May 4, 2021

COVID-19 cases and deaths are declining in the U.S. and Europe, and much of the U.S. and Europe are starting to relax safety restrictions and shift back toward pre-pandemic life. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut announced Monday they plan to fully reopen May 19. Los Angeles County reported a second day of zero COVID-19 deaths on Monday.

But Michigan is battling its way out of its recent surge, fueled by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first found in Britain — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has tied lower restrictions to higher vaccination rates. And the coronavirus is raging out of control in parts of South America and India. Oregon, like India, managed to avoid big outbreaks in the first waves of the pandemic, and Gov. Kate Brown (D) moved last week to make sure Oregon's new outbreak doesn't blow up.

Brown put new restrictions on 15 counties deemed at "extreme risk" for COVID-19 spread, and more counties are expected to be added this week. The governor said the measures — no indoor service at bars and restaurants, expanded outdoor dining capacity, and limits at gyms, movie theaters, and other businesses — will last no more than three weeks, and she plans for Oregon to be fully reopened by July. Brown told CBS Evening News on Monday that Oregon is in a race between vaccinations and the B.1.1.7 variant, and right now the variant is winning.

The B.1.1.7 variant, now the dominant strain in Oregon, spreads faster and appears to strike younger, healthier people, according to anecdotal evidence from Michigan, Britain, and other areas where it is prevalent. All vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are effective against the U.K. variant.

Nearly half of Oregonians are at least partially vaccinated, and the Oregon Health Authority reported one new COVID-19 death and 540 new cases Monday, a slight drop even while hospitalizations are still rising. "Oregon has among the lowest overall case counts and deaths of all states," Becky Hultberg, CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said last week. "We can't let our guard down now."

Not all U.S. states agree with Oregon's strategy. In Florida, which is reporting an average of nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases a day and has a test positivity rate of 7.9 percent — versus 6 percent in Oregon — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Monday that will allow him to override local COVID-19 restrictions across the state. Peter Weber

3:18 p.m.

Actor Matthew McConaughey has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles," Politico reports, suggesting that his hypothetical gubernatorial run in the Lone Star State may actually be in the works.

As Politico notes, McConaughey — who has said entering politics is a "true consideration" and appears to poll quite well in Texas — is widely expected to forego a campaign, but he apparently wants to take folks' "temperature" on the idea, multiple people familiar with the conversations said. One of McConaughey's phone calls was reportedly with a "deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO," which does little to clear up whether he'd run as a Republican, Democrat, or independent.

Regardless of what party McConaughey might affiliate himself with, though, Austin-based GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser told Politico he's "a little surprised that people aren't taking him more seriously, honestly. Celebrity in this country counts for a lot ... it's not like some C-list actor no one likes." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

2:50 p.m.

While most Americans seem happy to know they don't frequently need to wear a mask if they're vaccinated against COVID-19, there's still quite a bit of confusion about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's specific guidelines.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told CBS News' John Dickerson on Sunday that clarity is coming soon. What the CDC will do next, Fauci said, is issue "individual types of guidance" for mask-wearing protocols in, say, a workplace. "I would imagine within a period of just a couple of weeks, you're gonna start to see significant clarification of some of the actual understandable and reasonable questions that people are asking," Fauci said.

Meanwhile, CNN's Dana Bash asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky if she trusts people who are not vaccinated to wear masks (as recommended by the CDC) going forward, given that the new guidance will likely lead to a rollback of state and local mandates. Walensky's response was fairly candid — she said she thinks "the people who are not inclined to wear a mask were not inclined to wear a mask" before her agency updated its guidelines, anyway. Tim O'Donnell

1:55 p.m.

Tensions between the United States and China seem to loom over everything.

During Sunday's United Nations Security Council meeting on the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the U.S. of preventing the council from issuing a unified statement on the situation.

While China's criticism was the most direct, other nations on the council, including Ireland, Norway, and Mexico reportedly made it clear that crafting a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire is an urgent matter. And Ben Rhodes, who worked as the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting in the Obama administration, tweeted that it "feels increasingly untenable for the U.S. to see this loss of civilian life in Gaza — including so many children — and not publicly call for a cease-fire."

At the moment, the U.S. appears to be sticking to the status quo, however. In her remarks during the council meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington is working to end the conflict and will support a cease-fire, but suggested the parties involved in the fighting will have to take the initiative. Tim O'Donnell

12:57 p.m.

Two-thirds of GOP voters don't believe President Biden won the 2020 election fair and square, suggesting former President Donald Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud still have momentum, a CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday found.

At the same time, however, most of those voters think Republican lawmakers should be focusing their energy on proposing "important legislation." In fact, supporting election fraud claims was found to be the least important issue in the survey, trailing economic policy and "culture and values," as well.

The sentiment was also reflected in questions about Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). An overwhelming majority of respondents backed her ouster, but the most popular reason given was that Cheney wasn't on message with the rest of the party, rather than her thoughts on the 2020 election.

Finally, there are more Republican voters who think the party should be expanding the base by emphasizing "policies and ideas" than there are those who believe lawmakers should prioritize "pushing for changes to state voting rules."

The CBS News/YouGov poll was conducted among 951 Republicans in the United States between May 12-14. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points. Read the full results here. Tim O'Donnell

11:43 a.m.

In a televised address Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by his political rival Benny Gantz, said Israel's military would continue its attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza at "full force" for the time being, suggesting the conflict is not nearing an end. Israeli airstrikes killed at least 42 people and flattened three buildings Sunday.

Netanyahu also appeared on CBS News' Face the Nation, arguing that Israel is acting in self-defense. "[Hamas is] sending thousands of rockets on our cities with the specific purpose of murdering our civilians," Netanyahu told host John Dickerson. "What would you do if it happened to Washington and New York? You know damn well what you'd do."

The prime minister accused Hamas of using Palestinian civilians in Gaza as "human shields," and said the Israeli military is striking "legitimate" targets while remaining "second to none" when it comes to minimizing civilian casualties. He also dismissed the idea that he's using the hostilities as a way to save his political career amid a bribery investigation as "hogwash." Tim O'Donnell

11:07 a.m.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Sunday told Fox News' Chris Wallace that she considers both House Minority Leader (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who replaced her as the chair of the House Republican Conference last week, "complicit" in spreading former President Donald Trump's lies.

Cheney then reiterated what she's been saying the last few few months as she's come under fire from her GOP colleagues and was ultimately removed from her leadership role — that she isn't willing to back Trump's falsehoods for the sake of the party.

In another interview that aired during Sunday's edition of This Week on ABC News, Cheney told host Jon Karl she doesn't actually think many Republican lawmakers, save for maybe a handful, actually believe Trump's claims that the 2020 election was stolen. But she suggested it's "really dangerous" to cross Trump, so many have fallen in line anyway. "We now live in a country where [members of Congress'] votes are affected because they're worried about their security, they're worried about threats on their lives," she said. Tim O'Donnell

8:25 a.m.

Kate McKinnon reprised her role as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease expert, in the latest Saturday Night Live cold open. McKinnon's Fauci attempted to answer people's questions about the specifics underlying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated guidelines, which now say that people vaccinated against COVID-19 can mostly toss aside their masks, outdoors and indoors. "A lot of people had questions," McKinnon's Fauci said. "Such as: What does that mean? What the hell are you talking about? Is this a trap?"

So, the fictional Fauci asked a group of doctors from the CDC "who minored in theater" to demonstrate a few different scenarios in which mask-wearing protocols may be unclear, such as picking up kids from school, large outdoor gatherings, or air travel. Things didn't go according to plan, however, and McKinnon's Fauci grew increasingly confused by the message the so-called "CDC Players" were trying to convey in their often-inappropriate, off-the-rails skits. Watch the full sketch below. Tim O'Donnell

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