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Caution vs. Optimism

The news about the state of the pandemic in the U.S. has been largely positive in the past few months. The vaccines are highly effective, and millions of people are receiving doses each day. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen sharply from their January peaks.

But infections are rising again. The U.S. has averaged 65,000 new cases a day over the past week — a 19 percent increase from two weeks ago. That puts the country close to last summer’s peak, though still far below January levels.

aren’t surprised. “For literally a month and a half, we’ve all been predicting that the second half of March is when B.1.1.7 would become the dominant variant in the United States,” says Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health. “And sure enough, here we are.”

The increase is not distributed equally. “New York and New Jersey have been bad and are not getting better, and Michigan’s cases are rising at an explosive rate,” Mitch Smith, a Times reporter covering the pandemic, said.

Hospitalizations are also rising rapidly in Michigan, with Jackson, Detroit and Flint among the metro areas experiencing the highest rates of new cases in the country.

The outlook is more encouraging in much of the West and South, though cases have started to tick up in Florida, where officials in Miami Beach instituted a curfew this month to prevent crowds of spring breakers from gathering.

while warning that “reckless behavior” could lead to more infections.

The solution, Jha believes, is honesty. “There’s been this debate throughout the whole pandemic: Should we be more optimistic or should we be more pessimistic? My personal strategy has been to just be honest with people,” he says. “Be honest with people and give it to them straight. I think most people can handle it.”

In other virus news:

the second day of Derek Chauvin’s trial, six people who were at the scene last year as Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck testified. The teenager who recorded the video at the center of the case said she sometimes lay awake at night, “apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.” (Here are the takeaways from Day 2.)

  • Two Capitol Police officers are suing Donald Trump, claiming he is responsible for the physical and emotional injuries they suffered during the Jan 6. riot.

  • These photos show the conditions in an overcrowded border facility in Donna, Texas, that is housing more than 4,000 migrants.

  • A January airstrike by the French Army targeting militants killed 19 civilians in Mali, a U.N. report found. The attack intensified calls for about 5,000 French troops stationed there to leave.

  • G. Gordon Liddy, who concocted the bungled burglary that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon, died. He was 90.

  • The N.F.L. will add a 17th regular-season game, the first expansion of the league’s schedule since 1978.

  • The Final Four is set for the N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments, after No. 1 seeds in each bracket — Gonzaga for the men and Stanford and South Carolina for the women — won last night.

  • Under the Sea: “There’s no bottom, no walls, just this space that goes to infinity. And one thing you realize is there are a lot of sea monsters there, but they’re tiny.”

    Lives Lived: Alvin Sykes converted to Buddhism in his 20s and led a monk’s life in the name of social justice. Though he was not a lawyer, he devoted himself to prying open long-dormant murder cases from the civil rights era, including that of Emmett Till. Sykes died at 64.

    Satan Shoes.

    That outrage is by design, as The Times’s music critic Jon Caramanica writes. “What ‘Montero’ has caused — or rather, what Lil Nas X has engineered — is a good old-fashioned moral panic,” he writes. “The song, the video, the shoes — they are bait.”

    Lil Nas X found major fame in 2019 with his viral hit “Old Town Road.” But what has kept him relevant is the skill set he developed before that, as an ardent Nicki Minaj fan on social media. That experience made him a master at steering online conversations, a talent that translates well to pop stardom.

    “He is a grade-A internet manipulator and, provided all the tools and resources typically reserved for long-established pop superstars, he is perfectly suited to dominate the moment,” Caramanica writes. “‘Montero’ may or may not top the Billboard Hot 100 next week, but it will be unrivaled in conversations started.” — Sanam Yar

    play online.

    Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: ___ chowder (four letters).

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    Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow.

    P.S. President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for re-election 53 years ago today, the last time a U.S. president has done so. The Times covered the news with a front-page banner headline.

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    Trump as You’ve Never Seen Him Before

    There is no shortage of merchandise in China devoted to the former president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. There are commemorative coins, toilet brushes and cat toys; countless figurines, including updated versions of Mount Rushmore, plus all those flags, bumper stickers and hats from campaigns past and future. (Does anyone still believe all that “Make America Great Again” stuff was really made in America?).

    Enter the Trump Buddha.

    A furniture maker and decorator in southern China has cast a sculpture of Mr. Trump in ceramic whiteware, his legs crossed and hands serenely resting in his lap. He is draped in a monk’s robes, his head is lowered and his eyes are closed, as if in meditative repose, an emotional state not typically associated with the 45th president of the United States.

    The artist calls it “Trump, the Buddha of Knowing of the Western Paradise.”

    “He has been already very successful, but now he is still tormenting himself, being obsessed, having a lot of ideas and doubts,” the creator, Hong Jinshi, said when asked about his inspiration.

    Mr. Hong’s sculpture reflects an abiding cultural fascination with Mr. Trump in China that began with his election. Many admired his brash style, his family’s business ties to China and even his early courtship of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, whom he called “an incredible guy.”

    appeared last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, along with Mr. Trump himself.

    It remains to be seen whether Mr. Trump’s legacy as artistic muse will be as enduring as, say, Mao Zedong’s. It may depend on Mr. Trump’s political future. Trump 2024 merchandise is already available online.

    Mr. Hong considers the Trump Buddha a work in progress. He said the wrinkles on Mr. Trump’s lips are too deep, creating an effect incongruous with his vision. He said he has given no thought of creating a sculpture of Mr. Biden, though he is fascinated by another prominent American entrepreneur, Elon Musk.

    He has set aside the first of 100 numbered pieces of the larger works for a particular patron. If possible, he said, he would like to give one to Mr. Trump.

    “He has been very, very successful, so from a religious point of view, he should just let go at this time,” he said. “He should enjoy his life at this age.”

    Claire Fu contributed research

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