The Health 202: The Trump administration is urging schools to reopen with help from rapid coronavirus tests

President Trump announced yesterday from the White House Rose Garden that his administration is shipping 150 million rapid diagnostic tests to states. The money can be used to test people at K-12 schools, nursing homes, home health-care workers and historically Black colleges and universities, along with however else states want to use it. The administration had previously announced the deal to purchase the tests from Abbott Laboratories but provided more details about where the tests will be directed and how they can be used.

“In the coming weeks this will be more than double the number of tests already performed,” Trump said, noting that around 100 million coronavirus tests have been conducted in the United States since the start of the pandemic. 

“The support my administration is providing would allow every state on a regular basis to test every teacher who needs it,” he added.

Vice President Pence urged governors to send the tests to K-12 schools.

One hundred million of the tests are going to states, which will receive a supply based on their population size and can use the tests wherever governors see fit. 

“Given the extraordinary capacity we have in testing today, we expressed a hope to all the governors today they would particularly use them to open up America’s schools and keep them open,” Pence said.

The rapid antigen tests, which are the size of a credit card, don’t require samples to be shipped away to labs. Instead of taking days or weeks to process, they deliver results in 15 minutes after an individual swabs their nose and places the sample in a few drops of testing chemicals.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar:

Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, demonstrated the test before guests and media assembled in the Rose Garden. He said the United States now has the capability to process 3 million coronavirus tests a day, half of them rapid antigen tests.

Fears about young children rapidly spreading the virus haven’t yet materialized.

It’s just about a month into the academic year and cases are likely to rise throughout the world during the winter months but there have been some early encouraging signs that schools aren’t top breeding grounds for coronavirus infections.

“Public health experts have found little evidence that the virus is spreading inside [school] buildings, and the rates of infection are far below what is found in the surrounding communities,” Laura Meckler and Valerie Strauss reported. “This early evidence, experts say, suggests that opening schools may not be as risky as many have feared and could guide administrators as they chart the rest of what is already an unprecedented school year.”

Brown University researchers found low levels of infection among students and teachers, after working with school administrators to track coronavirus cases. They found just 0.23 percent of students had a confirmed or suspected case of the coronavirus over a two-week period in September. Among teachers, it was 0.49 percent. The rates were even lower looking at only confirmed cases.

A new CDC report found elementary-age children had half the rate of infections as teenagers.

In an analysis released yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the rate of infected children was 37.9 per 100,000 in July, the month in which cases peaked over the summer. The rate of infections among children ages 12 to 17 was about twice that in children ages 5 to 11.

The analysis included 277,285 confirmed cases in children from March to September, when most schools were either closed or offered only remote learning.

Even as U.S. school districts went virtual — many of them in areas where the virus was under control — schools in Europe reopened.

And things are going well there so well that some analysts are questioning why so many U.S. schools didn’t open their doors.

“The researchers who are tracking internationally are kind of puzzled about why the U.S. isn’t opening more schools,” Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, told me.

“Not every country can point to a school where the coronavirus seems to have spread,” they write. “And even where there are such schools, including in Belgium, Norway and Germany, such outbreaks typically remain countable on a single hand — affecting a fraction of a percentage point of the millions of students and teachers in session across the continent.”

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: The CDC’s credibility has been hurt by internal mistakes and political interference.

The CDC has been preparing for decades for a pandemic on the scale of the coronavirus, but now that it’s here, the agency is struggling with technical blunders, botched messaging, political interference from the Trump administration, and a loss of institutional credibility, Lena H. Sun and Joel Achenbach write.

CDC insiders and former officials told The Post that morale at the agency is low. CDC director Robert Redfield, while an experienced scientist with strong credentials, does not cut a “confidence-inspiring figure” on public television, Lena and Joel write.

“The agency’s most chronic problem has been the inability to speak directly and persuasively to the American public. To a large extent, that’s because it has been muzzled — and sometimes directly criticized — by political operatives in the Trump administration,” they write.

Requests for interviews with the CDC must go through HHS and the White House, which has encouraged Redfield and others to take interviews with regional outlets focused on local issues. This means mistakes or instances of miscommunication can fester before they are corrected.

“Inside the CDC, officials say honest mistakes are now widely perceived as signs of something nefarious. The prime example: the aerosol fiasco,” Sun and Achenbach write.

Earlier this month, the CDC posted new guidance saying the coronavirus can be transmitted via aerosol droplets, but within days the agency removed the language, saying it was a draft posted by mistake. The reversal was widely speculated to be the result of political interference by the Trump administration, but CDC scientists say it was a genuine mistake and not the result of interference.

OOF: The White House and Pelosi have resumed talks over a potential economic relief package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday morning as Democrats offered a new $2.2 trillion relief plan. The two agreed to talk again Tuesday morning, in what appears to be their most extensive engagement in more than a month, The Post’s Erica Werner reports.

“It was not immediately clear whether the talks would bear fruit or whether Democratic leaders would use the bill to provide political cover for moderate House Democrats, who have grown increasingly anxious over Congress’s recent inaction on pandemic relief legislation,” Werner writes.

Congress passed around $3 trillion in relief bills in March and April but talks for a new round of economic stimulus collapsed in August. House Democrats passed the Heroes Act, a $3.4 trillion relief bill in May, but Republicans dismissed it as too expensive. Meanwhile, Democrats rejected a slimmed-down bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this month.

Mnuchin has said that his priorities include aid for small businesses and children, as well as more assistance to the airline industry. The proposal from Democrats aligns with some of these priorities, including payroll support for airlines, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, and money for schools. The bill also includes $436 billion for states, cities, and territorial and tribal governments. This is about half as much as Democrats proposed in the Heroes Act, but it could still represent a sticking point, as the White House has largely opposed more funding for states and cities.

OUCH: Anthony Fauci told CNN the president is getting some misleading info on the virus.

CNN’s Brian Stelter asked Fauci if he is concerned that Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who joined the coronavirus task force in August, is sharing inaccurate information with the president.

“Well yeah, I’m concerned that sometimes things are said that are really taken either out of context or actually incorrect,” Fauci said.

Fauci also told Stelter that most of the coronavirus task force was working together well but that there was an outlier. He appeared to be speaking about Atlas, who has made controversial statements about protecting America through herd immunity and who has questioned the value of mask mandates.

The comments come after NBC News reported that Redfield, the CDC director, was overheard on a phone call on a commercial airline saying that “everything he says is false” in reference to Atlas. Atlas told NBC News that all of his communications have been based on “data and science.”

Troubling stats

The coronavirus has killed at least 1 million people around the globe.

That’s as many as people as live in San Jose, Calif.; Volgograd, Russia; or Qom, Iran, The Post reports.

The United States has recorded more than 204,000 deaths from the virus and at least 7 million cases. 

India is on track, however, to overtake the United States, even as doctors in the country report shortages in supplies of oxygen to treat patients. Europe has also seen a surge in cases over the past month.

The WHO has taken steps to ensure vaccines are distributed equally through an initiative known as Covax, which counts the participation of 150 countries with the notable exceptions of China and the United States. The international health organization hopes to have 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

Homicides are up in American cities during the pandemic.

“The number of homicides in 27 cities across the United States was 53 percent higher this summer than in the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, according to an updated analysis by the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan research group,” the New York Times reports.

The FBI on Monday released statistics showing a 15 percent increase in homicides between 2019 and preliminary data from 2020, constituting “the largest single-year increase on record,” the Times writes. 

Some crime experts point to pandemic-related mental health and economic stressors, as well as the fact the pandemic makes it harder to implement proven community-based strategies for interrupting cycles of violence. 

There’s also been a decline in the relationship between police and the public in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Police have been forced to respond to sometimes violent protests in cities, diverting their resources from crime mitigation.

The homicide rate has dropped significantly in the United States in recent decades. Even if homicides increased by 15 to 20 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, it would still put the rate roughly in line with the homicide rate in the mid-2000s, according to a separate analysis by the Times.

Elsewhere in health care

  • Some estimates suggest around 3 million U.S. workers lost their health insurance as the pandemic sparked furloughs and layoffs. Now experts are saying that number could rise to nearly 10 million as federal aid dries up and struggling small businesses cut health benefits. The biggest losses could come at the end of the year during the insurance renewal period, the New York Times’s Reed Abelson reports.
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation has released an analysis of what the Affordable Care Act marketplace would look like under Joe Biden’s health proposal. His plan, the analysis finds, would lower the cost of marketplace coverage for nearly all potential enrollees, including uninsured people priced out of the marketplace altogether. The Biden campaign has said the proposal would cover the additional costs of expanded subsidies and the public plan an estimated $750 billion over the next decade by raising the capital gains tax and taxes on high-income people.

Biden has been tweeting about the lawsuit against the ACA, a top Democratic message in countering Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett:

  • Universal Health Services, a major hospital chain with more than 400 locations, mostly in the United States, suffered what might be the largest medical cyberattack in U.S. history. Computer systems began to fail over the weekend, and some hospitals had to resort to pen and paper. One person familiar with the company’s response suggested it was likely a ransomware attack in which hackers send a malicious software to encrypt files and then demand payment to decrypt them, NBC News reported.
  • Texas officials issued a do-not-use advisory for water in Brazoria County, Tex., after an amoeba that can cause a deadly brain infection was found in the water. The advisory was lifted on Monday, although officials were still recommending that residents boil their water in the city of Lake Jackson, where a 6-year-old boy died earlier this month after being infected with the amoeba, Paulina Villegas reports.

Sugar rush

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