Here are the headlines you Need2Know for Wednesday, March 31, 2021:


Three weeks after Texas dropped its mask mandate and reopened, new cases are at the lowest level in that state since last June. Experts think that’s partially due to vaccinations playing a role, even though Texas’ vaccine rollout is not particularly impressive compared to other states. Nearly 30 percent of Americans are now at least partially vaccinated, while half of seniors have been fully vaccinated. A large survey conducted by the Census Bureau found that vaccine hesitancy is shrinking, especially in the South and among Black Americans: just 17 percent of U.S. adults now say they definitely or probably won’t get vaccinated, down from 22 percent in January. WSJ


President Biden goes to Pittsburgh today where he will announce a major infrastructure package that includes significant aid for working parents among its proposals. The first phase of the “Build Back Better” package will focus on spending for “hard” infrastructure areas like transportation and broadband, to the tune of $2 trillion. That would be paid for by permanently raising the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent. The second phase focuses on what the administration is calling “soft” or “human” infrastructure -- things like family tax credits and childcare -- and would be paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy. AP


Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is under federal investigation over an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. The DOJ is said to be looking at whether he violated federal sex trafficking laws by allegedly paying a minor to travel over state lines. Gaetz, one of former President Trump’s most vocal allies in Congress, went on Fox’s Tucker Carlson where he acknowledged the probe but denied any criminal wrongdoing. Carlson called it one of “the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.” NY TIMES


The young woman who shot the infamous cell phone video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck was one of six bystanders who testified that they tried in vain to convince Chauvin to remove his hold on Floyd. Another bystander, an off-duty firefighter, testified that she pleaded with the officers to check Floyd’s pulse but that they were unmoved. The witnesses painted a consistent picture of what they saw and described feeling traumatized and guilty for not being able to help. STAR TRIB


Americans are very optimistic about what the economy will look like over the next few months. The monthly consumer-confidence reading jumped to its highest level since the onset of the pandemic, though still short of the pre-COVID level reached last February. The data suggest that consumers are planning to make big-ticket purchases like cars, appliances, and homes as the pandemic recedes, stimulus checks are cashed, and businesses reopen. A separate economic report showed home prices have been rising at their fastest rate in 15 years, adding to concerns about inflation. REUTERS


Virgin Galactic has unveiled its second spacecraft, a shiny silver vehicle dubbed the VSS Imagine. The Imagine is the first in a new generation of spaceships  that Virgin plans to use to ferry civilians into suborbital space as early as next year. Virgin Galactic’s CEO came on Cheddar to explain what’s under the hood of the Imagine: WATCH


MENS: Gonzaga, Baylor, UCLA and Houston are going to the Final Four. Gonzaga steamrolled USC while UCLA upset top-seeded Michigan to punch its ticket. Gonzaga is two wins away from its first national championship and the first wire-to-wire undefeated season since Indiana did it in 1976. YAHOO SPORTS

WOMENS: South Carolina humiliated Texas, 62-34, while Stanford knocked off Louisville to join UConn and Arizona in the women’s Final Four field. Those games are Friday night, with the men to follow on Saturday. ESPN


The Academy Awards are less than a month away and it’s pretty much anybody’s guess what the show is going to look like. The producers had previously said that the rule is that nominees must show up in person or not at all -- as they try to avoid putting the TV audience to sleep with Zoom acceptance speeches. But many attendees are expressing concerns about getting to L.A., especially from abroad, so the show is now setting up “hubs” in Paris and London where nominees can participate from. Then there’s the issue with out-of-town nominees having to follow L.A.’s strict 10-day quarantine rule. The Oscars will broadcast live from Union Station on April 25. THR


… NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, snapping a selfie in front of a Martian rock formation known as Mont Mercou: SEE IT


An alleged Mafia fugitive who had been lying low in the Caribbean was arrested after seven years on the lam, thanks to his passion for Italian cuisine. Marc Feren Claude Biart was busted in the Dominican Republic, where he had been doing a YouTube cooking show with his wife. While Biart kept his face covered in the videos, Italian police recognized his tattoos. He is being extradited to Italy to face charges for trafficking cocaine on behalf of the powerful ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate. BBC

Listen to the N2K Podcast! Looking for more context and analysis on the big stories of the day? Check out our podcast! Hosts Jill and Carlo break down the headlines, every weekday morning Listen on Apple or Spotify, or watch on YouTube, and send us your feedback!

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