September 16, 2020

Top HHS official apologizes for accusing government scientists of 'sedition'

Daily Briefing

    A top HHS official during an emergency staff meeting on Tuesday apologized to staff members for accusing government scientists of "sedition" and indicated that he may be taking a leave of absence to address issues with his physical health, according to people familiar with the meeting.

    How Covid-19 is changing the future of the health care industry

    Separately, a CDC report released on Tuesday showed a majority of the children who have died from the new coronavirus had underlying health conditions, and a majority were Hispanic, Black, or American Indian children.

    US new coronavirus cases surpass 6.6M, deaths top 195K

    As of Wednesday morning, U.S. officials reported a total of 6,614,100 cases of the novel coronavirus virus since the country's epidemic began—up from 6,574,800 cases reported as of Tuesday morning.

    According to data from the New York Times, the rates of newly reported cases are "staying high" in seven states that have had comparatively high case rates, meaning a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

    Meanwhile, the rates of newly reported cases over the past seven days are "going down" in Alabama, Georgia, Guam, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, and South Dakota, which had previously seen elevated case rates.

    In eight states that have had comparatively low case rates, rates are now "going up," according to the Times. Those states are Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

    In the remaining states and U.S. territories, rates are "staying low," according to the Times' analysis.

    U.S. officials as of Wednesday morning also reported a total of 195,683 deaths linked to the coronavirus since the country's epidemic began—up from 194,397 deaths reported as of Tuesday morning.

    Top health official apologizes for accusing CDC scientists of conspiring against Trump

    During an emergency staff meeting on Tuesday, Michael Caputo, whom the White House appointed to serve as HHS' assistant secretary for public affairs, apologized to HHS staff for comments he made on Sunday in a Facebook Live event.

    Caputo during Sunday's Facebook Live event said CDC had a "resistance unit" aimed at undermining Trump, according to the Washington Post. Without providing evidence, Caputo claimed scientists "deep in the bowels of the CDC" have given up on science and have become "political animals."

    He also said CDC scientists "haven't gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops" to plan "how they're going to attack Donald Trump next."

    However, Caputo during Tuesday's staff meeting apologized to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and dozens of HHS staff members, saying his accusations reflected badly on HHS' communications office, Politico reports.

    Caputo attributed Sunday's outburst to the stress he has been under because of physical health issues and threats against him and his family, according to Politico. Caputo said he is considering taking medical leave to address his physical health issues.

    A senior administration official, who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, said White House officials were having discussions with Azar about Caputo's future.

    Caputo and HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the Washington Post reports.

    CDC data shows majority of children killed by coronavirus had underlying conditions, were nonwhite

    Separately, a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) report released on Tuesday showed a majority of the children who have died the new coronavirus had underlying health conditions, and a majority were Hispanic, Black, or American Indian children.

    While other research has shown similar trends, CDC's new report provides the most comprehensive data on pediatric coronavirus deaths and infections to date, according to the Post.

    For the report, CDC researchers examined 391,814 known coronavirus infections and 121 coronavirus-linked deaths among children ages 21 and under from Feb. 12 to July 31, 2020.

    The researchers found 75% of coronavirus deaths occurred among Hispanic, Black, and American Indian children, though they represent only 41% of the country's population. Specifically, the researchers found:

    • 45% of coronavirus deaths they examined occurred among Hispanic children;
    • 29% of coronavirus deaths they examined occurred among Black children; and
    • 4% of coronavirus deaths they examined occurred among American Indian children.

    In addition, the researchers found 75% of deaths occurred among children who had underlying conditions, including asthma, obesity, neurologic/developmental conditions, or cardiac conditions. And nearly 50% of children who died from the new coronavirus had at least two underlying health conditions.

    CDC researchers in the report explained that "disparities in social determinants of health, such as crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps, and racial discrimination, likely contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in Covid-19."

    John Williams, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said CDC's findings offer "the strongest evidence yet that there are deep racial disparities in children just like there are in adults." He added, "What that should mean for people is steps like wearing a mask are not just about protecting your family and yourself. It is about racial equity" (LaFraniere, New York Times, 9/15; Cancryn et al., Politico, 9/15; Abutaleb/Dawsey, Washington Post, 9/15; Wan, Washington Post, 9/15; Hellmann, The Hill, 9/15; Walker, MedPage Today, 9/15; CDC MMWR, 9/15; New York Times, 9/16).

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