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Congress is approving still more money to address the health and economic fallout of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. But the pandemic rages on ― claiming a disproportionate number of lives among staff and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of health care providers and patients alike with problems not related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. And the messaging from the White House is getting even more confusing as President Donald Trump and his science advisers seem to have different playbooks.
This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Jennifer Haberkorn of the Los Angeles Times and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.
Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:
- The latest COVID relief bill — expected to pass the House by Thursday afternoon ― provides additional funding for hospitals in the hope of easing liquidity problems at those facilities that have been slammed by a lack of revenue because they can’t perform elective or nonemergency procedures.
- Public health officials have been forced into a “verbal minuet” at the daily White House press briefings as they seek to provide accurate and helpful information on the COVID pandemic but also not embarrass or anger the president. But the gap between their views and the president’s and the evolving understanding of the virus is leading to confusion among the public, which seeks clear advice.
- Nursing homes are among the most regulated health care facilities in the country, yet about a quarter of the COVID-related deaths across the country have been in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. That is partially explained because they house the most vulnerable people — those who are older or disabled. Yet many of these facilities are not well staffed and don’t handle infection effectively.
- Many of these long-term care residences are not well equipped to fight infectious diseases. In an effort to make them feel less institutional, many were redesigned to create a more home-like environment, with big open spaces and communal dining, which can work against efforts to stop an outbreak.
- Public health experts say blood tests to show whether an individual has developed antibodies to the coronavirus are imperative before the U.S. economy can reopen. Although there are many tests on the market, some are proving unreliable. That is partly because the Food and Drug Administration told test manufacturers they could sell their tests first and prove they work later.
- Even if the tests accurately pinpoint the presence of antibodies, which signify that the individual had a coronavirus infection, it’s not yet clear if that means the person will be immune from the disease or how long the immunity might last.
- The battle over whether abortion should be banned along with other elective procedures during the COVID crisis continues in many states. The Texas fight ― in which court rulings have toggled between making abortion either available or unavailable almost on a day-by-day basis — has evaporated for the moment because the governor relaxed the ban on nonessential procedures, abortion included. But as of now abortion is prohibited in Arkansas.
Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week that they think you should read too:
Julie Rovner: The Atlantic’s “Why Some People Get Sicker Than Others,” by James Hamblin
Joanne Kenen: The Center for Public Integrity’s “When Nursing Home Workers Feel Like Lambs Led to Slaughter,” by Susan Ferriss
Jen Haberkorn: The Los Angeles Times’ “How Trump Let the U.S. Fall Behind the Curve on Coronavirus Threat,” by David S. Cloud, Paul Pringle and Eli Stokols
Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico’s “Trump Coronavirus Response Feeds Distrust in Black and Latino Communities,” by Laura Barrón-López
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