THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Mar. 9th – Friday, Mar. 13th

March 13, 2020 by B. Cameron Webb, MD, JD

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, March 9th – Friday, March 13th

It’s Friday…Friday the 13th, in fact. Still, we’re hearing a lot more Coronavirus concern than paraskevidekatriaphobia on the first “unlucky day” of 2020. Just in case, we’re practicing appropriate social distancing and writing remotely for this week’s edition of VIEWPOINTS!

In the realm of things you’ve definitely heard about, the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded COVID-19 to a pandemic. The global number of cases is above 137,000 and the total U.S. cases are over 1,700. Everyone is on alert. Sure, in the background, we’ve seen a few interesting health policy developments such as a $35 monthly copay cap for insulin for participating Medicare Part D plan enrollees and a federal rule that will allow patients to access their health records on their smartphones. However, government operations are focused on all things COVID-19.

First up was a Wednesday night Oval Office address from President Trump. The President heralded two major changes to the nation’s COVID-19 strategy. First, many insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover testing without a copay but have not committed to fully covering treatment. Second, President Trump introduced a 30-day travel ban on 26 European countries in the Schengen Area

These measures come in conjunction with an $8.3 billion emergency funding package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last Friday. The package ensures $7.7 billion of discretionary spending for virus prevention efforts and an extra $490 million mandatory spending dollars provided through a change in Medicare. The bill intends to provide at least $4 million to every state within the first 30 days of its passage, to supplement state and local health budgets, as well as providing broad resources for research, equipment, and the progress of vaccines.

While funding has been provided, some have questioned the recently proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by the Trump administration in their 2021 budget proposal. In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Russ Vought indicated that the White House would not be sending a budget amendment for the proposed cuts in the wake of COVID-19. Vought cited other aspects of the budget as indicative of the administration’s efforts to “prioritiz[e] funding for infectious disease and preparedness efforts at CDC.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking action to increase American’s access to quality medical products. This week it suspended routine inspections of food, medical and pharmaceutical foreign imports, and granted emergency approval for an automated coronavirus test. The FDA also sent letters to several companies demanding they end their sale of unapproved products claiming to cure or deter COVID-19.

Despite President Trump’s call for Congress to take additional legislative action to extend relief to Americans affected by the coronavirus in his Oval Office address this week, House Democrats and the White House have been unable to reach an agreement on a bipartisan stimulus bill. On Wednesday, Democrats unveiled their plan to reduce the economic impact of the virus by providing benefits such as free testing and expansion of paid sick leave. However, the bill received backlash from prominent Republicans across both chambers of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dismissed the House’s proposal as an “ideological wish list,” raising doubts over the likelihood of a timely bipartisan solution. In spite of the current lack of consensus, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) assured reporters that a vote will be held by Friday, “one way or another.” 

Over half of the states, as well as several cities, have declared a state of emergency, including our home base of Virginia. Each state is implementing a variety of rules designed to keep folks safe including drive-thru COVID-19 testing in places such as New York, Illinois, Colorado, and more. Other states are instituting limits on the number of people allowed at an event; states such as Oregon and Washington have set the cap at 250, but tighter restrictions are still possible.   

Cancellations and closures are popping up everywhere from the Smithsonian museums to Broadway to the happiest place on earth. Events such as the Boston Marathon and numerous St. Patrick’s Day Parades are being delayed. Basketball, baseball, and even hockey will be benched for a while as everyone works to reduce the spread of the virus. Universities across the country are moving to online-only classes and many K-12 schools are shutting down temporarily. While of course, these disruptions are frustrating, preventive measures are incredibly important for keeping folks safe.

Some good news to end your week. While there was a dog in Hong Kong with a weak positive test, the WHO says there is no evidence that our furry friends can transmit COVID-19. So pet your dog and commence “WHO let the dogs out” jokes.

Stay safe!


This Week’s Viewpoints Writing Team:
Avery Bullock, Carina Clawson, Jo McClain, Steven Moore and Nana Owusu