HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: U.S. Not Ready for Virus Threats, CDC Says

The U.S. remains underprepared for major pandemic health threats, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress yesterday, as he cited major shortfalls revealed by the coronavirus in state, local and federal authorities’ ability to spot and track disease and develop countermeasures.

Congress should invest more money in public health, data modernization and contact tracing, Director Robert Redfield told House lawmakers. “You think we weren’t prepared for this, wait until we have a real global threat for our health security,” Redfield told a subcommittee under the House Appropriations panel, which leads talks over government funding.

The CDC has long been seen as one of the world’s preeminent health agencies, and has been a model for other countries setting up similar organizations. But it’s fallen under criticism for reacting slowly to the coronavirus, which has now infected nearly 2 million Americans and has killed more than 107,000. While the CDC was fast in developing a test, it faced significant problems rolling it out around the U.S. and largely receded from the public face of the Trump administration’s response to the virus.

In his testimony, Redfield said that the agency is having a hard time tracking the impact of the virus on black Americans, making data modernization crucial. And some states are still collecting data “with pen and pencil,” he added. “Data is the roadmap. It’s fundamentally the key first step that we need to do to address the health disparities.”

The U.S. announced yesterday that it will require testing labs to collect zip code data and demographics including race, ethnicity, sex and age, he said. The CDC funds as much as 70% of state and local public-health efforts, Redfield said. But significant new readiness investments are needed in addition to basic efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“That needs to be augmented,” Redfield said. “The cost of nothing isn’t nothing. the time to do it is now and get that investment.” Read more from Anna Edney.

Agencies Work With WHO: Also yesterday, top public health officials said they are still working closely with the World Health Organization even after President Donald Trump said last week he planned to terminate the U.S. relationship with the group for being overly deferential to China. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and Redfield both suggested they’re maintaining ties with the WHO. “The WHO continues to be a close colleague or ours,” Redfield told lawmakers. “We continue to have a close collaboration with the WHO.” Read more from Anna Edney.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Robert Redfield at the hearing yesterday

Aid, Testing, Research & Reopening

Fauci, Virus Task Force Sidelined With Trump All-In on Reopening: The White House’s coronavirus task force has all but vanished from public view as President Donald Trump pushes Americans to put the outbreak behind them and resume normal social and economic life.
The task force was once a staple of Trump’s response to the pandemic. From March 4 until late April, the panel held nearly daily, televised briefings at the White House, many headlined by Trump. Its medical experts fanned out across TV networks to share guidance on curbing the spread of the virus.

The last briefing was April 27, when Trump predicted the U.S. would suffer between 60,000 and 70,000 deaths from the outbreak. At least 107,000 Americans have died. “I think we’ve done a great job,” he said at the time. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Trump Team Sees $1 Trillion in Next Stimulus: White House officials envision as much as $1 trillion in the next round of economic stimulus, though they have delayed those discussions scheduled for this week, according to people familiar with the matter. Senior aides had planned to meet this week to discuss the next round of pandemic relief, but it was removed from the calendar and hasn’t yet been rescheduled, according to the people. Senate Republicans had no plans to act on a stimulus bill this month.

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has informed White House officials behind closed doors that another round of stimulus by Congress could be just under $1 trillion, a figure that Trump administration officials have said they’re comfortable with, the people said. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

Robust Vaccine Production, Distribution Urged: Reps. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation to “ensure that once a COVID-19 vaccine is available, the United States will be able to mass-produce and administer the vaccine quickly and efficiently,” they said yesterday in a statement. The legislation would require the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to award contracts and grants that would “expand and enhance manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccines, vaccine candidates, and ancillary products necessary for the administration of vaccines,” they said. Read the bill here.

  • Major pharmaceutical and biotech companies will have to navigate a host of legal issues on patents, trade secrets and competition as they collaborate to find viable Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. Companies seeking to ensure their partnerships succeed will need to negotiate who owns each slice of IP that’s forged together and who will have the right to use any new inventions for non-Covid uses—all while avoiding anti-competitive pitfalls, health-care attorneys said. Read more from Valerie Bauman.

FDA’s Hydroxychloroquine Role Queried: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) asked the FDA to provide information about its regulation and oversight of hydroxychloroquine, including the agency’s emergency authorization issued in March. “Trump has promoted the drug as a potential treatment” for Covid-19 to the public despite “mounting scientific evidence” that it could cause serious side effects, Baldwin says in a statement. Read the letter here.

  • Meanwhile, a study that found the malaria drug backed by Trump raised the risk of heart issues and death has been retracted by the authors. The study, published two weeks ago in the prestigious Lancet medical journal, sparked questions about the accuracy of the underlying data, the researchers said in retraction note published yesterday. Read more.

Murray Urges Against Cutting Testing Post: Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote to Vice President Mike Pence yesterday criticizing the White House’s plan to “eliminate the role leading COVID-19 testing efforts nationally.” Her letter comes after the administration announced that Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir will step down from his role as the government’s testing czar, and “that no replacement was planned.” Read the letter here.

HHS Wants Test for Both Covid-19, Flu: The Trump administration is looking for companies to develop a diagnostic test that can determine if someone has SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, and the seasonal influenza. The move is part of a series of changes announced yesterday in the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority’s broad agency announcement, a contract mechanism through which BARDA does most of its spending. Shira Stein has more.

Up to 45% of Virus Cases Asymptomatic: As many as 45% of people who contract the coronavirus don’t show any symptoms, according to a paper published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine yesterday. Researchers at Scripps Research Translational Institute reviewed studies of 16 different populations infected by the virus and examined how many showed no signs of illness. They concluded that asymptomatic people may account for 40% to 45% of Covid-19 infections. Read more.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Planned Parenthood Wants Clinic Virus Suit Tossed: A Minnesota health-care clinic’s lawsuit over the state’s failure to shut down its abortion providers during the pandemic, while enforcing an emergency order banning elective surgeries against other providers, must be dismissed, Planned Parenthood told a federal court. The suit filed by AALFA Family Clinic, a women’s health-care provider that opposes abortion, is moot, Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota said in a brief to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

More Headlines:

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

Top