“When senior Food and Drug Administration officials held their morning call one day this week, they received a sobering warning from the agency’s chief, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, who had just gotten off the phone with the White House: Block out “all the craziness” afoot and stay focused on fighting the pandemic, he said.
There are plenty of distractions. President Trump is pushing to overturn the results of the election and his only public statements about the coronavirus in the last few days were to make clear his pique that good news about a vaccine had not come until after Election Day — even as the number of new daily infections on Wednesday topped 140,000, average daily deaths shot past the 1,000 mark, and Covid-19 hospitalizations hit a record high of 65,368.
Vice President Mike Pence canceled a vacation at the last minute as the virus numbers grew worse, but the White House coronavirus task force that he leads has been all but publicly silent. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff who is infected with the virus, declared last month, “We are not going to control the pandemic,” and said the focus should instead be on the longer-term goals of developing vaccines and treatments.
Since then, the White House political director, Brian Jack, and two other White House aides have become the latest administration officials to test positive for the virus, people familiar with the diagnosis said on Wednesday.
The pandemic caught the nation flat-footed in March, but epidemiologists have been warning for months of a fall and winter wave as people are driven indoors, schools resume in-person classes and Americans grow tired of months of precautions. Yet shortages of personal protective equipment are back, especially among rural hospitals, nursing homes and private medical practices that lack access to the supply networks that serve larger hospital chains.
The Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency reserve, has only 115 million N95 masks, far short of the 300 million the administration had hoped to amass by winter, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who retired on Monday as the national supply chain commander, said in a recent interview, though he added that the government is continuing to expand its supplies of protective gear.
Dr. Shikha Gupta, the executive director of Get Us PPE, a volunteer effort that matches available supplies to health care providers, said 70 percent of those requesting help from the organization last month reported being completely out of some gear, especially masks, gloves and disinfecting wipes.
“Health care workers are exhausted and frustrated, and it’s really hard to believe that on Nov. 10, it feels very much like the middle of March all over again,” she said.
Governors are once again competing with one another and big hospital chains for scarce gear. Nursing homes are grappling with staff shortages, which have left hospitals unable to discharge patients to their care. In Wisconsin, the situation is so severe that health officials are mulling a plan to train family members of nursing home residents to fill in at facilities that lack enough workers.
“We’re throwing every idea that we can conceivably think of to the state, but we really need bold action from the federal government,” said John Sauer, the president of LeadingAge Wisconsin, an association that represents nonprofit nursing homes and long-term care facilities. “We can’t muddle through this on our own.”
The United States is on somewhat better footing now than in the earliest days of the pandemic. States and hospitals have their own stockpiles, and Admiral Polowczyk said the federal government had met its goal of acquiring 153,000 ventilators.
But as the country enters what may be the most intense stage of the pandemic yet, the Trump administration remains largely disengaged. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is trying to assume a leadership mantle, with the appointment of a coronavirus advisory board and a call for all Americans to wear masks, but until his inauguration on Jan. 20, he lacks the authority to mobilize a federal response.” (A)
“President-elect Biden’s transition team unveiled the members of his Covid-19 task force on Monday, a who’s-who of former government health officials, academics, and major figures in medicine…
Biden has cast the escalating Covid-19 crisis as a priority for his incoming administration. The task force, he said, would quickly consult with state and local health officials on how to best prevent coronavirus spread, reopen schools and businesses, and address the racial disparities that have left communities of color harder hit than others by the pandemic.
“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement Monday. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”
As expected, the board’s three co-chairs are Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale physician and researcher; Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general; and David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner…
Separately, the Biden transition announced that it had appointed two health advisers who will guide the incoming administration’s Covid-19 preparations but will not serve on the task force. One of those advisers, Beth Cameron, is the former director of a White House biodefense council that Trump has been criticized for closing in 2017. The other, Rebecca Katz, is a well-known Georgetown global health security professor.” (B)
“President-elect Joe Biden has formed a special transition team dedicated to coordinating the coronavirus response across the government, according to documents obtained by POLITICO and people familiar with the decision…
The Covid-19 team has not yet been formally announced and is largely separate from the coronavirus task force that Biden unveiled Monday, which is primarily advising Biden and handling the incoming administration’s public messaging…
The coronavirus transition team is broken down into three specialties, according to a roster obtained by POLITICO, with each led by a handful of transition officials dubbed the “central team.”
Those central team leaders will coordinate efforts with designated transition officials assigned to individual agencies, such as the Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and State departments.
The team’s “domestic” work is led by a five-person group that includes Sarah Bianchi, a top economic and domestic policy aide to Biden when he was vice president. Transition officials in that group include Johns Hopkins infectious disease expert Tom Inglesby and Luciana Borio, a former FDA official and National Security Council member.
The team’s “national security/foreign policy” work is headed by Rebecca Katz, director of Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, and Dylan George, a former biological threats specialist in the Obama administration. Members include Craig Fugate, who is part of Biden’s Homeland Security review team, and Deborah Rosenblum, a member of the Department of Defense review team.
The team’s third specialty, “tech strategy delivery,” is led by a five-person team that includes Mina Hsiang of the health care firm Devoted Health and Amy Pitelka, a tech legal and policy specialist.” (C)
(A)The Surging Coronavirus Finds a Federal Leadership Vacuum, By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Jacobs, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/11/us/politics/coronavirus-surge-trump.html?referringSource=articleShare
(B) Biden transition team unveils members of Covid-19 task force, By LEV FACHER, https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/09/biden-transition-team-unveils-members-of-covid-19-task-force/
(C) Biden forms special Covid transition team, By ADAM CANCRYN, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/11/biden-covid-transition-team-436089
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