Overnight Health Care: Trump to release guidelines on easing social distancing on Thursday | Trump WHO cuts meet blowback | Officials warn of lack of testing supplies | Global cases surpass 2 million
Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care.
President Trump said that on Thursday he will unveil guidelines for easing social distancing restrictions. But while Trump is talking about reopening the economy, state officials say supply shortages are hampering their ability to do the widespread testing needed to get people out of their homes.
Trump is also facing blowback for cutting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the number of global COVID-19 cases has surpassed 2 million.
We’ll start at the White House…
Trump to release guidelines on relaxing social distancing Thursday
The White House plans to release guidelines on Thursday to inform states on how to relax coronavirus restrictions and reopen businesses.
President Trump announced the plans during a news conference on Wednesday, citing data indicating that the United States has passed the peak of COVID-19 cases nationwide.
“The battle continues but the data suggests that nationwide we have passed the peak on new cases,” Trump said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.
Health experts have warned that the United States needs to ramp up testing capabilities and contact tracing before loosening restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.
Trump touted U.S. testing capabilities during Wednesday’s briefing, saying the country had surpassed over 3.3 million completed tests and describing medical advances as “critical” to progress.
Reality check: Testing needs to be drastically ramped up. Experts have said the U.S. needs to run millions of tests a week. The country is running hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests a week right now, and it’s not enough to meet the demand.
A major problem: The supply chain. Trump says we have the best testing in place, but the administration has not announced any sort of effort to resolve the supply shortages. More on that below…
Lack of testing supplies an obstacle to reopening economy, officials say
A lack of supplies like swabs and chemicals is a major obstacle to expanding COVID-19 testing in the U.S. and eventually reopening parts of the economy, health officials and governors said Wednesday.
The pandemic has stressed the supply chains for items needed to collect and process patient samples, delaying results and making it impossible to determine how many Americans have the virus.
“We’re at a really critical juncture, and the supply chain has not yet caught up,” said Scott Becker, chief executive officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
“The fact remains that you can’t implement the tests unless you have materials to perform the test.”
That becomes problematic as public health experts warn widespread testing is a prerequisite to successfully reopening the economy.
Also today… Trump threatens to adjourn both chambers of Congress
President Trump on Wednesday threatened to use his executive power to force both chambers of Congress to adjourn if the Senate did not confirm his nominees for vacancies across the administration.
Coronavirus connection: Because of the outbreak, lawmakers in both chambers are not expected to return to the Capitol until May 4. But both the House and Senate have been conducting pro forma sessions in the meantime. Those sessions prevent Trump from making recess appointments.
Trump WHO cuts meet with furious blowback
President Trump is facing major blowback from his decision to suspend funding for the World Health Organization.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the move was “not in U.S. interests.”
- The American Medical Association called it a “dangerous step.”
- Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that he will push for language in the next coronavirus response bill to protect the WHO funds.
Caution: In terms of actually forcing Trump to reverse course, Democrats may be limited to trying to pass a provision restoring funding in the next coronavirus response bill. That would be a tough lift given that it would require congressional Republicans and the Trump administration to agree. Congressional Republicans were largely silent on the move on Wednesday.
Something to note: Trump has mostly focused his attacks on the WHO’s perceived deference to China. But he has not criticized China itself, and in fact he repeatedly praised China and its president, Xi Jinping, for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak in January and February.
Trump’s attack on the WHO has thrust the organization into the spotlight, and highlighted some of its more uncomfortable facets familiar to people in the public health sphere.
WHO’s diplomatic balancing act faces new challenge with Trump attacks
President Trump’s attacks on the World Health Organization (WHO) over the coronavirus pandemic are shining a spotlight on the diplomatic balancing act the agency faces as it struggles to navigate the interests of member states that are often working at cross purposes.
The chronically underfunded agency has been at the forefront of the global response to the pandemic, winning praise from public health experts who derided its poor performance just a few years ago during an Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
But many of those same experts say this pandemic has highlighted the fact that the WHO has few real powers. While it can use a megaphone to encourage member nations to take action, agency officials have almost no authority to enforce their guidance — especially when it comes to large nations like the United States or China.
Key quote: “The current governance situation requires the World Health Organization to maximize the agreement or assent of the most countries possible to the kinds of actions it takes. So it’s always by necessity going to be the lowest common denominator,” said Amanda Glassman, executive vice president and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
“They have several strategies. One is buttering up, and the other is calling out and shaming.”
More from the administration
GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy
Some Republican senators are calling to quickly reopen parts of the economy shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, but are warning that it won’t be an instantaneous return to normal.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told a local TV station that it is “time for Texans to go back to work,” but he noted that the same guidelines for states like Texas did not make sense, for example, in New York City — the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S.
“It needs to be dependent upon the particular facts and circumstances in the particular region. … It may be that when people go back to work that they wear a mask and gloves for some period of time to limit the spread of disease. We’ve seen that all the time,” he told KCBD.
Republicans acknowledge that the situation is in flux, but are pushing for governments to start planning for how to reopen shuttered sectors.
“Now is the time to begin the discussion on how we slowly, gradually reopen our economy, because we are doing enormous damage every week that goes by where people are not allowed to work,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told WPXI, a Pittsburgh TV station.
House Democrats propose $2,000 monthly payments to Americans
House Democrats have introduced legislation that would expand the federal government’s coronavirus relief cash payments to $2,000 a month until the economy recovers.
On Wednesday, Americans who qualify started getting one-time checks from the Treasury Department of up to $1,200 per adult depending on their incomes.
But Democratic Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Ro Khanna (Calif.) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would expand the payments to $2,000 on a monthly basis until employment returns to pre-crisis levels.
More from Congress
With President Trump itching to do something to restart the economy on May 1, whether a particular state will open quickly or not will seemingly depend if the governor listens to Trump or to scientists and public health experts
New York to require all people to wear masks when in public
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) outlined his steps to start the state moving towards reopening businesses. The key first step; stopping the spread of the coronavirus. To that end, Cuomo said he was issuing an executive order requiring everyone in the state to wear a mask or face covering when they are out in public and can’t be more than six feet away from other people.
The order will take effect Friday and will apply to settings like buses and subway trains, sidewalks and grocery stores.
“You’re walking down the street alone? Great,” Cuomo said. “You’re now at an intersection and there are people at the intersection and you’re going to be in proximity to other people? Put the mask on.”
“You don’t have the right to infect me,” he said.
Related state news: DC extends stay-at-home order through May 15
More from the states
What we’re reading
Simply speaking could transmit coronavirus, new study suggests (Stat News)
China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days (AP)
Coronavirus destroys lungs. But doctors are finding damage in kidneys, hearts and elsewhere. (The Washington Post)
State by state
Governors hand experts the mic during coronavirus briefings, presenting a contrast to Trump (USA Today)
Alaska will let health care providers resume elective procedures, allows takeout alcohol (Alaska Public Media)
North Carolina coronavirus deaths, hospitalizations, nursing home outbreaks continue to climb (Raleigh News & Observer)
Op-eds in The Hill