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Overnight Health Care: Study finds shutdowns prevented 60M COVID-19 cases in US | An exclusive investigation: where was Congress? | WHO official: Asymptomatic spread of coronavirus 'very rare'

Overnight Health Care: Study finds shutdowns prevented 60M COVID-19 cases in US | An exclusive investigation: where was Congress? | WHO official: Asymptomatic spread of coronavirus 'very rare'
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Welcome to Monday's Overnight Health Care.

The COVID-19 death toll has surpassed 110,000 people in the U.S. But it could be worse — a new study shows that the extreme physical distancing and shutdown measures have worked to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is warning that the worst of the pandemic is still ahead.

We'll start with some positive news:

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It worked: Study finds shutdowns prevented 60 million coronavirus cases in US

Amid an ongoing intense debate over the effectiveness of shutdowns in fighting the coronavirus, a new study finds they did in fact make a big difference in slowing the spread of the virus. 

The study from a team at the University of California, Berkeley published Monday in the journal Nature finds that shelter-in-place orders, business closings, travel restrictions and other responses prevented 530 million infections across the U.S., China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and France.

Because of limited testing, the study states that 62 million of those infections would have been confirmed cases in the six countries, but the real number would have been 530 million. For the U.S., those numbers are 4.8 million confirmed cases prevented, but 60 million actual cases prevented.

Big picture: The eye-popping numbers illustrate that the shutdowns, while controversial and onerous, were effective at slowing the spread of the virus, the study says.

“I don’t think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time,” the lead author of the study, Solomon Hsiang, director of Berkeley’s Global Policy Laboratory, said in a statement. 

Read more here.

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An investigation into the pandemic: Where was Congress?

An exclusive investigation by The Hill found that Congress was ill-prepared to handle the pandemic, despite international and domestic scares with Ebola and SARS, and passage of pandemic legislation less than a year before the coronavirus hit the country.

Turbocharged partisanship in the Trump era that has made it difficult for Congress to operate also contributed to a tardy response to the coronavirus, even as lawmakers in both parties underestimated the crisis.

Many lawmakers were asking the right questions early on in the crisis, and members called attention to shortages of masks and other protective gear that would become a national outrage. The public record also shows that even when lawmakers were asking the right questions, they did not always get the right answers as the federal government, the media and the larger health community struggled to understand COVID-19.

The earliest congressional briefing on the virus took place in the midst of impeachment in January, almost as an afterthought. Even though the virus was devastating China, there was only one confirmed case in the U.S. 

Now, while we have a better understanding of the virus, it's only been a few months. The science is still evolving and there are not always clear-cut answers to important questions.

Read more here.

WHO official: Asymptomatic spread of coronavirus 'very rare' 

In comments that set off a storm of commentary on Twitter on Monday, a top World Health Organization official on Monday said that it appears “very rare,” for an asymptomatic person with coronavirus to transmit the virus to another person. 

“From the data we have it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, when asked about the issue at a press briefing.  

She said the WHO has information reported by countries that have not been published in studies, finding that detailed contact tracing has not found significant spread from asymptomatic people. 

Don’t be too sure, though: Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, expressed some skepticism of the WHO’s claim and said he thinks asymptomatic transmission is, in fact, an important source of spread, and that some modeling shows as much as 40 to 60 percent of transmission is from people without symptoms. 

Takeaway: It will be good to hear some more explanation from the WHO on this. 

Read more here.

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The WHO also had a warning-- the pandemic is far from over, and complacency is now one of the biggest threats. 

Sunday marked new global peak for coronavirus 

More than 136,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus across the globe on Sunday, a new apex that has officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) warning that the worst of the pandemic is still ahead.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of confirmed cases is rising rapidly in South America and South Asia, which accounted for three-quarters of Sunday's new cases.

African nations are reporting higher rates of infection, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia are becoming areas of concern.

"Although the situation in Europe is improving, globally, it's worsening," Tedros said. "Most people globally are still susceptible to infection."

Read more here.

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Dem chairmen urge CMS to prevent nursing homes from seizing stimulus payments

Two House Democratic committee chairmen want the Trump administration to prevent nursing homes and assisted living facilities from seizing their residents' coronavirus relief payments.

"It is crucial that this vulnerable population group continues to have the certainty that comes with these [economic impact payments] and are not coerced into wrongly handing over their checks for fear of being kicked out of their homes," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Rural Democrats urge protections from tax increases for family farms Four years is not enough — Congress should make the child tax credit permanent MORE (D-Mass.) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) wrote in a letter Monday to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

The Federal Trade Commission warned last month that some nursing homes and assisted living facilities are claiming that they are entitled to the payments of residents who are on Medicaid, demanding those residents sign over their payments to the facility.

The stimulus payments are not supposed to be counted as income for the purposes of calculating Medicaid.

Read more here.

In other nursing home news:

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Nursing homes fail to get COVID-19 under control

More than three months since the coronavirus first appeared in a Seattle-area nursing home, facilities are still struggling to contain its spread.

According to federal data collected and released publicly for the first time this week, thousands of nursing homes across the country lack basic personal protective equipment (PPE). Facilities are also facing staffing shortages, and many are even running out of hand sanitizer.

Meanwhile, testing among residents and staff remains scattershot, despite federal recommendations. Some states have begun mandating tests, but disagreements over who will pay means that potentially sick residents and staff will not be identified and isolated. 

Read more here.

What we’re reading

As more Americans head out, 22 states are seeing jumps in new coronavirus cases (CNN.com)

Trump to restart MAGA rallies this month despite coronavirus (Politico)

The CARES Act sent you a $1,200 check but gave millionaires and billionaires far more (ProPublica)

How the world can avoid screwing up the response to Covid-19 again (Stat News)

State by state

Dr. Fauci gives a coronavirus update for the DC area (NBC Washington

Montgomery inmates sue Bureau of Prisons amid coronavirus (Montgomery Advertiser

Arizona hospitals bracing for crisis as COVID-19 cases surge (Tucson.com)

Reported coronavirus hospitalizations reach another new high in North Carolina (News & Observer)   

Pennsylvania county traces at least 12 coronavirus cases to Jersey Shore partygoer (CNN.com)

Op-eds in The Hill

COVID-19 and the cost of health care: What happens when the pandemic ends? 

A national testing strategy to safely reopen America