One of the federal government’s top vaccine officials resigned from his role at the National Institutes of Health on Tuesday after accusing his superiors of politically motivated retaliation in response to his criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rick Bright, who formerly directed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, was removed from his post in April and reassigned to a narrower role at NIH, where, he said in a whistleblower complaint, his work was “thwarted by political considerations that continue to harm public health and safety.” The complaint accuses Department of Health and Human Services leaders of giving Bright a less prestigious job because he pushed back against President Trump’s lofty claims about hydroxychloroquine’s potential as a covid-19 treatment.
Here are some significant developments:
Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the latest in a string of White House officials to be infected.
The White House on Tuesday approved tough new standards for coronavirus vaccines after weeks of delay, but only after the Food and Drug Administration unilaterally published the guidelines on its website.
In the pantheon of Donald Trump tweets that didn’t age well — an enormous institution by this point — few stand out with the distinction of one he offered on March 9 of this year.
For the next seven months, people did indeed think about that. They thought about it when the toll of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, passed 27,000 deaths on April 13. They thought about it when the toll passed 37,000 on April 17. They thought about it when the toll passed 70,000 on May 5 and 100,000 on May 28 and 200,000 last month.
The devastation from the coronavirus was not akin to the seasonal flu. After all, those deaths occurred even with the economy stopping and then restarting only slowly, and those deaths happened even with broad efforts by people in most states to wear masks and maintain safe distancing practices. While fewer deaths would have occurred had the government acted more quickly, had life simply continued as normal, the toll would obviously have been far higher.
Across Maryland this week, prospective jurors will arrive at courthouses for the first time since March as the state restarts jury trials. Convincing them to show up — and keeping them safe after they arrive — is central to a long list of challenges to running trials during a global pandemic.
“Obviously jurors are concerned,” said Vincent Weaver, Montgomery County’s jury commissioner.
In preparation for the restart, Weaver’s office started mailing summonses on Sept. 3. They have since fielded about 50 virus-related calls a day from recipients. The callers range from open-minded questioners to those whose first words are “I do not feel comfortable coming in.”
The school said its decision was made “to reduce lines and wait times at gate entry points,” but it encouraged fans “to conduct a self-assessment before heading to the game to check for covid-19 symptoms.”
The White House offered an informal nod to coronavirus best practices Tuesday, with mask-wearing prevalent after months of flouting public health recommendations and new internal guidelines for interacting with President Trump, who tested positive for the virus late last week.
But the biggest source of resistance appeared to be Trump himself, who, despite having just come home from a three-night hospitalization, was defiant — lobbying to return immediately to work in the Oval Office, discussing an address to the nation as early as Tuesday evening and clamoring to get back on the campaign trail in the coming days.
At least nine White House employees have now tested positive for the virus, including senior adviser Stephen Miller, who got his result late Tuesday, a senior administration official said. Trump’s aides, allies and advisers find themselves grappling with how to implement more safety measures and precautions without displeasing their boss, who continues to say — as he did in a tweet Monday — “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
Mexican officials announced Monday they have changed their methodology for counting coronavirus cases and reported a total of 789,780 cases and more than 81,800 deaths, adjusting upward their figures by more than 24,000 cases and over 2,700 deaths.
The methodology, which was first implemented two months ago, allows officials to report cases under a new standard of “epidemiological association,” which means official numbers now include cases of people who did not have a test to confirm the virus but who presented covid-19 symptoms. The new estimates also include those who were not tested but were in contact with someone with a positive test or a confirmed covid-19 cause of death.
Before this methodology was used, Mexico reported only confirmed cases and deaths based on positive test results, which prompted sharp criticism by experts who argued those numbers did not reflect the true severity of the pandemic, considering the country’s low testing rate.
The pandemic’s death toll in Mexico has been a cause of wide debate and controversy since the virus first hit the nation, causing one of the most severe outbreaks in the world. Authorities have acknowledged that definite figures will not be available for a long time because the collection of data and independent analysis of suspicious cases by expert panels are still underway.
But amid rising criticism and media reports of the government’s underreporting of covid-19 deaths, authorities admitted that the Mexican capital, Mexico City, sufferedup to three times as many deaths as it normally would from March through May, which experts say sheds light on the pandemic’s true damage to the city and the country.
The figures reported Monday did not reflect a spike, Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Hugo López-Gatell, said in a news conference Tuesday, but rather a reflection of the broadened set of standards that determine coronavirus cases.
Gatell explained that, since April, authorities have been reporting covid-19 deaths of people without a positive test result based on a medical analysis of suspicious cases.
Gatell said the pandemic is on a decline and pointed to a drop in cases and deaths for nine consecutive weeks, with an average of 310 deaths per day.
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Stephen Miller, senior White House aide, tests positive for the coronavirus
Stephen Miller, senior policy adviser to President Trump, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to two senior administration officials.
Miller previously had a series of negative test results in the days since Trump’s diagnosis.
Miller is the latest among those in Trump’s orbit to contract the virus, a list that includes senior adviser Hope Hicks, campaign manager Bill Stepien, former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Trump’s inner circle helped him prepare for last week’s debate where they gathered maskless in a room together.
Miller’s wife, Katie, an aide to Vice President Pence, contracted the virus back in May. She tested negative this morning and is currently traveling with Pence who debates Democratic rival Sen. Kamala D. Harris on Wednesday night.
Pence last tested negative Tuesday afternoon, Pence’s physician, Jesse Schonau, said in a memo, adding the vice president is “encouraged to go about his normal activities and does not need to quarantine.”
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Contradictory and confusing White House statements offer an incomplete picture of Trump’s health
Information about President Trump’s condition has been incomplete, confusing and, at times, contradictory since early Friday morning when the commander in chief announced that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, over his course of illness, has had,” Conley said. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction. And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. … The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
Conley and his team cleared Trump to be discharged from the hospital Monday evening, though many experts note that the president is still at a stage in the illness when patients are prone to unexpected complications, and Conley himself acknowledged that he wouldn’t take a “final deep sigh of relief” until early next week.
Widespread Republican recalcitrance about federal health guidelines showed few signs of waning on Monday, even as the party faces growing turmoil following President Trump’s hospitalization and as more White House aides test positive for the novel coronavirus.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and at least two of her deputies have now contracted the virus, further derailing the functioning of a West Wing plunged into crisis and adding to a long list of top Republicans who have been infected.
But many Republicans continue to dismiss calls for alarm about the virus’s spread — and for changes to the party’s message on the pandemic.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who tested positive last week, said in an interview with a conservative talk-show host that there is “a level of unjustifiable hysteria” about a virus that has killed nearly 210,000 Americans and asked, “Why do we think we actually can stop the progression of a contagious disease?”
When President Trump came down with the novel coronavirus last week, CNN’s pollsters rushed to insert new questions into a survey. Among the new questions: Will Trump’s diagnosis change the way he confronts the virus? Americans said overwhelmingly that it would not, 63 percent to 35 percent.
Sixty-three percent of those respondents made a very safe bet. Trump, meanwhile, is apparently going to keep gambling — with American lives and his political future.
Over the past few days, Trump has offered what amounts to a remarkable and dumbfounding double-down on his coronavirus messaging: downplaying it, having his doctors hide information, taking a joyride that could endanger the people riding in the car with him, demonstrably removing his mask upon returning to the White House, and sending tweets urging people not to be “afraid” of the virus and rekindling his long-abandoned comparisons of it to the flu.
One of the federal government’s top vaccine officials has resigned from his role at the National Institutes of Health, the latest development in a saga that has involved a whistleblower complaint and alleged retaliation.
Rick Bright, who formerly directed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, was removed from his post in April and reassigned a narrower role at NIH. He then filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, accusing superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services of giving him a less prestigious job because he sought to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency” and pushed back against Trump’s lofty claims about hydroxychloroquine’s potential as a covid-19 treatment.
In an amendment to that complaint dated Oct. 6, Bright’s attorneys say he has been given only one assignment in his new position and has received “no meaningful work” since early September.
“Dr. Bright was forced to leave his position at NIH because he can no longer sit idly by and work for an administration that ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists, resulting the in the sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” his attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said in a statement.
The NIH released a brief statement acknowledging Bright’s resignation but did not address his allegations.
“We can confirm that Dr. Bright has resigned, effective today,” the statement read. “NIH does not discuss personnel issues beyond confirming employment.”
In Bright’s complaint, he said he tried to sound the alarm about the virus in early January, when others in the administration appeared to him to be underestimating the threat. He said he called early for the development of vaccines and the stockpiling of supplies such as masks and swabs.
“In response,” the complaint says, “HHS political leadership leveled baseless criticisms against him and sidelined him because of his insistence that the Trump administration address these shortages and invest in vaccine development as well.”
Bright’s attorneys said he had “no choice but to tender his resignation.”
Facebook removes Trump post calling the coronavirus ‘less lethal’ than the flu
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook removed a post from President Trump on Tuesday that called coronavirus “far less lethal” than the flu, reinforcing tension between the social media company and the president as the election approaches.
Twitter left the same post on its site but hid it under a public interest notice and limited how it could be shared.
“Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” Trump’s tweet and now-deleted Facebook post reads.
In President Trump’s personal orbit, the coronavirus case count continues to creep upward.
More than a dozen White House officials have recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including some who are among the at least nine guests and two journalists who tested positive after they attended Amy Coney Barrett’s Sept. 26 Supreme Court nomination event in the Rose Garden.
Trump announced his positive test early Friday, and was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center later that day. He returned to the White House Monday, where he removed his mask, despite doctors saying he was still contagious.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a new order Tuesday restricting the size of indoor gatherings after rampant spread of the coronavirus has made the state a national hot spot.
The emergency order limits public gatherings to 25 percent of a room or building’s occupancy. For spaces without an occupancy limit, gatherings can include no more than 10 people.
“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” Evers (D) said in announcing the order. “We are continuing to experience a surge in cases and many of our hospitals are overwhelmed, and I believe limiting indoor public gatherings will help slow the spread of this virus.”
The order carries extensive exemptions, notably for schools, colleges, churches, polling locations and political rallies — yet it is likely to face political and legal resistance from state Republicans, who have fought the Democratic governor’s past public health policies.
Wisconsin’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court struck down Evers’s stay-at-home order in May, and Republicans have also mounted legal challenges to the governor’s mask mandate. Infections in the state have surged at a startling clip in the past month, with schools and college campuses reopening and cooler weather driving people inside where the virus can spread more easily. Local experts have also pointed to a decline in mask-wearing and social distancing.
Only Texas and California — the country’s most populous states — are reporting more new cases of the coronavirus per day than Wisconsin, according to data gathered and analyzed by The Washington Post.
Pence, Harris teams at odds over plexiglass at debate
Vice President Pence is requesting that no plexiglass dividers be placed on his side of the stage at Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate, after an announcement Monday by the Commission on Presidential Debates that dividers had been agreed to as a safety measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, said the vice president’s team does not view plexiglass dividers as medically necessary, given other safety measures at the debate, including a 12-foot distance between Pence and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and daily testing of both candidates.
The commission and the Biden campaign both said Tuesday they understood that the Pence team was in agreement with the notion of plexiglass barriers. But the Pence team suggested they did not want any such dividers around the vice president, regardless of what Harris does.