First Edition: Oct. 20, 2021

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Scientists Search For Cause Of Mysterious Covid-Related Inflammation In Children 

Like most other kids with covid, Dante and Michael DeMaino seemed to have no serious symptoms. Infected in mid-February, both lost their senses of taste and smell. Dante, 9, had a low-grade fever for a day or so. Michael, 13, had a “tickle in his throat,” said their mother, Michele DeMaino, of Danvers, Massachusetts. At a follow-up appointment, “the pediatrician checked their hearts, their lungs, and everything sounded perfect,” DeMaino said. Then, in late March, Dante developed another fever. After examining him, Dante’s doctor said his illness was likely “nothing to worry about” but told DeMaino to take him to the emergency room if his fever climbed above 104. (Szabo, 10/20)

California’s Mental Health Crisis: What Went Wrong? And Can We Fix It?

Gov. Gavin Newsom is steering a major transformation of California’s behavioral health care system, with much at stake in the years ahead. On Oct. 6, the Sacramento-based publication Capitol Weekly invited KHN’s Angela Hart to moderate an expert panel tackling the origins of the state’s broken system and potential solutions ahead. The lively discussion featured health care leaders with deep experience in the political, provider and research aspects of mental health and addiction. The panelists were Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of MLK Community Healthcare; former state Sen. Jim Beall, a Santa Clara County Democrat who spearheaded mental health legislation during his tenure in the legislature; Michelle Doty Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California; and Janet Coffman, a researcher and faculty member with Healthforce Center at the University of California-San Francisco. (10/20)

‘They Treat Me Like I’m Old And Stupid’: Seniors Decry Health Providers’ Age Bias 

Joanne Whitney, 84, a retired associate clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of California-San Francisco, often feels devalued when interacting with health care providers. There was the time several years ago when she told an emergency room doctor that the antibiotic he wanted to prescribe wouldn’t counteract the kind of urinary tract infection she had. He wouldn’t listen, even when she mentioned her professional credentials. She asked to see someone else, to no avail. “I was ignored and finally I gave up,” said Whitney, who has survived lung cancer and cancer of the urethra and depends on a special catheter to drain urine from her bladder. (An outpatient renal service later changed the prescription.) (Graham, 10/20)

The New York Times:
In A First, Surgeons Attached A Pig Kidney To A Human — And It Worked

Surgeons in New York have successfully attached a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient and found that the organ worked normally, a scientific breakthrough that one day may yield a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients. Although many questions remain to be answered about the long-term consequences of the transplant, which involved a brain-dead patient followed only for 54 hours, experts in the field said the procedure represented a milestone. (Rabin, 10/19)

USA Today:
Pig Kidney Organ Transplant Into Human A Milestone For Science

Dr. Robert Montgomery planned for this moment for three years. On an operating table in front of the transplant surgeon was a woman’s body donated precisely for this purpose. The kidney he was about to attach to her came from a pig bred for this day. If the surgery worked, it would show pig organs could be safely used to save human lives. Clamps separated her bloodstream from the pig kidney. Once he released them, the organ would fill with blood. In the worst case scenario, it would rapidly turn blue, a sign her immunity “soldiers” were flooding in to fight off the foreign organ. That could set his field back for years. (Weintraub, 10/20)

Roll Call:
FDA Announces ‘Landmark’ Action To Make Hearing Aids Cheaper 

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday took a major step toward bringing down the cost of hearing aids by making them available over the counter. The freedom to buy hearing aids without a fitting or test by a specialist is likely to make them cheaper and the market more competitive. The cost of hearing aids can run into the thousands. They often are not covered by insurance companies or traditional Medicare, the federal health program for people over 65, although private Medicare Advantage plans sometimes cover them. (Kopp, 10/19)

CBS News:
Cheaper, Sleeker Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids May Hit Shelves Next Year 

Millions of Americans with mild-to-moderate hearing loss may soon be able to buy high-quality — and cheaper — hearing aids at their local drugstore. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued long-awaited draft rules for selling such hearing aid devices over the counter, in addition to what the agency calls “sound amplification” products. Now that the proposed rules are out, it could take about a year for new hearing aids to hit the market, according to experts. (Layne, 10/19)

Roll Call:
Lawmakers Clash Over Surprise Billing Law’s Implementation

Lawmakers who crafted last year’s law addressing surprise billing are once again at odds over policy particulars after the Biden administration issued a rule to implement the law in a manner that some say revives a congressional dispute. Certain members on Capitol Hill and influential voices in the health care industry that spent millions trying to influence the law are pushing the Biden administration to amend its surprise billing policies before the law takes effect on Jan. 1. But policy experts say the rule is unlikely to change significantly. (McIntire and Cohen, 10/20)

Income Test For Medicare Dental Under Debate; Gets Pushback

For more than 55 years, Medicare has followed a simple policy: covered benefits are the same, no matter if you’re rich, poor, or in-between. But as Democrats try to design a dental benefit for the program, one idea calls for limiting it based on income. The so-called “means test” is drawing internal opposition from many Democratic lawmakers, as well as advocacy groups for older people, like AARP. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 10/19)

Modern Healthcare:
HHS Proposes Withdrawing Trump ‘Good Guidance’ Rules

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced plans to withdraw Trump-era rules that make it harder for regulators to punish individuals and organizations for not following Health and Human Services Department guidance. The rules, issued in the final months of the Trump administration, ban HHS from penalizing individuals and organizations for noncompliance with agency guidance and requires the agency only carry out civil enforcement actions using standards that are publicly stated. HHS proposed withdrawing the rules Tuesday, arguing it creates “unnecessary hurdles” to issuing guidance and bringing enforcement actions and is inconsistent with the goals of the Biden administration. (Hellmann, 10/19)

US Labor Department Warns 3 GOP States Over COVID Rules

The Biden administration threatened Tuesday to revoke the authority for three Republican-controlled states to handle their own workplace safety enforcement because they have refused to adopt rules to protect health care workers from COVID-19. The threats were sent to Arizona, South Carolina and Utah as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration prepares to adopt much more far-reaching vaccination and testing rules affecting 80 million Americans. In nearly half the states, it will have to rely on state labor regulators for enforcement. (Cooper, 10/20)

US Homeland Security Secretary Tests Positive For COVID

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tested positive Tuesday for COVID-19 and is isolating at home, the agency said. The secretary has been fully vaccinated and is experiencing only “mild congestion,” DHS said in a statement. The agency said he will work from home under the protocols recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention. (10/19)

The Washington Post:
Rep. Andy Harris, A Doctor, Says He’s Prescribed Ivermectin As A Covid-19 Treatment

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a practicing anesthesiologist, said he has prescribed ivermectin, a medication typically used to treat parasites in livestock and humans, as a covid-19 treatment, and he lashed out at pharmacies for not making the drug readily available, according to a recent radio interview. Harris made the comments during a call-in radio program that he and his wife, Nicole, co-hosted last month on WCBM, an AM radio station in the Baltimore area. (Wiggins and Flynn, 10/19)

The Hill:
CDC Data Finds Pfizer Vaccine 93 Percent Effective Against Hospitalization For Youth

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been found to be 93 percent effective against hospitalization for 12- to 18-year-olds, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research from when the delta variant was predominant. Researchers calculated the vaccine efficacy using data from 464 hospitalized patients, including 179 with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and 285 controls without the virus, across 19 pediatric hospitals between June and September.  (Coleman, 10/19)

USA Today:
Pfizer Shot 93% Effective Avoiding Hospitalization For COVID For 12-18

Even in the throes of the summer spike in coronavirus cases across the U.S. fueled by the delta variant, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine proved 93% effective at keeping adolescents 12 to 18 out of the hospital, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday. The report may help boost uptake of the vaccine among children ages 5-11 once it’s authorized, likely in the coming weeks. “Findings reinforce the importance of vaccination to protect U.S. youths against severe COVID-19,” the authors wrote. (Ortiz, Miller and Tebor, 10/19)

Sex Of The Fetus Influences The Mother’s Response To Covid-19 Infection, New Research Shows 

In April 2020, as SARS-CoV-2 was first beginning to spread through New England, researchers at two hospitals in Boston — Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s — began attending deliveries in the Covid units to collect blood and placenta samples from pregnant patients who’d caught the dangerous new infectious disease. That biorepository, which has since grown to house samples from more than 1,000 people, including dozens who received either the Moderna or Pfizer Covid shots, is now helping to answer important questions about the response to the vaccines and coronavirus infection during pregnancy. (Molteni, 10/19)

COVID-19 And Pregnancy: Women Regret Not Getting The Vaccine

Sometimes when she’s feeding her infant daughter, Amanda Harrison is overcome with emotion and has to wipe away tears of gratitude. She is lucky to be here, holding her baby. Harrison was 29 weeks pregnant and unvaccinated when she got sick with COVID-19 in August. Her symptoms were mild at first, but she suddenly felt like she couldn’t breathe. Living in Phenix City, Alabama, she was intubated and flown to a hospital in Birmingham, where doctors delivered baby Lake two months early and put Harrison on life support. (Chandler, 10/19)

Doctor Says Half-Dozen Unvaccinated COVID Patients Have Had Miscarriage Or Stillbirth

U.S. health officials have recorded more than 125,000 COVID-19 cases and 161 deaths in pregnant women over the course of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now, hospitals and doctors in places where the virus runs rampant are seeing an increase in severely ill pregnant women with the virus, the Associated Press reported. (Cagnassola, 10/19)

Trials Find No Benefit Of Interferon, Colchicine In COVID Hospital Patients 

New clinical trials detail the failure of two COVID-19 treatments—a combination of interferon beta-1a and remdesivir and the drug colchicine—to reduce death by 28 days, length of hospital stay, or risk of requiring invasive mechanical ventilation or dying in hospitalized adults. Both trials were published yesterday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. (Van Beusekom, 10/19)

Atea’s Antiviral Pill Fails To Clear Covid-19, Forcing A Re-Think 

Atea Pharmaceuticals said Tuesday that its antiviral pill for Covid-19 failed to combat the virus in a mid-stage trial, leading the company to delay its pivotal study by a year. The disappointing news follows a far more hopeful October update from Merck, whose similar antiviral reduced the chances that patients newly diagnosed with Covid-19 would be hospitalized by about 50% in a Phase 3 study. (Garde and Herper, 10/19)

The Washington Post:
Maine Vaccine Mandate: Supreme Court Declines Health Care Workers’ Request To Stop Enforcement 

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to immediately halt enforcement of a coronavirus vaccine mandate for health-care workers in Maine. In a brief order, and without explanation, Justice Stephen G. Breyer rejected a plea to stop the mandate from being enforced at the end of the month. The high court has rejected similar requests to block vaccine requirements for Indiana University staff and students and New York City teachers. (Marimow, 10/19)

The Wall Street Journal:
GE, Union Pacific Mandate Covid-19 Vaccine For U.S. Workers 

General Electric Co., Union Pacific Corp. and other large U.S. employers are imposing Covid-19 vaccine mandates for their workers to comply with a Dec. 8 deadline set by the Biden administration for companies that are federal contractors. Boeing Co. , International Business Machines Corp. and Raytheon Technologies Corp. are other federal contractors that have already announced Covid-19 vaccine mandates for their U.S. staff. Together with GE and Union Pacific, these companies collectively employ more than 300,000 U.S. workers. (Gryta and Ziobro, 10/19)

Union Pacific And Its Unions Sue Each Other Over Vaccine

Union Pacific and its labor unions are suing each other to determine whether the railroad has the authority to require its employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The unions argue that the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad should have negotiated with them before announcing it would require all employees to get the shots. The railroad contends in its own lawsuit that it believes it has the authority to require the vaccine under its existing contracts because it can set standards for when employees are fit for duty. (Funk, 10/20)

Southwest: We Won’t Put Unvaccinated Workers On Unpaid Leave

Southwest Airlines will let unvaccinated employees keep working past early December instead of putting them on unpaid leave if they apply for an exemption on medical or religious grounds. Federal contractors — including major U.S. airlines – face a Dec. 8 deadline to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Koenig, 10/20)

21 Chicago Cops Put On ‘No Pay Status’ In Vaccine Standoff

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said Tuesday that 21 officers have been placed on “no pay status” for refusing to comply with the city’s order to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status. Brown said that the refusals have not affected staffing. Brown, who disclosed that three members of his own family who he described as “anti-vaxxers” have died of complications from the virus in recent weeks, said he is simply trying to protect officers and the public from harm. (Tareen and Babwin, 10/19)

Tucson Employees Face Firing If They Don’t Get Vaccinated

The Tucson City Council voted Tuesday to require that all city employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1 or face getting fired. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and council members Lane Santa Cruz, Karin Uhlich and Steve Kozachik voted for the measure while Paul Cunningham, Nikki Lee and Richard Fimbres opposed. Council members cited high levels of the coronavirus persisting in Pima County. (10/20)

San Francisco Shuts Burger Spot For Not Checking Vaccination

The In-N-Out hamburger chain is sizzling mad after San Francisco shut down its indoor dining for refusing to check customers’ vaccination status. The company’s Fisherman’s Wharf location — its only one in San Francisco — was temporarily shut by the Department of Public Health on Oct. 14. Authorities said it refused to bar clients who couldn’t show proof of vaccination to dine indoors, as required by a city mandate that took effect Aug. 20. (10/20)

Walmart Donated To Texas Gov. Greg Abbott As He Fought Biden Vaccine Mandate

Walmart’s political action committee donated to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection campaign last month, as he geared up to fight a federal Covid-19 vaccine mandate, according to a new federal filing. The donation came as the retail industry has expressed concerns about the mandate weighing on operations as the holiday shopping season approaches and America faces labor shortages. (Schwartz, 10/19)

Maui Mayor Exposed To COVID By Pandemic Safety Rules Foe

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said he tested negative for COVID-19 after seeing on social media that an opponent of pandemic safety rules he met with earlier tested positive. Victorino had a meeting Thursday with three unvaccinated residents opposed to state and county emergency public health rules meant to curb the spread of the virus. The three residents had negative test results prior to the meeting and wore masks, Victorino said. (10/20)

Hawaii’s Governor Welcomes Travelers As COVID Counts Drop

Hawaii’s COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations have declined to the point where the islands are ready to welcome travelers once again, the governor said Tuesday. Gov. David Ige said vacationers and business travelers are welcome to return to the islands starting Nov. 1. (McAvoy, 10/20)

Idaho Health Officials Say COVID Case Numbers Are Flattening

Idaho’s COVID-19 case numbers are so high that the state is still worse off than when it first entered crisis standards of care, but public health officials said Tuesday that some hope is on the horizon. “For the first time since July, things are headed in a better direction,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said during a public briefing, noting that the number of new cases was flattening out. “It also means that we are not out of the woods yet.” (Boone, 10/19)

The Hill:
Fox News’s Neil Cavuto Tests Positive For Breakthrough COVID-19 Case

Fox News host Neil Cavuto, who has been open about his health struggles with multiple sclerosis, announced Tuesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. Cavuto did not host his Fox show “Your World” on Tuesday due to the diagnosis. “While I’m somewhat stunned by this news, doctors tell me I’m lucky as well,” Cavuto said in a statement shared with The Hill. “Had I not been vaccinated, and with all my medical issues, this would be a far more dire situation. It’s not, because I did and I’m surviving this because I did.”  (Prieb, 10/19)

CNN’s John King Says He Has MS, Grateful For Vaccinations

CNN’s John King revealed during an on-air discussion of COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Tuesday that he has multiple sclerosis. “I’m going to share a secret I’ve never spoken before,” King said while leading a panel discussion on his “Inside Politics” show. “I’m immunocompromised. I have multiple sclerosis. So, I’m grateful you’re all vaccinated.” King and his guests were talking about mandates in the context of the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who died Monday of COVID complications despite being vaccinated because he had cancer that compromised his immune system. (10/19)

Modern Healthcare:
Pediatric Groups Declare ‘National Mental Health Emergency’

Leading pediatric healthcare organizations warn the surge of behavioral healthcare issues among children since the start of the pandemic has risen to the level of a national public health crisis. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in children’s mental health on Tuesday. The organizations are asking for more federal funding to ensure access to mental healthcare services, telemedicine, and more support for school-based care which often is the first point of care. Schools provide an estimated 70% of their behavioral healthcare services, according to the School-Based Health Alliance. (Ross Johnson, 10/19)

The New York Times:
Medical Groups Declare Youth Mental Health Crisis 

Leading medical groups have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health triggered by prolonged isolation, uncertainty and grief during the coronavirus pandemic. In a joint statement on Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association said the coronavirus pandemic had worsened an already existing mental health crisis among children and teens. (Paz, 10/20)

Theranos Boasted Of Accuracy In Mailings To Murdoch, Other Investors

Theranos sent binders claiming the healthcare company had “the highest levels of accuracy” to high-profile investors, including billionaire Rupert Murdoch, according to court testimony on Tuesday. Elizabeth Holmes once had some of the most powerful business leaders in America backing her start-up, Theranos. The revelations emerged in the seventh week of Holmes’ criminal fraud trial in San Jose. (Khorram, 10/19)

Fox News:
Blood Pressure Medication Recalled Over Possibly Containing Cancer-Causing ‘Impurity’

A Lupin Pharmaceuticals Inc. blood pressure medication is being recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for potentially containing a “probable human carcinogen.” The voluntary recall includes the company’s Irbesartan tablets and Hydrochlorothiazide tablets at the consumer level. In an Oct. 14 release, the agency said it made the assessment based on results from laboratory testing. (Musto, 10/19)

USDA Looks To Cut Salmonella Contamination In Poultry After Repeated Failures

The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Tuesday that it is kicking off an effort to substantially reduce the number of people each year who get sick from poultry products contaminated with salmonella. The context: The move comes after consumer advocates have repeatedly pressed the department to take a more aggressive approach to reducing salmonella in various chicken and turkey products. The country failed to meet its 2020 goals for cutting salmonella infections, although some testing data has suggested poultry products are less contaminated than they were previously. (Evich, 10/19)

Houston Chronicle:
Many Texas Children Miss Out On Required Lead Testing, Report Finds

As volunteers and researchers just begin to document the scope of potential lead poisoning in Texas homes and water pipes, federal authorities say that more than a third of the state’s children from low-income families never receive a test to check for lead in their blood, as required by federal rules. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s report offers the latest evidence that the nation’s problem with lead, which can damage the brain and cause lifelong developmental and behavioral problems in children, may be larger than anyone knows. (Wermund, 10/20)

Texas Nurse Convicted Of Killing 4 Men With Air Injections

A Texas nurse was convicted Tuesday of capital murder in the deaths of four patients who died after prosecutors say he injected them with air following heart surgeries. The Smith County jury deliberated for about an hour before finding William George Davis, of Hallsville, guilty of capital murder involving multiple victims. Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty during the sentencing phase, which was scheduled to start Wednesday. (10/19)

The New York Times:
Brazilian Leader Accused of Crimes Against Humanity in Pandemic Response

A Brazilian congressional panel is set to recommend that President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with “crimes against humanity,” asserting that he intentionally let the coronavirus rip through the country and kill hundreds of thousands in a failed bid to achieve herd immunity and revive Latin America’s largest economy. A report from the panel’s investigation, excerpts from which were viewed by The New York Times ahead of its scheduled release this week, also recommends criminal charges against 69 other people, including three of Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons and numerous current and former government officials. (Nicas, 10/19)

WHO: Europe The Only Region With Rise In COVID-19 Last Week

The World Health Organization said there was a 7% rise in new coronavirus cases across Europe last week, the only region in the world where cases increased. In its weekly assessment of the pandemic released late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said there were about 2.7 million new COVID-19 cases and more than 46,000 deaths last week, similar to the numbers reported the previous week. Britain, Russia and Turkey accounted for the most cases. (10/20)

UK Doctors Call For Return Of Covid Restrictions; New Mutation Watched

U.K. medical professionals have issued an urgent plea to the British government to reimpose some Covid restrictions due to the increased level of infections and hospitalizations in the country. Health leaders warned late Tuesday that the U.K. risks “stumbling into a winter crisis” if the government does not enact its “Plan B,” a pledge it made last month in which it said it would reimpose Covid measures if data suggested the National Health Service was “likely to come under unsustainable pressure.” (Ellyatt, 10/20)

South African Regulator Rejects Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine

The South African drug regulator has rejected the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, citing some safety concerns the manufacturer wasn’t able to answer. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, or SAHPRA, said in a statement Tuesday that the request for Sputnik V to be authorized could “not be approved at this time,” referring to past failed HIV vaccines that used a similar technology. But the regulator added that its review process was continuing and that it was still open to receiving any further safety data from the Russian manufacturer. (Cheng and Magome, 10/19)

Gates Foundation Commits $120 Million For Generics Of Merck Covid-19 Pill

As concern mounts over access to Covid-19 remedies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committing up to $120 million to accelerate production of generic versions of an experimental Merck (MRK) pill to treat Covid-19 that would be available to dozens of low-income countries. But the effort was greeted with mixed reactions by patient advocates. (Silverman, 10/20)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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