- The Trump Administration is extending social distancing guidelines to April 30, President Donald Trump announced from the White House Rose Garden on Sunday.
- The announcement comes a week after Trump announced that he wanted to reopen the country by April 12; now, he says that date will likely be around the peak of deaths in the United States.
- Earlier in the day, Doctor Anthony Fauci said that a potential 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die of the coronavirus.
- Trump then said while that number is “horrible,” if his Administration can ensure that number doesn’t reach the millions, it will “altogether have done a very good job.”
Trump Extends Social Distancing Guidelines to April 30
As President Donald Trump’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” social distancing guidelines were set to expire, Trump announced on Sunday that he would be extending those guidelines until April 30.
Trump’s announcement from the White House Rose Garden comes after Trump last week said he wants to see a significant portion of the country return by Easter (April 12). As of yesterday, Trump now says the death rate is expected to peak in two weeks., or right around the Easter holiday.
“The modeling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,” he said, “so, I’ll say it again: the peak, the highest point of death rates—remember this—is likely to hit in two weeks. Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all.”
Trump’s announcement also comes after he sent a letter to governors on Thursday in which he announced he would be releasing new social distancing guidelines. Notably, in that letter, he said, “We will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.”
Trump said those classifications could help states make decisions about “maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures.”
Trump’s comments and actions last week worried many public health experts, who argued that returning to normal by April 12th wasn’t feasible. Even one of Trump’s top medical advisors, Doctor Anthony Fauci, tried to walk back Trump’s Easter’s timeline by saying that Trump was “flexible” on that date.
Despite criticism and concern, Trump had said he would consult with his Administration’s medical experts. On Sunday, Fauci said he and Coronavirus Task Force Doctor Deborah Birx originally approached Trump and asked for the deadline extension. Reportedly, they told Trump that if those guidelines expired, even more people would die.
“I guess we got to do it,” Fauci said Trump told him and Birx after looking over the data.
Fauci Says Coronavirus Could Kill 100K-200K Americans
Earlier in the day, Fauci spoke with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the union. In that interview, Fauci warned that the outbreak is likely to keep pushing hospitals to their limit.
Tapper also asked Fauci how many millions of people he expects to contract the virus, and while Fauci gave his current predictions, he also warned against making such predictions because of how easily they could change.
“I’ve never seen a model of the diseases that I’ve dealt with in which the worst-case scenario actually came out,” Fauci said. “They always overshoot, so when you use numbers like a million, a million and a half, two million, that almost certainly is off the chart. Now, it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely. So it’s difficult to present.”
“I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100- and 200,000 cases,” he continued, “but I don’t want to be held to that… We’re going to have millions of cases, but I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target that you can so easily be wrong and mislead people.”
At his announcement yesterday, Trump then referred to those numbers, mentioning the prediction that 1.6 to 2.2 million people could die if there were no intervention efforts at all.
“Think of the number, potentially 2.2 million people if we did nothing,” Trump said. “If we didn’t do the distancing, if we didn’t do all of the things that we’re doing.”
Trump then called the current prediction of even 100,000 deaths “horrible” but said, if the death count stays between 100,000 to 200,000 people, “we altogether have done a very good job.”
When Will the Outbreak Ease?
At his announcement, there was concern that Trump might try to continue to push potentially easing restrictions by region or by county. After being asked by a reporter if he would do this, Trump said no, saying that it wouldn’t be good and that he was listening to Fauci and Birx, who weren’t comfortable with the idea.
Prompted by another question, Trump called his original goal of Easter “aspirational.”He did, however, give a bit of a timeline as to when he thinks the coronavirus outbreak could die down.
“We can expect that by June 1, we will be well on our way to recovery,” he said. “A lot of great things will be happening.”
Monday morning, Trump continued to reinforce the idea that he will be listening to health experts like Fauci and Birx.
“I’ll use my head and I’ll make a decision but I’m going to rely on experts,” he said on Fox & Friends. “Anthony and Deborah have been doing this for many years, and I’m going to rely on them.”
Also Monday morning, Dr. Birx spoke with NBC, where she explained more of the basis for that 100- to 200,000 deaths prediction
“If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities. We don’t even want that,” she said.
“The best-case scenario would be 100 percent of Americans doing precisely what is required,” she added, “but we’re not sure… that all of America is responding in a uniform way to protect one another, so we also have to factor that in.”
Regarding when the outbreak may begin to die down, Birx said that is still too early to know. She said health experts must still wait for more data to come in, also saying that she and others would be looking at that data over the next month to try to answer that question.
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.