HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Second U.S. Wave Emerges With Texas Record

Texas yesterday reported 2,504 new cases of Covid-19, the highest one-day total since the pandemic emerged. A month into its own reopening, Florida this week found 8,553 new confirmed cases, the most of any seven-day period. California’s hospitalizations are at their highest since May 13 and have risen nine of the past 10 days.

A fresh onslaught of the novel coronavirus is bringing challenges for residents and the economy in pockets across the nation. The localized surges have been raising alarms among experts, even as they’re masked by the country’s overall case count, which early this week rose by just under 1%, the smallest increase since March.

“There is a new wave coming in parts of the country,” according to Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s small and it’s distant so far, but it’s coming.”

Though the outbreaks come weeks into state reopenings, it’s not clear that they are linked to renewed economic activity. And health experts say it’s still too soon to tell whether the massive protests against police brutality that have erupted in the past two weeks have led to more infections.

In Georgia, where hair salons, tattoo parlors and gyms have been operating for a month and a half, case figures have plateaued, flummoxing experts. Puzzling differences show up even within states. In California, which imposed its stay-at-home order in late March, San Francisco saw zero cases for three straight days this week, while Los Angeles County reported over half of the state’s new cases.

The White House’s Coronavirus Task Force has yet to identify any relationship between the states’ reopenings and increased cases of Covid-19, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on a podcast.

But in some states, the rising numbers outpace their increases in testing, raising concerns about whether the coronavirus can be controlled. It will take a couple of weeks to see, Toner said, but by then “it’s going to be pretty late” to respond. Read more from Emma Court and David R. Baker.

U.S. Coronavirus Cases Surpass 2 Million: The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. has risen above 2 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, representing more than a quarter of all cases globally, John McGrath reports. As of last night, the U.S. had a total of 2,000,464 confirmed Covid-19 cases and a total of 112,924 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

Happening on the Hill

Medical Innovation Bill’s Authors Cite Current Crisis: A bipartisan duo in the House are pitching congressional leaders on including new provisions to bolster medical research and disease surveillance into the next pandemic-response bill. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that she and Fred Upton (R-Mich) are pushing to get some provisions related to sharing health data—and patient rights to that data—as well as improving virus surveillance tools in larger legislation that could get signed into law this year.

The ideas are priorities for “Cures 2.0,” the follow-up legislation to the landmark 21st Century Cures Act (Public Law 114-255) the pair helped get signed into law in 2016. “We think some of these are so self-evident we can pass them now,” DeGette said during a virtual meeting hosted by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of cancer centers.

DeGette and Upton earlier this year outlined six areas they would like to tackle in Cures 2.0, such as updating payment models and asking federal policymakers to lay out a national plan for virus testing; data sharing infrastructure; vaccines; therapeutics; and a strategy to have medical supplies ready to mitigate current and future pandemics, Alex Ruoff reports.

Lawmakers Debate New Safeguards for Workers: House Democrats used a hearing on “essential workers” to push for passage of labor-focused proposals, including a bill to pay increased benefits to front-line workers who contract the coronavirus, while Republicans called for continued efforts to open up schools and businesses. Essential workers such as nurses and grocery store clerks who aren’t able to work from home are being overlooked in the rush to reopen the country, House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said. “We do not all face the risks of the crisis equally.”

Committee Democrats pressed the Senate to take up H.R. 6800, a House-passed bill that would force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue rules mandating employers take actions to protect workers from Covid-19 exposure in the workplace. They also called on the House to pass H.R. 6909, a proposal from Maloney that would pay benefits to essential employees suffering from the disease. That legislation was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

Medicaid Enrollment to Grow by 73%, Group Warns: Conservative think tank Foundation for Government Accountability warned that Medicaid enrollment is slated to grow by 73% partly because Congress has boosted federal funding for the public health insurance program for the poor. The group wants Congress to let states kick people off Medicaid rolls so they can take federal funding without greatly expanding the program. Read the study here.

Letters & Legislation:

Testing, Treatment & Research

U.S. Health Care Puts $4 Trillion in All the Wrong Places: The new coronavirus was a test of America’s ability to protect the health of its people, and the country failed. The U.S. has the greatest number of confirmed cases and deaths in the world. Months after arriving in the U.S., the virus that wrecked the economy with disorienting velocity continues to inflict an unfathomable human toll.

The U.S. isn’t alone in failing to stop the coronavirus. But it is unique in how much of the nation’s economic resources are devoted to health care—about 18% of gross domestic product, more than any other country. The spending, approaching $4 trillion a year from taxpayers, employers, and households, is what makes America’s vulnerability to Covid-19 striking. What are we spending $4 trillion for, if not to avert disease and death? Read more from John Tozzi.

China Offers Shots to Workers Going Abroad: China is offering employees of some large state-run companies the option of being inoculated with two Covid-19 vaccines currently in development, illustrating how quickly authorities there are moving to test the viability of those vaccines. Employees intending to travel overseas can volunteer to be administered shots made by China National Biotec Group, a subsidiary of Sinopharm Group, people familiar with the matter said.

CNBG is among the Chinese companies bidding to create a successful vaccine against the coronavirus. There are currently five Chinese vaccine candidates in the human trial stage, competing with those being developed by international pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca and Moderna that could bring an end to the pandemic and allow countries to reopen more fully. Read more from Sharon Chen, Dong Lyu and Steven Yang.

Virus Trial Tweaks Should Stay, FDA’s Hahn Says: The remote monitors and telehealth check-ins made necessary by the pandemic may become permanent fixtures of new clinical trials going forward, the FDA’s Hahn said. The pandemic has delayed or halted clinical trials unrelated to the coronavirus, including one study testing a Novartis cholesterol drug. It’s also required doctors to rely more on telehealth to treat people. Hahn said the experiences should inform how the FDA updates a clinical trial system agency leaders have previously described as “clunky” and broken. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Assisted-Living Centers Get Relief for First Time: Assisted-living facilities got a much-needed hand from the federal government yesterday, when—for the first time—some were given access to stimulus that was previously restricted largely to nursing homes. The Health and Human Services program set aside $15 billion for providers participating in state programs like Medicaid, and haven’t received any relief yet. That opens a window to some assisted-living centers, which have been shut out of previous rounds since their residents don’t rely on the federal Medicare program as many nursing homes do. Read more from Angelica LaVito and Anthony Pugh.

NIH, FDA Team Up to Approve Possible Treatment: The federal government has teamed up with researchers to explore getting a potential new coronavirus treatment onto an FDA pathway that would allow for clinical trials or expanded access to the medication, according to the General Services Administration. The National Institutes of Health and University of Louisville Research Foundation in Kentucky want to see if Q-Griffithsin, an antiviral derived from a combination of algae and a plant in the tobacco family, could treat patients with the virus. Read more from Shira Stein.

Health Fraud Probes Said Faster Due to Pandemic: Federal investigators are leaning heavily on nontraditional methods to hasten criminal probes of health-care fraud tied to the coronavirus outbreak, a senior Justice Department official said. Joseph Beemsterboer, senior deputy chief of DOJ’s Criminal Division Fraud Section, said the urgency of tackling Covid-19-related fraud is shortening probes to a span of months rather than years. Read more from Jacob Rund.

HIV Raises Covid-19 Death Risk, Data Show: People with HIV are almost three times more likely to die if they contract the coronavirus than those with no co-morbidities, irrespective of whether they are taking anti-AIDS drugs, according to an analysis by the Western Cape Department of Health in South Africa. The department oversees medical services in the province with about two-thirds of South Africa’s almost 53,000 confirmed coronavirus infections. Read more here.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Hospitals See Possible Deal in Disclosure Battle: The Trump administration has already come up with a compromise in the legal dispute over its signature push to shine a light on hospital prices, and it’s buried in a similar proposal for insurers, industry groups say. The provision they have zeroed in on may give a federal district judge in the District of Columbia a way to rule narrowly in favor of four health-care industry groups and three hospitals in their fight to strike a rule that requires some 6,000 hospitals to publicly list the prices they negotiate with insurers by January 2021. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

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

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