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In a rare and extraordinary rebuke, seven former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration wrote an op-ed accusing the Trump administration of interfering politically with the agency, with potentially catastrophic effects on public trust in a coronavirus vaccine.

The column, which was published online Tuesday afternoon in The Washington Post, detailed a recent pattern of interference, including President Trump’s threat to reject a proposed FDA guidance detailing the criteria the agency will use to judge a coronavirus vaccine, and decisions by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to revoke the FDA’s authority to regulate lab-developed tests and to sign its own rules.

Here are some significant developments:
September 29, 2020 at 11:30 PM EDT
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The business lunch will eventually be back — because Zoom can’t replace everything

By Emily Heil

In the Before Times, you could usually find Brian Donahue lunching at one of the power-dining spots around the White House and K Street.

Meeting with current or prospective clients of his D.C.-based media and public affairs firm was a crucial part of his job.

“Washington is a relationship town,” Donahue says. “And those relationships are forged and strengthened over the opportunity to share meals and toast drinks.”

The coronavirus pandemic ended that, of course, emptying offices in downtowns from Washington to San Francisco. Restaurants catering to the loafers-and-heels set — and the corporate credit cards they wielded — now look like ghost towns.

The business lunch will one day make a return, business professors, networking experts and professionals agree. But when the ritual resumes, they predict, it might be less frequent simply because workers will spend less time in their offices.

September 29, 2020 at 10:45 PM EDT
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The NHL completed its bubble playoff without one coronavirus case. It was no small feat.

By Samantha Pell

It has been nearly a full year since the NHL regular season began. It has been more than six months since the league suspended play as the novel coronavirus swept across globe. But on Monday, in an isolated bubble in Edmonton, the NHL finally wrapped up its pandemic-challenged year, with the Tampa Bay Lightning lifting the Stanley Cup.

Sixty-five days after teams entered the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto for the postseason, the league pulled off a feat that seemed close to unthinkable when the stoppage began.

“The gauntlet that you have to run to hoist this trophy is unbelievable and even more unbelievable this year,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said before presenting the Cup to Tampa Bay. “These guys have been away from home for more than two months. This has been the ultimate team effort. This Stanley Cup run will go down in record books as perhaps the hardest run of all time.”

September 29, 2020 at 10:30 PM EDT
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On masks, Biden cites Trump’s own health officials as Trump sows doubt

By Isaac Stanley-Becker

Making the case for masks, Biden pointed to the words of Trump’s own top health officials, citing the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who recently called face coverings “our best defense.”

Trump, meanwhile, seemed to suggest these officials were untrustworthy, pointing to conflicting advice they had offered during earlier phases of the pandemic. The president said he wears masks when he sees a pressing need to do so.

The clash became personal as the candidates defended their distinct styles of campaigning during the pandemic. Trump has held raucous events, mostly outdoors but often with numerous supporters not wearing masks. Biden said this is an irresponsible approach, as the president fired back that his opponent simply cannot muster the crowds.

September 29, 2020 at 10:15 PM EDT
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International election observers open U.S. mission amid concerns over coronavirus and other complications

By Miriam Berger

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) officially opened their international mission for monitoring the November elections on Tuesday, amid concerns that the novel coronavirus and delays in the U.S. Postal Service, along with rhetoric from the White House, could undercut the electoral process and voter confidence.

Urszula Gacek, the head of the mission run by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), told a virtual news briefing from D.C. that this could be the “most politically and technically challenging election” for the United States in recent years. The OSCE has worked on U.S. elections since 2002.

Already the global pandemic has affected ODIHR’s work: In a June report, the agency recommended that member states send 500 observers to monitor the election process. But in part due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the agency is sending just 30 observers, in addition to nearly 20 who have already arrived in Washington.

“Election officials will face serious challenges prior to and on election day, due to new measures in response to Covid-19 pandemic, and expressed concerns over their ability to overcome them,” the June report warned.

The ODIHR mission will release its first preliminary report in three weeks assessing how the electoral process compares to international standards in the lead-up to the Nov. 3 vote. The monitors will also assess media coverage and rhetoric. On Election Day itself, its observers will be deployed at voting stations around the country. Some states, however, have prohibited international observers in polling stations, contravening international agreements, Gacek said.

The mission will remain in the United States until after the vote counting process is complete. Gacek estimated that “probably by the 15th [of November] we should have more or less wrapped out.” The agency will then release its final report, which will include recommendations for improving elections.

Gacek stressed that her mission’s methodology for accessing the U.S. voting process is the same that the agency deploys while monitoring elections around the world.

September 29, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT
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Biden attacks Trump on coronavirus deaths; Trump goes after Biden’s intelligence

By Colby Itkowitz

Biden was asked whether he and Harris are contributing to fear around the coronavirus by saying that Trump isn’t listening to scientists.

As Biden began to answer the question, Trump interjected to say that he’s spoken “to the scientists that are in charge” and that there will be a vaccine soon.

Biden looked into the camera and said, “You believe for a moment what he’s telling you, in light of all the lies he’s told you about the whole issue relating to covid? He still hasn’t even acknowledged that he knew this was happening, knew how dangerous it was going to be.”

“A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter a lot quicker,” Biden said.

Trump bristled, “Did you use the word ‘smart?’ ”

You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word ‘smart’ with me. Don’t ever use that word,” Trump said. “Because you know what? There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”

September 29, 2020 at 9:50 PM EDT
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Biden: Trump ‘panicked’ on the coronavirus

By Sean Sullivan

Biden, hitting on a central theme of his campaign, aggressively criticized Trump’s handling of the novel coronavirus. “You don’t panic. He panicked,” said Biden, citing Trump’s justification for playing down the threat of the pandemic.

The president brushed aside attacks of his navigation of the pandemic, which has been widely criticized.

Biden also raised doubts about Trump’s pursuit of a vaccine, saying that Trump “puts pressure" on scientists, which could create a pace and outcome at odds with the views of experts.

“I don’t trust him at all,” said Biden.

“You’ll have a vaccine soon,” said Trump.

September 29, 2020 at 9:45 PM EDT
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HBCUs show higher compliance with mask wearing, social distancing — and lower infection rates, report says

By Kim Bellware

Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, have reported lower coronavirus infection rates and generally higher compliance with social distancing and public health rules compared to predominantly White institutions, according to a new analysis by Inside Higher Education.

The analysis focused on schools such as North Carolina A&T State University, a historically Black school, which resumed classes on Labor Day.

More than 6,000 cases of covid-19 have been reported in 46 schools throughout North Carolina, according to data tracked by the New York Times. In one comparison, Western Carolina University, which is predominantly White and has similar enrollment as NCA&T, reported 129 cases of covid-19 where NCA&T, the HBCU, reported 62 cases.

Todd Simmons, NCA&T associate vice chancellor for university relations, told Inside Higher Education that the difference in population size alone can’t account for the disparity in infection rates: He suggested that HBCU students might approach college with a different mind-set than students at other schools and cited the awareness many Black students have about the health and safety threats their communities face when it comes to both the pandemic and racial violence.

“Our students are different because they’re facing two different threats, covid-19 and the racial reckoning,” Simmons said. “They are constantly seeing that play out, and they don’t know if the government has their back, so there’s a higher premium for them to protect themselves and each other to ensure they don’t fall victims to illness or violence.”

A summer of social upheaval over racism and police brutality against Black Americans coupled with Black people being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic also prompted some HBCUs to stay within a close-knit community, effectively creating a campus bubble.

September 29, 2020 at 9:06 PM EDT
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Seven former FDA commissioners accuse Trump administration of undermining the agency

By Laurie McGinley and Reis Thebault

In a rare and extraordinary rebuke, seven former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration wrote an op-ed accusing the Trump administration of interfering politically with the agency, with potentially catastrophic effects on public trust in a coronavirus vaccine.

The column, which was published online Tuesday afternoon in The Washington Post, detailed a recent pattern of interference, including President Trump’s threat to reject a proposed FDA guidance detailing the criteria the agency will use to judge a coronavirus vaccine, and decisions by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to revoke the FDA’s authority to regulate lab-developed tests and to sign its own rules.

Trump and Azar have imperiled the FDA’s ability to “make the independent, science-based decisions that are key to combating the pandemic and so much more,” the commissioners wrote.

The letter was signed by agency chiefs who have served in Democratic and Republican administrations over three decades: David Kessler, who worked for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Jane Henney, who worked for Clinton; Mark McClellan and Andrew von Eschenbach, who worked for George W. Bush; Margaret Hamburg and Robert Califf, who worked for Barack Obama, and Scott Gottlieb, who worked for Trump.

The commissioners said Trump’s effect on the public’s confidence in the FDA is already surfacing in polling data, pointing to a recent Axios-Ipsos poll that found more than 40 percent of Americans didn’t trust the agency to look out for their best interests.

“The implications of the recent shift are potentially dire,” they wrote.

Several of the commissioners have issued joint statements before — for example, on opposing drug importation. But the new letter stands out because it directly criticizes the current administration.

“Political intrusion," they concluded, "only prolongs the pandemic and erodes our public health institutions.”

In a separate event sponsored by the advocacy group Friends of Cancer Research, Peter Marks, the top FDA career official overseeing vaccines, said the proposed guidance was an effort by the agency to be transparent about its standards. He did not indicate whether the guidance would ever be issued but said the pharmaceutical companies were fully aware of its contents.

September 29, 2020 at 8:30 PM EDT
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Majority of Americans trust scientists, though attitudes are heavily split along partisan lines, report says

By Kim Bellware

A majority of Americans trust and support science and scientists at some of the highest levels seen in 50 years, according to a new study from Pew Research that surveyed attitudes about science around the world.

In the United States, 38 percent of those surveyed had “a lot” of trust in scientists to do what’s right for the public — slightly above the global median — while 39 percent reported having “some” trust; only 21 percent of American respondents said they had little or no trust.

The wide-ranging report — which was conducted before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic — found that Americans’ high regard of scientists and the scientific field largely reflects global attitudes that show people trusting scientists more than almost any other prominent group or institution in society, including politicians, the news media and business leaders.

Among Americans, trust in the scientific community was heavily split along partisan lines: 62 percent of respondents who identified as liberal reported “a lot” of trust in scientists to do what’s right for the public, compared with 20 percent of self-identified conservatives. With 42 percentage points separating the political right and left, the United States has the starkest political polarization where trust in scientists is concerned.

The polarization appears to be reflected in public opinion polls from the summer related to the pandemic in which conservatives generally polled as being less concerned about the virus, less serious about social distancing and less supportive of mask mandates.

Despite the wide distribution among political ideologies in the United States, 82 percent of Americans polled said government investment in scientific research was “worthwhile,” while a majority said being a worldwide leader in scientific achievement was “somewhat” to “very” important.

September 29, 2020 at 8:19 PM EDT
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Pelosi, Meadows say they’re hopeful new economic relief deal is within reach

By Erica Werner

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows both said Tuesday they’re hopeful they can reach a new economic stimulus agreement, a fresh burst of optimism one day after House Democrats unveiled a new bill and stalled talks resumed.

Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol an agreement could come this week, which is supposed to be Congress’s final one in session before recessing through the election. She spoke by phone for about 50 minutes Tuesday morning with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, with whom she negotiated four relief bills in March and April totaling about $3 trillion.

Pelosi and Mnuchin are set to talk again Wednesday, at which point Mnuchin is expected to come back with a more detailed response, according to two people with knowledge of the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss them.

September 29, 2020 at 7:45 PM EDT
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As colleges reopened, many more young people got covid-19, CDC reports

By Susan Svrluga

Covid-19 cases surged nationally among 18- to 22-year-olds between Aug. 2 and Sept. 5, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which urged young adults as well as colleges and universities to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Weekly cases among the age group jumped 55 percent across the country during that time and made up a bigger share of overall cases, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The agency said the increase in cases couldn’t fully be explained by ramped-up testing as colleges reopened for the fall.

The Northeast saw the biggest spike in virus cases among 18- to 22-year-olds, with a 144 percent increase. Cases in the Midwest among that age group also rose dramatically, with a 123 percent increase.

September 29, 2020 at 7:22 PM EDT
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Analysis: A grim coronavirus benchmark highlights America’s failure to halt the pandemic

By Philip Bump

Out of every 1,600 Americans who was alive at the beginning of 2020, one has since died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that’s still spreading around the world. That’s almost certainly a low number; in fact, it’s likely that the death toll from the virus in the United States is closer to 263,000, compared to the 204,000 that The Washington Post has confirmed. That would mean that one out of every 1,250 Americans has now died from the virus.

Globally, the confirmed death toll from the virus has passed 1 million. That, too, is low. It’s low because some cases haven’t been confirmed to have been caused by the virus (though can be inferred, as above, from elevated death tolls). It’s also low because some countries (probably including Iran and China) have underreported even deaths that they’ve confirmed. But it is nonetheless a milestone and a tragic one.

The numbers should serve as a reminder of how badly the United States has fared during the pandemic.

September 29, 2020 at 6:45 PM EDT
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A chaotic, down-to-the-wire start of school in New York serves as a harbinger for other cities

By Moriah Balingit

NEW YORK — In the neighborhood of East New York, elementary school Principal Janet Huger-Johnson, who grew up there, aims to make her school a sanctuary, a place where kids might be able to forget for a moment that they are living through a pandemic.

So Tuesday, the day tens of thousands elementary school students were to be welcomed back across New York City, she donned a pair of colorful sneakers and a polo shirt with East New York Elementary School of Excellence emblazoned on it. It was also personalized with her own slogan: “It’s Huger Time.”

Huger-Johnson tried to broadcast warmth through two masks and watched as lines of students, spaced out along yellow circles that had been spray painted on the sidewalk, took their first steps into the building since mid-March. The hallways were mostly empty, and the freshly polished linoleum glistened. The school was somehow both frozen in time and hurtling toward an uncertain future. Bulletin boards in the hallways were wrapped in cellophane, displaying winter-themed art projects and presentations from Black History Month, which was in February.

September 29, 2020 at 6:00 PM EDT
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Virginia reports at least 31 inmate deaths from covid-19

By Hannah Denham

At least 31 people incarcerated in Virginia have died of covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to updated numbers from the Virginia Department of Corrections.

The prison network comprises 42 correctional centers and units, and the number of coronavirus cases has more than doubled since June. In total, the department has reported 3,634 coronavirus infections, 474 active cases on-site at the facilities and 18 active hospitalizations.

More than half of the deaths have come from the Deerfield Correctional Center in Southampton County, a state prison for men with a high population of elderly and disabled inmates. The facility has reported a massive coronavirus outbreak, relative to other state prison systems in the United States: 17 deaths and 723 total infections.

The department also reported one coronavirus-related death and 84 active infections among staff members at the correctional facilities.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has overseen the early release of 864 incarcerated people from corrections facilities, local jails and institutional hospitals as of Sunday. But advocates for criminal justice reform say the state should do more to protect the health of inmates, particularly those who are medically vulnerable.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a notice with the state last week, following its lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections, calling for an independent expert to oversee the prison system’s coronavirus response.