" health effects like mental health exacerbation, emotional issues, and malnutrition from poverty.

The bottom line: This pandemic is hard enough for everyday citizens to navigate without expecting them to referee between scientists and politicians.

Go deeper: Coronavirus "infodemic" threatens world's health institutions

Go deeper

California wildfire explodes in size, destroys historic town

Battalion Chief Sergio Mora looks on as the Dixie fire burns through downtown Greenville, Calif. on Aug. 4, 2021. Photo: Josh EdelsonAFP via Getty Images

The small Sierra town of Greenville, California, was heavily damaged on Wednesday night into early Thursday as the Dixie Fire surged northward amid high winds, extremely dry air and hot temperatures.

The latest: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze, continued to threaten communities in Plumas County into Thursday night, as more mandatory evacuation orders were issued in the region.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Top labor leader Richard Trumka dies unexpectedly at 72

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who led the largest federation of unions in the country for over a decade, has died at 72.

The big picture: Trumka began working as a coal miner in 1968 and would go on to dedicate his life to the labor movement, including as president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO beginning in 2009.

Biden signs bill awarding Congressional Gold Medals to officers who responded to Jan. 6 attack

President Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, lawmakers and members of law enforcement and their families, signs legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to law enforcement in the Rose Garden. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden signed legislation awarding Congressional Gold Medals to the law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Why it matters: The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress' "highest expression of national appreciation," notes the New York Times.