> First Edition: Aug. 6, 2021 – We Sunny

First Edition: Aug. 6, 2021

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Hard Lessons From A City That Tried To Privatize Public Health

If you were growing up in Detroit in the 1970s or ’80s, chances are you knew the city’s Herman Kiefer public health complex by both sight and reputation. Opened at the turn of the century and later enhanced by renowned industrial architect Albert Kahn, the imposing brick complex was named after a local infectious disease doctor. As the city grew, so did the complex and the services offered within, becoming synonymous with public health in the eyes of many families and residents. (Barry-Jester, 8/6)

Pharmacies Face Extra Audit Burdens That Threaten Their Existence 

The clock was about to strike midnight, and Scott Newman was desperately feeding pages into a scanner, trying to prevent thousands of dollars in prescription payments from turning into a pumpkin. As the owner of Newman Family Pharmacy, an independent drugstore in Chesapeake, Virginia, he was responding to an audit ordered by a pharmacy benefit manager, an intermediary company that handles pharmacy payments for health insurance companies. The audit notice had come in January as he was scrambling to become certified to provide covid-19 vaccines, and it had slipped his mind. Then, a month later, a final notice reminded him he needed to get 120 pages of documents supporting some 30 prescription claims scanned and uploaded by the end of the day. “I was sure I’d be missing pages,” he recalled. “So I was rescanning stuff for the damn file.” (Hawryluk, 8/6)

Clarity On Covid Count: Pandemic’s Toll On Seniors Extended Well Beyond Nursing Homes

As covid-19 resurges across the country, driven by the highly infectious delta variant, experts are extending our understanding of the pandemic’s toll on older adults — the age group hit hardest by the pandemic. New research offers unexpected insights. Older adults living in their own homes and apartments had a significantly heightened risk of dying from covid last year — more than previously understood, it shows. Though deaths in nursing homes received enormous attention, far more older adults who perished from covid lived outside of institutions. (Graham, 8/6)

KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Delta Blues 

The U.S. is experiencing another surge of covid-19, particularly in Southern states where vaccination rates are generally lower than in other regions. But partisan fights rage on over what role government should play in trying to tamp down the highly contagious delta variant. Meanwhile, Democrats spent the week fighting amongst themselves about how to extend a moratorium on evictions, after the Supreme Court said Congress would need to act. (8/6)

U.S. Plans To Give Extra COVID-19 Shots To At-Risk Americans, Fauci Says 

The United States is working to give additional COVID-19 booster shots to Americans with compromised immune systems as quickly as possible, as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise, top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday. The United States is joining Germany, France and Israel in giving booster shots, ignoring a plea by the World Health Organisation to hold off until more people around the world can get their first shot. … “It is extremely important for us to move to get those individuals their boosters and we are now working on that,” Fauci said on a press call, adding that immunocompromised people may not be sufficiently protected by their existing COVID-19 vaccinations. (Hunnicutt and O’Donnell, 8/5)

The Wall Street Journal:
FDA Covid-19 Vaccine Booster Plan Could Be Ready Within Weeks

The Food and Drug Administration expects to have a strategy on Covid-19 vaccine boosters by early September that would lay out when and which vaccinated individuals should get the follow-up shots, according to people familiar with discussions within the agency. The Biden administration is pushing for the swift release of a booster strategy because some populations—people age 65 or older and people who are immunocompromised, as well as those who got the shots in December or January shortly after they were rolled out—could need boosters as soon as this month, two of the people said. (Armour and Hopkins, 8/5)

Roll Call:
Federal Officials Eye COVID-19 Booster Shots For Immunocompromised

The Biden administration is working to make COVID-19 vaccine booster shots available to immunocompromised people as quickly as possible, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Thursday. The announcement comes a day after the World Health Organization said poorer nations should be prioritized for first shots until September. Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a press briefing that data clearly show that in general, immunocompromised people such as some cancer patients who get vaccinated do not produce an adequate immune response that would protect them against the virus. (McIntire, 8/5)

The Wall Street Journal:
Moderna Recommends Covid-19 Vaccine Booster To Protect Against New Variants 

Moderna Inc. said Thursday it expects people who received its two-dose Covid-19 vaccine to need a booster shot in the fall to keep strong protection against newer variants of the coronavirus. The company said its vaccine remains 90% effective against preventing Covid-19 disease for at least six months, but said it sees a decline in antibody levels after six months, especially against newer strains of the coronavirus including the Delta variant. In a Phase 2 study, a third shot of the original formulation showed robust antibody responses against Covid-19 variants of concern, Moderna said. (Schwartz and Grossman, 8/5)

Moderna’s Covid-19 Vaccine Shows 93% Efficacy Through 6 Months, As Company Expects To Finish Application For Approval This Month 

Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine showed 93% efficacy against symptomatic disease through six months, and the company expects to complete its application for full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration this month, the company said Thursday. The efficacy data came from a final analysis of the vaccine’s Phase 3 study, which enrolled thousands of participants who received both doses last year, before it was made available to the wider public. “In final analysis” of the study, “the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine showed 93% efficacy, with the efficacy remaining durable through six months after administration of the second dose,” Moderna said in a news release. (Thomas and Hanna, 8/5)

J&J Vaccine Up To 96% Protective Against Death In Mass Trial

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine helps prevent severe disease among those infected with the delta variant, according to a trial involving almost 480,000 health workers in South Africa. The study, known as Sisonke, provides the first large-scale evidence that the J&J vaccine works against this dominant variant, according to trial co-lead Glenda Gray. It’s probably more protective against delta than it was with the earlier beta strain, she said in a presentation Friday. The single-dose shot was 71% effective against hospitalization and as much as 96% effective against death, she said. It also demonstrated durability of eight months. (Kew and Sguazzin, 8/6)

The New York Times:
Novavax Says U.S. Will Pause Funding For Production Of Its Vaccine 

Novavax, the Maryland firm that won a $1.75 billion federal contract to develop and produce a coronavirus vaccine, said on Thursday that the federal government would not fund further production of its vaccine until the company resolves concerns of federal regulators about its work. The firm’s disclosure came in a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Trump administration agreed to buy 110 million doses of vaccine from Novavax as part of its crash vaccine development program. (LaFraniere, 8/5)

The Washington Post:
Biden Administration Considers Withholding Funds And Other Measures To Spur Vaccinations

The Biden administration is considering using federal regulatory powers and the threat of withholding federal funds from institutions to push more Americans to get vaccinated — a huge potential shift in the fight against the virus and a far more muscular approach to getting shots into arms, according to four people familiar with the deliberations. The effort could apply to institutions as varied as long-term-care facilities, cruise ships and universities, potentially impacting millions of Americans, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. (Linskey and Pager, 8/5)

NBC News:
Biden Aims To Vaccinate More Kids Through Sports And PTAs

The Biden administration hopes it can encourage more children to get vaccinated through a network of pediatricians administering back-to-school sports physicals, schools hosting “pop-up” vaccination clinics and pediatricians parachuting into PTA meetings. They are all part of a final sprint — being announced Thursday by the White House and the Education Department — to vaccinate more children over age 12 before thousands of schools reopen amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, according to an administration official familiar with the plans. (Przybyla, 8/5)

CBS News:
Key Senate Vote On $1 Trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Expected Saturday 

The Senate debated amendments to the $1 trillion, 2,700 page bipartisan infrastructure bill late into the night Thursday before Majority Leader Chuck Schumer adjourned the session and said proceedings would resume Saturday. The New York Democrat said there would be a vote to cut off debate on the measure at the beginning of that session. A green light would set the stage for a vote on final passage early next week. (Quinn, 8/5)

Senators Gird For All-Nighter ‘On Steroids’ To Propel $3.5T Democratic Plan

Senate Democrats are speeding to sew up the budget framework that unlocks their multitrillion-dollar social spending plan, hoping to minimize the self-inflicted pain of the impending and arduous process. Democrats plan to take up the $3.5 trillion budget resolution immediately after the bipartisan infrastructure bill passes the Senate, kicking off the reconciliation process for their massive domestic package that lacks any Republican support. With a slow amendment process on the bipartisan bill and former Sen. Mike Enzi’s (R-Wyo.) funeral scheduled for Friday, the start of budget action will almost certainly cut into August recess. (Emma and Scholtes, 8/5)

Modern Healthcare:
Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Would Cut $8.7B Medicare Provider Pay

The bipartisan infrastructure bill would lead to a $8.7 billion reduction in Medicare payments to providers, according to an estimate released Thursday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The bill proposes a 4% cut to Medicare payment rates for the first six months of 2031 in part to pay for more than $500 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, and other surface infrastructure. The extension has been fiercely opposed by hospital groups, who argue Medicare shouldn’t be cut to pay for unrelated infrastructure projects. (Hellmann, 8/5)

The Wall Street Journal:
Fast-Spreading Delta Variant Threatens Robust U.S. Job Gains 

Employers are estimated to have added jobs at a robust rate in July, consistent with an economy that was healing from a pandemic-induced downturn before the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus threatened to slow the strong hiring trend. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect that U.S. payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 845,000 jobs in July. Such a pace would nearly match June’s gain, which was the best in 10 months. The economists also expect the Labor Department’s jobs report, to be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Friday, to show the unemployment rate fell to 5.7% from 5.9% in June, which would be the lowest jobless rate since the pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March 2020. (Morath, 8/6)

The Washington Post:
GOP Congressman Suing Pelosi Over Mask Mandate Contracts Coronavirus

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), one of three Republican members of Congress who last week filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the House mask mandate, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, he said in a statement Thursday. “After experiencing minor symptoms this morning, I sought a covid-19 test and was just informed the test results were positive,” Norman tweeted Thursday afternoon. “Thankfully, I have been fully vaccinated and my symptoms remain mild.” (Wang, 8/5)

NBC News:
Trump-Appointed Inspector General Blames FEMA — Not Task Force — For PPE Chaos

An inspector general found that data management problems hampered the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s distribution of personal protective equipment during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a draft of the soon-to-be-released report obtained by NBC News. The report from Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, places blame on the nation’s primary disaster response agency, rather than at the feet of the White House Coronavirus Task Force officials who ultimately had authority for the acquisition and distribution of the resources. (Allen, 8/5)

USA Today:
States Strongest Hit By COVID See Rise In Vaccinations As Cases Surge

Some of the states hardest hit by the pandemic — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma — are administering vaccinations at a higher rate not seen since April, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday during a briefing. Over the last 24 hours, there were a total of 864,000 vaccines administered, the highest since early July, Zients said. During the same period, 585,000 people received their first shot, an encouraging sign as the delta variant runs rampant through the unvaccinated. “For the Fourth week in a row, we’ve increased the daily average numbers of Americans newly vaccinated,” Zients said. “And importantly, were seeing the most significant increase in the states with the highest case rates.” (Vargas, 8/6)

USA Today:
COVID-19 Vaccinations Among Latinos, Blacks On The Rise, Data Suggests

Months into the nation’s unprecedented COVID-19 vaccination effort, disparities in vaccinating underserved populations have been stark, with data showing white people getting the shot at faster rates than Black and Hispanic people. Experts say that could be changing, as fears mount amid the new case surge and grassroots vaccination efforts begin to pay off. Over the past two weeks, people of color have been vaccinated with a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine more than white people when compared to their shares of the population, according to the latest CDC data. Though race and ethnicity information is only available for about 60% of the U.S. population, it shows a glint of promise, experts say. (Hassanein, 8/5)

USA Today:
California Mandates COVID Vaccines For Healthcare Workers

California’s public health department issued an order Thursday mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all workers in healthcare settings as the state sees the number of cases surge due to the delta variant. The order says all healthcare workers, including those working at hospitals and nursing home facilities, must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. The order applies to anyone who works at those facilities regardless of whether they have contact with patients, an estimated 2.2 million workers. “Recent outbreaks in health care settings have frequently been traced to unvaccinated staff members,” Tomás J. Aragón, director of the state’s health department, said in a release. (Ortiz and Miller, 8/5)

California To Mandate COVID-19 Vaccines For Health Workers

California will require all of its roughly 2.2 million health care workers and long term care workers to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 as the nation’s most populous state is losing ground in the battle against new infections of a more dangerous coronavirus variant. The order, issued Thursday by the California Department of Public Health, is different than what Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said last month when he announced health care workers would have the choice of either getting vaccinated or submitting to weekly testing. (Beam, 8/6)

Modern Healthcare:
Unions Divided Over Healthcare Worker Vaccine Mandates

As more healthcare organizations impose requirements for their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, support for mandates among the country’s leading labor groups has been mixed. Unions such as National Nurses United and the National Union of Healthcare Workers endorsed employer vaccine mandates, so long as workers voices are formally heard when policies are developed. Others, including the Service Employees International Union, have withheld support so far, and contend that these requirements present complex questions that go beyond a simple “yes” or “no” response. (Ross Johnson, 8/5)

NJ Governor To Require Masks For K-12 Students, School Staff

Staff members and students from kindergarten to 12th grade will be required to wear masks in New Jersey schools when the new year begins in a few weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy is set to announce Friday as COVID-19 cases rise in the state. The decision to require masks is an about-face from just a few weeks ago when Murphy said it would take a “deterioration” of COVID-19 data to require masks. Murphy’s spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna confirmed that the governor planned to announce the requirement. (Catalini, 8/6)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Lashes Out At Anti-COVID-Vaccination Protesters

Fed up with a group of demonstrators protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lashed out on Wednesday during a public bill signing. “These folks back there have lost their minds — you’ve lost your minds,” Murphy said, calling out to the protesters. “You are the ultimate knuckleheads, and because of what you are saying and standing for, people are losing their life. People are losing their life and you have to know that. Look in the mirror.” The governor had come to Union City to sign legislation that would allocate money to prevent evictions and give utility assistance. (Fischels, 8/5)

Arkansas Democrat Gazette:
State Lawmakers Vote Down 2 Bills Allowing Schools To Mandate Face Coverings

Arkansas lawmakers on Thursday voted down two bills that would have allowed school boards to implement mask mandates in certain instances, during a special session called by Gov. Asa Hutchinson for the purpose of allowing those mandates. The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor rejected House Bill 1003 by Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, as well as House Bill 1004 by House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock. (Herzog, 8/5)

Gov. Gordon Says No Mask Mandate For K-12 Public Schools

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon says he will not issue another mask mandate for public schools. “My focus is on supporting local school boards as they take into account conditions in their community and work to assure students learn safely this year too,” Gordon said in a statement released Wednesday. (8/6)

Southern California News Group:
California Superintendent Thurmond: Mandate Or Not, Folks, Just Get The Coronavirus Vaccine

The state’s top schools chief made another push for Californians to get their COVID-19 shots, saying during a visit to Los Angeles County on Wednesday, Aug. 4, that given the continuing rise in coronavirus cases just as schools are reopening, that the best thing people can do to protect themselves and others would be to get vaccinated immediately. There have been preliminary conversations at the legislative level about mandating vaccinations in K-12 schools, he said, noting, however, that there’s no guarantee if or when such a proposal would become law. No bill has been introduced, and the legislative session is set to end mid-September. (Tat, 8/5)

Arizona Doctors Urge Governor To Require Masks In Schools

More than 150 Arizona doctors on Thursday urged Gov. Doug Ducey to mandate masks in public schools, dialing up pressure as coronavirus cases rise and a growing number of school districts require their staff and students to mask up in defiance of a new state law. Scientists don’t yet know the long-term effects of the coronavirus on developing brains, the doctors wrote in a letter delivered to Ducey’s office. Ducey this summer signed legislation that bans schools from requiring children to wear masks. (Cooper, 8/5)

The Wall Street Journal:
Universities Face Student Lawsuits Over Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate

Hundreds of thousands of college and graduate students at public universities have been given a choice: Get fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or don’t show up to campus in the fall.More than a dozen students have opted for a third option: Sue their school. Students have brought federal lawsuits challenging the vaccination requirements at major public university systems in Indiana, Connecticut, California and Massachusetts. (Gershman, 8/6)

The New York Times:
School Is Back In Session In Atlanta. Teachers And Families Are Wary

When the Atlanta Public Schools reopened on Thursday, students and teachers anticipated — finally — something like a return to normalcy. Schools, now open for in-person classes five days a week, greeted students with balloons. The kindergartners at Morningside Elementary wore brightly colored crowns to celebrate. But even on the first day, families and school employees were already bracing for the possibility of things going awry. (Mzezewa, 8/5)

NBC News:
Vaccinated Parents’ New Worry: Can I Transmit Covid To My Unvaccinated Kids?

When Kate Eichelberger and her husband got their Covid-19 vaccinations, they felt a sense of protection — not just for themselves, but for their young children, too. At 6 and 8 years old, the kids are not yet eligible for Covid-19 shots, which are currently only available to those 12 and up. But Eichelberger felt relieved knowing that as a fully vaccinated adult, if she were exposed to the coronavirus at her workplace or anywhere else, it was unlikely she would bring it home to her children. (Chuck, 8/6)

Lamont Allows Local Leaders To Mandate Indoor Mask-Wearing

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday signed an executive order that allows municipal leaders to enact mask mandates for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people while inside public places. This latest order allows municipal leaders to move beyond Lamont’s current edict, which requires only unvaccinated people to wear masks while inside public places. It also requires everyone to wear them in specific settings, such as health care facilities, prisons, day care sites and public and private transit. (Haigh and Eaton-Robb, 8/6)

Los Angeles Times:
Palm Springs Will Require Vaccinations Or Negative Covid-19 Tests For Indoor Dining

The Palm Springs City Council has passed a motion that will require proof of vaccination — or recent negative COVID-19 test results — in order to dine or drink indoors. The regulations were approved unanimously during a special — and virtual — meeting Wednesday that was convened to discuss a series of new measures meant to curb the spread of the virus. Effective immediately, customers, employees and other visitors must wear face coverings in indoor settings. The same goes for large ticketed city events outside, such as the two-weekend music festival Splash House, which begins Aug. 13. (Breijo, 8/5)

Potential Military Vaccine Mandate Brings Distrust, Support

Since President Joe Biden asked the Pentagon last week to look at adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the military’s mandatory shots, former Army lawyer Greg T. Rinckey has fielded a deluge of calls. His firm, Tully Rinckey, has heard from hundreds of soldiers, Marines and sailors wanting to know their rights and whether they could take any legal action if ordered to get inoculated for the coronavirus. “A lot of U.S. troops have reached out to us saying, ‘I don’t want a vaccine that’s untested, I’m not sure it’s safe, and I don’t trust the government’s vaccine. What are my rights?’” Rinckey said. (Watson, 8/6)

In New York City, Impending Vaccination Rules Prompt Concern

Michael Musto can’t bring himself to ask his regulars at his Staten Island restaurant, Cargo Cafe, to prove they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus. So if New York City presses on with its plans to require eateries, bars, gyms and many other public gathering places to require patrons to show proof of vaccination before coming indoors, he will again shutter his dining room and move operations outside. (Calvan, 8/5)

Hawaii State, County Workers Face Vaccine, Testing Rules

As Hawaii reported another high Thursday in the number of new coronavirus cases, Gov. David Ige announced requirements for all state and county employees to disclose their vaccination status. Employees who don’t show proof of vaccination by Aug. 16 must take weekly tests and those who don’t comply could be fired, Ige said. (Kelleher, 8/6)

The Washington Post:
Virginia State Workers Need To Show Proof Of Covid Vaccination Or Get Tested, Northam Says

The governors of Virginia and Maryland on Thursday announced some state employees would be required to get vaccinated or get tested regularly for the coronavirus, but neither said he would reimpose a mask mandate as cases in the region continue to increase. Meanwhile leaders of several localities in Maryland — including Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, and Prince George’s County, the second-largest and the hardest hit by the virus — announced they were requiring indoor masks for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, as much of the state reached a “substantial” level of coronavirus transmission. (Portnoy and Wiggins, 8/5)

Fox News:
COVID-19 Cases In Children Surge 84% In 1 Week, Study Finds

COVID-19 cases in children are up 84% in the past week, with 72,000 kids testing positive for the virus, a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] reported on Wednesday. The new infections were recorded in the seven days leading up to July 29, up from 39,000 the week prior, according to the AAP report. AAP said it had teamed up with Children’s Hospitals of America to help collect and share data about pediatric cases of the virus, which have been only 14.3% of the total cumulative cases, the study says. That share rose to 19% for the week ending July 29. Since the pandemic began, 4.2 million children have tested positive for the virus. (Reilly, 8/5)

NBC News:
Is The Delta Variant More Dangerous For Children? A Growing Number Of Kids Are Very Sick

The number of very sick children admitted to Children’s Hospital New Orleans with Covid-19 has exploded over the past two weeks — from zero to 20. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Dr. Mark Kline, the hospital’s physician-in-chief. “We are seeing children fall ill that we just simply didn’t see in the first year of the pandemic, before the delta variant came along.” (Edwards, 8/5)

‘There Are Only So Many Beds’: COVID-19 Surge Hits Hospitals

Florida hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are suspending elective surgeries and putting beds in conference rooms, an auditorium and a cafeteria. As of midweek, Mississippi had just six open intensive care beds in the entire state. Georgia medical centers are turning people away. And in Louisiana, an organ transplant had to be postponed along with other procedures. “We are seeing a surge like we’ve not seen before in terms of the patients coming,” Dr. Marc Napp, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Florida, said Wednesday. “It’s the sheer number coming in at the same time. There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses.” (Kennedy and Marcelo, 8/5)

Doctor: Delta Variant Spread ‘like A Tsunami’ In Mississippi

Mississippi’s top health official said the delta coronavirus variant is “sweeping across Mississippi like a tsunami” as the state reported more than 3,000 new cases of the highly transmittable virus in a single day Thursday. “If we look at our trajectory, we see that it’s continuing to increase without any real demonstration of leveling off or decreasing,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a virtual briefing with news media. The state reported 3,164 new cases of coronavirus Thursday, marking 356,055 since the start of the pandemic. More than 7,600 people have died of coronavirus complications in the state of about 3 million. (Willingham, 8/5)

Montana Says 89% Of Hospitalized Covid Patients Not Vaccinated

Montana health authorities report 89% of the rural state’s hospitalized Covid-19 patients in June and July were unvaccinated and that the number of admissions and positive tests are on the rise. The 358 patients ranged in age from 1 year to 97, with a median age of 64, state public health director Adam Meier said in a statement Thursday. More than 445,000 residents are fully vaccinated, 48% of Montana’s eligible population. (Del Giudice, 8/5)

Houston Chronicle:
As COVID-19 Strains Houston Hospitals, Small Facilities Scramble To Transfer Patients Out Of State

For the past week, Brooke Hale has been told “no” about 80 times a day. The executive assistant at Altus Lumberton Hospital has spent her shifts on the phone in a windowless office, repeatedly asking other facilities within an 800-mile radius the same question: Can you take one of our critical COVID-19 patients? On Thursday, there were three. They needed intensive care, and without it they could die. Hale tried hospitals in Texarkana and Tyler, Lubbock and Lufkin, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi. None had room. “I feel helpless,” Hale said through her green N95 mask. “I feel like I can’t help patients like I need to.” (Despart, 8/6)

Tens Of Thousands Of Vaccinated People May Catch Covid-19. But The Unvaccinated Are ‘The Big Highway Of Transmission,’ Experts Say 

Tens of thousands of vaccinated people may catch Covid-19, but the majority will not fall severely ill — a testament to the efficacy of inoculations even against the Delta variant that has been fueling case surges across the US, a top health official said. The severity of the illness — not the number of people who contract the virus — is a crucial concept for people to understand at this point in the pandemic, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who heads the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Elamroussi, 8/6)

‘We Are Failing One Another:’ USA Today Front Page Implores People To Pay Attention To Covid Surge 

A newspaper’s front page is designed to get your attention — sometimes more so than usual. USA Today’s weekend edition, publishing Friday, is unusual. Its banner front page headline says, “We are failing one another. “The newspaper describes “America’s fourth Covid-19 surge,” noting this “didn’t have to happen,” since vaccinations are so widely available. The headlines are followed by a call to action: “Let’s end it now.” (Stelter, 8/5)

USA Today:
COVID ‘Delta Plus’ Variant: Why Experts Say You Shouldn’t Worry, Yet

The name itself – “delta plus” – suggests the variant underwent an upgrade to become more virulent. But while little is known about the sublineage and its mutations, health experts say it’s not spreading efficiently now in the U.S., and Americans shouldn’t add it to their pandemic worry list. “It’s a cool name that’s trending,” said Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the Cleveland Clinic. “When someone says ‘delta plus’ or any of these new names, it means the virus is continuing to evolve with us,” but there’s no evidence to suggest the new sublineage should be concerning. (Rodriguez, 8/5)

REGEN-COV Works As COVID Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, Study Says 

Using the monoclonal antibody cocktail REGEN-COV reduced the risk for symptomatic COVID-19 infection 81% in those exposed to a COVID patient, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study yesterday. The findings were used in the US Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to expand the drug’s emergency-use authorization; now, it can be used as post-exposure prophylaxis in high-risk populations, not just a treatment during infection. (McLernon, 8/5)

On Covid Relief, Hospitals Find An Unusual Ally In Susan Collins 

The lobbying frenzy began late last month, as senators and the White House desperately sought a way to pay for a high-stakes, high-profile infrastructure deal. One of their options: raiding $44 billion that had been set aside to help hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers recover from the pandemic, but was never spent. Providers panicked — until Sen. Susan Collins stepped in to save the funds. (Cohrs, 8/6)

Researchers Plumbing Mysterious RNAs Find A Possible Treatment 

When hundreds of scientists from around the world finally pieced together a draft of the first human genome in 2003, perhaps the biggest surprise was just how little of it was devoted to the business of producing proteins. About 98% of the genes in our chromosomes appeared not to do anything, earning the unflattering nickname “junk DNA.” But with better tools developed over the last 20 years, scientists began to discover that all that junk actually produces a diverse menagerie of RNA species transcribed and set loose to drift around the cell. (Molteni, 8/5)

Modern Healthcare:
Cigna, Blue Shield Of California Join Cricket Health’s $83.5M Funding Round

Kidney care startup Cricket Health raised $83.5 million in a Series B funding round, including money from two major health insurers, the company announced Thursday. Valtruis, a newly launched portfolio company focused on value-based care launched by private-equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe this week, led the $83.5 million funding round. Cigna and Blue Shield of California, two Cricket Health customers, also participated. Cigna was already a Cricket Health investor. Other participants included venture- and growth-equity investment firm Oak HC/FT and K2 HealthVentures, a firm that provides debt and equity capital. (Kim Cohen, 8/5)

Modern Healthcare:
Health Insurers Allegedly Use Biologic Shortage To Promote Biosimilars

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has accused large health insurers of using a biologic drug shortage as a means to push patients into using biosimilars for a common retina disease, even though the drugs haven’t been tested for that use. The San Francisco-based lobbying group called on seven health insurers to stop recommending the use of two biosimilars for Genentech USA’s Avastin, a biologic drug used to treat eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and some cancers. The industry group has asked CMS to stop insurers from pressuring patients to take biosimilars Zirabev from Pfizer and Mvasi from Amgen for age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in individuals over 60 and affects approximately 15 million people in the U.S. (Tepper, 8/5)

Crain’s Detroit Business:
Ascension Michigan To Pay Feds $2.8 Million Over Alleged Unnecessary Treatments

Ascension Michigan agreed to pay $2.8 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the health system submitted false claims for federal payment for alleged medically unnecessary procedures performed by one of its oncologists, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday. The government alleges the gynecological oncologist, who is not named because the suit was sealed as part of the settlement, performed “radical hysterectomies and chemotherapy.” A peer review performed at the hospital’s request determined less aggressive surgeries or medical interventions were appropriate. (Walsh, 8/5)

A Federal Appeals Court Throws Into Question The Fate Of ‘Skinny Labels’ — And Access To Generic Drugs 

In a decision with enormous implications for the U.S. health care system, a federal appeals court panel issued a ruling that throws into question the ability of generic companies to “carve out” uses for their medicines and supply Americans with lower-cost alternatives to pricey brand-name drugs. At issue is skinny labeling, which refers to an effort by a generic company to seek regulatory approval to market its medicine a specific use, but not other patented uses for which a brand-name drug is prescribed. For instance, a generic drug could be marketed to treat one type of heart problem, but not another. By doing so, the generic company seeks to avoid lawsuits claiming patent infringement. (Silverman, 8/5)

Philadelphia Inquirer:
Patients On High Doses Of Opioid Painkillers Risk Overdose When Tapering, Study Finds

Long-term pain patients on high amounts of opioid painkillers who taper their dose are at a higher risk of suffering a mental health crisis or an overdose, a new study has found. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, looked at a database of more than 113,000 patients prescribed higher doses of opioid painkillers between 2008 and 2019 — an average of about 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day — for at least a year. From there, they identified patients who had tapered their dose, which researchers defined as reducing it by at least 15% over a 60-day period. (Whelan, 8/5)

Suit: ‘Abandoned’ Man Dies In Hospital Waiting Room

A 72-year-old man who was struggling to breathe arched his back and waved his arm in an apparent bid to get someone’s attention shortly before slumping over in an emergency department waiting room, where he went unnoticed for hours, according to surveillance video released Thursday as part of a wrongful-death suit filed by his family. Staff at WellSpan York Hospital in Pennsylvania walked by Terry Odoms a dozen times over the course of two hours before a woman in blue scrubs finally checked on him and found him unresponsive in his wheelchair, the video showed. Efforts to revive him failed, and he was pronounced dead about an hour later. (Rubinkam, 8/6)

Los Angeles Times:
Newsom: It’s ‘Not Acceptable’ For Homeless To Camp On Streets

Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed strong support Thursday for increased efforts around California to remove large homeless encampments, calling them unacceptable and saying the state will need more federal help to create additional housing and expand services for homeless people. Newsom’s comments come at a time of growing alarm over the homelessness crisis, which has become a focus of criticism by Republican candidates running to replace him in the upcoming recall election. (Oreskes, 8/5)

The New York Times:
He Has Asthma And Cancer. But He Still Was Moved To A Crowded Shelter

Michael Garrett, 54 and homeless, has congestive heart failure, asthma and a defibrillator in his chest. He also has cancer, for which he is receiving chemo and radiation. And because of all that, he has a letter from the city telling him that he cannot be housed in a barracks-style group shelter, where 20 people often share a room. But early Thursday morning, that is exactly where Mr. Garrett was sent, in one of the latest glitches in New York City’s shelter system as it struggles to relocate 8,000 homeless people to group shelters from the hotels where they had been placed to stem the spread of Covid-19. (Newman, 8/5)

The New York Times:
Summer Camps Are Canceled As Western Wildfire Smoke Spreads. 

Summer camps in eastern Washington State had to shut down this week after a stretch of unhealthy haze. Officials in Montana issued air quality warnings for nearly the entire state. And Denver residents were said to be comparing hazy conditions to the “brown cloud” that resulted from traffic pollution in the 1990s. Wildfire smoke has been a problem across the country again this summer, following a fire season last year during which conditions got so bad that officials started telling Colorado residents to create a purified “safe room” as a barrier against the stifling smoke and ozone. (8/6)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.