Good morning, NBC News readers.
Half a million souls have succumbed to the coronavirus around the globe. President Donald Trump says there was no "credible" intelligence Russia offered Taliban fighters bounties to kill Americans. And a Confederate symbol will no longer fly on one state flag.
Here's what we're watching this Monday morning.
Global death toll from COVID-19 passes 500,000
The United States continues to lead in the number of confirmed cases, with more than 2.5 million and a death toll of over 126,000 as of Sunday, according to NBC News' tally.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned Sunday that "the window is closing" to take action to curb the spread of the coronavirus as cases across the southern United States continue "surging."
In an interview with "Meet the Press," Azar said that the country has "more tools than we had months ago" to fight the virus and the disease it causes, including new treatments and more personal protective equipment. But he stressed that America is facing a "very serious situation."
"We have to act and people and individuals need to act responsibly. We need to social distance, we need to wear face coverings if we are in settings where we cannot social distance, particularly in these hot zones," said Azar.
In contrast to his boss, Vice President Mike Pence also encouraged people to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Sunday.
"We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas," Pence said at a press conference alongside Texas and Trump administration officials. "Where you can't maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, especially young people," he added.
President Donald Trump has generally refused to wear a mask in public settings, though he did wear one during a private tour of a Ford plant in Michigan weeks ago.
Meantime, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered seven counties, including Los Angeles, to shutter bars Sunday as coronavirus cases surge in the state.
Trump says no 'credible' intel Russia offered Taliban bounty payments to kill Americans
President Donald Trump said that U.S. intelligence officials had "just" told him there was no credible information suggesting Russian intelligence had offered to pay bounties to Taliban militants who killed American soldiers.
Because of this, intelligence officials had not initially reported the allegations to him or the vice president, Trump wrote in a tweet late on Sunday.
The statement followed reports that the U.S. had gathered intelligence that Russian intelligence officers had offered to pay the bounties, three people briefed on the matter told NBC News. NBC News has not confirmed that the U.S. has verified that any such bounty payments were made.
Trump's growing re-election threat: Republican skeptics
While the president remains focused on outside foes, the threat from within could well prove a decisive factor this fall, with well-financed campaigns led by seasoned political operatives aimed at shaving away support from the GOP base in an election that could wind up being decided on the margins.
As lifelong conservatives, these members of the Republican resistance say they are in a unique position to reach like-minded voters who are uncomfortable with Trump's rhetoric and actions but hesitant to back a Democrat.
"What we wanted to create is a movement among rank-and-file Republicans to give them a sense of community and a sense of encouragement from walking away from this president," said Tim Miller, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Trump's own actions don't help his cause with Republicans who have grown tired of his divisive rhetoric.
The president promoted a video on Twitter Sunday morning showing a man in a golf cart with Trump campaign gear shouting "white power."
The tweet was later removed from his feed, but critics said it fit a longstanding pattern of the president appearing sympathetic to white supremacists.
Mississippi Legislature passes bill to eliminate Confederate symbol from state flag
Mississippi lawmakers on Sunday voted in favor of removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, a symbol that has flown around the state for more than 120 years.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 91-23, quickly followed by a 37-14 Senate vote on Sunday.
Gov. Tate Reeves, who previously expressed resistance to lawmakers changing the flag, said that he would sign the bill if it came across his desk.
“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it," Reeves said in a tweet Saturday morning. "If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”
BET Awards highlight Black voices as artists turn political
The BET Awards on Sunday night served as an extension of the voices of Black people protesting in the streets about the inequalities Black people face daily.
Sunday’s show, a virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic, featured a number of highly produced, well-crafted and pre-taped performances in which artists used their performances to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights and the lives of those lost because of police officers, including George Floyd.
Beyonce accepted a humanitarian award during the BET Awards, telling viewers during her speech to vote “like our life depends on it" in the upcoming election.
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- Saharan dust cloud hit Southern states already struggling with coronavirus surge.
- An Italian teen, who died at 15, has moved closer to becoming the "patron saint of the internet."
- Cam Newton signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots.
THINK about it
Your baby isn't colorblind — pretending they are won't make them less racist, Dr. May Ling Halim and Dr. Sarah Gaither write in an opinion piece.
Quote of the day
"Wear a mask, wherever it's indicated."
One interesting thing
Milan is a fast-changing, fashionable and lively Italian city.
But it's also long been one of the most polluted cities in Europe. As residents of Milan grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, some are asking if the city can use this opportunity to build a greener future.
Check out the next episode in our series "The Next Italian Renaissance."
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Thanks, Petra Cahill