A US health official suggested to Dr. Anthony Fauci early in the pandemic that medical workers could use “doggie cones” instead of personal protective equipment, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.
On Tuesday, The Post published 860 pages of emails sent and received by Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spanning March and April 2020.
BuzzFeed News has also published 3,200 pages of Fauci’s emails from January 2020 to June 2020. Both outlets said they obtained the emails through Freedom of Information Act requests.
In response to the suggestion from the Department of Health and Human Services official that dog cones – used to stop dogs from scratching dressings or wounds – could be used as PPE, Fauci replied with a polite thank you, The Post said.
Insider has contacted the Department of Health and Human Services for comment.
Peter Navarro, who served as a trade adviser to Trump, is one of the officials accused of pursuing a “haphazard and ineffective approach to procurement” and steering contracts “to particular companies without adequate diligence or competitions.”
There are numerous examples outlined in the inquiry of how the Trump aide played a significant role in rewarding multimillion-dollar deals to companies with connections to the White House, ProPublica reported.
On one occasion, Navarro awarded a $96 million deal for respirators to a company with links to the administration – Airboss Defense Group (ADG).
Retired Army general Jack Keane, a Trump ally and paid consultant for ADG, sent a catalog of the company’s items to Navarro on March 22, 2020. Keane had just been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump days earlier.
Navarro and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force had a phone call with representatives from ADG later that day, according to the House inquiry.
Then, a day after the call, ADG submitted a $96.4 million proposal to Navarro’s team. He responded by telling the firm in an email that they could “consider it done,” the documents show.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were quickly sent an invoice and pressured into signing the contract, ProPublica said.
On another occasion, the Trump aide pushed for an untested pharmaceutical company to sign a major deal to produce pharmaceutical ingredients and generic drugs.
The $354 million contract went to a newly-formed start-up, Phlow. “It was the largest contract ever awarded by BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority), even though Phlow was a first-time government contractor that had incorporated just months earlier in January 2020,” documents from the Select Subcommittee show.
Navarro had been introduced to Phlow’s chief executive months earlier, the documents say. He had also developed a friendship with a Phlow board member over their shared China skepticism, Insider’s Tom Porter reported.
The Trump aide also put pressure on agency officials to get the deal done quickly, the inquiry finds. “My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved,” Navarro wrote to BARDA officials.
The former trade adviser is accused of coordinating with executives at the Eastman Kodak Company. The photography business has a “complete lack of experience in the field,” the subcommittee’s letter says. Nevertheless, the firm entered into a letter of intent in June 2020 to manufacture pharmaceutical agents.
Navarro has made headlines in recent days for spreading baseless claims about COVID-19 and for railing against Dr. Anthony Fauci.
During a Fox News interview with Rachel Campos-Duffy, Navarro referred to Fauci as “the father of the actual virus.” He also called Fauci a “sociopath and a liar” who had “nothing to do with the vaccine,” Insider’s Sinéad Baker reported.
In the survey of 9,200 registered nurses in the US in February, 81% said they had reused single-use personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns. In the union’s survey of 23,000 nurses conducted last April and May, 87% reported reusing personal protective gear.
In the latest survey, 61% of hospital nurses said they had been tested for COVID-19, and nearly half said that staffing had recently gotten slightly or much worse.
One year later, a promising vaccine rollout could greatly reduce the threat of COVID-19. But the survey suggests that many frontline nurses are burning out from dealing with the same problems.
“We are a year into this deadly pandemic and hospitals are still failing to provide the vital resources needed to ensure safety for nurses, patients, and health care staff,” the NNU’s executive director, Bonnie Castillo, said in a release.
Why nurses are still reusing masks
A year ago, nurses painted a harrowing picture of unprepared hospitals bracing for COVID-19.
Hospital nurses, who spend more time at patients’ bedsides than other healthcare workers, said the PPE shortage would expose them and their families to the disease. NNU members protested in April outside the White House to demand more protective gear.
The PPE shortage stems in part from the Trump administration’s reluctance to coordinate and fund equipment-stockpiling efforts. Shikha Gupta, the executive director of the advocacy group Get Us PPE, recently told NPR that while the shortages were not as widespread as they were last year, supplies varied depending on the state.
As a result, nurses reused single-use N95 masks, which become contaminated with extended use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many nurses also said that hospitals were unprepared to meet the demand for equipment and that some nurses who had brought attention to the lack of resources were punished. HCA Healthcare, the country’s largest hospital system, told nurses and doctors last year that it could fire those who spoke publicly about policies surrounding equipment and patient care.
The pandemic could have long-term consequences for nurses
Nurses recently told Insider that the lack of support from the government and employers, as well as the exhaustion from working during the outbreak, could lead to an exodus from the profession.
“I have talked to a lot of doctors and nurses who have told me, ‘I’m going to quit,'” Kristen Choi, a psychiatric nurse in Los Angeles, previously told Insider.
The NNU survey pointed to stressors among registered nurses: 57% of hospital nurses surveyed reported feeling more anxious than before the pandemic, and 43% said they’d had more trouble sleeping this year.
A lack of hospital nurses can lead to worse patient care. A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control in December found that assigning nurses to care for too many patients at once led to a higher rate of mortality from sepsis. Research from Australia has suggested that having fewer patients per nurse could save lives and lead to less readmission.
Though there is no reliable data on how many nurses left the profession because of the COVID-19 outbreak, a recent report from Emory University found that one-third of nurses who left their jobs in 2017 said they did so because of burnout.
Castillo said that the NNU’s latest survey “shines light on how hospital administrators are continuing to jeopardize one of society’s most valuable workforces during Covid-19, registered nurses, by prioritizing profits over basic safety and infection control measures.”
Rideshare and food delivery drivers are planning to protest Wednesday outside Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, California, over what they say is gig companies’ continued failure to protect them nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drivers for Lyft, Instacart, Uber, and Uber subsidiary Postmates said in a press release announcing the protest that the companies aren’t providing adequate PPE and have refused to pay them for the time it takes to clean their vehicles.
They said that Proposition 22 – an industry-backed law passed in California in November that classified rideshare and food delivery drivers as contractors, excluding them from certain labor protections and restricting the ability of local governments to regulate gig companies – is largely to blame.
“Eleven months into this pandemic and workers are still asking for the most basic life saving protections for themselves, their families and their communities,” Cherri Murphy, a Lyft driver and organizer with Gig Workers Rising, a co-organizer of the protest, said in a statement.
“It’s really stressful – I’m always being timed when I’m driving for these companies and if I don’t get places quickly, I can be punished. It’s like the companies don’t care about making sure I have enough time to wash my hands, clean my car, and wipe down surfaces,” Lucas Chamberlain, Instacart driver and member of We Drive Progress, another group behind the protest, said in a statement.
Under Prop 22, drivers aren’t paid for the time they spend waiting for Uber or Lyft to find them a ride or delivery order or sanitizing their vehicles in between jobs. Some gig economy researchers have estimated that loophole could allow companies to pay drivers for just 67% of the hours they actually work.
“Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Lyft has provided tens of thousands of face masks, cleaning supplies and in-car partitions to drivers at no cost to them, and continue to provide access to these supplies today. Our most active drivers also received a free safety kit, consisting of a reusable cloth face covering, sanitizer and disinfectant,” a Lyft spokesperson told Insider, adding that Lyft doesn’t profit off PPE.
Uber told Insider that it has allocated $50 million toward safety supplies for drivers and said it has provided 30 million masks and other cleaning supplies to drivers worldwide.
But while California law requires most companies to provide PPE and sick pay to their employees and to pay into the state’s unemployment insurance program, Prop 22 classified drivers as contractors, allowing gig companies to save far larger amounts by not having to cover those costs. Uber and Lyft drivers last year claimed they’re owed $630 million in back pay as a result of the misclassification. One study found that between 2014 and 2019, the two companies should have paid $413 million into California’s unemployment insurance fund.
Uber spokesperson Kayla Whaling told Insider the company “has tried to do everything we can to support [independent contractors] while they support our communities, including distributing PPE free of charge, providing financial assistance for those who were diagnosed with COVID-19, helping connect them to new work opportunities on Uber or elsewhere, and consolidating information to help them apply for PPP loans or federal unemployment assistance.”
Still, Uber hasn’t always delivered on those promises, and when it has, it’s often only done so following backlash from drivers, regulators, courts, or the media.
Insider reported last April that, despite Uber’s claims it would pay drivers who tested positive for COVID-19, the company had denied legitimate claims and even locked out drivers who requested sick pay.
Wednesday’s protest – which Gig Workers Rising and We Drive Progress said will include a socially distanced rally – comes as some lawmakers in California are already pushing for more accountability for gig companies who rely on rideshare and delivery drivers.
San Francisco supervisor Matt Haney said he plans to introduce legislation that would require companies like Uber and Lyft to provide PPE and pay drivers for time they spend cleaning their vehicles.
“In the midst of this devastating pandemic, workers have gone above and beyond to protect themselves and our communities by purchasing protective equipment and cleaning supplies and spending their personal time sanitizing their cars to save lives. It is outrageous that while delivery app corporations continue to rake in profits, workers are forced to shoulder these burdens while struggling to make ends meet,” Haney said in a statement.
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The US coronavirus outbreak has continuously shattered records this winter, but Saturday marked a particularly gruesome milestone: one month of more than 100,000 consecutive, daily coronavirus hospitalizations.
Average daily cases also reached an all-time high of more than 275,000 on Saturday, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. The US death toll has surpassed 350,000.
The US’s average daily hospitalizations have more than tripled over the last three months, fueled by holiday travel, pandemic fatigue, and many state officials’ resistance to impose new lockdown restrictions.
As of December 28, at least 280 of the nation’s hospitals had reached or exceeded maximum ICU capacity out of 4,824 hospitals for which data was available, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. In the week leading up to Christmas, nearly one-fifth of US hospitals with intensive care units reported that at least 95% of their ICU beds were full.
But hospitalizations are a lagging indicator: They usually reflect cases that were diagnosed a week ago.
“It takes somewhere between five and 10 days after an exposure to actually get sick from COVID and then it takes another week or so after that to be sick enough to need hospitalization,” Megan Ranney, an emergency-medicine physician at Brown University, told Business Insider.
That means people who were hospitalized around Christmas could have been infected around Thanksgiving. Experts don’t expect infections that occurred over the Christmas holiday to factor into hospitalization data for at least another week – perhaps more.
“We’re all stealing ourselves for a really difficult next couple of months,” Ranney said in December.
The approval of coronavirus vaccines, she added, represents “a light at the end of the tunnel” – but the pandemic’s worst days may still be ahead.
The US could see another 210,000 coronavirus deaths from now until April, bringing the total death count to more than 560,000, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts.
Overflowing hospitals make it harder to treat patients
With the holidays over, US hospitals say they’ve never been more strained.
Many hospitals are running low on ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, face shields, or gowns, forcing them to reuse these materials as many times as possible. In a December survey from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, 73% of infection prevention experts said they had sacrificed their normal standards of care due to respirator shortages.
Without enough beds to treat patients, hospitals are also having to make tough calls about who to admit or prioritize for treatment.
“This is by far one of the most difficult things for me and my colleagues, sending a patient home when we would normally admit them,” Dr. Frank LoVecchio, an emergency room physician at Arizona’s Valleywise Health, told Fox 10 Phoenix. “But you reach that point when the needs exceed what is available.”
Some hospitals have had to transfer patients to alternate care sites, while others are forced to examine patients in outdoor tents or waiting rooms. Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, California, told CNN her hospital has started treating patients in the gift shop and chapel.
A tsunami of coronavirus patients also poses an increased risk of hospital staff getting sick themselves. When that happens, hospitals can become even more stretched.
Josh Mugele, an emergency-room doctor at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Georgia, told Business Insider he was “really nervous” about getting the virus in December. His hospital had reached maximum ICU capacity, having seen more coronavirus patients than at any other time during the pandemic.
Mugele was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week. He suspects he got infected while working the night shift on Christmas.
“It’s frustrating now that somebody has to cover my shift,” he said. “The shifts these days are really, really hard. They’re just stressful. There’s a lot of sick people.”