Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care
The Senate left town until after Labor Day without a deal on new coronavirus relief funding. Meanwhile, the U.S. recorded its deadliest day of the summer, the head of the administration’s COVID-19 testing said infection rates are falling and Georgia’s governor dropped his mask lawsuit.
We’ll start with an update from Congress:
Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal
The Senate left Washington, D.C., on Thursday until September – the latest sign that a deal on a fifth coronavirus relief package is, at least, weeks away.
With talks stalemated, senators argue there is little reason for them to keep holding daily, roughly 1 1/2-hour sessions. The House already left town and isn’t expected to return until Sept. 14.
Senators will get at least 24 hours notice to return if congressional Democrats, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows are able to break the impasse and votes are scheduled. Otherwise, the Senate will formally reconvene on Sept. 8.
Beyond a top-line figure, the two sides haven’t resolved how much weekly unemployment benefits would be, how much money to give state and local governments or how to address McConnell’s red line of liability protections for businesses that open back up. School funding, both the amount and how it’s divided up, remains a sticking point as well.
The inaction comes as the unemployment rate is at 10.2 percent, down from a peak of 14.7 percent in April but still slightly higher than the peak during the Great Recession. And the country continues to report tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases per day, including reporting nearly 1,500 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday in what is the highest number of daily deaths since mid-May.
Political expediency: The stalemate is taking place less than three months before the November election, injecting more politics into the dynamic compared to the four previous coronavirus relief bills that passed the Senate with either no opposition or only a handful of “no” votes.
Vulnerable incumbents in both parties have sent warning signals this week to leadership that they need to cut a deal, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shown no urgency to cut a deal with Democrats that could divide his caucus between the deficit hawks and the vulnerable incumbents.
Read more here.
US records deadliest COVID-19 day of summer with over 1,500 deaths
The United States on Wednesday suffered the highest number of coronavirus deaths since mid-May, making it the deadliest day this summer.
There were 1,503 deaths, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
COVID-19 deaths are lower than their peak in April, when they reached as high as 2,000 per day in the U.S.
But after falling for weeks in the late spring, deaths began increasing in early July amid worsening outbreaks in the South and West.
A glaring comparison: The persistent death toll in the United States stands in stark contrast to other countries that have more successfully suppressed their outbreaks.
The European Union, whose population exceeds that of the U.S. by more than 100 million, had just 115 deaths on Wednesday, according to statistics compiled by Our World in Data.
Read more here.
Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta’s mask mandate
It was one of the highest-profile instances of a GOP governor resisting mask mandates, and now it’s been dropped.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has dropped a lawsuit over Atlanta’s mask mandate, his office announced Thursday afternoon.
In a statement, Kemp said that he has failed to reach an agreement with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) and will instead file an executive order on Saturday.
“I sued the City of Atlanta to immediately stop the shuttering of local businesses and protect local workers from economic instability,” Kemp said. “Given this stalemate in negotiations, we will address this very issue in the next Executive Order. We will continue to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”
Kemp announced the lawsuit in mid-July after Bottoms issued an order requiring masks be worn in public spaces, which he argued she does not have the authority to do.
Read more here.
Coronavirus pandemic leading to depression and drinking, CDC says
Americans are struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic after months of harsh lockdowns, widespread disease and economic suffering that has fallen disproportionately on the young, minorities and those who are most vulnerable to financial shocks.
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds the number of Americans reporting adverse mental health or behavioral changes – like drinking or drug use – on a perilous rise in recent months.
About a quarter of Americans reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder, three times higher than what a similar survey found a year ago. Those reporting depression has quadrupled, to nearly a quarter.
About 13 percent of Americans said they were drinking or using drugs more because of the stress of the pandemic. And almost 11 percent said they had seriously considered suicide in the last month, including more than a quarter of those between 18 and 24 years old.
In total, 41 percent of Americans said they were suffering from one or more symptoms of serious mental health problems. The CDC said treating those conditions was an essential part of the response to the pandemic.
Read more here.
Top Trump official ‘really tired of hearing’ criticism over COVID-19 testing
The Trump administration official in charge of the country’s COVID-19 testing strategy said Thursday that the U.S. is doing enough testing and dismissed critics who say otherwise.
“It is just a false narrative – and I’m really tired of hearing it by people not involved in the system – that we need millions of tests every day,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, on a call with reporters.
“If that were true, we would not be reversing the outbreaks we have,” he added.
Some experts question whether the rate of infections in the U.S. is really slowing down, noting a drop in testing over the last few weeks that could cloud how widely the virus is spreading.
The U.S. was performing an average of 740,000 tests per day as of Tuesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a decline of more than 100,000 daily tests compared with two weeks ago.
Giroir instead highlighted a drop in the percentage of tests coming back positive, arguing that if the U.S. wasn’t doing enough tests, that figure would be increasing.
“We are doing the appropriate amount of testing now to reduce the spread, flatten the curve, save lives,” Giroir said. “You beat the virus by smart policies supplemented by strategic testing. You do not beat the virus by shotgun testing everyone all the time.”
Read more here.
CDC director warns of ‘worst fall’ in history if people don’t follow COVID-19 guidelines
If Americans don’t follow coronavirus prevention measures such as wearing masks and social distancing, the country could be in for its “worst fall” in history, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned.
During an interview with WebMD on Wednesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said a virus surge, along with the upcoming flu season, could create the “worst fall” that “we’ve ever had.”
Colder weather in the fall will likely drive more people indoors, where health experts say COVID-19 spreads more easily.
Coinciding flu and COVID-19 outbreaks could overwhelm hospitals and drain resources, threatening lives and the response to the pandemic.
Redfield said the CDC is urging people to get a flu shot, and the agency has purchased an extra 10 million doses of the vaccine – compared with the typical 500,000 – to make sure states have enough to cover uninsured adults.
Flashback: This isn’t the first time Redfield, or other administration officials, have warned that a combined COVID-19 and flu outbreak would be devastating. Back in April, Redfield had to publicly apologize for making similar remarks.
Read more here.
VIRTUAL EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: COVID-19: THE WAY FORWARD
As election day approaches, the COVID-19 pandemic remains an ever-present threat. On the sidelines of the 2020 Conventions, The Hill will host a discussion with policymakers and hospital and medical school leaders about lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of research and innovation in battling health care crises, and the value of a resilient and responsive health care ecosystem. Wednesday, August 19 at 1PM EDT, Rep. Doris Matsui and more join us for the DNC; stay tuned for details on the RNC edition on Wednesday, August 26 at 1PM EDT.
What we’re reading
Trump administration official says some call Putin’s coronavirus vaccine ‘Russian roulette’ (CNBC)
Large study suggests convalescent plasma can help treat COVID-19, but experts have doubts (Stat News)
Face masks with valves or vents do not prevent spread of the coronavirus, CDC says (Washington Post)
FDA denies Henry Ford Health request to use hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients (Detroit Free Press)
State by state
Connecticut fines residents $3,000 for violating coronavirus travel advisory (Fox 5)
Stanford canceling in-person classes, plans for undergrads change (SF Gate)
Eager University of Montana students move into dorms amid COVID-19 (Missoulian)
The Hill op-eds
Russia’s fast-track vaccine is a lesson in ethics, human exploitation
In the next relief package Congress must fund universal COVID testing
Video: Trump tries bypassing Congress for virus relief (Associated Press)