The U.S. is “going in the wrong direction” in its effort to contain the coronavirus and daily case counts could more than double if public behaviors don’t change, top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Pinpointing indoor gatherings, particularly bar scenes with lines out the door and patrons standing shoulder to shoulder, Fauci said new cases of Covid-19 could rise to 100,000 a day, up from the current level of about 40,000.
Several southern and western states are seeing surging new Covid-19 numbers, prompting some to put reopening plans on hold. Hospitalizations have risen in 12 states, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told the committee. Florida’s Miami-Dade County reported its highest numbers of hospitalizations, intensive-care unit patients, and ventilator use in at least two months. In Houston, ICUs hit 97% of normal capacity yesterday.
“The numbers speak for themselves. I’m very concerned,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. “Clearly we are not in total control right now.” He declined to estimate the number of possible deaths from the virus, but said, “It is going to be very disturbing, I guarantee you that.”
The key is for people to stop what Fauci called “an all-or-nothing phenomenon,” meaning either a state is locked down or people are in bars without masks on.
Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) opened the panel’s hearing with comments on wearing masks, arguing the issue shouldn’t be as politicized as it’s become and that he has asked President Donald Trump to put on a mask to set an example.
Vice President Mike Pence sought to strike a more positive tone later yesterday in remarks after meeting with the Coronavirus Task Force in Maryland. The U.S. is “in a much better place” than a few months ago. “To every American, we want to assure you that we’re ready,” he added. “More ready than ever before.”
Pence made it clear that there are no plans to issue national requirements on masks, allowing states to manage their “unique circumstances.”
Redfield and Fauci appeared before senators for a hearing on reopening U.S. businesses and returning students to school. Fauci said schools may need to consider online classes or staggered schedules to safely bring students back.
Speaking after the task force meeting, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that masks will be essential for any return to school. Read more from Anna Edney.
Congressional Virus Efforts
Mental Health Fallout Spurs Aid Effort: Federal mental health assistance may gain traction in the House as lawmakers consider expanding Medicare for some services and creating behavioral health grants for areas seeing a Covid-19 surge.
Mental health and substance abuse treatment advocates say they need funds to help clinics and health-care providers stay in business as the pandemic prevents many from seeking treatment.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee reviewed 22 mental health bills yesterday and Democratic leaders signaled the legislation might come to the floor this year, possibly as part of the next coronavirus-relief measure. Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he expects the bills will get votes. Read more from Alex Ruoff.
GOP Urges Strengthened Flu Vaccine Supply: The federal government must protect the supply of season influenza vaccine by encouraging more domestic production, key Republican lawmakers will say in a report to be unveiled today. Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) said about 53% of the U.S. seasonal influenza vaccines are produced domestically.
They will also recommend the White House create a “comprehensive national vaccine plan,” which members of both parties have been calling on the Trump administration to roll out for months now, Alex Ruoff reports.
Vaccine Sought for Food Workers Early: Food and agriculture workers should be among the first to receive the Covid-19 vaccine once it’s developed, industry groups urged as lawmakers consider how to manage what’s likely to be a rush for access. “It ought to be a scientific and health decision on what the priorities are,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said yesterday. “But it would sure help agriculture if it brings certainty to the food supply chain.” Megan Boyanton has more.
Letters, Bills & Hearings:
- The Senate Indian Affairs Committee holds an oversight hearing today on native communities’ pandemic response and to discuss a bill (S. 3650) that would deem employees of urban Indian organizations as part of the Public Health Service.
- The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today will examine Veterans Affairs Department health-care worker recruitment and retention.
- The House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee and Women Veterans Task Force hold a hearing today on veterans’ access to reproductive health care.
- The House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade Subcommittee holds a hearing today on the Trump administration’s coronavirus response in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Six Senate Republicans unveiled a drug price transparency bill yesterday. The measure would “codify the two health care price transparency rules” from the Trump administration requiring hospitals and insurers to notify patients of discounted cash prices for services, according to a statement.
- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will unveil a bill to require a study on the effects of relying on foreign companies and foreign investment for pharmaceutical production, Reuters reports, citing a copy of the legislation.
- A bipartisan group of 39 senators urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a letter that the department move to “quickly provide additional funding for children’s hospitals,” citing reports they’ve received a disproportionately low amount of pandemic relief.
Vaccine Research & Treatment
Industry Urged to Better Diversify Test Pools: Covid-19 vaccine tests should include racial and ethnic minorities, people with underlying medical conditions, and pregnant women, the Food and Drug Administration said, echoing calls by patient advocates to widen the pool of participants. The FDA released guidance yesterday that laid out the criteria for companies such as Moderna, Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson to put their Covid-19 vaccines on the market.
The guidance, while not binding, is the FDA’s strongest statement to date about what it expects before it will authorize a vaccine. Industry relies heavily on these guidance documents when developing medical products. The vaccine candidate developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna is poised to go into phase III trials in the next several weeks. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.
Azar Sees Hundreds of Millions of Vaccines in Early 2021: Azar said the government is aiming to have“hundreds of millions of doses of a safe, effective vaccine, or multiple of them, by early next year,” with “tens of millions of doses by the fall of this year.” He also told Fox Business that it’s “very unlikely” patients will have to bear the cost of Gilead’s remdesivir treatment, Kathleen Miller and Josh Wingrove report.
- Related: FDA’s Hahn Says Covid-19 Therapeutics Pipeline Is Robust
- Inovio, one of the frontrunners in the race to come up with a vaccine, said 94% of its subjects showed an immune response to an experimental shot based on initial data from an early test. The U.S. company’s candidate was also tapped to be part of a non-human primate challenge study as part of the government’s Operation Warp Speed. Read more.
Gilead Urged to Slash Remdesivir Price Should It Fail: Gilead Sciences should be prepared to dramatically slash the price of its Covid-19 drug remdesivir if the drug fails to reduce deaths, a group that analyzes the value of health treatments says. Gilead has priced remdesivir at an estimated $3,120 for commercial health insurers. But so far the drug has yet to prove it significantly reduces deaths due to Covid-19, although it does help people feel better faster, said Steven Pearson, founder and president of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review.
If the drug doesn’t prove to reduce deaths, it would only be worth about $310, he said. “It’d be like a souped-up aspirin,” Pearson said. “You feel better a little bit quicker, but actually it doesn’t save lives.” Sara Hansard has more.
More on Virus Responses:
- Biden Rips Into Trump for His Handling of Coronavirus Outbreak
- Total Losses to U.S. Health Systems Reaches $323 Billion: Report
- Contact Tracing Scams Emerge as Latest Trick in Virus-Fraud Book
- Distancing Not Forced at Trump Rushmore Event, Governor Says
- Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Federal Payments to the Dead
More on Reopening Efforts:
- American Air’s Plan to Fill Planes Draws Rebuke From CDC, Fauci
- New York Adds Eight More States to Quarantine Travel Advisory
- 10 Major U.S. Airports Don’t Require Face Coverings, Group Says
- Europe Extends Block on U.S. Travelers Over Outbreak Concerns
What Else to Know
ACA’s Backers See Hope in Roberts’ CFPB Opinion: Chief Justice John Roberts might have assured advocates fighting to save Obamacare that he plans to save the ACA yet another time. In striking down language in the Dodd-Frank Act that protected the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from being fired and leaving the agency intact, Roberts signaled yesterday that he could do something similar with the Affordable Care Act: toss out its requirement to buy insurance without killing the entire law, lawyers claim. Lydia Wheeler has more.
- Wildfires Are Taking an Unexpected Toll on America’s Lungs
- Pharma Bro Shkreli, States Spar Over Documents in Antitrust Suit
- Revance Injection Demonstrates 100% Treatment Effect in Weeks
- Former Indivior CEO Pleads Guilty in Misbranded Opioids Case
- Glenmark Unit Charged by U.S. in Generic-Drug Price-Fixing Case
- Medicare Eases Access to Treatment for Leaking Heart Valves
- Florida Requires Parental Consent for Abortions Sought by Minors