Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Health Care.
There are more than 842,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and 46,609 deaths due to the disease.
The former head of a federal agency that will be at the forefront of any potential COVID-19 treatment says he was removed after advocating against promoting unproven drug therapies.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration announced how it would allocate some $40 billion in CARES Act funding aimed at providers, and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is pitching in millions in an effort to help New York's tri-state area hire thousands of contact tracers.
We'll start with a shakeup:
Making waves: Doctor says he was removed from federal post after opposing funding for unproven drugs
Rick Bright, the former head of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), made a series of claims about why he was removed from his post.
BARDA is a relatively small federal agency that has flown under the radar until the coronavirus outbreak. The agency will be at the forefront of efforts to develop a potential treatment for COVID-19.
Bright said in a statement that he was forced out because he prioritized science instead of promoting unproven treatments.
More specifically, Bright said he was removed as BARDA director because he limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two drugs that President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE repeatedly pushed as potential cures without evidence of effectiveness.
Bright was moved to a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said.
"Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis."
Background: Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria and conditions such as lupus and arthritis, but has not been approved as a recommended treatment for COVID-19.
Trump has called it a "game changer" against the virus despite limited evidence that it works.
Watch this space: Bright is represented by attorneys at the law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks, the same group that represented Christine Blasey Ford. In 2018, Ford accused Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSenators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Why isn't Harris leading the charge against the Texas abortion law? Cori Bush introduces legislation aimed at expanding access to emergency rental assistance funds MORE of sexual assault.
Trump: I 'disagree strongly' with Georgia governor's decision to start reopening economy
President Trump said Wednesday that he disagrees “strongly” with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's (R) decision to allow bowling alleys, hair salons and other businesses to reopen on this Friday.
“I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he's doing,” Trump said at a White House press briefing.
Trump said Kemp’s decision violates guidelines the administration issued last week for states to follow before reopening parts of their economies.
Kemp said Monday that businesses allowed to reopen will be required to stagger shifts, keep workspaces six feet apart, and screen workers for respiratory illnesses and fevers.
Workers may also have to wear masks and gloves when “appropriate.”
Theaters, private social clubs and restaurants will be allowed to reopen April 27 and will be required to follow the same rules.
CDC director tries to walk back remarks on coronavirus
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield on Wednesday tried to temper remarks he made about the threat of a second wave of the novel coronavirus, saying the thrust of his comments was meant to urge Americans to embrace the vaccine for the flu.
“I didn’t say that this was going to be worse. I said it was going to be more difficult and potentially more complicated because we would have flu and coronavirus circulating at the same time,” Redfield said at the top of a White House briefing Wednesday evening.
The CDC director's comments came hours after President Trump complained about a Washington Post report from Tuesday that included the top health official's remarks, saying the CDC chief would make a clarifying statement.
“The key to my comments and the reason that I really wanted to stress them was to appeal to the American public and to embrace the flu vaccine with confidence,” Redfield said Wednesday.
Gillibrand, Bennet propose hiring thousands for new 'Health Force'
Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees The FBI comes up empty-handed in its search for a Jan. 6 plot MORE (D-N.Y.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetConservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform MORE (D-Colo.) on Wednesday announced new legislation aimed at hiring hundreds of thousands of new public health workers into a "Health Force" modeled after New Deal programs during the Great Depression.
The bill would provide $55 billion per year to hire hundreds of thousands of people who would help carry out testing, contact tracing and eventually vaccinating to fight the coronavirus.
Gillibrand compared the program to the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s.
“We must take the same kind of bold action now in the face of twin health and economic threats,” she said on a press call.
The need: Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden has estimated that as many as 300,000 workers are needed to conduct contact tracing, a key step to safely reopen the economy.
Trump administration offers plan for hospital funds to coronavirus hot spots, uninsured patients
The administration has finally explained how it will allocate the remainder of the CARES Act funding for providers. The money comes as lawmakers in both parties have been urging the administration to move at a faster pace.
Hospitals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic will receive $10 billion from the CARES Act beginning next month. An additional $10 billion will be sent as early as next week to rural hospitals and health clinics.
HHS rushed $30 billion to providers just after the CARES legislation passed, but much of that first wave bypassed hospitals in states on the front lines of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus. Instead, it went to hospitals based on a share of their Medicare revenue.
Azar said the agency will begin distributing an additional $20 billion this week based on providers' overall patient revenue. Payments will go out weekly, on a rolling basis.
Uninsured reimbursement: When President Trump declined to open a special ObamaCare enrollment period, administration officials ultimately decided that hospitals would be able to use a portion of the $100 billion to get reimbursed for treating uninsured patients. Health and Human Services officials outlined the process hospitals will go through, but declined to say how much of the funding will be dedicated for the uninsured.
Battle heats up for phase-four coronavirus relief bill
The Senate’s passage of a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill on Tuesday is setting the stage for negotiations on an even bigger package that could rival the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress last month.
The legislation would funnel tens of billions if not hundreds of billions to state and local governments and could address infrastructure spending and election security.
Democratic leaders want Congress to begin thinking about “CARES 2” after the Senate deal, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has once again started sounding concerned about the debt level.
Speaking to reporters, Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) said “we will need a big, strong and active [fourth bill]. It’ll have to come very soon. The needs are large and great.”
But McConnell hit the pause button.
“I think it's also time to begin to think about the amount of debt we're adding to our country and the future impact of that,” he said. “Let's weigh this very carefully, because the future of our country in terms of the amount of debt that we're adding up is a matter of genuine concern.”
Cuomo: NY, NJ and CT to launch contact tracing program with help from Bloomberg
New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoLetitia James holding private talks on running for New York governor: report Governors brace for 2022 after year in pandemic spotlight Tucker Carlson says he lies when 'I'm really cornered or something' MORE (D) announced Wednesday that New York will partner with New Jersey and Connecticut to launch a tri-state contact tracing program.
The New York governor said during his daily press briefing, that he’s discussed the “massive undertaking” with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D). He said there is no timeline for the program, but tracing is “starting now” and will increase “incrementally.”
“When do you stop ramping up? Maybe never,” he said.
The three states will work with Bloomberg, Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies to institute the program, which he said is “harder done than said.”
Helping out with the project: Former New York Mayor (and presidential candidate) Michael BloombergMichael BloombergWithout drastic changes, Democrats are on track to lose big in 2022 Bidens, former presidents mark 9/11 anniversary The tragedy of 9/11 — an inflection point in American history MORE.
Bloomberg has volunteered to contribute upwards of $10 million through the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and help coordinate the effort with the involved governments.
What we’re reading
How Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHouse panel tees up Trump executive privilege fight in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records MORE is tackling the White House’s coronavirus response — without any evidence experience (ProPublica)
HHS chief Azar had aide, former dog breeder, steer pandemic task force (Reuters)
States rushing to reopen are likely making a deadly error, coronavirus models and experts warn (The Washington Post)
Coronavirus deaths in U.S. nursing, long-term care facilities top 10,000 (Wall Street Journal)
Health chief’s early missteps set back coronavirus response (Wall Street Journal)
State by state
Reopening the DMV: Officials have benchmarks for easing restrictions, but we’re far from meeting them. (Washington Post)
Gov. Tim WalzTim WalzJudge rejects Minnesota parents' attempt to force statewide school mask mandate Former Minnesota Senate Republican leader announces campaign for governor Minnesota parents sue Gov. Walz over lack of mask mandate in schools MORE announces plan to expand COVID-19 testing (Star Tribune)
'We hope to be a model': the California town testing every resident for coronavirus (Guardian)
State officials say White House wrong on Maine’s testing capacity (Portland Press Herald)
Op-eds at The Hill