US health official denies he has been asked to test less
From CNN's Naomi Thomas
Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Health and Human Services Department, denied Wednesday he had ever been asked to test fewer Americans to make the pandemic look less serious than it really is.
Sen Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, asked Giroir, who heads testing efforts for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, about comments President Trump has made repeatedly saying the reason the US has so many cases of Covid-19 is because the US does more testing.
When Durbin asked during Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations Hearing if ending testing would end the spread of Covid-19, Giroir answered, “No, sir.”
“Let me just clarify, that the number of cases are going to be the number of cases,” Giroir said. “We do more testing so we can detect more and more cases, that’s a good thing.”
Detecting as many cases as possible means that they can be appropriately isolated and contact tracing can happen, he said.
“It is true that the more testing you do, the more cases you will discover,” Giroir said. “But the cases are there no matter what.”
Giroir said that he has “never been asked, told, hinted, suggested that we should decrease testing.” He said every time the task force meets, they work to expand testing.
“My job is to expand testing as much as feasibly, even infeasibly, possible and get the right test to the right people at the right time,” he said. “That’s been my mission. No one’s told me to alter that.”
1:50 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
Big Ten conference won't allow fans in the stands for football games this fall
Penn State vice president for intercollegiate athletics Sandy Barbour said the Big Ten Conference will not have fans in the stands during football games this fall.
“We are not going to permit fans in general, sales of tickets," Barbour said while appearing on the Big Ten Network on Wednesday.
Barbour noted there is still a chance for families of football players to attend games, but plans are still ongoing.
“We are looking to see what we can do on a campus-by-campus basis to accommodate the families of our student-athletes, both home and away as well as the families of staff but as a conference we’ve made a decision – no public sale of tickets," she added.
1:49 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
Florida reports 195 new Covid-19 cases among children
From CNN's Melissa Alonso
Florida health officials reported 195 new pediatric Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, according to the Florida Department of Health (DOH).
DOH reported one new pediatric hospitalization related to coronavirus, bringing the total number of children that have been hospitalized due to the virus to 688.
To date there have been 54,849 cases of coronavirus among children in Florida, DOH data shows.
The positivity rate among children in Florida is currently 14%, DOH data shows.
The age group for pediatric cases is 0-17 years old.
1:31 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo to take a leave of absence
From CNN's Sam Fossum
Health and Human Services' assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo will take a 60-day leave of absence, according to a news release from the department.
"Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is announcing that HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo has decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his health and the well-being of his family. Mr. Caputo will be on leave for the next 60 days," the HHS statement reads.
As CNN has also previously reported, Caputo is dealing with potential health issues.
1:30 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
CDC to update its confusing guidance about testing people without Covid-19 symptoms, Redfield says
From CNN's Maggie Fox
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to “clarify” confusing and controversial changes made to its guidance about testing people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday.
“We are working on a clarification document related to the diagnostic and public health use of testing,” Redfield told a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“We have never recommended against asymptomatic testing. You’ll see in the clarification we are making it very clear asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission is important, and making it very clear if you have been exposed to somebody, you need to be tested and contact traced,” Redfield added.
Testing guidelines were changed on CDC’s site quietly, without public notice, on Aug. 24.
Here’s what the CDC website said previously: “Testing is recommended for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, it is important that contacts of individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection be quickly identified and tested.”
The site was changed on Aug. 24 to say: “If you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one.”
Redfield said the agency would post new guidance updating those changes, which were broadly denounced by public health experts. “We are going to come out with that hopefully, I hope before the end of the week,” Redfield told the hearing.
He said testing is important not only for diagnosing cases, but for screening groups to find cases that are not obvious. “Screening can be very powerful,” he said. It can help schools reopen and help people get back to more normal lives, he added.
Now that more tests are available, Redfield said, the CDC will also encourage surveillance testing, which can help find cases that might otherwise go unnoticed until an outbreak has started.
1:31 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
Floridan Covid-19 deaths near 13,000, state reports
From CNN's Melissa Alonso
Florida health officials reported 152 resident deaths on Wednesday, bringing the resident death toll to 12,939, according to the Florida Department of Health (DOH).
Florida health officials report 161 non-Florida resident deaths in the state as well, DOH data shows.
DOH reported 2,355 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the state’s total to 671,201.
Note: These numbers were released by Florida’s public health agency, and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project
1:27 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
Documents outline federal government plans to distribute free Covid-19 vaccines
From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht
Federal documents released Wednesday provide new details about the government’s plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines for free once approved or authorized for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration.
“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty,” Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the US Department of Health Human Services, said during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. “We don't know the timing of when we'll have a vaccine. We don't know the quantities. We don't know the efficacy of those vaccines.”
He noted that vaccines being tested have different transport and storage requirement; some require a second dose at 21 or 28 days after the first; and some require different needles and syringes.
“I think the message we want you to leave with is we are prepared for all of those uncertainties,” Mango said.
Here are key things to know about the plan:
Limited early supply
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine distribution playbook says that for planning purposes, state and local health agencies should assume “limited COVID-19 vaccine doses may be available by early November 2020” if a vaccine is authorized or licensed by the FDA, but the supply may increase substantially in 2021. The initial supply is expected to go to health care workers, other essential workers and people at higher risk for severe illness from Covid-19.
The US Department of Defense, CDC and some parts of HHS are coordinating the supply, production and distribution of vaccines. Vaccine administration sites may be limited early on to target particular populations and storage requirements. Later on, sites could expand to include pediatric and adult health care providers and pharmacies.
The effort requires extensive data monitoring to track vaccines, handle claims and payment, identify who needs a second a dose and to monitor outcomes and potential adverse events. Operation Warp Speed will construct and integrate IT architecture to meet these needs, according to the strategy document.
Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski from Operation Warp Speed said during the briefing Wednesday that databases to track vaccines already exist at state and pharmacy levels. “The hard part is being able to get the databases to talk with one another,” he said, for example, so that he could get a vaccine at a public health center and then get the correct second dose weeks later, perhaps at a pharmacy in a different location.
On cost, the distribution strategy says the objective is “to ensure no one desiring vaccination will face an economic barrier to receiving one.”
“The federal government is procuring hundreds of millions of doses of safe and effective vaccines, and has contracted with McKesson for purposes of vaccine distribution, such that no American will be charged for either the COVID-19 vaccine or its distribution,” the strategy document says.
Vaccine information campaign
The strategy document says an information campaign led by HHS public affairs “will focus on vaccine safety and efficacy, and target key populations and communities to ensure maximum vaccine acceptance.”
“Identifying the right messages to promote vaccine confidence, countering misinformation, and targeting outreach to vulnerable and at-risk populations will be necessary to achieve high coverage,” it says.
1:22 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
A mask may provide better protection against Covid-19 than a vaccine, CDC director says
From CNN's Andrea Diaz
Wearing a face mask might provide better protection against Covid-19 than a vaccine, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during Wednesday's Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
"I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70% and if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will," Redfield explained, adding that the American public has not yet embraced the use of face masks to a level that could effectively control the outbreak.
"So I do want to keep asking the American public to take the responsibility, particularly the 18 to 25 year olds where we're seeing the outbreak in America continue to go like this," Redfield said.
12:31 p.m. ET, September 16, 2020
CDC director says Covid-19 vaccine for general public likely to be available in 2021
From CNN’s Naomi Thomas
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that he thinks it will be the late second quarter or third quarter of 2021 before a Covid-19 vaccine is generally available to the American public.
When asked when he thought there would be a vaccine ready to administer to the American public, Redfield said he thought that there would be vaccine initially available sometime between November and December, but “very limited supply and will have to be prioritized.”
“If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third, late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”
Redfield said that he thought the vaccination would begin in November and December “and then will pick up, and it will be in a prioritized way. It will be those first responders and those at greatest risk for death, and then eventually that will expand.”