HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Virus Tracing Needs Minority Group Buy-In

Contact tracing initiatives will help contain the spread of Covid-19 only if they’re fully integrated into the U.S. communities hit hardest by the coronavirus, health equity advocates say.

Contact tracing, which is designed to identify and inform people who have been exposed to the virus, is seen as key to slowing the pandemic and getting people back to work. But efforts to track peoples’ whereabouts would require a level of trust that communities might be better served building from the ground up.

That could be difficult to earn from Black, Hispanic, and other people who are at higher risk of getting Covid-19 yet are often wary of engaging with a health-care system that has underserved them in the past, advocates say.

“A lot of communities of color—for a variety of reasons, and rightfully so—don’t trust the government and don’t trust that government has their best interests at heart,” said Tekisha Dwan Everette, head of the Connecticut-based Health Equity Solutions. “It’s really important to make sure that we’re including trusted voices who know how to reach and communicate with hard-to-reach communities.”

That means state and local officials leading contact tracing efforts should bring trusted community leaders on board to help get the message out, Everette said. They also should use channels of communication that will reach the community as well as ensure that community members are represented in messaging campaigns and are among the contract tracers themselves.

Black people are five times more likely to contract Covid-19 than White people, and over four times more likely to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet Black Americans are less likely than White people to trust doctors and medical research scientists, according to a study by Pew Research Center. Read more from Christopher Brown.

Congressional Virus Efforts & Oversight

White House Pares Back BARDA Awards: The Trump administration watered down or eliminated typical provisions giving the government the power to take over the rights of some drugs in seven federal contracts for potential Covid-19 medicines, according to new documents released yesterday by the progressive consumer group Knowledge Ecology International.

Some contracts are written to limit the government’s ability to intervene if the drugmakers charge unreasonable prices for Covid-19 vaccines or therapeutics, the group said. The federal government’s “march-in” rights, which would let it take over a patent for a drug created using federal funding, haven’t ever been fully used, but are typical for such contracts.

The group obtained the contracts between the Health and Human Services and the Defense departments with drug companies Janssen, Genentech, Regeneron, Moderna, Protein Sciences, and Ology Bioservices via a Freedom of Information Act request, the group said, Alex Ruoff reports. Find the group’s statement here.

Covid Vaccine Development Hearing: The Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee scheduled a hearing on “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump administration’s efforts to accelerate the development of a viable Covid-19 vaccine. CDC Director Robert Redfield and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins will testify.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the subcommittee, will press the administration for details of its plans for vaccine distribution. “I’m working on a proposal to require the Trump Administration to provide a comprehensive plan for how it will make sure we get a vaccine that is safe and effective, produced at scale and distributed nationwide, and free and available to everyone in a way that addresses the health disparities this pandemic has made worse,” Murray plans to say, according to opening remarks shared with Bloomberg Government.

Virus Response Supplies: The House Select Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee plans a hearing on the Trump administration’s push to produce, stockpile, and distribute critical supplies.

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Reopening Reversals

Health Officials Warn of Holiday Spread: State health commissioners say that they’re concerned the 4th of July weekend will be a repeat of recent holidays, when travel and celebrations helped spread Covid-19. Public health officials are cautioning Americans to avoid large gatherings, maintain physical distance from others and celebrate the holiday outdoors. Some of them say they’re especially worried about this weekend, because their states are reaching all-time-highs in Covid-19 cases.

“We need to be more vigilant this time than we were Memorial Day,” said Nate Smith, secretary of health at the Arkansas Department of Health and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said her state has been seeing a spike in cases around Pittsburgh as younger people, those in their 20s and 30s, travel to areas of the South, where outbreaks have been surging.

Erin Huppert, the state affairs director for health policy advisory group United States of Care, argued that most states aren’t ready to loosen social distancing requirements because they lack the proper testing capacity and are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases over the past week. “The majority of states don’t have the resources at this point to do it right,” Huppert said, Alex Ruoff reports.

Arizona’s Daily Deaths Chip at Pence Talking Point: The coronavirus ignored a top Trump administration talking point yesterday as Arizona reported record numbers of new daily Covid-19 cases—and a record number of deaths from the disease. On a day that Vice President Mike Pence was visiting Arizona, its Health Services Department reported 4,878 new Covid-19 cases and 88 fatalities. While case numbers are soaring in states spared the brunt of the initial wave of Covid, deaths have remained relatively low. That could change. Margaret Newkirk and Renata S. Geraldo have more.

California Closes Indoor Dining: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ordered the shutdown of indoor businesses—including restaurants, museums and movie theaters—in 19 counties, halting reopenings started just weeks ago as the state grapples with a surge of coronavirus infections. The areas affected include Los Angeles County, the worst hit in the state, Newsom said. Read more from Kara Wetzel and David R. Baker.

  • New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) also announced the city was postponing a planned return to indoor dining originally scheduled for next week. “It’s not the time to forge ahead with indoor dining, but it is the time to double our efforts with outdoor dining,” de Blasio said. Read more.

Americans Blame Other Americans on Virus: Most Americans are concerned states are reopening too soon and are pointing fingers at their compatriots for not dealing with the virus properly, according to a Monmouth University survey. A majority, 59%, say the public has done a bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, while 28% say people are handling it well. In early June, 46% said the public was doing a good job while 43% said the opposite, Kim Chipman reports.

Hard-Hit States to Boost Tests of Asymptomatic Young People: Federal health officials are planning “surge testing” of asymptomatic residents in states that have seen a spike of new Covid-19 cases, particularly those 35 years old or younger. It’s “very clear” new cases are being driven by younger people, Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir, who is leading the testing programs, told reporters yesterday.

The strategy is to conduct “the number of tests you’d do in a month in just a few days” to identify potential asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers. Right now, federal officials are trying to organize surge testing with state officials in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, among others. Read more from Jacquie Lee.

A Virus Preys on Divided America as Daily Cases Set Record: If a world leader in science and technology can’t convince its citizenry to wear face masks amid a raging pandemic, that’s a problem. Such is the reality that America faces as a highly transmissible virus runs riot ahead of Independence Day celebrations. With the nation setting ever higher one-day records for infections, which topped 50,000 for the first time on Wednesday, public health experts worry that not enough Americans grasp the risks — or worse, view the crisis through a political lens in an election cycle. Read more from Brian Bremner.

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What Else to Know

Juul CEO Seeks to Hit the Reset Button: Trust might not be a word commonly associated with one of the most controversial companies in America. Still, it’s a word used often by K.C. Crosthwaite, chief executive of embattled e-cigarettes manufacturer Juul Labs. Crosthwaite took the helm of Juul in September when the firm was at the heart of a public-health crisis that ignited fierce debate over whether e-cigarettes should exist at all. He said this week that he’s still pushing to repair Juul’s relationships with regulators, policy makers, public-health critics and society at large. Read more from Angelica LaVito.

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Publishing Note: Bloomberg Government’s Health Care Briefing will not publish Friday, July 3rd in observance of the Fourth of July federal holiday. We’ll resume publication Monday, July 6.

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

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