Overnight Health Care: Pence says 21 people on cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus | NY begs for more testing kits | Trump signs $8.3B emergency funding package | Experts say mortality rate likely to drop

Overnight Health Care: Pence says 21 people on cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus | NY begs for more testing kits | Trump signs $8.3B emergency funding package | Experts say mortality rate likely to drop
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Welcome to Friday's Overnight Health Care.

The coronavirus outbreak again dominated the news from Washington. President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE canceled and then rescheduled his visit to the CDC. Trump also signed an over $8 billion package for emergency funding. Meanwhile, coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, but experts say the mortality rate will likely not be nearly as high as it is right now. 



We'll start with the latest coronavirus news...


Pence says 21 people on cruise ship off California tested positive for coronavirus

Vice President Pence said Friday that 21 individuals on a cruise ship off the coast of California tested positive for the coronavirus and that the Trump administration would bring the passengers stateside this weekend.

"We have developed a plan that will be implemented over this weekend," Pence said at a White House briefing. He said that the cruise ship would be brought into a noncommercial port, passengers would be tested for the coronavirus and then officials would quarantine and offer medical attention to those who need it.

The vice president said 46 people in total aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship were tested for the virus. Of the 21 who tested positive, 19 are crewmembers and two are passengers, Pence said. He said 24 tests came back negative and one inconclusive.

"The general risk to the American public remains low," Pence said, though he cautioned elderly Americans and those who have preexisting health conditions should exercise caution, particularly when it comes to travel.


Meanwhile, at the CDC: The press briefing took place as President Trump visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., where he was asked about the fate of the passengers aboard the ship.

Wearing a red "Keep America Great" hat, the president indicated he would defer to the judgment of Pence and other officials. But he said he preferred those who tested positive for the virus remain on the ship in part because he didn't want the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. to spike.

Read more here


NYC begs for more coronavirus tests, claiming 'slow' federal action impeding response

As Pence painted a rosy picture of the Trump administration's response, New York City health officials are warning that the 'slow" action from the federal government is impeding the city's ability to "beat back" the epidemic. 

Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, New York City's deputy mayor for health and human services, wrote in a letter to CDC officials Friday that more test kits are urgently needed to confirm suspected cases of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19. 

Perea-Henze noted in the letter the two testing kits the state public health lab received from the CDC do not meet the needs of America's most populated city. Each kit can run about 800 tests.

"With multiple positive cases, NYC needs maximum testing capacity to enable successful implementation of the public health strategies that best protect New Yorkers," Perea-Henze wrote. 

The state has 33 confirmed cases, including five who are hospitalized. Four of the confirmed cases are in New York City. 

Pence told reporters Friday that all states have been sent test kits, but testing resources will be focused in California and Washington state, where there are large outbreaks. Currently, NYC only has four confirmed cases. 

Read more here


Trump signs $8.3 billion coronavirus package


President Trump on Friday signed a bill providing $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The bill provides $7.76 billion to federal, state and local agencies to combat the coronavirus and authorizes an additional $500 million in waivers for Medicare telehealth restrictions.

Trump was originally expected to sign the bill at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., on Friday but abruptly cancelled his trip there. He told reporters Friday morning that the trip was cancelled because of a suspected coronavirus case at the CDC itself but that it turned out to be negative. 

The White House later put the CDC visit back on Trump's schedule for Friday afternoon, where he spoke to reporters.

What it doesn't have: Language that guarantees the affordability of a potential vaccine, giving a major victory to the pharmaceutical industry. The bill says only that the HHS secretary "may" take action to ensure products are affordable. The measure includes $2.2 billion for health agencies to prepare for and prevent the spread of the virus in the United States, as well as more than $3 billion for vaccine research-- money that will go to drug companies. 

Read more here.



Democrats introduce bill to guarantee paid sick leave in response to coronavirus

Health authorities have been encouraging Americans to stay home if they feel sick to help prevent potential spread of the coronavirus, but the lack of a federal guarantee for paid leave has raised concerns that some workers -- especially in the service and restaurant industries -- might not be able to follow those guidelines.

Democrats in the House and Senate are looking to change that, and on Friday introduced legislation that would require all employers to grant workers paid sick days. 

The bill unveiled by Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroDemocratic women sound alarm on female unemployment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Mars rover prepares for landing The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats ready mammoth relief bill for 10-day sprint MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBiden health nominee faces first Senate test Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March The Hill's 12:30 Report: Mars rover prepares for landing MORE (D-Wash.) would mandate all employers to let workers accrue seven days of paid sick leave and immediately provide 14 additional days when there is a public health emergency.

The two Democrats expressed concern that given the choice between staying home sick and going unpaid, low-wage workers would still show up to work, potentially spreading the virus in their communities.

"Workers want to do the right thing for themselves, their families, and their communities -- so especially in the middle of public health crises like this, staying home sick shouldn't have to mean losing a paycheck or a job," Murray said.

DeLauro's and Murray's bills would also ensure that paid sick leave can be used in a public health emergency for taking care of children if schools are closed or if a worker or family member is quarantined.


More on the legislation here.


Coronavirus mortality rate likely to drop, say health experts

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) made a startling pronouncement this week when he estimated the global mortality rate of the coronavirus to be 3.4 percent -- much higher than the seasonal flu.

Experts warn that the figure from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus comes full of caveats and is likely to change as more people get tested and undergo treatment for the virus.

"I think it's lower because we are missing mild cases," said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "We should be preparing for [the worst] cases, it's true, but also going out to see what the real number is."

Health officials have raced to try to get ahead of the coronavirus as it rapidly spreads around the world. On Friday, the total number of global cases of the novel coronavirus climbed above 100,000, with at least 3,400 deaths as a result of the infection. 

In the United States, the death toll rose to 14, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Several states, including Maryland, confirmed their first cases.

Health experts say that the longer the outbreak continues, the more likely it is that the global mortality rate will drop.

Read more here.


Trump voices confidence in Azar amid criticism over coronavirus response

President Trump on Friday gave a vote of confidence to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar amid criticism of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak and questions about his standing in the administration.

Trump called reports that Azar has been sidelined from the coronavirus response "fake news."

"He has the total confidence of the @VP and myself, and is doing a fantastic job, as the numbers would indicate!" Trump tweeted.

It's unclear if Trump was responding to a particular news report, but multiple outlets have reported in recent days that Azar has had a diminishing role in the government's response efforts to the virus.

Multiple current and former officials have told The Hill in recent days that Azar has been a focal point of criticism and that some in the White House viewed his initial response to the coronavirus as too alarmist.

Read more here.


House Democrats press Trump administration on coronavirus testing affordability

A trio of House Democrats is pressing the Trump administration on the affordability of coronavirus diagnostic tests.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Lauren UnderwoodLauren UnderwoodNew cyber panel chair zeros in on election security, SolarWinds hack Overnight Health Care: New COVID-19 cases nationally drop below 100K for first time in 2021 | CDC warns states against lifting restrictions amid threat of virus variants | Health officials warn COVID-19 eradication unlikely Black maternal health omnibus package introduced by Democratic lawmakers MORE (D-Ill.) sent a letter Friday to the top officials at the IRS, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor, asking how the agencies can make sure private insurance companies cover tests without any cost-sharing. 

"It is critical that any cost barriers or limits to COVID-19 diagnostics testing be removed, so those who may be infected do not forgo testing because of cost concerns," the lawmakers wrote.

According to the lawmakers, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the authority to authorize payment for the care and treatment of patients subject to "medical examination, quarantine, isolation, and conditional release." 

However, the Democrats said the statute fails to address payments that a patient may face if they were to go to their primary care provider, urgent care or a health clinic if they have symptoms of COVID-19.

Governors in New York, Washington and California issued guidance this week prohibiting health insurers from imposing cost-sharing on individuals seeking coronavirus tests.

Insurers Cigna and Aetna and some Blue Cross plans said they will be waiving all co-pays for beneficiaries in Medicare, Medicaid and private plans who need a diagnostic test. However, the insurers did not pledge to do the same for out-of-network costs that could be incurred if a patient were to get tested at an independent lab. 

A spokesman for Aetna noted that Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, the two biggest lab providers in the country, are in-network.  

Read more about affordability here.


In non-virus news:

Vulnerable Republicans dodge questions on support for ObamaCare lawsuit

The Trump administration's lawsuit to overturn ObamaCare and its protections for people with pre-existing conditions has not gone away, despite massive news coverage of the coronavirus, but vulnerable Senate Republicans are not interested in answering questions about it.

The Supreme Court said this week it would take up the case, thrusting the issue to the forefront and posing a headache for Republicans in tough races this year.

President Trump supports the lawsuit, which would strike down the entire health law, but ObamaCare's popularity has risen to a record high, posing a danger for Republicans in seeking to strike it down. 

"I'm not saying whether I support it or not. It's in the hands of the Supreme Court now, so we'll see," Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstWe know how Republicans will vote — but what do they believe? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Senate trial will have drama, but no surprise ending Overnight Defense: Pentagon says extremist groups 'very aggressively recruit' troops | Capitol Guard deployment estimated at 3M | No US combat deaths in Afghanistan for a year | VA secretary confirmed MORE (R-Iowa) told The Hill on Thursday. Ernst is up for reelection this year.

The lawsuit threatens coverage for roughly 20 million people and would also take away the law's protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which are particularly popular. Republicans don't have their own alternative plan to ObamaCare, which makes them even more vulnerable to the attacks.

Vulnerable Senate Republicans are trying to focus on other health care issues, such as lowering drug prices, which polls extremely well with voters. 

Read more on the GOP's answers here.


What we're reading

Yeshiva University game gets first spectator ban of NCAA basketball tournaments (Wall Street Journal)

Exclusive: The strongest evidence yet that America is botching coronavirus testing (The Atlantic)

Trump muddles coronavirus message as response team struggles to match 'wishful thinking' (CNN)

'It's pure panic': A wrenching wait at nursing home where coronavirus took hold (New York Times)

Top coronavirus official for U.S. has fought an epidemic before (New York Times)


State by state

Oklahoma will submit Medicaid expansion request Friday, governor says (The Oklahoman)

Nevada governor proposes broad pardon for people with low-level marijuana offenses (Nevada Independent)

University of Washington suspending in-person classes to help slow spread of coronavirus (KOMO News)

Maryland officials urge calm as they search for potential coronavirus exposures (Washington Post)