Latest Morning Briefing Stories
The negotiations over the next relief package are likely to be anything but smooth. Republicans are pushing for liability protections for businesses in the next round of talks, a “red line” for them that Democrats reject. But Democrats hope to put the pressure on the Senate with a new bill this week. In other news from Capitol Hill: health benefits, burial funds, aid for providers and more.
The agency originally relaxed its review standards at the beginning of the pandemic, but scientists have been calling for officials to step back in. A recent study found that only three out of 14 antibody tests deliver consistently reliable results, and even the best have flaws.
Meanwhile, patient advocates say legal liability is the last safety net to keep facilities accountable. “If you take the power of suing away from the families, then anything goes,” said Stella Kazantzas, whose husband is among the more than 20,000 patients who have died in nursing homes since the outbreak. In other news on senior facilities: advocates push for a stronger federal response; CMS will form a commission on safety; an elderly social worker dies; veterans’ homes and those in home care struggle; and overall staffing levels drop.
Senators were called back to Washington even as the House decided to keep members at home. But don’t expect any quick action on another coronavirus stimulus package, Capitol Hill watchers say. Disagreement over business liability and ongoing issues with prior hospital and small business emergency funding are among the obstacles in the way of a new bill.
There had been lots of talk about the key role antibody tests could play in lifting shut-down measures. But scientists in Italy are dousing those hopes with a bucket of cold water. “We don’t know if everyone who has had the disease has developed an acceptable protective immunity,” said Dr. Alessandro Venturi, the president of the San Matteo hospital in the Lombardy town of Pavia. In other news, testing remains patchy across the U.S., even as states continue to try to ramp up efforts.
The drug failed as a treatment for hepatitis and Ebola, but now it might be one of the most well-known drugs in the world. The New York Times takes a look at its startling rescue and transformation during the coronavirus outbreak and a Stat video explains how the medication works. In related news, the FDA allows emergency use of the drug and Gilead has donated more than 1.5 million vials of remdesivir to go to critically ill patients as soon as possible.
Health care workers make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases, and many of those on the front line are women. In health care personnel news: home health aides struggle to ensure their own safety, medical staff not exempt from job cuts, unions balk at reused masks and more.
The sheer volume of claims has so overwhelmed state agencies that not all of those affected by the pandemic are being counted. “It is declining, but the level is still breathtakingly high,” said Ian Shepherdson, an economist. “Claims could stay in the millions for several more weeks, which is almost unfathomable.” Meanwhile, as May 1 rolls around, many Americans are panicked over rent.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that the funding amount is aspirational, but that it is a good goalpost for the next relief package. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to bring senators back to the Capitol is questioned.
Lawmakers want to give FEMA the responsibility of purchasing the equipment and then distributing it to the states, rather than having the onus be placed on the governors — who then have to fight each other for the needed devices and protective gear. Other preparedness news focuses on ventilators, PPE and ethical guidelines during shortages.
Contact tracing is thought of as crucial tool to reopening the country, but it requires states to invest in the creation of an army of public health workers to do it effectively. “It’s not rocket science to do it on an individual basis. The problem is the scale that we have to do this at,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) says. States are also working to expand access to virus testing — another part of the equation necessary for restarting the economy.
State Medicaid directors are calling for more aid “in the next two weeks” to avoid widespread disruptions. Meanwhile, the pandemic is exposing the deep divide of how care is paid for in the U.S. versus Europe.
“I guess you could call it a little bit of a weak spot, because things are happening at the nursing homes that we’re not happy about,” President Donald Trump said. While some praised the decision, others in the industry say it falls far short of what’s needed.
“We’re thinking about the vaccine, but what if the vials it is stored in, or rubber stoppers in the vial or the plungers in the syringes become the constraint?” said Prashant Yadav, who studies health care supply chains at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. Experts say it could play out like the ventilator and PPE shortages. Meanwhile, scientists debate the ethics of injecting patients with COVID-19 to further vaccine research.
Projecting the course of the pandemic and its toll is difficult because there are complicated factors at play. Meanwhile, even as the Trump administration downplays the threat of the virus, the government has placed an order for 100,000 body bags. Meanwhile, overwhelmed New York City funeral homes and other facilities designed to hold bodies are desperately seeking help with the surge.
Business shutdowns created by the coronavirus outbreak continue to ravage the labor market, with another 3.84 million Americans filing for jobless benefits last week. Those numbers still likely under count the number of people out of work, as many state unemployment systems experience ongoing issues with applications. News outlets report on other financial indicators that point toward a U.S. recession.
The next big political fight is over protections for employers who, if they reopen during the pandemic, could face lawsuits from employees who get sick.
While the expected GDP drop from the first quarter of 2020 would be the sharpest since the Great Recession, experts say the second quarter will be far worse. That hit could be “three times as large as what we experienced in the global financial crisis,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics. In other economic news: consumer confidence plummets, IRS scrambles to get stimulus payments out, as states reopen workers might be forced off unemployment pay and more.
The experimental vaccines still face a gauntlet of testing to make sure they are effective and safe, which could derail efforts to expedite use. But many companies have taken measures to shave months, if not years, off the normal development process. Companies have a huge financial incentive to be the winners of this particular race. Meanwhile, anti-vaccine groups already are launching a campaign against whichever emerges even though it’s not developed yet.
Increased testing is crucial to returning to a semblance of normalcy, but the U.S. has failed since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak to meet demand. Labs, however, say they have the capacity and they’re just not being used.