Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Dems 'frustrated' by coronavirus response after briefing | Mulvaney claims press covering outbreak to take Trump down | Pence bolsters task force

Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Dems 'frustrated' by coronavirus response after briefing | Mulvaney claims press covering outbreak to take Trump down | Pence bolsters task force
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Welcome to Friday's Overnight Health Care.

The World Health Organization told countries not to underestimate the spread of the coronavirus, but also urged the public not to panic. In Washington, D.C., lawmakers are growing frustrated at the administration over its coronavirus response, even as the White House has bolstered its team. 

We'll start with Congress...



Democrats 'frustrated' by administration's coronavirus response after closed-door briefing

Democrats raised a range of concerns with the administration's coronavirus response leaving a closed-door briefing on Friday, including over:

  • A whistleblower complaint that Health and Human Services (HHS) employees were sent to meet flights returning from China without proper training or protective equipment. 
  • Strict Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testing protocols that delayed testing for a key patient. 
  • The lack of enough testing and tests that were initially faulty

Asked if lawmakers are frustrated, Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiColorado presses Biden to reverse Trump Space Command move Report on military aviation crashes faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' Wuhan is the final straw: The world needs to divest from China MORE (D-Calif.) responded, "Of course."

"There's more than frustration, there's community infection in my district," Garamendi continued, pointing to possible breaches of protocol at Travis Air Force Base in California, one of the bases that received people to be quarantined and that is at the center of the whistleblower complaint.

"Where did it come from? It most likely came from Travis Air Force Base, people that were working there, quite possibly not following protocols," Garamendi said.

Administration response: The CDC has updated its testing protocols for a wider range of cases and says that it is making more tests available. And HHS has said it is investigating the whistleblower's complaints. 


Read more here






White House chief of staff claims press covering coronavirus to take Trump down

The political fight over the coronavirus is heating up. Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, White House acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOMB nominee gets hearing on Feb. 9 Republicans now 'shocked, shocked' that there's a deficit Financial firms brace for Biden's consumer agency chief MORE said the coronavirus scare was a media construct and downplayed its lethality.

Mulvaney claimed that the press is only covering the virus now because they believe doing so will "take down the president."

"Is it real? It absolutely is real," Mulvaney said. "But you saw the president the other day -- the flu is real."

More mixed messages: But at the same time, Mulvaney indicated that maybe the virus was something to worry about. The administration has it all under control, he said, but also maybe schools will close and transportation will be impacted.

"Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure," Mulvaney said.

Read more on his remarks here.



Pence bolsters coronavirus team following criticism

The frustration with the administration comes despite the White House adding officials to the coronavirus task force reporting to Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOvernight Health Care: Senate to vote on .9 trillion relief bill this week | J&J vaccine rollout begins | CDC warns against lifting restrictions Haley praises Trump CPAC speech after breaking with him over Capitol riot Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote MORE, amid sustained skepticism over its preparedness for a possible outbreak.

Pence appointed career health official and Obama-era State Department appointee Deborah Birx to coordinate the response, seeking to soothe concerns over his own lack of public health expertise. 

The shuffling of responsibilities was intended as a display of competence, but it's done little to quell the unease over President TrumpDonald TrumpProsecutors focus Trump Organization probe on company's financial officer: report WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year Romney released from hospital after fall over the weekend MORE's handling of this potential crisis.

Public health experts said it's not unusual to have a government official take charge of an emergency situation. But Pence's critics point to his record on health care while in Congress, and his handling of a major public health crisis as Indiana's governor.

Key quote: "My objection is [Pence]," said Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaIt's time for a second Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Biden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable Trump, Florida complicate Biden approach to Cuba MORE (D-Fla.), who served as Health and Human Services secretary under former President Clinton. 


"He's anti-science. He has a terrible record on AIDS and needle exchange," Shalala said, but added she was "reassured" by the presence of Birx. 

Read more on the criticism here.


White House presses Congress for coronavirus funding by mid-March 

The White House on Friday said it hopes Congress will send President Trump a supplemental funding bill to combat the coronavirus within the next two weeks.

Officials said during a briefing for reporters that they are hopeful the measure will land on Trump's desk before mid-March.

"If everything stays on track up there, we would expect Congress to provide us a package as early as the top of next week," White House director of legislative affairs Eric Ueland said.


Ueland said officials want Trump to be able to sign legislation "no later than the end of this work period," but "as soon as possible."

How much? The Trump administration earlier this week submitted a $2.5 billion supplemental funding request to Congress, a figure lawmakers in both parties viewed as insufficient. The final package is likely to be between $6 billion and $8 billion, according to one source familiar with negotiations.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said any funding bill should include resources for certain key needs, such as support for state and local governments, vaccines, and personal protective equipment like masks and respirators.

Read more about the money here.


WHO raises coronavirus threat assessment to highest level

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday increased its coronavirus risk assessment to "very high" and warned foreign governments not to underestimate the threat.

Cases of the coronavirus have continued to spread outside China, but WHO officials said there is still a chance of containing the virus if action is taken quickly.

"The continued increase in the number of cases, and the number of affected countries over the last few days, are clearly of concern," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday.

Still, Tedros said there is still a chance at isolating and containing the coronavirus.

"We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities," he said. "As long as that's the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus, if robust action is taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients and trace contacts."

More on the view from WHO here.


More coronavirus

Stock markets closed out their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis on Friday as fears of a coronavirus pandemic took root.

A House hearing on Friday that was meant to address the U.S. strategy in Iran blew up into a heated confrontation over the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus.



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In non-coronavirus news...


House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products

A ban on flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products passed the House on Friday but divided Democrats, with some saying it unfairly targets African Americans.

The bill, which passed 213-195, was sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), a Health and Human Services secretary under former President Clinton. It is intended to curb the rise of youth vaping rates by banning non-tobacco flavors such as mint and mango that public health experts say lure children into smoking.

It would also ban menthol cigarettes, which are disproportionately used by African Americans after years of targeted marketing by tobacco companies. 

While most Democrats supported the measure, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted against the bill, worrying it could give police a way to target African Americans.

"This legislation has dire, unintended consequences for African Americans," said Rep. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeLawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation DHS announces new measures to boost nation's cybersecurity Hassan to chair Senate emerging threats subcommittee MORE (D-N.Y.), a member of the CBC. "Law enforcement would have an additional reason to stop and frisk menthol tobacco users because menthol would be considered illegal under this ban."

But other members of the CBC noted Friday that tobacco companies have targeted African Americans for years in their "predatory" marketing of menthol products, putting them at risk for smoking-related disease and death.

"Smoking cigarettes, especially menthol flavored cigarettes, has resulted in approximately 45,000 African American deaths each and every year," said Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushHouse Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms Over 40 lawmakers sign letter urging Merrick Garland to prioritize abolishing death penalty Woman who lived in church three years goes home under Biden deportation freeze MORE (D-Ill.)

More on the vote here.


What we're reading 

Key missteps at the CDC have set back its ability to detect the potential spread of coronavirus (ProPublica)

CDC aims to have all state and local health departments testing for coronavirus by end of next week (CNN.com)

Where did the new coronavirus come from? Past outbreaks provide hints (NBC News)  

FDA approves a generic version of the drug Martin Shkreli monopolized (Stat)


State by state

Washington state health officials are preparing for possible coronavirus spread (KUOW)

Colorado forges ahead on a new model for health care while nation waits (Kaiser Health News