Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: Trump pressure on health agencies risks undermining public trust | Top FDA spokeswoman ousted after 11 days

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Welcome to Friday’s Overnight Health Care. 

A top FDA spokeswoman was ousted after 11 days on the job. Local health departments say the CDC testing change undermines their work. And Trump’s pressure on both agencies risks undermining public trust.

We’ll start with the pressure:

Trump pressure on health agencies risks undermining public trust

The Trump administration’s moves pushing science agencies to take controversial steps on the coronavirus are threatening to undermine public confidence in health experts at a moment when they have become uniquely visible.

On Sunday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19. Scientific studies are inconclusive about taking that approach, and some said authorizing its use will hinder the ability to conduct more definitive research.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also quietly changed its guidance on testing those who have come into contact with a COVID-19 patient. The agency no longer recommends those contacts be tested, despite what is known about the risk of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of the virus.

Both decisions appear tinged by politics: A new treatment, announced by President Trump on the eve of the Republican National Convention, has been presented as evidence that the nation is on the brink of a miraculous recovery. At the same time, guidance suggesting fewer people ought to be tested is likely to lead to lower case counts, even as the virus continues to spread widely.

Read more here.

In a related move, the FDA commissioner on Friday reportedly fired the agency’s top spokeswoman

Top FDA spokeswoman ousted after 11 days

Top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokeswoman Emily Miller has been removed from her position after 11 days on the job, according to multiple reports.

Miller’s removal comes amid the fallout over the agency’s decision to issue an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients.

The move was first reported by The New York Times. The FDA did not return a request for comment to The Hill.

Miller’s name is no longer listed on the agency’s official Twitter account or its website.

Hiring controversy: Miller was a political appointee, not a civil servant. She previously worked for One America News Network, the far-right media outlet that promotes conspiracy theories and has openly declared allegiance to President Trump. She worked for Sen. Ted Cruz‘s (R-Texas) reelection campaign and has written extensively about gun rights advocacy. She has no science or medical background. 

Read more here.


Local health departments say CDC testing change undermines their work

Groups representing local health departments asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday to reverse a change to coronavirus testing guidance that they argue would hurt their ability to slow the spread of the disease.

The CDC’s testing guidance was quietly updated Monday to say people without symptoms “do not necessarily” need to get tested, even if they’ve been in close contact with a COVID-19 case.

“As public health professionals, we are troubled about the lack of evidence cited to inform this change,” National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Big Cities Health Coalition wrote in a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield and Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“CDC’s own data suggest that perhaps as many as 40 percent of COVID-19 cases are attributable to asymptomatic transmission. Changing testing guidelines to suggest that close contacts to confirmed positives without symptoms do not need to be tested is inconsistent with the science and the data,” the groups added.

President Trump has repeatedly downplayed the importance of testing, saying that more testing means more cases.

Why it matters: Forgoing testing of close contacts to COVID-19 cases would miss infections in people who don’t show symptoms of the disease but can spread it to high-risk individuals who may in turn become seriously ill or die.

Read more here.


Researchers find first U.S. case of COVID-19 reinfection

Researchers have documented what appears to be the first instance in the U.S. of someone getting reinfected with COVID-19.

In a preprint of a paper submitted to the journal The Lancet, researchers said a 25-year-old man in Nevada was reinfected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in late May, after recovering from a relatively mild case of COVID-19 the month before.

The patient in Nevada initially tested positive for coronavirus in April, after exhibiting symptoms  including a sore throat, cough, headache, nausea and diarrhea. 

The patient eventually reported having no more symptoms, and subsequently tested negative twice.

But 48 days later, the patient started exhibiting symptoms again, with a much more severe case. He was hospitalized and required oxygen.

Unique case? The reinfection isn’t what interested researchers – it was that the patient’s case was more severe the second time.

Don’t panic: Infectious disease experts said reinfections are normal and should be expected, and caution against drawing broad conclusions. 

Read more here.


COVID safety on the campaign trail…Tillis says he ‘fell short’ by not wearing mask

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said Friday he “fell short” of his own standard when he did not wear a face mask at the White House for President Trump’s speech accepting the GOP nomination for reelection.

Tillis, who is in the midst of his own fierce reelection fight against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D-N.C.), used his mea culpa to accept responsibility and go on the offensive against his opponent.

“I’ve stressed the importance of mask wearing throughout this pandemic and have tried to lead by example on this issue, but last night I fell short of my own standard,” Tillis said in a statement.

“The difference between Cal Cunningham and I is that I can accept responsibility for my actions, while he lies and makes excuses for his, like how he has misused taxpayer dollars for his own personal gain and broke his promise not to raise taxes on hardworking North Carolinians,” he added.

Tillis released the statement amid criticism from Cunningham and North Carolina Democrats who accused the senator of hypocrisy for not wearing a mask during Trump’s entire speech at the Republican National Convention after he had touted the importance of wearing face masks in public.

Read more here


FDA expands use of remdesivir

Hospitalized patients with moderate cases of COVID-19 may benefit from the use of remdesivir, according to a new expanded authorization for the drug. According to manufacturer Gilead, a shorter 5-day course of treatment was more effective than a 10-day regimen when compared to the normal standard of care.

Previously, the experimental drug was only authorized for the most severe hospitalized cases.


Virtual Event: Science & American Advancement — Monday, August 31

Science and advancement go hand-in-hand. However, the way science works, not by straight lines, but sometimes by accident, can frustrate strict timelines and investment efforts. Why is continued scientific investment so important? Can science overcome many of the challenges it faces today in order to lead us to a brighter future? The Hill will bring policy-makers and thought leaders together to look at the historical contributions science has made to American advancement and the status of the scientific community today, featuring former NSF Director France Córdova, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.), Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar and more. RSVP today: https://bit.ly/2FT87wT.


What we’re reading

Several have been reinfected with COVID-19. Here’s what that means. (STAT)

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is a growing concern for researchers, health officials (The Wall Street Journal)

UK to allow emergency use of any effective COVID-19 vaccine (Associated Press


State by state

California’s new rules for coronavirus reopenings: It’s not all or nothing (San Francisco Chronicle

Alabama reentry COVID numbers were low, so why the spike? (AL.com)

Iowa sees record 2,579 cases and 79% coronavirus positivity rate (The Gazette

Trump DOJ targets Democratic governors for COVID-19 outbreaks in veterans homes (HuffPost)

Tags coronavirus pandemic coronavirus reinfection COVID-19 Donald Trump mask wearing Mikie Sherrill Ted Cruz Thom Tillis Trey Hollingsworth

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