Coronavirus Live Updates: Firm Helping Run Federal Database Refuses Senators’ Questions


The manager of the Trump administration’s new virus database refuses Senate questioning, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

The private health care technology vendor that is helping to manage the Trump administration’s new coronavirus database has refused to answer questions from top Senate Democrats about its $10.2 million contract, saying it signed a nondisclosure agreement with the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

In a letter obtained by The New York Times, dated Aug. 3, a lawyer for the Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking Technologies cited the nondisclosure agreement in refusing to provide information about its process for collecting and sharing data; its proposal to the government; communications with White House staff or other officials; and any other information related to the award.

A spokeswoman for Department of Health and Human Services said members of Congress should direct their inquiries to the government, not the company. But Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, sent a letter to the agency in June seeking similar information and has not received a reply, her office said.

The arrangement was unusual, Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School who teaches about government contracts and anti-corruption, said in an interview.

“One of the cornerstones of the federal procurement system is transparency, so it strikes me as odd,” she said.

TeleTracking was responding to a July 22 letter from two top Democrats: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and Ms. Murray. The two recently introduced legislation aimed at protecting data transparency — an issue Mr. Schumer addressed during recent talks with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a person familiar with their discussion.

“The Trump administration’s decision to hire a private vendor and then cloak that vendor in a nondisclosure agreement raises numerous questions about their motivations and risks the ability of our public health experts to understand and effectively fight this virus,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement Friday.

The controversy over the contract stems from the administration’s abrupt order in July for hospitals to stop reporting coronavirus information to the C.D.C.’s National Healthcare Safety Network — a longstanding government data system — and instead send it to TeleTracking for inclusion in a coronavirus database overseen by H.H.S. officials in Washington. H.H.S. has said the switch was necessary because the C.D.C.’s system was slow and incomplete; the government uses the hospital data to make critical decisions about how to allocate scarce supplies, like ventilators and the drug Remdesivir.

The contract — and in particular the sudden switch in reporting from C.D.C. to TeleTracking — generated objections from public health experts and outside advisers to the health agency, who say that the new system is burdening hospitals and endangering scientific integrity by sidelining government experts.

The incident — just the latest example of science about the virus unfolding in front of our eyes — underscores the need to consider the preponderance of evidence, rather than any single study, when making decisions about children’s health or education, scientists said.

The disclosure does not negate the overall message of that study: Children under 10 do not spread the virus as much as adults do, and the ability to transmit seems to increase with age.

“It’s indisputable that the highest risk of becoming infected and being detected as being infected is in older age groups,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “I think you have to be really careful before you decide to open high schools.”

The earlier study was not intended to demonstrate transmission from children to adults, only to describe contact-tracing efforts in South Korea, said Dr. Young June Choe, assistant professor of social and preventive medicine at Hallym University College of Medicine and an author of both studies.

The first study from South Korea grouped children in 10-year ranges. Tracing the contacts of 29 children ages 9 or younger, it found that the children were about half as likely as adults to spread the virus to others, consistent with other research.

But Dr. Choe and his colleagues reported an odd finding in the group of 124 children aged 10 to 19: They appeared significantly more likely than adults to spread the coronavirus. Experts told The Times at the time that the finding was likely to be a fluke.

The prison has the capacity to isolate each of the 40 prisoners, including with space for four in regular inpatient rooms, two in intensive care and two more in rooms that have negative pressure and can control the flow of infectious particles.

Doctors who looked at the capabilities noted that the prison’s Covid-19 Care Team lists only four I.C.U. nurses, far below a standard of care that requires one such nurse per ventilated patient around the clock.

This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

“Body mass index is a really important, strong independent risk factor for death among those who are diagnosed with Covid-19,” said Sara Tartof, the study’s first author, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente of Southern California.

In other news from around the United States:

Britain added France to its list of countries that visitors arriving from must quarantine for two weeks. Britain also added the Netherlands, where cases have doubled every two weeks since early July, along with Aruba, Malta, Monaco and Turks and Caicos.

Authorities in Britain unveiled the expanded list with little more than a day’s notice, prompting an instant scramble from vacationers to return there before the quarantine is imposed at 4 a.m. on Saturday.

France’s rising caseload reflected not only an increase in the number of tests, which stand at more than 600,000 per week, but also a higher infection rate, especially among young people, the health authorities said. The country’s total caseload has risen to 209,365, with 30,388 deaths, according to the Times database.

In other news from around the world:

  • South Korea reported 103 new cases, mostly in Seoul, the country’s biggest daily jump in three weeks. The daily caseload has remained in double digits since July 25. Last month’s spike was primarily attributed to workers returning home with the virus from Iraq, but 85 of the 103 new cases reported on Friday were local transmissions.

  • Spain ordered bars and clubs to close by 1 a.m. and banned drinking on the street on Friday, according to Reuters. Virus cases have risen steadily since July when the country emerged from a strict lockdown that only allowed residents to leave their home to walk their dog or grocery shop. Spain reported more than 5,400 new cases on Friday, according to a New York Times database.

  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has delayed opening schools until Oct. 5, his chief aide said. The Philippines has the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia, with 153,660 confirmed cases and 2,442 deaths, according to the Times database.

  • Health officials in Toronto said that about 550 people may have been exposed to the coronavirus at a strip club bar after an employee tested positive for the virus. The occupation of the infected employee was not disclosed.

  • Vietnam’s health ministry announced that it had registered to buy Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, despite experts’ concerns that the Kremlin is distributing it before the last phase of human trials have even begun. The ministry said it had also registered to buy a vaccine from the United Kingdom. It cautioned that using the vaccines would depend on the progress of clinical trials and compliance with Vietnam’s “strict regulations.

Long-term financial damage to states may be greater than that of the last recession, economists say.

“It shows there is a willingness and a desire to spend,” said Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist at Bank of America. “There is no doubt the recovery in consumer spending has been robust.”

Retail sales in June rose 8.4 percent. That followed a May jump, 18.2 percent, which was the largest monthly surge on record. But that had followed two months of record declines.

But some of the recovery was helped by the $600 a week in unemployment assistance that expired at the end of July, and Congress’ failure so far to extend the emergency benefit could derail the retail rebound in coming months. And certain sectors of the industry may not truly bounce back until a vaccine is approved and widely distributed, allowing people to shop and dine indoors again without fear.

How do people learn to be more resilient?

If you feel as if you can barely cope, while others are doing just fine, remember that the very earliest days of our lives, and our closest relationships, can offer clues about how we deal with adversity.

Reporting was contributed by Sarah Bahr, Mike Baker, Damien Cave, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Michael Corkery, James Dobbins, Thomas Erdbrink, Manny Fernandez, Abby Goodnough, Jason Gutierrez, Rebecca Halleck, Sapna Maheshwari, Apoorva Mandavilli, Constant Méheut, Claire Moses, Colin Moynih, an, Richard C. Paddock, Alan Rappeport, Rick Rojas, Carol Rosenberg, Anna Schaverien, Jeanna Smialek, Mitch Smith, Paula Span, Eileen Sullivan, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Katie Thomas, Billy Witz and Katherine J. Wu.



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