Wed. Sep 23rd, 2020

Jessica Flores and Adrianna Rodriguez USA TODAY

Published 9:29 AM EDT Sep 16, 2020

The federal government revealed a plan Wednesday that will ensure vaccines for COVID-19 will be available for free to all Americans. 

The campaign is “much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses,” said the playbook for states from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the agency is under heavy scrutiny today as a USA TODAY investigation exposed how the CDC failed to communicate vital information to local health authorities during the start of the pandemic, even downplaying the virus’ threat. 

President Donald Trump denied on Tuesday night that he downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, even after telling Bob Woodyard during a recorded interview that he knew the virus was more deadly than the flu.

“Well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action,” Trump said during a televised town hall hosted by ABC News on Tuesday night. Trump, once again, said the virus would “disappear” with or without a vaccine through what he called a “herd mentality,” referencing herd immunity. 

Some significant developments:

  • Texas is nearing 700,000 confirmed infections. The state would become the country’s second, after California, to reach that total. 
  • India surpassed 5 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 82,000 deaths.
  • Pfizer, one of the frontrunners in creating a COVID-19 vaccine, reported its candidate has “potential” after expanding its trial over the weekend.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday the House will stay in session until a breakthrough is made on a coronavirus stimulus bill. 

 Today’s numbers: Alabama, North Dakota and Wisconsin set records for new cases, while Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota and Tennessee set records for number of deaths reported, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Tuesday. The U.S. has reported more than 6.6 million cases and 195,900 deaths. Globally, there have been more than 29.5 million cases and 935,900 fatalities.

 What we’re reading: Even as thousands of their employees fell ill with COVID-19, meatpacking executives pressured federal regulators to help keep their plants open, according to a trove of emails obtained by USA TODAY. Read more.

️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak, state by state

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

Feds outline plan to provide free COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans

The federal government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans. 

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot.

The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots.

Some of the plan’s highlights include: 

  • For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. 
  • Vaccination of the U.S. population won’t be a sprint but a marathon.
  • The vaccine itself will be free of charge, and patients won’t be charged out of pocket for the administration of shots. 

CDC failed health departments, downplayed virus at the start of the pandemic: USA TODAY investigation

A USA TODAY investigation found the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to consistently perform its most basic job: giving local public health authorities the guidance needed to save American lives during a pandemic.

Instead of answers, public health departments received slow, confusing and conflicting information from the agency – if they received any response at all. Communities were left to make life-or-death decisions about testing, personal protection and reopening.

Reporters reviewed 42,000 pages of emails and memos obtained from local health departments and interviewed more than 100 community leaders and public health experts.

During this time, the agency downplayed the potential harm from the virus in dozens of press briefings, congressional hearings and other public statements between January and April. The investigation comes as the CDC continues to receive widespread scrutiny for yielding to political pressure from the White House.

– Brett Murphy and Letitia Stein

India surpasses 5 million COVID-19 cases, including 90K in past 24 hours

India’s coronavirus confirmed cases crossed 5 million on Wednesday, still soaring and testing the country’s feeble health care system in tens of thousands of impoverished towns and villages.

The Health Ministry reported 90,123 new cases in the past 24 hours, raising the nation’s confirmed total to 5,020,359, about 0.35% of its nearly 1.4 billion population. It said 1,290 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 82,066.

India’s total coronavirus caseload is closing in on the United States’ highest tally of more than 6.6 million cases and expected to surpass it within weeks.

India reported a record daily high of 97,570 cases on Sept. 11 and has added more than 1 million cases this month alone.

Anti-maskers ordered to dig graves for coronavirus victims in Indonesia

Eight people in Indonesia who refused to wear masks in public were ordered by a local official to dig graves for COVID-19 victims. As Indonesia faces an uptick of COVID-19 cases, leaders in Cerme, a district located in East Java, established stricter enforcement of social distancing and mask-wearing policies.

For the eight people who violated the local mask mandate, that meant digging graves. The district’s leader, identified by Indonesian news site Tribun News as Suyono, proposed the punishment due to a lack of gravediggers in the area.

“There are only three available gravediggers at the moment, so I thought I might as well put these people to work with them,” he told Tribun News. “Hopefully, this can create a deterrent effect against violations,” he said.

– Joshua Bote

DOJ: Texas woman fraudulently received nearly $2M in PPP loans

A Texas woman who received nearly $2 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was arrested Tuesday by federal authorities on fraud allegations.

Lola Shalewa Barbara Kasali, of Houston, was charged with making false statements to a financial institution, wire fraud, bank fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions, according to a U.S. Department of Justice statement.

Officials say Kasali, 22, allegedly submitted two fraudulent PPP loan applications for two businesses — Lola’s Level and Charm Hair Extensions — and claimed to have several employees and large payroll expenses.

“According to the charges, however, neither entity has employees nor pays wages consistent with the amounts claimed in the loan applications,” according to the statement.

After receiving more than $1.9 million in loans, Kasali transferred the funds into four additional bank accounts, officials said. Kasali is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christina Bryan in Houston on Wednesday.

Trump denies downplaying coronavirus during ABC News town hall

President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied downplaying the threat from coronavirus, telling a television town hall that he “up-played it” despite his assertion in an interview earlier this year that he “wanted to always play it down.”

Trump made the remarks during a 90-minute town hall hosted by ABC News in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

“Well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action,” Trump said in response to a question about an interview with journalist Bob Woodward in which he said he knew the coronavirus was more deadly and contagious than the flu but continued to compare the two. 

– John Fritze and David Jackson

Pfizer reports ‘potential’ with COVID-19 vaccine candidate, expands trial

Pfizer, one of the frontrunners in the quest for a COVID-19 vaccine, said its candidate vaccine is looking safe, and the company expects to have data next month on how well it is protecting people against the coronavirus. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Tuesday that he is intentionally revealing more information about the COVID-19 candidate vaccine than he would about any other vaccine under development because he wants the process to be open and transparent.

“Transparency is a must, particularly given this situation and the politicization of the vaccine,” he said in a Q&A with journalists.

The company had said Saturday that it was expanding its trial from 30,000 to 44,000 people to include teenagers, ages 16-18, as well as people with diseases such as HIV, and hepatitis A, B, or C. Tuesday, Bourla said the expansion took place because the vaccine appeared to be extremely safe, and the trial could be expanded without delaying the timeline for completion.

– Karen Weintraub

2.3 million Americans lost health insurance before COVID-19 pandemic

During Donald Trump’s first three years in office, 2.3 million people became uninsured, according to a Capital & Main analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday.

They include hundreds of thousands of people in battleground states such as Florida, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio, as well as Michigan and Minnesota. The number of uninsured grew by nearly 1.6 million people in 13 states identified as swing states by The Cook Political Report.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and, once elected, he vowed everyone would have health insurance.

Health care was a major issue in the 2018 midterm elections and could remain a salient one in the general election only seven weeks away. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive job losses in a country where 55% of health care coverage is tied to employment. One study estimated that 5.4 million American workers lost their health insurance between February and May 2020.

Tuesday’s data release makes clear U.S. residents already were hemorrhaging health insurance even before COVID. By far, the largest growth in the number of uninsured was in Texas, where the count swelled by 689,000 between 2016 and 2019.

– Jessica Goodheart, Capital & Main

Nancy Pelosi: House will stay in session to reach coronavirus stimulus deal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday the House will stay in session until a breakthrough is made on a coronavirus stimulus bill, while moderate lawmakers pressed leaders to come up with a relief deal before the November elections. 

“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said on CNBC Tuesday. 

Her words signaled relief talks between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump’s White House may be salvaged even though the two sides don’t appear any closer to an agreement. Pelosi hasn’t budged on her desire for a sweeping multi-trillion-dollar plan for aid to schools, the unemployed and cash-strapped local governments. And Republican leadership didn’t appear any more open to recent Democratic proposals on Tuesday.

– Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu and Ledyard King

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

  • On Facebook: A lot is still unknown about the coronavirus. But what we do know, we’re sharing with you. Join our Facebook group, Coronavirus Watch, to receive daily updates in your feed and chat with others in the community about COVID-19.  
  • In your inbox: Stay up to date with the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic from the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for the daily Coronavirus Watch newsletter. 
  • Tips for coping: Every Saturday and Tuesday we’ll be in your inbox, offering you a virtual hug and a little bit of solace in these difficult times. Sign up for Staying Apart, Together.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Published 9:29 AM EDT Sep 16, 2020

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