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Coronavirus spikes in many states but White House stays quiet

With Tucker Doherty

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Coronavirus cases are spiking in many states but the White House has largely remained silent, having discontinued daily Covid-19 briefings and with some officials arguing that the worst is behind us.

The WHO again had to clarify its stance on Covid-19 transmission, the latest embarrassing episode for the global health body.

The Trump administration released guidance for providers seeking to resume in-person care, as patients begin to undergo long-delayed procedures.

WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY PULSE — Where we want to know: are you a member of the “cult of masks”? (That’s Rep. Andy Harris’ term for the contingent of Americans who he seemed to mock for wearing face-coverings during a pandemic — a notable zinger for someone once rumored as a potential NIH director.)

Keep the faith with PULSE: send tips to [email protected] and [email protected].

WHITE HOUSE GOES QUIET ON COVID EVEN AS IT SPIKES AGAIN — More than a dozen states are reporting new highs in confirmed cases, but the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force has been increasingly wound down and President Donald Trump has publicly signaled that he’s ready to put the fight behind him, POLITICO’s Dan Diamond reports.

— States like Arkansas and Arizona are reporting dramatic spikes in daily cases, and there’s growing evidence that states that moved to quickly re-open their economies are seeing new community spread. Texas, for instance, has reported two straight days of record-breaking Covid-19 hospitalizations.

Meanwhile, administration officials like infectious disease expert Tony Fauci are worried that recent mass protests over police brutality will jump-start outbreaks too.

But the daily coronavirus press briefings were discontinued five weeks ago, and top administration health experts like Fauci have largely disappeared from the national TV airwaves. Senior officials like Jared Kushner privately signaled their optimism last month that the virus was under control and that a “second wave” of cases might not be inevitable, while Trump has effectively declared victory over Covid-19 when he’s discussed it in public.

“We may have some embers or some ashes or we may have some flames coming, but we’ll put them out,” the president said in Rose Garden remarks on Friday. “We’ll stomp them out.”

Behind the scenes, the once-daily coronavirus task force is now meeting twice per week, as leadership of the day-to-day response is set to shift back from FEMA to HHS, amid growing focus on therapeutics and vaccine development. And as part of the shifting responsibilities…

Coast Guard Vice-Admiral DAN ABEL has been installed at HHS to help manage the response, POLITICO scooped.

Abel’s currently leading daily calls with HHS Secretary Alex Azar and top department officials, the latest military official brought in to help support the Covid-19 fight. But it’s an arrangement that’s raised some internal HHS questions about why a Coast Guard official is needed to run the secretary’s briefings.

Trump officials disputed questions about the phase-down of public briefings on coronavirus.“You can’t win,” said a senior administration official. “Some people complained for weeks that ‘we don’t want so much White House involvement,’ and that ‘the President should stop doing daily briefings.’”

“HHS works every day of the year to keep the American people safe and healthy,” said spokesperson Michael Caputo. “During COVID, we’ve increased efforts exponentially and unfortunately, we’ve gotten used to the media not giving President Trump’s historic response the coverage it deserves.”

WALK-BACK AT THE WHO OVER CONFUSING COVID CLAIM — A top World Health Organization official sought to clarify her earlier suggestion that asymptomatic spread of coronavirus is rare, saying Tuesday she was misunderstood and had based the opinion only on a couple preliminary studies.

Epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove now maintains that the extent to which asymptomatic people spread the virus a “big open question” – a reversal that came only a day after she sparked confusion by claiming it’s “very rare” for people without symptoms to transmit the virus.

—It’s the latest embarrassing episode for the WHO, which has faced criticism over its early handling of the outbreak and become a punching bag for the Trump administration and conservatives, POLITICO’s Brianna Ehley reports.

Van Kerkhove’s initial claims were used by several Republicans as evidence the U.S. could reopen completely – and simultaneously panned by public health advocates across the country.

“There’s so much attention to everything that’s being said by every public health agency that it’s important to be extremely careful and science-based in what you say,” former CDC Director Tom Frieden said.

FAUCI WEIGHS IN: COVID ‘NOT OVER YET’ — The nation’s top infectious disease expert stressed that the global fight against Covid-19 is far from over, even as round-the-clock coverage has subsided and his own administration has sought to change the subject.

“In a period of four months, it has devastated the world,” Anthony Fauci said during a Biotechnology Innovation Organization event, calling the coronavirus his “nightmare” outbreak scenario.

Case and death counts are still rising in the U.S. and other countries around the world — and after months of studying the disease, scientists are still in the dark on a lot of its behavioral characteristics. When it comes to gauging the long-term impact of the disease, Fauci said, “we’re at almost the beginning of understanding.”

CMS SAYS IN-PERSON CARE SHOULD RESUME — The Trump administration released guides for patients and facilities on Tuesday, encouraging providers to resume deferred and non-emergent care in areas with declining COVID-19 cases.

The recommendations say facilities should only resume in-person services when they have adequate staff, testing, protective equipment and the ability to respond rapidly to new outbreaks. If possible, separate buildings or floors should be used for COVID and non-COVID patients, and facilities should avoid rotating staff between the two areas unless absolutely necessary.

The guidelines continue to recommend telehealth or virtual visits as an option, but stressed that patients should not delay care following signs of serious health conditions like chest pains or stroke symptoms. Patients should also continue receiving necessary preventive care such as immunizations and cancer screenings, according to the document.

SEEMA VERMA: ‘Americans need their health care.’ “Those needing operations, vaccinations, procedures, preventive care, or evaluation for chronic conditions should feel confident seeking in-person care when recommended by their provider,” the CMS chief said in a statement, crediting the “health care heroes [who] are working overtime to deliver it safely.”

SENATORS WANT IG ALERTS OVER NURSING HOME CONDUCT — The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee are seeking help from HHS’ inspector general, following reports that nursing homes and assisted living facilities are collecting Medicaid recipients’ economic stimulus payments.

Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden asked acting Inspector General Christi Grimm to issue a pair of alerts emphasizing that it’s illegal for such facilities to demand that residents surrender their checks, calling it “improper and contrary to congressional intent.”

The request comes after the Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general and groups like AARP received complaints, POLITICO’s Aaron Lorenzo writes.

— CMS also warned nursing homes it would take action. “CMS requirements prohibit this. Nursing homes engaging in this behavior will be subject to enforcement action,” Verma tweeted Tuesday.

HARVARD CHEMIST INDICTED OVER CHINA FUNDING — A grand jury indicted Charles Lieber on allegations he lied to government officials about his work for the Wuhan University of Technology, POLITICO’s Betsy Woodruff Swan reports.

The prominent chemist has maintained his innocence in the face of the accusations, which say that he lied both to Department of Defense investigators and to Harvard about his participation in a Chinese program that recruits academics to work at institutions within the country.

Lieber denied participating in that program — called the Thousand Talents Plan — ahead of receiving grant funding from the DOD and National Institutes of Health.

PATRICK CONWAY now CEO of Optum’s Care Solutions. Conway, who had been senior executive-in-residence at Optum since April, said his team will work on issues related to home care, mental health care, acute and post-acute care for millions of patients. Conway, who also led the CMS innovation center during the Obama and Trump administrations, was CEO of Blue Cross North Carolina before being ousted last year after being arrested for a DWI.

For Stat, Eric Boodman chronicles how a Tennessee hospital carried out an on-the-fly plan to distribute its scarce supply of remdesivir.

Four people who spent months locked down in Wuhan describe their experiences under quarantine, and what it’s been like since, to California Sunday’s Shawn Yuan.

Coalitions of volunteer street medics are forming to provide medical care at protests around the country, the New York Times’ Emma Grillo reports.

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