Rollbacks: California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered many businesses to stop indoor operations on Monday as the seven-day average number of new Covid-19 cases hit 8,000, Griff Witte reports for The Washington Post. In neighboring Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown limited gatherings to 10 people or fewer and ordered people to wear face coverings outside. Meanwhile, Disney World reopened in Florida, even as the state set a nationwide record for daily new cases on Sunday, with more than 15,000, and is set to host the Republican National Convention in August. As of Tuesday morning, there have been nearly 3,365,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., with more than 135,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Globally, there are over 13 million cases and more than 573,000 people have died.
- Also: The pandemic is straining the U.S. public health system to its breaking point, and in particular, revealing the flaws in how patient and public health data is shared and stored, Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz write for The New York Times. A fax machine, for example, is a poor tool for sharing information on 40,000 coronavirus cases, as the Harris County Public Health Department in Texas has struggled to do.
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“Nuclear grade bananas”: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has shared his bleak outlook on the pandemic with the public, and in response the White House stepped up its jabs at him. It gave The Washington Post a statement listing the many times “Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” Fauci has been on the outs with the administration and excluded from the Oval Office for over a month even as case numbers in many states surged. The Wall Street Journal reported that public health experts and Democrats have loudly defended Fauci. The Association of American Medical Colleges released a statement Monday that it was “extremely concerned and alarmed” by the White House’s criticisms. “Taking quotes from Dr. Fauci out of context to discredit his scientific knowledge and judgment will do tremendous harm to our nation’s efforts to get the virus under control, restore our economy, and return us to a more normal way of life,” the group wrote. Connecticut’s Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted: “Don’t let this feel normal. It’s nuclear grade bananas to have White House staff sending reporters opposition research on their own top infectious disease doctor in the middle of a worsening pandemic that has already killed 130,000.”
Financial cliff: Tens of thousands of workers who filed for unemployment starting in March are still waiting for checks, Eli Rosenberg reports for The Washington Post, even as they fall further behind on rent, car payments and other essentials. People have taken to camping out in front of unemployment offices in Oklahoma, Alabama and Kentucky. Many Republican-led states moved to restrict unemployment benefits in the years leading up to the pandemic, and Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said those states have been slowest to process benefits the past few months. Across the country, state unemployment offices have been completely overwhelmed by the flood of applications, in part because they’re working with shockingly outdated equipment. “Remember the Oregon Trail? That’s what my mainframe looks like,” Shelley Zumwalt, the interim director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, told The Post. “We have many full-time people whose job is just making sure that thing doesn’t die.”
- Also: A new study by the nonpartisan consumer advocacy group Families USA estimates some 5.4 million American workers lost their health insurance between February and May, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes for The New York Times.
Mask-makers sickened: More than 300 workers at the clothing company Los Angeles Apparel have tested positive for Covid-19 and four have died, Leila Miller reports for the Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said that in late June it shut down operations at the garment factory, which has been producing masks in recent months, after inspectors found “flagrant violations” of public health infection control orders. The health department said the company did not cooperate with its investigation into the Covid-19 outbreak, withholding a list of employees who could have been exposed or infected. Founder Dov Charney was previously pushed out of American Apparel, another company he started, because of allegations of financial mismanagement and sexual abuse. In an interview with the Times, Charney blamed “conflicting directions” from the public health department and said it was only natural that increasing infection rates in South Los Angeles would be reflected in his factory.
Kickback paddywhack: Hospital and health care company Universal Health Services and one of its facilities in Georgia will pay $122 million to settle alleged violations of the federal False Claims Act for billing Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs for medically unnecessary procedures. The companies were accused of failing to provide adequate and appropriate health services and paying kickbacks to federal healthcare beneficiaries for directing patients to their care. The companies have admitted no wrongdoing, and continue to deny the allegations, Jack Hagel and Stephen Nakrosis report for The Wall Street Journal. UHS came under scrutiny in 2016 when BuzzFeed reported that employees exaggerated patient symptoms in order to admit psychiatric patients.
- Also: An Oklahoma City specialty hospital, managers group, and physician group will pay more than $72 million to resolve allegations of illegal kickbacks and benefits under the False Claims Act and the Oklahoma Medicaid False Claims Act, laws meant to assure that doctors aren’t influenced by factors other than health outcomes. “Offering illegal financial incentives to physicians in return for patient referrals undermines the integrity of our health care system,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ethan P. Davis.
Harmless fraud?: The Education Department is denying loan relief to students defrauded by for-profit colleges and universities, claiming they suffered no financial harm, Stacy Cowley reports for The New York Times. “You’re acknowledging the school defrauded its students and claiming that didn’t hurt us?” said Albert Paul Cruz, who attended ITT Technical Institute, a defunct for-profit chain, and accrued almost $60,000 in student loans. “How is that even possible?” Over the past few months, the Education Department has rejected more than 45,000 requests for loan relief related to for-profit universities. When it does approve a claim, the financial relief is minimal. “To tell even borrowers who can prove they were defrauded by their school that they still get no relief is absurd and cruel,” said Eileen Connor, the legal director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, which has represented borrowers in multiple cases against the department. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has warned against what she sees as unwarranted loan relief, saying she wants to assure that “taxpayers who did not go to college or who faithfully paid off their student loans do not shoulder student loan costs for those who didn’t suffer harm.”
Not a drop to drink: Water is a scarce resource in New Mexico, which is why one city is fighting attempts by oil and gas companies that want to drastically increase the amount of groundwater they use in their fracking operations, Jens Gould reports for the Santa Fe New Mexican. “I don’t want to call it a war, but we’re fighting for our lives down here,” says Jal Mayor Stephen Aldridge. The city has told the State Engineer’s Office that allowing the companies to pump more water out of the ground could deplete their only source, harm public welfare and ultimately threaten the town’s existence.
- Also: New climate predictions from the World Meteorological Organization show a higher likelihood that annual global temperatures could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels in the next five years, Amy Woodyatt reports for CNN. That’s a crucial threshold scientists have long recommended we avoid crossing and could mean more heatwaves, wildfires, and droughts, greater sea level rise and flooding and global food shortages.
Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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