Welcome to Friday’s Overnight Health Care.
There’s a new Ebola outbreak in Africa; a top FDA official said he would resign if a vaccine was approved under political pressure; and a new report from the CDC suggests how schools can reopen in certain areas.
We’ll start with worrying news out of Africa:
New Ebola outbreak in Congo raises alarm
A new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has infected 100 people in a western province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a rapid spread that has health officials concerned about the chances of an uncontrolled epidemic.
The outbreak in Equateur Province began in early June, when a cluster of cases were discovered in the provincial capital Mbandaka. The number of cases has doubled in the last five weeks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said 43 people have died.
Equateur Province is a remote area north and east of Kinshasa, connected to the capital by the Congo River. The outbreak has spread to 11 health zones, the WHO said, with cases spread across about 180 miles of jungle, making impacted villages difficult to reach.
The COVID issue: WHO has committed about $2.3 million to the battle against Ebola, and Congo’s health ministry has said it will need $40 million to control the outbreak. But the world is consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, and international partners have not committed the funding necessary to stop Ebola.
CDC director says teachers don’t need ‘critical’ label
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday that teachers don’t need to be formally recognized as “critical workers,” a designation that would potentially exempt them from COVID-19 quarantine requirements.
“I think they didn’t need to be formally recognized as critical infrastructure workers, because in fact, I think we all know they are,” Robert Redfield said during a rare call with reporters.
New guidance from the Department of Homeland Security issued earlier this week classifies teachers as “critical infrastructure workers,” which means they are advised to keep working even if they have been exposed to the coronavirus, as long as they are asymptomatic.
But Redfield said he did not think teachers should remain in the classroom if they have been exposed to a COVID-19 infection.
“CDC has tried to provide guidance, to have that individual basically removed and then isolated from the classroom, do the appropriate contact tracing in conjunction with the local guidance of the local health department and the appropriate disinfection,” he said.
CDC highlights how to open schools in low transmission areas
In the same call Friday, CDC director Robert Redfield used a report from Rhode Island to highlight how schools and child care centers can reopen. According to the report, Rhode Island saw only 52 coronavirus infections in child-care centers over a two-month period in which nearly 700 centers were authorized to reopen.
Redfield said mask wearing, daily symptom screening, enhanced sanitation and keeping students in small controlled groups is a strategy that can limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Rhode Island’s child-care centers reopened in June after a three-month closure. By July 31, the state had authorized 666 centers with a combined capacity of 18,945 children to open. The state initially required the centers to limit enrollment to groups of 12 people, including staff, but later raised the limit to 20 people.
However, the report makes clear that the analysis occurred when Rhode Island was experiencing extremely low transmission rates relative to other states, raising questions about whether the strategy could be applied to other areas of the country with higher rates of transmission. Redfield said if the positivity rate was below 5 percent, it was a strategy that could work.
Despite limited secondary transmission, the impact on child care programs “was substantial, with 853 children and staff members quarantined, which highlights the importance of community mitigation efforts to safeguard child care programs,” CDC concluded.
Top FDA official vows to resign if Trump approves vaccine not proven to be safe
A top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official vowed to resign from his post if the Trump administration approves a COVID-19 vaccine that is not proven to be safe and effective.
Public health officials and lawmakers have worried Trump would pressure the FDA to approve a vaccine for political purposes.
Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told Reuters he hasn’t been pressured, but if that changes, “I could not stand by and see something that was unsafe or ineffective that was being put through.”
“You have to decide where your red line is, and that’s my red line,” he said. “I would feel obligated [to resign] because in doing so, I would indicate to the American public that there’s something wrong.”
New Hampshire to allow restaurants to fully open for indoor dining
All restaurants in New Hampshire will be allowed to open at 100 percent capacity for indoor dining effective immediately, Gov. Chris SununuChris SununuNH issues mask mandate ahead of motorcycle rally: ‘Sturgis was a real clear warning’ New Hampshire governor rules woman can keep ‘PB4WEGO’ vanity license plate despite state’s recall MORE (R) said Friday.
Restaurants will need to maintain the state’s coronavirus reopening guidelines, including keeping six feet between tables and a mask requirement for all staff who interact with customers. Patrons are also prohibited from standing at bars.
Sununu said the state’s infection numbers have been trending in the right direction, especially in the southern counties that had been hit harder.
According to Johns Hopkins University figures, the state has a little more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19, with a seven-day average of 18 new cases. The state’s positivity rate is below 2 percent.
VIRTUAL EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: COVID-19: THE WAY FORWARD — WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 26TH AT 1PM EDT
As election day approaches, the COVID-19 pandemic remains an ever-present threat. On the sidelines of the 2020 Republican Convention, The Hill will host a discussion with policymakers and hospital and medical school leaders about lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of research and innovation in battling healthcare crises, and the value of a resilient and responsive health care ecosystem. Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessOvernight Health Care: VA problems raise worries about prescriptions during mail slowdown | School reopenings with COVID-19 offer preview of chaotic fall | Fauci undergoes surgery for vocal cord polyp Technical difficulties mar several remote House hearings The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Moniz says U.S. needs energy jobs coalition and Manchin says Congress is pushing Wall Street solutions that don’t work for Main Street; Burr to step aside MORE, M.D. (R-Texas) joins The Hill’s Steve Clemons.
What we’re reading
An ‘unprecedented’ effort to stop the coronavirus in nursing homes (New York Times)
Swab, spit, stay home? College coronavirus testing plans are all over the map (Kaiser Health News)
U.S. international airline passenger contact tracing plan stalls, sources say (Reuters)
State by State
Covid-19 cases tied to the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota have reached across state lines (CNN)
Two Texas A&M sororities now under chapter-wide quarantine after COVID-19 exposure (Houston Chronicle)
Virginia gets federal nod to open state health-care exchange (Bloomberg)