Republicans, with exception of Trump, now push mask-wearing
8:48 PM CT on 6/30/20
(AP) In Republican circles--with the notable exception of the man who leads the party--the debate about masks is over: It’s time to put one on.
As a surge of infections hammers the South and West, GOP officials are pushing back against the notion that masks are about politics, as President Donald Trump suggests, and telling Americans they can help save lives.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, on Tuesday bluntly called on Trump to start wearing a mask, at least some of the time, to set a good example.
"Unfortunately, this simple, lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do,” Alexander said.
Both Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in recent days have urged Americans to wear one when they are unable to maintain social distance. Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, told reporters it would be “very helpful” for Trump to encourage mask usage.
“Put on a mask--it’s not complicated," McConnell, R-Ky., urged Americans during his weekly news conference Tuesday.
Trump aides have defended the president’s refusal to wear a mask by noting that he is regularly tested for the coronavirus, as are his aides. Those outside the administration -- including White House visitors and members of the media who are in close proximity to him and Pence -- are also tested.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany didn’t directly address Republican calls for Trump to wear a mask in public more often, but noted that the president has said in the past he has no problem wearing one when necessary.
AMA urges Pence to take 'immediate' steps on PPE supply chain
7:15 PM CT on 6/30/20
The American Medical Association wants the Trump administration to take immediate action to ensure that physician practices will have adequate supply of personal protective equipment.
In letter a to Vice President Mike Pence, the AMA said that the administration should use the "Defense Production Act to make sure there is sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for physicians in all settings." The AMA said it continually hears from members that having enough PPE is "the biggest challenge" to resuming non-emergency procedures.
In a separate letter to the Federal Emergency Management Association, the AMA warned that "a significant obstacle to crafting effective solutions has been the lack of data to help us ascertain whether the central problem is in the availability of raw material, production backlogs, gaps in the distribution systems, or some combination of all three."
Senate Republicans introduce bill to codify Trump administration hospital transparency rule
5:36 PM CT on 6/30/20
Several Senate Republicans introduced a bill on Tuesday that would codify the Trump administration’s rule requiring hospitals to reveal the price they negotiate with insurers.
Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was joined by Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Kennedy (R-La.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in introducing the bill, dubbed the PRICE Transparency Act. The purpose of the legislation is to end court battles over the Trump administration’s transparency rules. A federal judge ruled in the administration’s favor and upheld the rule on June 23. AHA said it would appeal the decision.
There's potential for the legislation to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package, which Congress is expected to pass in July.
Michigan Medicine projects $3 million loss but cuts number of layoffs
4:00 PM CT on 6/30/20
(Crain’s Detroit Business) Michigan Medicine announced Monday that it expects to lose $3 million on $4.7 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2020, which ends today, after pre-coronavirus projections of a $175 million operating profit on $5 billion in revenue.
As Southeast Michigan hospitals became overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in April and May, Michigan Medicine accepted more than 800 transfers of all types of patients during the six-week height of the pandemic from such systems with hospitals in Detroit as Beaumont Health, Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System and Ascension Health.
The financial results for Michigan Medicine's clinical operations include performance from the University of Michigan Health System's three hospitals, 125 clinics and the U-M Medical Group, as well as UM Health, which represents Michigan Medicine's affiliation with Metro Health in Grand Rapids.
Because Michigan Medicine had to abruptly cancel surgeries and procedures and devote operations to providing care for a surge of COVID-19 patients, revenues dropped dramatically during March and April.
The losses were offset by $136 million in government assistance along with recent efforts to reschedule and catch up on delayed appointments, surgeries and procedures. Michigan Medicine also received more than $269 million in Medicare loans that at this time must be repaid by the end of the year.
On May 5, Michigan Medicine announced an economic recovery plan that included eliminating 1,400 job positions. Based on expense reduction, employee attrition and furloughs, the academic medicine center was able to limit the job reductions to 738 workers.
Depending on tenure, those impacted will receive pay and benefits for varying periods of time and all will have access to career transition assistance, officials said.
Top leaders at Michigan Medicine also have accepted compensation cuts of 5% to 15%. Marschall Runge, M.D., CEO of Michigan Medicine, dean of the U-M Medical School and executive vice president for Medical Affairs at U-M, agreed to a 20 percent compensation cut.
Other expense savings include suspension of merit increases, employer retirement match, tuition reimbursement, and reductions to supplies, consulting and discretionary expenses.
Research: Global COVID-19 cases, deaths much higher than official tallies
2:34 PM CT on 6/30/20
New research suggests the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths worldwide are much higher than official counts.
By studying 84 countries most affected by the coronavirus, MIT Sloan School of Management researchers estimate there have been 88.5 million cases and 600,000 deaths through June 18. Those estimates are 12 times and 1.5 times higher than official reports.
Researchers predict 249 million cases and 1.75 million deaths by spring 2021 if a vaccine or enhanced treatments haven’t been developed, and if there’s only a mild improvement in policies to control the spread.
FDA head offers guidelines for vaccine to Senate
1:26 PM CT on 6/30/20
(AP) The head of the Food and Drug Administration says vaccine developers will be expected to study COVID-19 shots in racial minorities, the elderly, pregnant women and those with other health conditions.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn outlined the guidelines for potential vaccines at a Senate hearing on reopening schools and workplaces.
Hahn says "while the FDA is committed to help expedite this work, we will not cut corners in our decision-making."
The agency has come under criticism for granting emergency authorization to a malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump as a treatment for coronavirus. The agency revoked that designation earlier this month after studies found the drug was ineffective against the virus.
The U.S. is set to begin a 30,000-person trial of a government-created shot starting next month. Under the Trump administration's program dubbed "Operation Warp Speed," health officials aim to have 300 million doses on hand by January.
About 15 experimental COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of testing worldwide. There is no guarantee that any will prove effective.
Study: Virus can infect heart cells in lab dish
12:06 PM CT on 6/30/20
The virus that causes COVID-19 can infect heart cells in a lab dish, which could mean the virus can affect cells in patients too.
In a study published in Cell Reports Medicine, researchers found heart cells produced using stem cell technology could be infected by the coronavirus. Though some COVID-19 patients have experienced heart problems, it wasn’t clear if this was caused directly by the virus or if there were other factors, like pre-existing conditions or inflammation and oxygen deprivation.
“We not only uncovered that these stem cell-derived heart cells are susceptible to infection by novel coronavirus, but that the virus can also quickly divide within the heart muscle cells,” said Arun Sharma, an author of the study. “Even more significant, the infected heart cells showed changes in their ability to beat after 72 hours of infection.”
The study also found an ACE2 antibody could slow viral replication on the cells, demonstrating the ACE2 receptor could be how the virus enters the heart.
“By blocking the ACE2 protein with an antibody, the virus is not as easily able to bind to the ACE2 protein, and thus cannot easily enter the cell,” said Sharma. “This not only helps us understand the mechanisms of how this virus functions, but also suggests therapeutic approaches that could be used as a potential treatment for SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
How risky is flying during the coronavirus pandemic?
9:36 AM CT on 6/30/20
(AP) Flying can increase your risk of exposure to infection, but airlines are taking some precautions and you can too.
Air travel means spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which puts you into close contact with other people. As travel slowly recovers, planes are becoming more crowded, which means you will likely sit close to other people, often for hours, which raises your risk.
Once on a plane, most viruses and other germs don't spread easily because of the way air circulates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Airlines also say they are focusing on sanitizing the hard surfaces that passengers commonly touch.
Some airlines like Alaska, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest are blocking middle seats or limiting capacity. But even if every middle seat is empty you will likely be closer than the recommended distance of 6 feet to another passenger now that planes are getting fuller.
American, United and Spirit are now booking flights to full capacity when they can. All leading U.S. airlines require passengers to wear masks. Lauren Ancel Meyers, an expert in disease outbreaks at the University of Texas, says that can help limit risk.
For air travel, and all other types of transportation, the CDC recommends washing your hands, maintaining social distancing and wearing face coverings.
Several airlines announced Monday that they will ask passengers about possible COVID-19 symptoms and whether they have been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus in the previous two weeks.
Still, Meyers said you still might consider whether you need to be on that plane. "We should all be in the mindset of 'only if necessary' and always taking the most precautions we can to protect ourselves and others," she said.
20% of US lives in a virus hot spot
8:11 PM CT on 6/29/2020
(AP) It’s been a frequent Trump administration talking point on the recent spike in COVID-19 infections: Don’t worry, only a small sliver of U.S. counties is at greater risk.
In offering this reassurance, Vice President Mike Pence and HHS Secretary Alex Azar have said that only 3% or 4% of counties in the country are seeing a surge in cases. In fact, more than 20% of Americans live in those relatively few counties.
Azar asserted Friday only 3% of counties represent “hot spots” that are “very concerning."
The emphasis on a percentage of counties makes for a misleading portrayal of the virus threat.
The White House provided The Associated Press with the full list of U.S. counties that reported increases in COVID-19 cases as of Friday. It showed 137 of the 3,142 counties in the U.S. that were under a higher alert — indeed, about 4% at the time.
But measured by population, those counties represent a vastly higher share — over 1 in 5 people in the U.S.
Altogether there are 68.3 million people living in those 137 counties, while there is a total U.S. population of 322.9 million. That means 21.1% of U.S. residents actually live in a virus “hot spot.”
The population figures, both county level and national, come from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey five-year estimates for 2018, the latest available.
Arizona shuts bars, theaters, parks amid virus resurgence
7:04 PM CT on 6/29/2020
(AP) Arizona's Republican governor shut down bars, movie theaters, gyms and water parks Monday and leaders in several states ordered residents to wear masks in public in a dramatic course reversal amid an alarming resurgence of coronavirus cases nationwide.
Among those implementing the face-covering orders is the city of Jacksonville, Florida, where the mask-averse President Donald Trump plans to accept the Republican nomination in August. Less than a week after Mayor Lenny Curry said there would be no mask requirement, city officials announced that coverings must be worn in “situations where individuals cannot socially distance.”
Trump has refused to wear a mask during visits to states and businesses that require them.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's order went into effect immediately and for at least 30 days. Ducey also also ordered public schools to delay the start of the classes at least until Aug. 17.
“Our expectation is that our numbers next week will be worse,” he said.
Arizona health officials reported 3,858 more confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, the most reported in a single day in the state so far and the seventh time in the last 10 days that daily cases surpassed the 3,000 mark. Since the pandemic began, 74,500 cases and 1,588 deaths stemming from the virus have been reported in Arizona.
Most Arizona bars and nightclubs opened after Ducey’s stay-at-home and business closure orders were allowed to expire in mid-May.
The state is not alone in its reversal. Places such as Texas, Florida and California are backtracking, closing beaches and bars in some cases amid a resurgence of the virus. Oregon and Kansas, meanwhile, announced Monday that everyone would be required to wear masks in public.
Oregon, Kansas set to require face coverings
5:27 PM CT on 6/29/2020
(AP) Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday that Oregon residents must wear face coverings in indoor public spaces starting Wednesday. The guidance applies to businesses and members of the public visiting indoor public spaces.
Brown said she did not want to close businesses again as has happened in other states that are seeing a spike in cases. She said Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) will take the lead in enforcing face covering requirements for all covered Oregon businesses.
Meanwhile, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly says she will also issue a mandate to use masks in public starting Friday to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“The evidence could not be clearer — wearing a mask is not only safe, but it is necessary to avoid another shutdown,” the Democratic governor told reporters Monday.
Kelly’s executive order would require every Kansan to wear a mask if they are around other people. She said her administration will issue specific guidance later this week and will work with the attorney general’s office to implement the policy.
Kansas health officials reported on Monday at least 14,443 confirmed coronavirus cases, an increase of 905 since Friday. The state also had six more deaths from COVID-19, bring the total number of deaths in the state to 270. Kansas reported that 1,152 people had been hospitalized.
Florida site of GOP convention orders wearing of masks
4:07 PM CT on 6/29/20
(AP) The city of Jacksonville, Florida, where mask-averse President Donald Trump plans to accept the Republican nomination in August, ordered the wearing of face coverings Monday, joining the list of state and local governments reversing course to try to beat back a resurgence of the coronavirus.
Less than a week after Mayor Lenny Curry said there would be no mask requirement, city officials announced that coverings must be worn in "situations where individuals cannot socially distance."
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany responded by saying the president's advice is to "do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you."
Trump has refused to wear a mask during visits to states and businesses that require them.
In recent weeks, the Republicans moved some of the convention pageantry to Jacksonville after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina objected to the holding of a large gathering in Charlotte without social-distancing measures. The convention will be in late August.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has opposed a statewide mask requirement but said in response to Jacksonville's action that he will support local authorities who are doing what they think is appropriate.
The Jacksonville order came on the same day that the head of the World Health Organization warned that the pandemic is "not even close to being over" and is accelerating.
"The worst is yet to come," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu. "With this kind of environment and condition, we fear the worst."
Senate leaders devolve to partisan bickering over drug-pricing reform
2:25 PM CT on 6/29/20
The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee publicly sniped at each other on Monday over the fate of drug-pricing reform in the next COVID-19 package.
Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accusing Democratic leadership of deciding to walk away from the negotiating table on drug pricing. He also insinuated that his successor as chairman of the Finance Committee next Congress may not be willing to work on drug pricing reform.
“I can only assume the Democratic Party would rather use the issue of drug prices as a political hammer in November’s election than work to address it now. Perhaps they hope to pass more left-leaning legislation next year, if they win more power,” Grassley wrote.
But Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) hit back at Grassley’s characterization and blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for failing to take up the bill. Wyden also called for bipartisan, bicameral talks including House Democrats’ drug-pricing proposal that is significantly more aggressive than the Senate Finance proposal.
“Senate Democrats are not interested in aiding Republicans as they play political games and pretend to support lowering prescription drug prices,” Wyden said in a statement.
The two lawmakers negotiated for months last year to craft a bipartisan drug-pricing package with reforms including capping seniors’ out-of-pocket costs in Medicare Part D, limiting Medicare’s liability for drug-price increases, and spreading seniors’ cost-sharing for drugs over the full year. The bill passed out of committee with the support of all Democrats and a few Republicans, and McConnell has since been loath to take up legislation that divides his party. Grassley has since been trying to whip Republican support for the legislation.
Several Medicare and Medicaid program extensions that will need to be renewed expire in November, and that package is seen as a potential vehicle for drug-pricing and surprise billing legislation during the lame-duck session.
Clinical trials test low-dose radiation to treat COVID-19
12:02 PM CT on 6/29/20
Two clinical trials will test whether low-dose radiation can reduce lung inflammation associated with COVID-19.
Previous studies have shown low-dose radiation can help patients with pneumonia with few side effects. One COVID study will be conducted on patients who have difficulty breathing but are not yet on a ventilator, and another will test patients who are critically ill and need mechanical ventilation.
“There is a substantial overlap between proinflammatory cellular reactions that occur in COVID-19 patients and those suppressed by low-dose radiation,” said Dr. Arnab Chakravarti, who will lead both studies. “Hitting that infection with low-dose radiation could be an effective anti-inflammatory therapy to reduce inflammation and improve respiratory challenges associated with COVID-19 pneumonia, providing patients with critical symptom relief and giving them a better opportunity to recover from these sometimes life-threatening infections.”
Study: COVID-19 patients with HIV didn’t have worse outcomes
10:21 AM CT on 6/29/20
Patients with HIV who were hospitalized for COVID-19 did not have worse outcomes than those without HIV, according to a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Researchers compared 88 patients with HIV who had tested positive for COVID-19 with control groups of patients with similar demographic characteristics, like age, sex and race. Patients with HIV didn’t have more severe symptoms or worse outcomes compared to those without HIV.
“Throughout the pandemic, we've suspected that immunocompromised patients, such as those with HIV, could be at a higher risk for infection and suffer more severe outcomes, but without data on how COVID-19 affects patients with HIV specifically, clinical guidance for managing and advising these patients has been lacking,” said Dr. Keith Sigel, a study author. “This study sets the foundation for future studies in larger cohorts so we can appropriately address treating COVID-19 in patients with HIV.”
Texas Medical Center deleted ICU data on coronavirus
7:32 PM CT on 6/28/2020
The Texas Medical Center, a group of hospitals and healthcare research facilities in Houston that make up most of the area's intensive care Sunday removed all previously published admission numbers from its website, according to Newsweek.
The data was collected from at least seven hospitals affiliated with the TMC's medical network.
The TMC also published data that showed ongoing changes to Houston's overall ICU capacity, which reached 100% late last week. On Wednesday, the data found that 900 additional emergency beds could be added to local hospitals.
Confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Texas have continued to surge on Saturday with the state reporting 5,747 new cases. A day earlier, Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars again and scaled back restaurant dining as cases climbed to record levels after the state embarked on one of America’s fastest reopenings. The Texas Department of State Health Services said the new number of cases reported Saturday brought the state’s total to 143,371 confirmed cases. Also Saturday, health officials said 42 more deaths were reported from the virus, bringing the state’s total to 2,366.
Worldwide coronavirus death toll exceeds 500,000
4:55 PM CT on 6/28/2020
(AP) Another tragic milestone was passed Sunday in the coronavirus pandemic: 500,000 deaths worldwide.
The reported tally comes from Johns Hopkins University researchers.
About 1 in 4 of those deaths – more than 125,000 – have been reported in the U.S. The country with the next highest death toll is Brazil, with more than 57,000, or about 1 in 9.
The true death toll from the virus, which first emerged in China late last year, is widely believed to be significantly higher. Experts say that especially early on, many victims died of COVID-19 without being tested for it.
To date, more than 10 million confirmed cases have been reported globally. About a quarter of them have been reported in the U.S.
Experts see no proof of child-abuse surge amid pandemic
4:21PM CT on 6/28/2020
(AP) When the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the U.S. in mid-March, forcing schools to close and many children to be locked down in households buffeted by job losses and other forms of stress, many child-welfare experts warned of a likely surge of child abuse.
Fifteen weeks later, the worries persist. Yet some experts on the front lines, including pediatricians who helped sound the alarm, say they have seen no evidence of a marked increase.
Among them is Dr. Lori Frasier, who heads the child-protection program at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center and is president of a national society of pediatricians specializing in child abuse prevention and treatment.
Frasier said she got input in recent days from 18 of her colleagues across the country and “no one has experienced the surge of abuse they were expecting.”
A similar assessment came from Jerry Milner, who communicates with child-protection agencies nationwide as head of the Children’s Bureau at the federal Department of Health and Human Services. “I’m not aware of any data that would substantiate that children are being abused at a higher rate during the pandemic,” he told The Associated Press.
Still, some experts believe the actual level of abuse during the pandemic is being hidden from view because many children are seeing neither teachers nor doctors, and many child-protection agencies have cut back on home visits by caseworkers.
“There’s no question children are more at risk — and we won’t be able to see those children until school reopens,” said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor who heads CHILD USA, a think tank seeking to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Several states said calls to their child-abuse hotlines dropped by 40% or more, which they attributed to the fact that teachers and school nurses, who are required to report suspected abuse, no longer had direct contact with students.
“While calls have gone down, that doesn’t mean abuse has stopped,” said Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, which reported a 50% drop in hotline calls.
Comprehensive data on abuse during the pandemic won’t be available for many months, according to Milner.
Arizona reports record number of cases
2:32PM CT on 6/28/2020
(AP) Arizona health officials reported 3,858 more confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday, the most reported in a single day in the state so far.
It was also the seventh time in the last 10 days that daily cases surpassed the 3,000 mark.
The Arizona Department of Health Services also reported nine additional deaths. That pushes Arizona’s documented COVID-19 totals to nearly 74,000 cases and 1,588 known deaths.
Some Arizona hospitals have begun activating surge plans to increase their capacity to treat COVID-19 patients as confirmed cases rise and more people seek treatment.
Arizona became a coronavirus hot spot following Gov. Doug Ducey’s lifting of stay-home orders last month.
South Korea still coping with new virus clusters
12:15 PM CT on 6/28/2020
(AP) South Korea has confirmed 62 additional cases of the coronavirus over a 24-hour period as the Asian country continues to face new clusters of infections amid eased social distancing rules.
The additional cases reported Sunday took the country’s total to 12,715, with 282 deaths.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 40 of the newly reported cases were domestically infected, while the other 22 came from overseas. It says 26 of the 40 domestic cases were detected in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.
South Korea has been struggling to suppress a spike in new cases since it eased up on its rigid social distancing rules in early May. Those new cases have been linked to nightclubs, church services, a huge e-commerce warehouse and low-income workers.
Confirmed virus cases hit 10 million as Poland, France vote
10:02 AM CT on 6/28/2020
Worldwide confirmed coronavirus infections hit the 10 million mark Sunday.
New clusters of cases at a Swiss nightclub and in the central English city of Leicester showed that the virus was still circulating widely in Europe, though not with the rapidly growing infection rate seen in parts of the U.S., Latin America and India.
While concern in the U.S. has focused on big states like Texas, Arizona and Florida reporting thousands of new cases a day, rural states are also seeing infection surges, including in Kansas, where livestock outnumber people.
The U.S. handling of the outbreak has drawn concern from abroad. The European Union seems almost certain to bar Americans from traveling to the bloc in the short term as it draws up new travel rules to be announced shortly.
The infection surges prompted Vice President Mike Pence to call off campaign events in Florida and Arizona, although he will still travel to those states and to Texas this week to meet with their Republican governors. Those three governors have come under criticism for aggressively reopening their economies after virus lockdowns despite increasing infections in their states.
After confirmed daily infections in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 40,000 on Friday, Texas and Florida reversed course and closed down bars in their states again. Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey reversed himself and allowed cities and counties to require face masks in public even though he hasn’t been seen wearing one.
“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon,” said Dr. Lisa Goldberg, director of the emergency department of Tucson Medical Center in Arizona. “In fact, it’s an ultra-marathon.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stressed that “the window is closing” for the U.S. to take action to effectively curb the coronavirus.
Azar pointed to a recent spike in infections, particularly in the South. He says people have “to act responsibly” by social distancing and wearing face masks, especially “in these hot zones.”
Speaking on NBC and CNN, Azar argued that the U.S. is in a better position than two months ago in fighting the virus because it is conducting more testing and has therapeutics available to treat COVID-19.
But he acknowledged that hospitalizations and deaths could increase in the next few weeks.
Globally, confirmed COVID-19 cases passed the 10 million mark and confirmed deaths neared half a million, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University, with the U.S., Brazil, Russia and India having the most cases. The U.S. also has the highest virus death toll in the world at over 125,000.
Experts say all those figures significantly undercount the true toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing and missed mild cases. U.S. government experts last week estimated the U.S. alone could have had 20 million cases.
Lower-income California areas more likely to be hit by virus
7:17 PM CT on 6/27/20
(AP) Data show hundreds of new infections in densely populated neighborhoods that are more likely home to low-income residents in one California county.
Orange County health officials say residents living certain parts of Anaheim and Santa Ana are more likely to live in multi-generational or multifamily households and many of them hold jobs in stores and restaurants.
Cases and hospitalizations in the county have grown significantly in the last couple weeks, reflecting a statewide trend that prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom this week to sound renewed alarm bells. He urged Imperial County to reimpose a stay-at-home order to deal with a high rate of positive cases and hospitalizations.
California governor steps up urgency of virus messaging
4:55 PM CT on 6/27/20
(AP) California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his sharpest warning yet on the rising coronavirus threat, announcing for the first time the state wanted a county to shut down again, pleading with residents to wear masks and reminding them that dozens of people are dying each day — 79 more reported Friday.
"Please, even if you don't feel sick, you may be transmitting this disease," he said. "Please, please, practice common sense, common decency. Protect yourself, but also protect others. ... What more evidence do we need?"
His tone marked a shift from his policy-wonk style on display at three press conferences earlier in the week, where he talked about data modeling and delivered a trove of statistics, but offered assurances that the state's hospitals were prepared to deal with patients.
The emotional appeal came as Newsom was pressed repeatedly on whether California's messages about the virus were clear. While California has allowed most counties to open everything from restaurants to gyms, Newsom and other officials have warned about the risks of private gatherings, particularly inside. As caseloads and hospitalizations rise, Newsom has stated that a broad shutdown isn't necessary because of hospital capacity.
As cases surge in US, rural areas seeing increases as well
3:11 PM CT on 6/27/20
For many states and counties in the U.S., the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic in April unfolded on their television screens, not on their doorsteps. But now, some places that appeared to have avoided the worst are seeing surges of infections, as worries shift from major cities to rural areas.
While much of the focus of concerns that the United States is entering a dangerous new phase has been on big Sunbelt states that are reporting thousands of new cases a day — like Texas and Florida — the worrying trend is also happening in places like Kansas, where livestock outnumber people.
In early June, Kansas looked to be bringing its outbreak under control, but its daily reported case numbers have more than doubled in recent weeks. On June 5, the seven-day average for daily new cases hovered at around 96; by Friday, that figure was 211. As cases rise, the U.S. Army commander at Fort Riley in the state's northeast ordered his soldiers to stay out of a popular nearby restaurant and bar district after 10 p.m.
Idaho and Oklahoma have seen similarly large percentage increases over the same three-week period, albeit from low starting points. In Oklahoma, the seven-day average for daily new cases climbed from about 81 to 376; Idaho's jumped from around 40 to 160.
Many rural counties in states including California, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Florida have seen their confirmed cases more than double in a week, from June 19 to Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Lassen County, California, went from just nine cases to 172, and Hot Spring County, Arkansas, went from 46 cases to 415; both spikes were attributed to outbreaks at prisons. Cases in McDonald County, Missouri, more than tripled after Tyson Foods conducted facility-wide testing at a chicken plant there.
Coronavirus task force briefs — but not at White House
1:01 PM CT on 6/27/20
(AP) There was no presidential appearance and no White House backdrop when the government's coronavirus task force briefed the public for the first time since April — in keeping with an administration effort to show it is paying attention to the latest spike in cases but is not on a wartime footing that should keep the country from reopening the economy.
The Friday briefing at HHS was held as the number of confirmed new coronavirus infections per day in the U.S. soared to an all-time high of 40,000 — higher even than during the deadliest stretch in April and May. In light of the new surge, task force briefers chose their words carefully to update the public about COVID-19, which has become both a public health and political issue.
Vice President Mike Pence had the most delicate line to walk. He acknowledged a surge in new cases across the South and West, while backing the president's desire to get the economy up and running without mentioning that it will also help the prospects for reelection.
"As we see new cases rising, and we're tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to the place that we were two months ago — in a time of great losses and a great hardship on the American people," Pence said.
But the vice president also took note of positive job numbers and added: "The reality is we're in a much better place."
What to wear: Feds' mixed messages on masks sow confusion
11:18 AM CT on 6/27/20
Forgive the American people if they're in a fog about face masks. President Donald Trump and the federal government have done a number on them.
First there was the don't-do-it phase. Then the nice-but-not-for-me dissonance. Followed by the local-rules-don't-apply exceptions. Topped off by Trump's stated suspicion that some people wear masks just to troll him.
It has all added up to a murky message about one of the critical tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
To be clear: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Some states and local communities require them.
But the messaging disconnect from Washington was evident as recently as Friday, when Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump's decision to stage two big mask-scarce gatherings in the past week in states with big surges in infections and, in one case, local rules requiring masks.
Virus visitor bans renew interest in nursing home cameras
9:12 AM CT on 6/27/20
(AP) Visitation bans at nursing homes have renewed interest in legislation that would allow families to put remote cameras inside the facilities to help see how loved ones are doing.
Before the pandemic, cameras were seen as a way to identify elder abuse and neglect. But now, many hope they could bring comfort after visitation bans imposed to stem the devastating tide of COVID-19 inside nursing homes left many families struggling to get information.
"That visitation ban, it was really, really upsetting to people. And I think understandably, Some facilities aren't great about sharing information about what's going on," said Anna Doroghazi, the associate state director for AARP in Connecticut.
About a dozen states already have laws or regulations in place allowing residents and their families to install video cameras, subject to certain rules.
Last month, Missouri lawmakers passed legislation allowing families to request cameras to connect with loved ones in a nursing home. The state's governor is reviewing the legislation. Camera bills have also gained new life in other states, including Ohio and Connecticut.
Trump administration to give Congress full virus loan data
8:20 PM CT on 6/26/20
(AP) After prodding from Democratic lawmakers, the Trump administration has agreed to give Congress — but not the public — complete data on the millions of small businesses that received loans from a $600 billion-plus coronavirus aid program.
Senior administration officials told lawmakers they will provide full details on the roughly 4.7 million taxpayer-funded loans worth $515 billion awarded under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Their concession came with a warning to lawmakers not to divulge “confidential” loan information to the wider public.
The administration’s move is “a step in the right direction,” said Erin Hatch, spokesperson for Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, though Neal believes the names of all recipients should be made public.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., told The Associated Press in an email that while it’s unfortunate it took so much pressure from Congress, “this is a valuable step, and we will be carefully reviewing the data to ensure that taxpayers and small businesses are being properly served by the program.” Velazquez heads the House Small Business Committee.
Last week, the Treasury Department and SBA relented to pressure from lawmakers and watchdogs and agreed to publicly disclose details on which businesses received loans under the program. Up to now, SBA has only provided summary information about the beneficiaries of its loans, such as the industry the businesses are in and the state in which they are located.
But it will be only a partial disclosure: For loans of less than $150,000, the agencies will not publicly name the recipients, revealing only loan amounts and summary information broken down by ZIP code, industry and demographics, and the number of jobs they helped protect.
The SBA has processed 4.7 million loans worth about $515 billion. Nearly 75% of the total money approved so far has gone to businesses borrowing more than $150,000. But 86% of the loans have gone to businesses borrowing less than $150,000.
Under the new agreement, the agencies will provide the complete data on loans of all sizes to the congressional oversight panels. Data on loans under $150,000 will only be provided to Congress, not the public. And Mnuchin and Carranza told Neal, Velazquez and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., head of the House Financial Services Committee, in a letter that it will be given “with the understanding that nonpublic, personally identifiable and commercially sensitive business information will be treated as confidential.”
Georgia lawmakers: Block COVID-19 lawsuits against business
7:15 PM CT on 6/26/20
(AP) Georgia lawmakers want to protect businesses and other from being sued if someone blames them for contracting COVID-19, but House members voted Friday for less-extensive protections than the business community sought.
House members voted 104-56 to approve Senate Bill 359, sending it back to the Senate for more debate in the closing hours of the 2020 legislative session.
“People need to be able to get back to work, and the way people get back to work is businesses feeling comfortable opening themselves up,” said House Majority Whip Trey Kelley, a Cedartown Republican.
The bill is the result of weeks of haggling among lawmakers, business groups and plaintiff's lawyers. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would have made it even harder to sue, adopting the business community's preferred language.
Democrats argued that the bill is overly broad and should, at most, protect health care institutions. House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat, said the bill risked letting businesses off the hook for safety.
“Let me tell you something: businesses don’t get COVID, people get COVID," Trammell said. "This bill doesn’t seek to protect people against COVID, it seeks to protect businesses against people.”
Trammell argued lawmakers should instead be seeking to provide better protections for frontline workers.
“We need to be legislating about public health measures that will keep people safe,” Trammell said.
Under the language approved Friday, a business, health care provider or protected entity would have to display gross negligence, “willful and wanton misconduct” or reckless or intentional infliction of harm to lose a lawsuit.
That’s higher than the regular standard of negligence, but the Senate had removed even gross negligence, leading opponents to argue that it would be almost impossible to win a lawsuit.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and others have called for a lawsuit shield.
“These are things we have to do to get our lives moving again,” Kelley said.
Gov. Brian Kemp already exempted hospitals and medical professionals from liability by executive order, but protections run out when Kemp’s emergency powers expire.
But some Democratic critics said even health care institutions shouldn't be protected.
Rep. Al Williams, a Midway Democrat, noted that nursing home residents have disproportionately died, and said lawmakers shouldn’t cut off lawsuits against nursing homes that may have poor records of caring for residents.
“The legislation protects those who don't deserve protection because they were lousy at business before the pandemic and they will be lousy at business after the pandemic,” Williams said.
Stocks sink as virus cases jump, forcing states to backtrack
5:19 PM CT on 6/26/20
(AP) Stocks on Wall Street fell sharply Friday as confirmed new coronavirus infections in the U.S. hit an all-time high, prompting Texas and Florida to reverse course on the reopening of businesses.
The combination injected new jitters into a market that's been mostly riding high since April on hopes that the economy will recover from a deep recession as businesses open doors and Americans begin to feel more confident that they can leave their homes again.
The S&P 500 dropped 2.4%, giving up all of its gains after a rally the day before. The sell-off capped a choppy week of trading that erased the benchmark index's gains for the month. Even so, the S&P 500 is still on pace for its best quarter since 1998.
The surge in the number of confirmed new coronavirus cases prompted Texas and Florida to reverse course and clamp down on bars again. The two states join a small but growing list of those that are either backtracking or putting any further reopenings of their economies on hold because of a resurgence of the virus.
“That certainly calls into question how vigorous this recovery will be,” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “We have to acknowledge there’s a high degree of uncertainty about how this is going to progress for the balance of the year.”
The S&P 500 fell 74.71 points to 3,009.05. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had its worst day in two weeks, losing 730.05 points, or 2.8%, to 25,015.55. The Nasdaq, which hit an all-time high earlier this week, dropped 259.78 points, or 2.6%, to 9,757.22.
Markets have been mostly rallying since April on hopes that U.S. states and regions around the world could continue to lift the spring lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The increase in cases casts doubt on expectations that the economy will continue to reopen and things can get back to normal sooner, rather than later.
The stock market is likely to remain volatile as traders weigh the ups and downs in the trajectory of the pandemic.
“In large part, we’re going to see some of these fits and starts,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management. “It’s going to weigh on sentiment to some extent, but overall we think the economy is on the mend and the recovery is on its the way."
Major indexes in Europe closed mostly lower, and Asian markets finished mostly higher.
Trump administration extending support for Texas COVID-19 test sites
4:34 PM CT on 6/26/20
The Trump administration is extending by 14 days the cutoff date of federal support for five COVID-19 test sites in Texas.
In its announcement Friday, HHS said it was making the extension in respond to a request from the state of Texas, which has seven Community-Based Testing Sites in total. The federal government had previously planned to end funding for 13 such sites in five states on June 30, in accordance with an agreement from May.
Dr. Brett Giroir, HHS' assistant secretary for health, said in a statement his office received an extension request from Texas’ health department on Thursday.
That wasn’t the first extension request the agency received. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), whose district covers the eastern portion the Houston metro area, sent the head of HHS a letter on Tuesday asking for funding to continue through August 30.
Officials in Illinois told Modern Healthcare on Thursday they had also submitted an extension request, but it had been denied.
“We will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 diagnoses and assess the need for further federal support of these sites as we approach the extension date,” Giroir said.
As part of the extension, HHS said it will provide additional resources to help Texas to prepare for the sites to become state run.
U.S. officials change virus risk groups, add pregnant women
2:55 PM CT on 6/26/20
(AP) The nation's top public health agency on Thursday revamped its list of which Americans are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness, adding pregnant women and removing age alone as a factor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also changed the list of underlying conditions that make someone more susceptible to suffering and death. Sickle cell disease joined the list, for example. And the threshold for risky levels of obesity was lowered.
The changes didn't include adding race as a risk factor for serious illness, despite accumulating evidence that Black people, Hispanics and Native Americans have higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death.
Agency officials said the update was prompted by medical studies published since CDC first started listing high-risk groups. They sought to publicize the information before Independence Day weekend, when many people may be tempted to go out and socialize.
"For those at higher risk, we recommend limiting contact with others as much as possible, or restricting contacts to a small number of people who are willing to take measures to reduce the risk of (you) becoming infected," said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.
The same advice holds for people who live with or care for people at higher risk, Redfield added.
Previously, the CDC said those at high risk of serious illness included people aged 65 years and older; those who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility; and people with serious heart conditions, obesity, diabetes, liver disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, and conditions that leave them with weakened immune systems.
In the changes, CDC created categories of people who are at high risk and people who might be at high risk.
Those who are at high risk include people with chronic kidney disease, chronic inflammatory lung disease, obesity, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes, and weakened immune systems because of organ transplants. The threshold for obesity concern was lowered from a body mass index of 40 down to 30.
The CDC said people are at increasing risk as they get older, but it removed people 65 and older as a high risk group.
The list of people who might be at high risk includes pregnant women, smokers and those with asthma, diseases that affect blood flow to the brain, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure, dementia, liver disease, scarred or damaged lungs, Type 1 diabetes, a rare blood disorder called thalassemia, and people who have weakened immune systems due to HIV or other reasons.
COVID-19 positivity rates vary by senior living facility
1:29 PM CT on 6/26/20
Nursing home residents are most susceptible to COVID-19 compared to their peers in other types of senior living facilities, a new report shows.
More than 4% of nursing home residents tested positive for COVID-19, according to a National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care analysis of May 31 data from 105 senior home operators. Memory care facilities had the next highest positivity rates at 3.7%, followed by assisted living at 1.2% and independent living at 0.2%. Nursing home operators also had the most tests.
Each type of facility offers different levels of care and serves different populations, requiring a tailored approach to mitigation efforts, said Brian Jurutka, NIC president and CEO.
“These facilities changed procedures dramatically since the pandemic began, as testing and treatment guidelines became available,” he said in prepared remarks. “The more that is known about COVID-19 in senior care facilities over time, the more informed decisions can be about how to keep residents healthy and safe.”
Vizient: Demand for dexamethasone increases 610%
11:31 AM CT on 6/26/20
Demand for dexamethasone has increased 610% after a study found the drug may reduce mortality for patients who are severely ill with COVID-19.
The U.K. study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found the drug reduced mortality by one-third for patients on ventilators. Dexamethasone has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation caused by a variety of conditions.
Vizient found the fill rate for the drug has dropped to 54% at member hospitals. But Dan Kistner, group senior vice president of pharmacy solutions for Vizient, said the supply chain could adapt to the increase in demand.
“Dexamethasone is a workhorse drug for hospitals and it is good that there are several manufacturers in the supply chain,” Kistner said. “Vizient is in communications with both manufacturers and distributors about the increase in demand and will be monitoring availability and supply of various presentations of dexamethasone as we continue to see the increase in demand.”
Confirmed new virus cases hit a new high in the U.S.
9:38 AM CT on 6/26/20
(AP) The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases per day in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 40,000 Friday — eclipsing the mark set during one of the deadliest stretches in late April — in a resurgence that has led some governors to backtrack or at least pause the reopening of their states.
While the increase is believed to reflect, in part, greatly expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the virus is making a comeback, including rising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country, especially in the South and West. Arizona, Texas, Florida and Arkansas are among the states that have been hit hard.
The number of confirmed new infections soared past the previous high set on April 24 of 36,400, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. are down to around 600 per day, compared with about 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts have expressed doubt that deaths will return to that level, in part because of advances in treatment and prevention but also because a large share of the new infections are in younger adults, who are more likely than older ones to survive.
The virus is blamed for 124,000 deaths in the U.S. and 2.4 million confirmed infections nationwide, by Johns Hopkins' count. But U.S. health officials said the true number of Americans infected is about 20 million, or almost 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed close to a half-million lives, according to Johns Hopkins.
AMA updates CPT codes for COVID-19 antigen tests
7:55 PM CT on 6/25/20
The American Medical Association added a new code to report COVID-19 antigen testing. These tests can be done at point of care and the association believes they could help with testing shortages across the country.
The new code was approved Wednesday by the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Editorial Panel. The tests use immunofluorescent or immunochromatographic techniques to detect the virus.
“The new CPT code for antigen testing to detect the coronavirus is the latest in a series of CPT codes developed in rapid response to the pandemic,” AMA President Dr. Susan R. Bailey said in a statement. “Moving quickly during this crisis to meet the medical coding needs of the health care industry has enhanced the reporting of innovative tools now available to advance medicine's overarching goals of reducing the COVID-19 disease burden, improving health outcomes and reducing long-term care costs.”
Some states pause reopening as virus cases near record high
7:02 PM CT on 6/25/20
(AP) The coronavirus crisis deepened in Arizona on Thursday, and the governor of Texas began to backtrack after making one of the most aggressive pushes in the nation to reopen, as the daily number of confirmed cases across the U.S. closed in on the peak reached during the dark days of late April.
While greatly expanded testing probably accounts for some of the increase, experts say other measures indicate the virus is making a comeback. Daily deaths, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are coming back positive also have been rising over the past few weeks in parts of the country, mostly in the South and West.
In Arizona, 23% of tests conducted over the past seven days have been positive, nearly triple the national average, and a record 415 patients were on ventilators. Mississippi saw its daily count of confirmed cases reach record highs twice this week.
“It's not a joke. Really bad things are going to happen,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi's health officer.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, whose state was among the first to reopen, put off lifting any more restrictions and reimposed a ban on elective surgeries in some places to preserve hospital space after the number of patients statewide more than doubled in two weeks. Some Arizona hospitals also halted elective surgeries. Nevada’s governor ordered face masks be worn in public, Las Vegas casinos included.
“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Abbott said.
FCC closes applications for COVID-19 Telehealth Program
5:36 PM CT on 6/25/20
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau is no longer accepting applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, the agency said Thursday.
The FCC as of June 24 has approved a collective $157.64 million in funding for 444 healthcare organizations as part of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. That's more than 75% of the $200 million that Congress allocated for the program as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Congress under the CARES Act authorized $200 million for the FCC to set up a program to provide healthcare organizations with funds to purchase telecommunications equipment, broadband connectivity and devices needed to offer telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The FCC opened the program in April.
FCC officials expect to exhaust the remaining COVID-19 Telehealth Program funds as they continue to evaluate applications already submitted to the agency.
"Based on the applications received to date, demand for funding exceeds available program funds," reads a public notice posted by the FCC. "As a result, the public interest is not served by imposing burdens on healthcare providers who may prepare new applications that cannot be funded under the current appropriation."
Healthcare organizations receive funding after submitting an invoice and supporting documentation for eligible services, as a form of reimbursement. That means the $157.64 million in funding the agency has announced to date, while approved, has not necessarily been distributed to designated healthcare organizations yet.
California uses funding as threat over virus measures
4:49 PM CT on 6/25/20
(AP) As California sees a worrisome rise in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Newsom threatened Wednesday to withhold up to $2.5 billion in the upcoming state budget from local governments that fail to comply with state mandates on wearing masks, testing and other measures meant to slow the spread of the virus.
"There are some that have made rhetorical comments about not giving a damn," Newsom said in some of his most strident comments to date. "That's exactly why I look forward to signing this budget that will afford me a little bit of leverage in that conversation."
The money is intended to help local governments pay for services needed because of the pandemic. But it is contingent upon counties following emergency orders to enforce the safety measures as they gradually reopen the economy.
Newsom's warning came as the state recorded a 69% increase in new cases this week, and set several daily records for new cases. Officials reported corresponding increases in the rate of people testing positive and hospitalizations. Still, Newsom said the state is prepared to handle the trends.
The governor said he views the $2.5 billion in the budget lawmakers are expected to approve this week as a reward, not a punishment for local government.
"When people simply thumb their nose and do not come with a collaborative spirit ... then by all means the state of California has a responsibility, an obligation — legally and otherwise — to enforce those laws and to utilize the tools that are afforded us," he said.
Newsom said he plans to hand out the money monthly, based on counties' compliance. However, the budget bill before lawmakers leaves it up to local governments to certify to the state that they are complying.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel called the budget measure "an act of extortion, and an arbitrary exercise of power."
Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican who is fighting the Democratic governor in court over his orders, said Newsom "is instituting a one-size-fits-all mandate, this time with major financial consequences if, in his sole discretion, we haven't complied."
"And now in our time of greatest need, our federal funds are being held hostage," he added.
Report: 'Baffling' errors at vets home amid deadly outbreak
2:35 PM CT on 6/25/20
(AP) The leadership of a home for aging veterans in Massachusetts where nearly 80 residents sickened with the coronavirus have died packed dementia patients into a crowded unit as the virus spread, one of several "utterly baffling" decisions that helped the disease run rampant, investigators said in a report released Wednesday.
The superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home was not qualified to run a long-term care facility and "substantial errors and failures" he and his team made likely contributed to the high death toll there, investigators found. Among them was a decision prompted by staffing shortages to combine two locked dementia units, both of which already housed some residents with the virus.
"Rather than isolating those with the disease from those who were asymptomatic — a basic tenet of infection control — the consolidation of these two units resulted in more than 40 veterans crowded into a space designed to hold 25. This overcrowding was the opposite of infection control; instead, it put those who were asymptomatic at even greater risk of contracting COVID-19," the report said.
When a social worker raised concerns about the move, the chief nursing officer said "it didn't matter because (the veterans) were all exposed anyway and there was not enough staff to cover both units," the report said. One staffer who helped move the dementia patients told investigators she felt like she was "walking (the veterans) to their death." A nurse said the packed dementia unit looked "like a battlefield tent where the cots are all next to each other."
As the virus took hold, leadership shifted from trying to prevent its spread, "to preparing for the deaths of scores of residents," the report said. On the day the veterans were moved, more than a dozen additional body bags were sent to the combined dementia unit, investigators said. The next day, a refrigerated truck to hold bodies that wouldn't fit in the home's morgue arrived, the report said.
Since March 1, 76 veterans who contracted COVID-19 at the home have died, officials said. Another 84 veterans and more than 80 staff have also tested positive.
The first veteran tested positive March 17. Even though he had been showing symptoms for weeks, staff "did nothing to isolate" him until his test came back positive, allowing him to remain with three roommates, wander the unit and spend time in a common room, investigators said.
An attorney for the superintendent, Bennett Walsh, said they dispute many of the investigation's findings and are "disappointed that the report contains many baseless accusations that are immaterial to the issues under consideration." The lawyer said in an emailed statement that "Walsh reached out for help when the crisis erupted" and sought National Guard assistance.
"The failure of the Commonwealth to affirmatively respond to that request contributed to many of the problems outlined in the report," the attorney, William Bennett, said.
Mich. Senate: Send patients to new facilities—not nursing homes
1:40 PM CT on 6/25/20
(AP) Michigan would have to create dedicated facilities for coronavirus-infected patients who are not sick enough to be hospitalized or placed in nursing homes under Senate-passed legislation billed as an alternative to a state policy that has come under criticism from lawmakers.
The Republican-sponsored measure, approved 24-13 Wednesday and sent to the GOP-led House, is a response to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order that lets people with the COVID-19 virus be transferred and isolated in nursing homes that also have non-infected residents. Critics worry the practice has led to infections among vulnerable, elderly residents — though there is no direct evidence.
Senators said they want to ensure that non-residents of nursing homes who test positive but are medically stable are treated in facilities designated solely for coronavirus patients — not nursing homes — starting Sept. 15. The bill would still let nursing homes admit or retain infected residents if they provide state-approved designated areas with adequate staffing and personal protective equipment.
"We want to save lives," said the sponsor, Republican Sen. Peter Lucido of Macomb County's Shelby Township. He said the current policy "has failed" and criticized the administration for rejecting the nursing home industry's early suggestion, in March, to use empty facilities as quarantine centers.
Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services has defended its decision to turn 21 nursing homes into regional "hubs" to care for coronavirus patients in isolated wings at a time some hospitals were at capacity. It has cited limitations with federal field hospitals in the Detroit area and the timely process of creating new facilities.
The hub homes were given $5,000 per virus patient to help with costs. "They sweetened the deal," Lucido said.
Many Democrats voted against the legislation. Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing said it's important to review the policy to make sure "outside people aren't being moved into nursing homes," but "I cannot vote for a bill that violates an individual's basic civil rights." Democrats unsuccessfully tried amending the bill to require a doctor's written permission to transfer someone to one of the dedicated facilities, to ensure notice is given to the individual and his or her family and to establish an appeals process.
A Whitmer spokeswoman said the office was reviewing the legislation.
More than 2,000, or about 35%, of Michigan's coronavirus-related deaths are linked to nursing homes.
Meanwhile, the state health department reported 323 new cases statewide Wednesday, the highest daily figure in June, and four deaths.
Manufacturers group unveils COVID-19 Product Exchange site
11:40 AM CT on 6/25/20
The Healthcare Manufacturers Management Council announced the launch of a website in which potential sellers and buyers of COVID-19 related products can connect, according to a news release.
Buyers and sellers can list their needs or wares, respectively, said the trade association for U.S. manufacturers of healthcare products.
“Healthcare providers, government agencies and medical supply chain participants across the nation are now searching for supply sources outside of their normal supply chain and partner relationships, and in many cases don’t know where to turn,” said Janis Dezso, president of the council, in the release.
Nevada to require masks after rise in new virus cases
9:43 AM CT on 6/25/20
(AP) Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Wednesday that Nevada will mandate the use of face coverings in public places in an effort to stem an increase of coronavirus cases that has hit the state as casinos, restaurants and other businesses began reopening.
"No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service," Sisolak said, distilling the policy down to a tagline.
Nevada has reported more than 14,300 virus cases and 494 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. A downward trend in cases previously led Sisolak and health officials to move the state to a second phase of reopening before new cases began to rise.
"For Nevada to stay safe and stay open, we must make face coverings a routine part of our daily life," the first-term Democratic governor said at a news conference.
When the mandate takes effect Thursday at midnight, Nevada will join California, North Carolina and Washington in requiring face-coverings, after those states' Democratic governors implemented similar mandates.
Sisolak emphasized his intentions with the new rule weren't partisan and only intended to contain the spread of the virus to protect residents and allow Nevada to reopen as quickly as possible.
"If back in March, before we shut down our economy, I said to you: we can keep our economy open if everyone agrees to wear masks and maintain 6 feet in person-to-person distance, who would have not accepted that offer?" Sisolak said.
The face-covering mandate will apply to all indoor and outdoor spaces where people convene. Individuals with medical conditions and disabilities, and children 2 to 9 will be exempt from the mandate, Sisolak said.
Businesses not following the mandate will be cited by licensing and regulatory authorities as well as Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Sisolak said he hoped individuals would abide by the mandate so penalties for not doing so wouldn't be necessary.
"This is a mandate so enforcement language is necessary. However, ideally there won't be any criminal or civil sanctions against individuals," he said.
'Coming back and biting us': US sees virus resurgence
8:47 PM CT on 6/24/20
(AP) A coronavirus resurgence is wiping out two months of progress in the U.S. and sending infections to dire new levels across the South and West, with hospital administrators and health experts warning Wednesday that politicians and a tired-of-being-cooped-up public are letting a disaster unfold.
The U.S. recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, the highest level since late April, when the number peaked at 36,400, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
While newly confirmed infections have been declining steadily in early hot spots such as New York and New Jersey, several other states set single-day records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma. Some of them also broke hospitalization records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina.
"People got complacent," said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of the Houston Methodist hospital system. "And it's coming back and biting us, quite frankly."
Miami creates COVID-19 surge teams
5:57 PM CT on 6/24/20
(AP) Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Wednesday at a virtual press conference that “surge teams” will be sent this weekend to areas where doctors are noticing an increase in new COVID-19 infections.
About 100 people will go into such hot spots as Little Havana and Homestead, an agricultural area with vegetable farms and nurseries. The teams will be knocking on doors and handing out kits with masks and hand sanitizers.
Gimenez says officials are noticing an increase of cases among farm workers and will be offering hotel rooms to those who are ill and live in small homes with several people so they don’t infect others.
Gimenez says the county still has an availability of beds, but certain hospitals are out of ICU beds and have had to transfer patients to other centers.
COVID-19 cases climbing in Ohio after reopening
4:39 PM CT on 6/24/20
(Crain’s Cleveland Business) Cases of COVID-19 in Ohio increased by 590 in the last 24 hours and 729 in the 24 hours before that, continuing an upward trend in the state since most of the economy began reopening in May.
"The numbers are going up," Gov. Mike DeWine admitted during his Tuesday, June 23, coronavirus update, adding that it was expected after the state lifted many restrictions.
DeWine also acknowledged that the median age of COVID-19 cases is trending downward, now standing at 47 for all cases. He posited that might reflect more young adults being tested or more younger people becoming infected due to "moving around more."
The state is set to release a series of three public service announcements for broadcast and social media platforms stressing the need to wear masks, socially distance and get tested. The PSAs were paid for by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
In an attempt to encourage more testing as capacity has been expanded, DeWine, Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted all took a coronavirus test live during the press conference.
According to the latest report from the Ohio Department of Health, the state has 42,767 confirmed and 3,360 probable cases of COVID 19, for a total of 46,127. Of those, 7,379 people have been hospitalized, 1,876 of them in intensive care. To date, there have been 2,497 confirmed deaths and 238 probable related deaths, for a total of 2,735 fatalities statewide. A total of 667,077 people have been tested in the state.
Utah governor: No shutdown plan despite spread of virus
2:31 PM CT on 6/24/20
(AP) Gov. Gary Herbert says he has no plans to shutdown the economy and appears unwilling to bow to mounting pressure to make face masks mandatory despite a warning from the state's epidemiologist that a complete shutdown might be imminent if Utah can't stop a prolonged spike of coronavirus cases.
Herbert tweeted Monday night that he appreciated the analysis by epidemiologist Angela Dunn that outlined the severity of the surge in COVID-19, but made clear he's not considering going backwards from a plan he rolled out in early May that gradually allowed businesses, gyms, salons and pools to reopen.
"We will work to stem this tide, but I have no plans to shut down Utah's economy," tweeted the Republican governor, who isn't seeking reelection after holding the post since 2009.
Utah is one of nearly two dozen states dealing with rising case rates following reopenings. The infection rate and daily case count has doubled in the last month, state figures show.
Dunn recommended that the state reimpose some restrictions on businesses and group gatherings unless it lowers it's weekly average to 200 cases per day by July 1. The state has averaged 478 cases per day over the last week following a steady increase in positive rates over the last month, state figures show.
Dunn also recommended mandating face coverings in her memo, which was made public Monday.
On Tuesday, the Democratic mayors of Utah's largest city and county urged Herbert to implement a statewide requirement while a coalition of the state's largest health care providers launched a new campaign touting the necessity to use face masks to slow the spread of the virus.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson formally asked Herbert to grant her authority to make face coverings mandatory in the county at retail and commercial establishments, restaurants while waiting to be seated and served and at community gatherings.
In response, the governor's office said in a statement sent by spokeswoman Brooke Scheffler that Herbert thinks a mask requirement could create "divisive enforcement issues," but said county health departments can send data and analysis to the state health department to make their case.
"Gov. Herbert strongly supports mask wearing in public when social distancing is not possible because it is a sign of respect for the health and well being of others," the statement said.