Happy Friday! Where yours truly has parsed approximately 4,346,276,986 coronavirus stories to bring you the most important ones — such as the fact that 38% of Americans won’t buy Corona beer “under any circumstances” because of the outbreak; that apparently dog masks are now all the rage, despite the fact that health professionals say even healthy humans don’t need them; and that if you need of a cheat sheet on what facial hairstyles are officially called you can head over to the CDC for a nifty graphic. (The “walrus” might be my favorite.)
More seriously, here’s what you need to know about the outbreak dominating global attention, sending stocks plunging and creating a booming demand for hand sanitizer. I can tell you one common thread running through coverage about experts’ advice: Keep calm, carry on and wash your hands.
President Donald Trump cracked jokes about his germophobia and downplayed the severity of the coronavirus outbreak at a press conference this week, in which he put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the country’s coronavirus response. This raised immediate eyebrows, considering that under Pence’s watch Indiana weathered a major HIV outbreak largely attributed to decisions he made as governor.
By contrast, you have the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who has become a leading player in the crisis, saying it’s not a question of if but when the coronavirus will sweep into the U.S. She also said that she’s been talking with her kids about how to prepare and that “the disruption to everyday life might be severe.”
Not surprisingly, after all that whiplash, the administration decided all information released to the public must first get the OK from Pence.
Politico: Coronavirus Gets a Trumpian Response
The New York Times: Pence Will Control All Coronavirus Messaging From Health Officials
The New York Times: What Has Mike Pence Done in Health?
The New York Times: C.D.C. Officials Warn of Coronavirus Outbreaks in the U.S.
Meanwhile, a new case out of California put a harsh spotlight on the deep flaws of the CDC’s original testing parameters. The patient — who may be the first in the U.S. with no link to traveling abroad — was in the hospital for more than 10 days before the CDC approved a coronavirus test. The delay exposed about 100 health workers to the virus as well as set back any attempts to contain people she’d been in contact with.
Stat: A Single Coronavirus Case Exposes a Bigger Problem: The Scope of Undetected U.S. Spread Is Unknown
ProPublica: Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus
If a whistleblower is to be believed, those testing missteps weren’t the only ones made by the government in the early days of the response: New allegations have come to light that HHS workers who were sent to help with the U.S. evacuees weren’t given proper medical training or gear before being exposed to the patients.
The Washington Post: U.S. Workers Without Protective Gear Assisted Coronavirus Evacuees, HHS Whistleblower Says
Meanwhile, for a president who has tied his fate to the health of the stock markets, the global financial turmoil is more worrisome than ever.
Politico: Trump Faces ‘Black Swan’ Threat to the Economy and Reelection
One of the few good things about the coronavirus is that the vast majority of cases are mild. However, that’s also one of the things that might tip it into a pandemic. For more extreme illnesses (like Ebola), it’s far easier to isolate patients. But for those with symptoms that are essentially presenting as a mild cold, it’s harder to contain the spread.
On that note, it’s hard to tell just how lethal the disease is (and anyone who tells you otherwise, question their motives). Because so many cases are mild, some experts say we’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg, and the mortality rate would drop if we had a better sense of how many people are actually infected. Others argue that there’s no evidence that officials don’t have an accurate count.
Right now, from what’s available, it seems the death rate outside the epicenter in China was 0.7%. That’s still soberingly high, but also a long way away from SARS’ 10%.
The New York Times: Most Coronavirus Cases Are Mild. That’s Good and Bad News.
Stat: New China Coronavirus Data Buttress Fears About High Fatality Rate
As someone who has little kiddos in their life (and who affectionately calls them Typhoid Marys), I can’t help but include this story. Are kids innocent bystanders in this outbreak, getting infected if someone brings the virus into their households? Or are they, in fact, a population that is stealthily driving this epidemic, as they can do with the flu?
Stat: Key Question for Coronavirus Response: What’s Kids’ Role in Spreading It?
Globally, cases are climbing, with patients showing up in Lithuania, the Netherlands, Iran, Kuwait, the United Kingdom … you get the gist. Although we’re not really seeing it yet in Latin or South American countries beyond a Brazilian patient who had traveled to Italy, where cases skyrocketed 45% in one day.
In China, officials are tapping their tried-and-true propaganda playbook, but the anger that has boiled up over the government’s handling of the outbreak may be cracking the party’s stronghold. Meanwhile, authorities, in an ongoing attempt to contain the spread, are offering people more than $1,400 to self-report if they have coronavirus symptoms.
The New York Times: Coronavirus Weakens China’s Powerful Propaganda Machine
Reuters: China City Offers $1,400 Reward for Virus Patients Who Report to Authorities
And South Korea gets a shoutout for implementing a very cool idea to create “drive-thru” testing for potential patients.
Reuters: South Korea Launches ‘Drive-Thru’ Coronavirus Testing Facilities As Demand Soars
Remember, there are plenty more stories were those came from. If you’re interested in the full scope of coronavirus coverage, check out all our Morning Briefings from the week.
Believe it or not, there was other news this week! Democrats held a rowdy debate in South Carolina ahead of Super Tuesday, where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) fielded the inevitable attacks that come with being a front-runner. He was put on the hot spot about topics ranging from the cost of his “Medicare for All” plan to his past stance on guns.
Reuters: At Rowdy Debate, Democratic Rivals Warn Sanders Nomination Would Be ‘Catastrophe’
The New York Times: Fact-Checking the Democratic Debate in South Carolina
Sanders (after releasing a plan on how he was going to pay for his ambitious agenda) said that “‘Medicare for All’ will lower health care costs in this country by $450 billion a year and save the lives of 68,000 people who would otherwise have died.” But experts are skeptical of the findings.
KHN: Sanders Embraces New Study That Lowers ‘Medicare For All’s’ Cost, But Skepticism Abounds
A federal appeals court upheld a Trump administration ban on federally funded family planning centers referring women for abortions, arguing that the rule is slightly less restrictive than a 1988 version upheld by the Supreme Court. What’s interesting to note is that the court was the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Trump has now named 10 judges to the 9th Circuit — more than one-third of its active judges — compared with seven appointed by President Barack Obama over eight years.
The Washington Post: Appeals Court Upholds Trump Ban on Abortion Referrals by Family Planning Clinics
Los Angeles Times: Trump Has Flipped the 9th Circuit — and Some New Judges Are Causing a ‘Shock Wave’
WBUR: Looking at Changes Happening Within the Nation’s Largest Federal Appeals Court
Beyond fighting for survival in the courts, abortion clinics are often faced with so many fees and unexpected costs that they can face closure from their financial burdens alone. Among those are: security to protect staff and patients; airfare to get doctors to areas lacking trained physicians willing to perform abortions; higher rates for contractors concerned about protesters and boycotts; more stringent loan terms; insurance that can be canceled unexpectedly; and, for some clinic owners, legal fees for defending the constitutionality of the procedure.
Bloomberg: Abortion Clinics Are the Most Challenging Small Business in America
Vocal opposition continues to pour in about the arcane Medicaid rule change that could reduce Medicaid spending by 6% to 8%, or $37 billion to $49 billion, a year. The Trump administration says the change would increase transparency and prevent abuses that enable states to draw down more federal money than they’re entitled to. But, so far, more than 4,200 organizations or individuals from both parties are sounding alarm bells about it.
Stateline: Medical Groups Slam Trump Medicaid Rule
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
— The Sacklers, under fire over allegations about their role in the opioid crisis, turned to Mike Bloomberg to help them manage their reputation. Will that haunt him in his presidential bid?
ProPublica: When the Billionaire Family Behind the Opioid Crisis Needed PR Help, They Turned to Mike Bloomberg
— Are some people immune to Alzheimer’s? Scientists studying donated brains have identified patients who have all the markers for the debilitating disease but didn’t seem to have any symptoms when alive. The findings offer hope that the seemingly inherent protection could be replicated by a drug.
Stat: They Have ‘Alzheimer’s Brains’ But No Symptoms. Why?
— America is facing an autopsy crisis: Large swaths of the country don’t have a medical examiner. Bodies are even having to be shipped across state lines if an autopsy is needed. At one point the problem was so bad that Oklahoma’s overloaded medical examiner declined to perform autopsies on people over 40 who died of unexplained causes.
The New York Times: Piled Bodies, Overflowing Morgues: Inside America’s Autopsy Crisis
— Colorado is continuing to move forward with plans for its public option, this week unveiling reimbursement rates that officials say would keep hospitals profitable under the system. Hospitals were … uh … a little skeptical of those claims.
The Denver Post: Colorado Consumers Could Save Up to 20% Under State Health Insurance Option, Polis Says
— In this terrifying story, a student died after calling 911 because the responders couldn’t locate him.
The Washington Post: College Student Yeming Shen Died of Flu in Troy, N.Y., After 911 Couldn’t Track His Location.
That’s it from me! Have a great weekend.