HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: CDC Issues New Eviction Moratorium

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a ban evictions in areas of the country with substantial and high transmission of coronavirus yesterday, after a firestorm of criticism from Democrats following the lapse of a previous moratorium on Saturday.

“The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where Covid-19 spreads.”

The CDC said the new ban, which will be in place until Oct. 3, would allow more time for the federal government and states to enact a rental assistance program that’s suffered bureaucratic delays and for more Americans to be vaccinated against the virus.

An increase in evictions, Walensky said, “could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.”

The move shows the extent to which the spread of the delta variant has upended the Biden administration’s agenda. President Joe Biden earlier said the CDC announcement was expected, but warned that the new ban would face legal challenges and may be found unconstitutional.

Biden’s team has spent days trying to explain the legal reasoning behind an initial CDC decision that it couldn’t impose another extension and sent top officials to Capitol Hill, including Vice President Kamala Harris, to answer lawmakers’ questions. Read more from Nancy Cook and Billy House.

Biden’s New Eviction Ban Eases Liberal Ire at Cost of Legal Risk: Biden quelled for now a brewing confrontation with progressive Democrats with a new moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, but the order invites a legal fight with high-stakes consequences for public health that the government may well lose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order yesterday, following several days of legal wrangling within the administration, aims to keep tenants who are in arrears from losing their homes until Oct. 3. White House officials hope that’s enough time to stand up a long-delayed $47 billion rental assistance program.

The ban came after Biden’s White House failed to anticipate outrage and finger-pointing from its own party after he called Thursday for Congress to extend a previous moratorium set to expire just two days later. Lawmakers in the House, under lobbying by landlords, failed to act before leaving town for the rest of the summer.

The drama illustrated the White House’s struggle to contain a resurgence of the pandemic fueled by the delta variant of coronavirus, which has the U.S. again recording tens of thousands of infections per day and testing hospital capacity in under-vaccinated states, particularly in the politically conservative South. Biden yesterday showed his frustration, chastising Republican governors in seven states for banning mask mandates, including in schools. Read more from Nancy Cook, Billy House and Jennifer Epstein.

Happening on the Hill

Earmarks May Mean Millions for Smaller Health Centers: A return of earmarks for Congress could mean millions of dollars for regional health system and health centers, according to an analysis of requests by members. Nearly every one of the 64 senators who’ve requested a direct spending request for annual spending bills, known as earmarks, asked for funds to build or expand a hospital, medical research lab or health center in their state, showing how some health systems have struggled in recent years while major hospitals thrived.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked for $27.6 million to expand Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, while Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) asked for $47 million to assist the Minnie Hamilton Community Health Center in Grantsville. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked for $122 million to build up the NextGen Precision Health Institute, “a state-of-the-art facility at the University of Missouri-Columbia,” according to his request, Alex Ruoff reports. Read a breakdown of earmarks requests here.

Pregnancy Workers Bill Advances to Senate Floor: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 19-2 to advance the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (S. 1486) to the chamber floor. The bill would strengthen protections for pregnant workers, Anna Yukhananov reported. The House passed an identical bill (H.R. 1065) with a 214-vote margin in May, making it one of the few labor bills that could pass an evenly divided Senate and reach the Oval Office, Yukhananov reports.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden Assails Governors Blocking Mask Rules: Biden assailed GOP governors who’ve blocked new mask mandates and other public health measures in their states even with thousands of new cases of Covid-19 caused by the contagious delta variant. He said yesterday that seven states “not only ban mask mandates but also ban them in their school districts,” including for children who can’t be vaccinated against the virus.

“The most extreme” of the measures is in Texas, where he said universities face fines by the state if professors ask unvaccinated students to wear masks in classrooms. He didn’t name any specific governors. Texas is led by Republican Greg Abbott (R), while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has also barred schools in his state from imposing mask requirements.

“If you aren’t going to help at least get out of the way” and allow firms and schools to decide on their own, he said, Alex Wayne reports.

Delta Seen Raising Herd Immunity Level: The spread of the delta variant has pushed the threshold for herd immunity to beyond 80%, and may be closer to 90%, according to an Infectious Diseases Society of America briefing yesterday. This represents a “much higher” bar than previous estimates of 60% to 70%, because the highly infectious delta strain is twice as transmissible, said Richard Franco, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Just 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated so far, Emma Court reports.

  • As the delta variant slams a younger set of the population, that age cohort has emerged as one of the most stubborn vaccine holdouts. According to recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 34% of adults in the 18-29 age category said they want to wait before getting vaccinated, and another 15% said they would not get the vaccine at all. For many in that group, it’s not fear, mistrust or misinformation that’s held them off. It’s indifference. Read more from Rebecca Torrence and Kristen Brown.

N.Y.C. to Require CDC Card at Restaurants: New York City will require proof of vaccination for workers and customers at indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. De Blasio announced the “Key to NYC Pass,” what he said is a first-in-the-U.S. requirement for employees and indoor venue-goers. The new policy, enacted by executive order and a health department order, will be launched Aug. 16, then phased in, with enforcement starting Sept. 13. Read more from Henry Goldman.

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What Else to Know Today

Judge Targets Health Care Ban for Transgender Kids: Arkansas isn’t trying to protect children from experimental treatments in banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, a federal district court judge found. In his written order yesterday, Judge James Moody Jr. of the Eastern District of Arkansas said that the state’s “purported health concerns regarding the risks of gender transition procedures are pretextual” and added that the law is “presumptively unconstitutional.” Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

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With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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