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Trump campaign rallies restart, with few Covid safeguards

With Rachel Roubein, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Carmen Paun

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— The Trump campaign is taking few new Covid-19 precautions for its first slate of rallies since the virus’ rapid spread through the White House.

— President Donald Trump is plotting a return to public events as early as Saturday, even though it’s unclear he’s fully recovered from the coronavirus.

— China is joining the COVAX Facility, an alliance meant to help deliver vaccines throughout the world that the U.S. has declined to participate in.

WELCOME TO FRIDAY PULSE — and the end of the first official week of spooky season. What’s your favorite Halloween movie, and why is it Hocus Pocus?

Tips and correct answers only to [email protected] and [email protected].

TRUMP CAMPAIGN RESTARTS RALLIES, WITH FEW SAFEGUARDSDonald Trump is confined to the White House for at least a few more days, thanks to his active case of Covid-19. But his re-election campaign is hitting the road in his stead — and taking few precautions to ensure the rallies don’t become the next big hot spots, POLITICO’s Dan Goldberg, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Rachel Roubein report.

— Trump surrogates are fanning out across the country. Vice President Mike Pence, Trump family members and other proxies are hitting battleground states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.

And Trump’s campaign manager — who is also infected — is floating the idea of having the president hold a rally next week, instead of participating in a virtual presidential debate.

— There’s no indication the White House coronavirus outbreak has had any impact, despite the disease hitting so close to home. While many of the campaign events are outdoors, Donald Trump Jr. held a shoulder-to-shoulder indoor rally Thursday in Panama City Beach, Fla., where few in the crowd wore masks. Some other events, meanwhile, haven’t followed state and city limits or advice on large crowds.

— That’s putting local officials in a tough spot. The Trump campaign agreed to limit attendance to a state-mandated 250 in Boulder City, Nev., on Thursday. But the Secret Service and campaign failed to enforce the local mask mandate, and many attendees weren’t wearing face coverings.

— The Trump campaign’s view: Masks are provided and their use is encouraged, the campaign said, in addition to temperature checks and making hand sanitizer widely available.

MEANWHILE: TRUMP PLOTS HIS RETURN — The president floated holding a rally of his own on Saturday, in what would mark his first major public appearance since contracting Covid-19 just more than a week ago.

Calling into Fox News late Thursday, Trump said he wants to do a rally in Florida, with the potential for another one the following day in Pennsylvania.

— Trump’s doctor signaled earlier he could soon clear him. Sean Conley wrote in a memo that the president could be approved for public events by Saturday, adding that he’d completed his therapy and remained stable since returning from the hospital.

— But there’s still plenty we don’t know. Chiefly, whether Trump has tested negative and when he’ll no longer be contagious. Trump indicated during the Fox interview that he would likely be tested today, but avoided repeated questions about whether he’d tested negative since his diagnosis.

“There’s no reason to test all the time,” he said, later coughing and sounding raspy at various points during the interview.

The White House has also closely guarded crucial details about Trump’s health, including what doctors found when they scanned his lungs and when he took his last negative test prior to contracting the coronavirus.

CHINA JOINS COVAX — China announced it has joined the COVAX Facility, meant to help deliver eventual coronavirus vaccines to countries all over the world, no matter the income level, POLITICO’s Carmen Paun reports.

With four of the 10 vaccines currently in Phase III trials coming from China, the country pledged to “make vaccines developed and deployed by China a global public good, which will be provided to developing countries as a priority,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said late Thursday.

— The move stands in contrast with that of the U.S., which said it won’t join COVAX. Russia is also not a part of it.

As part of COVAX, China can also buy vaccines other than its domestic ones, giving it access to a broader portfolio of candidates and increasing the likelihood that it secures doses of a vaccine or multiple ones that prove safe.

ICYMI: HEALTH OFFICIALS SCRAMBLE TO DELIVER ON TRUMP’S DRUG CARDS Trump health officials are racing to finish a nearly $8 billion plan fulfilling the president’s surprise promise to deliver drug-discount cards to seniors before Election Day, POLITICO’s Dan Diamond scooped.

The taxpayer-funded plan is being justified as a test of the Medicare program and could be finalized as early as today. But it’s raised concerns about whether the effort is politically motivated, and if it can be properly structured.

Most seniors would not receive the $200 cards until after the election. But the administration wants to send letters to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries next week informing them of Trump’s bid to lower their drug costs — possibly signed by the president himself.

The plan was panned by groups like the Alliance for Retired Americans, which called it a “bribe to seniors” that wrongly taps Medicare funding, and congressional Democrats who signaled that they’re probing the plan.

“Trump’s trying to buy election votes with you picking up the tab,” tweeted Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who chairs the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee.

The White House insisted that the plan is “good policy” and unrelated to the political cycle.

SCOTUS BLOCKS TRUMP BID TO RESTRICT ABORTION PILLSThe Supreme Court is refusing to grant the Trump administration’s request to restrict access to medication abortions during the pandemic, Alice reports.

The justices decided against an emergency stay that would have required patients to once again see a medical provide before obtaining the medication, saying instead that lower courts should continue hearing arguments on the policy.

— The dispute centers on a challenge to FDA rules. Medical and advocacy groups have fought for months against Trump administration mandates that a patient obtain abortion medication in person, even though the pill itself can be taken at home. Those groups contend the policy is medically unnecessary and puts patients and providers at risk amid the pandemic.

A federal judge agreed with that argument in July, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal subsequently rejected the administration’s bid to keep the restrictions in place while it appealed.

— It’s the first reproductive rights ruling since Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. The order was unsigned, but Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented. The court only weighed in on the injunction, not the merits of the case — meaning it could still come back in front of the Supreme Court.

JUSTICES TO WEIGH ATTEMPT AT BOOTING PLANNED PARENTHOOD FROM MEDICAID — The Supreme Court during its conference today will consider a lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s attempt to bar Medicaid enrollees from going to Planned Parenthood for non-abortion related care, Alice writes.

— Why it matters: Whether the court takes the case will signal how aggressive its conservative majority is likely to be in rolling back abortion access, especially with another Trump-picked judge expected to soon join the ranks.

The Supreme Court turned away similar petitions from Louisiana and Kansas that would have banned Planned Parenthood from Medicaid two years ago, with Justices Roberts and Kavanaugh joining the liberal wing in that decision.

— This case is a long time in the making. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order back in 2018 removing Planned Parenthood and all other abortion-providing clinics from the state’s Medicaid provider network.

The reproductive health network sued, with both a district court and appeals court agreeing that the policy violated patients’ right to seek care from any qualified provider.

REMDESIVIR FAILS TO CUT COVID-19 DEATH RISK — The readout from a large, government-funded trial confirmed that the antiviral drug speeds recovery for coronavirus patients, but does not reduce the risk of death, POLITICO’s Zachary Brennan reports.

Roughly 11 percent of people in the study given remdesivir died within 29 days of enrollment, versus 15 percent of those who received the placebo — a difference that was not statistically significant.

But there were clearer signs it aids recovery. Those given the drug recovered about five days faster than the placebo group, which the final report on the 1,000-plus person trial concluded shows it can both “reduce the disease burden but may also decrease the use of scarce health care resources.”

REBEKAH ARMSTRONG joins AHIP. The former HHS official will be the insurance trade group’s vice president of federal affairs, POLITICO Influence reported. She was most recently the health department’s deputy assistant secretary for legislation.

Wisconsin is opening a field hospital for Covid-19 patients as hospitalizations in the state surge, CNN’s Eric Levenson reports.

Well before Trump began taking remdesivir to treat his coronavirus infection, his administration halted funding for research that had helped lay the foundation for the treatment, NPR’s Nurith Aizenman writes.

Illinois has identified 19 coronavirus outbreaks in at least 44 school buildings – but won’t say where those cases occurred, Jodi Cohen and Jennifer Smith Richards report for ProPublica.

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