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Supreme Court blocks federal abortion pill delivery restrictions; first abortion decision since Ginsburg death

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked enforcement of federal government restrictions on women seeking access to an abortion drug during the coronavirus pandemic, in the high court’s first abortion-related decision since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.

The ruling would, for now, continue to allow women to obtain an abortion pill by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The high court has returned the case to a federal trial court in Maryland for further review of the issue. Justices Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, as the justices begin a new term following the recent death of their colleague, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, as the justices begin a new term following the recent death of their colleague, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
(AP)

The ruling comes nearly three months after a federal judge in Maryland ruled that, during the coronavirus pandemic, health care providers can arrange for mifepristone to be mailed or delivered to patients. The FDA has approved mifepristone to be used in combination with a second drug, misoprostol, to end an early pregnancy or manage a miscarriage.

Thursday’s ruling from the high court is temporary in nature, while the larger legal ramifications play out in court. It comes in response to the case, “FDA vs. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.”

DEMOCRATS RESIGNED THAT AMY CONEY BARRETT CONFIRMATION IS INEVITABLE: ‘WE CAN’T STOP THE OUTCOME’

The administration is asking to be allowed to enforce a U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule. The administration has suspended similar in-person visits for other drugs, including opioids in some cases, but refused to relax the rules for getting the abortion pill.

Alito and Thomas said they would have granted the administration’s request. “Six weeks have passed since the application was submitted, but the Court refuses to rule,” Alito wrote.

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The court called for the federal judge to take a new look at the issue and rule within 40 days – postponing any further high court action until after the November Election.  

This story contains material from the Associated Press.

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Federal Official Threatens Nevada for Halting Rapid Tests in Nursing Homes

The leader of the nation’s coronavirus testing efforts condemned Nevada’s health department on Friday for ordering nursing homes to discontinue two brands of government-issued rapid coronavirus tests that the state had found to be inaccurate.

“Bottom line, the recommendations in the Nevada letter are unjustified and not scientifically valid,” Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a call with reporters on Friday. The state’s actions, he said, were “unwise, uninformed and unlawful” and could provoke unspecified swift punitive action from the federal government if not reversed.

The rapid tests, which were distributed to nursing homes around the country in August by the federal government, were supposed to address the months of delays and equipment shortages that had stymied laboratory-based tests.

“The important issue is to keep seniors safe,” Admiral Giroir said in an interview on Friday. Antigen tests, he added, were “lifesaving instruments” that had been called “godsends” by some nursing home representatives. About 40 percent of the country’s known Covid-19 deaths came from nursing homes, according to a New York Times analysis.

But Nevada officials had discovered a rash of false positives among two types of rapid tests, manufactured by Quidel and Becton, Dickinson and Company, that had been used in the state’s nursing homes. Both tests look for antigens, or bits of coronavirus proteins, and had been advertised as producing no false positives.

Among a sample of 39 positive test results collected from nursing homes across the state, 23 turned out to be false positives, the state reported. (The bulletin did not specify whether negative results from the antigen tests, of which there were thousands, had been confirmed, leaving the number of false negatives unknown.)

“I would consider that to be a significant number of false positives,” said Omai Garner, a clinical microbiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Admiral Giroir contended that such rates of false positives are to be expected, and are “actually an outstanding result.” No test is perfect, he said.

He also said that the federal government expected the state to promptly rescind its unilateral prohibition, which he described as a violation of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.

An Aug. 31 guidance from Admiral Giroir’s office stipulated that PREP Act coverage “preempts” states from blocking the use of coronavirus tests that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration on people in congregate settings, like nursing facilities.

What Nevada has done is “illegal,” he said. “They cannot supersede the PREP Act.”

The federal government’s formal response to Nevada’s health department, dated Oct. 8 and signed by Admiral Giroir, portrayed the state’s officials as scientifically incompetent and their actions as “improper” under federal law. “Your letter can only be based on a lack of knowledge or bias, and will endanger the lives of our most vulnerable,” Admiral Giroir wrote.

Should the state hold its ground, “there can be penalties from the federal side,” he said in an interview on Friday, but declined to provide details.

Vaccine expert and whistleblower Rick Bright resigns from federal government

Vaccine expert and whistleblower Rick Bright on Tuesday resigned from the federal government, his attorneys announced in a statement. Earlier this year, Bright was removed from a top position at the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Bright, a high-ranking scientist, has said the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been slow and chaotic, prioritizing politics over science. Bright earlier this year filed a whistleblower complaint running over 300 pages.

Now, Bright has submitted his resignation to the National Institutes of Health effective immediately and has filed an updated complaint with the Office of Special Counsel alleging constructive discharge based on the failure of NIH leadership to assign him meaningful work, according to Bright’s lawyers.

“Dr. Bright was forced to leave his position at NIH because he can no longer sit idly by and work for an administration that ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists, resulting the in the sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” his attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, said in a statement.

“After having his work suppressed for political reasons to the detriment of public health and safety, Dr. Bright was sidelined from doing any further work to combat this deadly virus,” their statement continued. “This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. He can no longer countenance working for an administration that puts politics over science to the great detriment of the American people.”

Before his transfer, Bright led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which oversees vaccine development. Bright told CBS News earlier this year that his sense of urgency in the early days of coronavirus was not shared by all.

“I believe my concerns were shared by other scientists in the government. And I believe the NIH was also moving very quickly to start some research in developing a vaccine and starting a clinical trial for an antiviral drug,” he said. “What struck me though was my sense of urgency didn’t seem to prevail across all of HHS.”

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Trump Administration Will Cease Federal Funding to Hospitals That Do Not Report COVID-19 Data | Top News

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will halt some federal funding to hospitals that do not comply with its requirements for reporting data on COVID-19, senior administration officials told reporters on a Tuesday call.

Starting Wednesday, hospitals will be given 14 weeks to provide daily reporting to HHS on COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as other information such as influenza cases and use of personal protective equipment, the officials said.

Hospitals that fail to comply will lose access to reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, federal insurance programs for seniors, the disabled, and people with low incomes, they said.

The data will help coordinate the federal government’s response to COVID-19, including helping allocate supplies of antiviral drug remdesivir, and distribute its stockpile of personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks, said Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator.

HHS is requiring that hospitals provide daily influenza case reporting because of the likelihood flu season will intersect with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the officials said.

“It is not certain what will happen this fall and winter, however the CDC is preparing for there to be COVID-19 and seasonal flu activity at the same time,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government struggled to provide sufficient personal protective equipment to hospitals inundated with COVID-19 patients. It has also played a role in allocating Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir to hospitals after U.S. regulators approved the antiviral drug in May for emergency use in some COVID-19 patients.

HHS took over responsibility for collecting hospitals’ COVID-19 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July. News reports suggested the Trump administration move was aimed at bypassing the CDC, speculation the CDC director has rejected.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by David Gregorio)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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Federal Prisons Will Let Inmates Have Visitors During Pandemic

The federal prison system “is committed to protecting the health and welfare of those individuals entrusted to our care, as well as our staff, their families, and the communities where we live and work,” the agency said in a statement.

Inmates and prison officials have said the inability of inmates to see loved ones — combined with the fear of becoming sick and having been largely restricted to cells or crowded dormitories — had exacerbated existing mental illnesses.

But not everyone is pleased with the return of in-person visits.

Mr. McGlothin, the federal prison employee in California, said that when he went to officials with concerns about the risks of renewed visits, he was told that the new partitions would help and that the plan would be safe.

“I said, ‘Safe for who?’” Mr. McGlothin said.

Even some families were reluctant.

Nina Schunck said that she and her daughter, an inmate at a federal prison in West Virginia, had discussed a visit but ultimately decided against it.

“She does not want me to go because she is afraid of transmission,” Ms. Schunck said. “They just had their first positive case there. So she’s worried about that on both counts — that people will bring it in, or that people will get it while they’re there.”

She added: “The timing is just weird to me because it’s still continuing to spread. There’s no stop — every day, another prison.”

At Butner federal prison in North Carolina, Barry Taylor, an inmate, said fears about extending a remarkably deadly six-month stretch at the prison had led inmates and families to decide visits were too risky. If inmates become infected, they are typically placed in isolation units or grouped with other ill prisoners and have limited access to showers, phone calls, hot meals, fresh air and exercise.

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