• Sat. Sep 19th, 2020

Dimancherouge

Technology

Live Covid-19 News: Political Appointees Meddled in C.D.C. Updates

Trump appointees at the Health and Human Services Department have meddled in the C.D.C.’s weekly disease reports.

Political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services have repeatedly asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise, delay and even scuttle reports on the coronavirus that they believed were unflattering to President Trump.

Current and former senior health officials with direct knowledge of phone calls, emails and other communication between the agencies confirmed on Saturday a report in Politico late Friday that the C.D.C.’s public Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports have been targeted by senior officials in the Health and Human Services’ communications office.

The reports, which one former top health official called the “holiest of the holy” in agency literature, are written largely for scientists and public health experts, to update them on trends in infectious diseases, not only the coronavirus but also other outbreaks around the country. They are guarded so closely by agency staff members that political appointees only see them just before they are published.

The reports became the subject of intense scrutiny this summer by Michael Caputo, a Republican political operative and former Trump campaign official the White House installed as the top spokesman at the department in April, despite his having no background in health.

Mr. Caputo himself said on Saturday the Politico’s report was largely accurate, but he denied that there was any overt pressure involved. He said that the primary person involved in critiquing the reports, Paul Alexander, an assistant professor of health research at McMaster University in Canada whom he hired to advise him on the science of the pandemic, simply offered direct reactions to the drafts of the C.D.C.’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports.

“He digs into these M.M.W.R.s and makes his position known, and his position isn’t popular with the career scientists sometimes,” Mr. Caputo said of Mr. Alexander. “That’s called science. Disagreement is science. Nobody has been ever ordered to do anything. Some changes have been accepted, most have been rejected. It’s my understanding that that’s how science is played.”

In emails obtained by Politico and confirmed to The Times by a health official with direct knowledge of them, Mr. Alexander accused C.D.C. scientists of trying to “hurt the president,” referring to the weekly reports as “hit pieces on the administration.” Mr. Alexander asked Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director, to edit reports that had already been published, which he believed overstated the risks of the virus for children and undermined the administration’s efforts to encourage school reopenings.

The meddling from Washington concerned Dr. Redfield, according to one former senior health official, who often pushed back when Mr. Caputo called to pester him about the reports.

Inside the C.D.C., employees expressed outrage and demoralization on Saturday over the reports of interference.

AstraZeneca suspended its trial last Sunday after a participant in Britain became seriously ill. The company did not announce the decision. On Wednesday, after the news organization Stat reported that the trial had paused, AstraZeneca released a statement that described it only as a “potentially unexplained illness.”

Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and an expert on clinical trials, found both announcements worrisome, contending that the companies were withholding crucial information.

“The public has a right to know what’s going on,” he said. “The future depends on it.”

AstraZeneca and Pfizer are among the three companies that are currently testing their candidates in late-stage clinical trials in the United States — Moderna is the third — in a record-setting race to develop a vaccine. All three have said they expect to have one ready — at least for high-priority groups — before the end of the year.

Michele Meixell, a spokeswoman for AstraZeneca, did not say when she expected the trials in other countries to restart. “AstraZeneca will continue to work with health authorities across the world and be guided as to when other clinical trials can resume,” she said.

Dr. Topol, who has run clinical trials for heart treatments, said it was routine for them to be put on hold and then resumed.

But the public statement about the trial going forward only in Britain left him baffled. “Why would it go forward in one country?” he said. “We’re all people. That’s peculiar.”

A report published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that young children at three child-care facilities in Utah transmitted the virus to staff members, family and the surrounding community.

The findings undermine some previous assertions about the likelihood that the very young could spread the virus. Studies from South Korea and other countries have suggested that children under 10 are less likely to spread the virus than adults.

The new research, published Friday, traced cases at three Salt Lake City facilities, including one in which an 8-month-old contracted the virus and transmitted it to both parents. Some of the children were asymptomatic when they spread the virus.

Researchers reviewed the contact-tracing data related to outbreaks at the child-care facilities between April 1 and July 10. The study found that during that time at least 184 people, 74 adults and 110 children, had been exposed to someone with the virus in those facilities. At two of the facilities, the children were all younger than 10; the third had an age range up to 13.

Of the 184 people exposed, 31 later tested positive for the virus, including 13 children. The study reported that 12 of those children had passed the virus along to at least 12 of their 46 contacts outside the centers. “Six of these cases occurred in mothers and three in siblings of the pediatric patients,” the study said. At least one parent was hospitalized.

The study had several critical limitations:

  • The testing strategy changed over time. For at least part of the study only symptomatic individuals were tested, which may have led to an undercount of cases.

  • Each of the three facilities was closed for some portion of the study period, during a statewide lockdown, limiting its use in suggesting patterns for child-care facilities at large.

Between April and July 10, when the study was conducted, guidance from public health experts shifted drastically, most notably regarding face coverings. In Utah, a mask mandate was not issued until July 23 and never applied to “children in a child-care setting.”

The study’s authors recommended that workers at child-care facilities wear masks at all times, especially when children are too young to wear them, and emphasized the importance of regular testing with timely results.

“Even when I think about it right now,” said Dr. Kiran Zaman, a critical care fellow, “it gives me goose bumps. It was a very scary, very overwhelming experience. It was a nightmare.”

At the conclusion of the playoffs, the plan would send the last teams standing to a World Series at the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark in Arlington. It would become the first stadium to host the entire World Series since 1944, when Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis hosted both the Cardinals and the Browns.

About 70 cars crammed into a downtown Los Angeles parking lot surrounded by high rises and a smattering of food trucks on Thursday night to watch “Concrete Cowboy,” a father-son film starring Idris Elba and set in North Philadelphia’s Black cowboy community.

In terms of movie premieres, it was unorthodox.

“It is a dream come true,” Ricky Staub, the 37-year-old white filmmaker making his directorial debut, said while standing in front of a huge screen. “I don’t know when you dream of releasing your movie it’s at a drive-in, but I never dreamed that my first movie would be an all-Black western set in Philly.”

Mr. Staub had ambitious plans when “Concrete Cowboy” landed coveted spots in the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. The plans all changed when Telluride was canceled because of the pandemic and Toronto opted for a hybrid model that features in-person screenings for Canadian audiences and a virtual version for everyone else.

For small indie films like “Concrete Cowboy,” the loss of traditional film festivals means not having a chance to build word-of-mouth momentum that could be the difference between becoming an unlikely Oscar darling or another also-ran in the video-on-demand market.

At the Venice Film Festival, held in person with certain safety restrictions, “One Night in Miami” — the directorial debut of the Oscar-winning actress Regina King — has already generated early awards chatter. Amazon recently bought it in a bidding war.

California is at the center of increasing concerns about extensive fraud in a federal program that provides unemployment benefits to freelancers, part-time workers and others lacking a safety net in the pandemic.

At the same time, there is growing evidence of problems keeping track of how many people are being paid through the program. The Labor Department has reported about 15 million claims for benefits nationwide. A comparison of state and federal records by The New York Times suggests that total may overstate the number of recipients by five million or more.

The program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, is part of a $2.2 trillion relief package enacted in March. In the latest Labor Department tally, the program accounted for nearly half the total recipients collecting jobless benefits of any kind.

It appears that nearly seven million people are collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits in California alone, far more than its population would suggest. The state’s own data suggests that the number may be less than two million. Experts on the unemployment system say such discrepancies seem to reflect multiple counting of individual applications as states rushed out payments.

But a surge in new claims in California is attributed not to accounting, but to fraud.

Fraud is not uncommon in hastily assembled disaster programs, but signs of trouble with this program have been surfacing for months as people who did not file claims found benefits issued in their names. A growing number of states have signaled that the problems with the program go beyond the routine.

Colorado said on Thursday that in a six-week stretch this summer, 77 percent of new claims under the program were not legitimate.

Reporting was contributed by Noah Weiland, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Abby Goodnough, Ben Casselman, Damien Cave, Patricia Cohen, Helene Cooper, Conor Dougherty, Rebecca Halleck, Javier C. Hernández, Jonathan Huang, Mike Ives, Apoorva Mandavilli, Zach Montague, Benjamin Mueller, Dan Powell, Nelson D. Schwartz, Nicole Sperling, Jim Tankersley, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Katie Thomas and Carl Zimmer.

Source Article