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Justice Department needs a reset. Enter Merrick Garland. Is he up for it?

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Attorney general nominee Merrick Garland is vowing to defend the Justice Department’s independence from the White House and make the battle against extremism “central” to the department’s mission, according to remarks prepared for delivery Monday at his Senate confirmation hearing. Acknowledging the public outrage that defined last summer’s social justice protests, Garland, a former top Justice official, highlighted the mission of the department’s Civil Rights Division to protect the rights of the “most vulnerable members of our society.” His selection has been cast by President Joe Biden as an attempt to reset a Justice Department roiled by politics and efforts by former President Donald Trump to use the institution to advance his political interests.

Justice Department needs a reset. Enter Merrick Garland. Is he up for it?
Merrick Garland backed by 4 former attorneys general, including 2 Republicans, ahead of confirmation hearing
Who is Merrick Garland? What to know about the longtime judge and Attorney General nominee

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Congress takes up COVID-19 relief, but it faces key hurdles
After an attack at the U.S. Capitol and a historic impeachment trial, Congress is back to legislating. Lawmakers’ primary focus this week will be President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and Congress is up against a clear deadline. In a few weeks, aid for millions of people still struggling through the pandemic will run dry. The bill likely will face some hurdles, and Democrats will put their slim majorities in both chambers to the test for the first time. If the bill passes the House, it will would then go over to the Senate, where it would face a more complicated process. The chamber could amend the bill, which would send it back to the House for another vote. Democrats aim to pass the whole package by mid-March.

‘Rapid take-off’ of variant first found in Britain threatens US. Latest COVID-19 updates
Democrats propose tax credit of up to $3,600 per child in Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan
Democrats reject moderates’ calls to cut eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks

More Mars photos, possible descent video, anticipated from Perseverance
A full Martian photo shoot and video footage from NASA’s Perseverance is anticipated on Monday after the rover landed safely on the Red Planet last week. “We’re gonna do a panorama of the rover and we’re also going to do a full panorama of our landscape around us,” said Pauline Hwang, assistant strategic mission manager. Additionally, NASA is hopeful that it captured video footage of the spacecraft during entry, landing and descent. If successful, it will be the first video footage of a spacecraft landing on another planet. On Friday, NASA released a photo of the rover in mid-descent as it was suspended under the sky crane moments before it touched down on the Martian surface.

‘Perseverance will get you anywhere’: After 300-million-mile journey, NASA’s Mars rover shares Twitter updates — sort of
‘Truly America at its best.’:NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance landing a salute to diversity

Texas recovers after wintry storm devastates power grid, water facilities
Texas is in recovery mode after a winter storm left more than 4 million people without electricity and more than 14 million under boil-water advisories. Over 70 deaths have been linked to the intense cold and damaging storms that traversed the United States last week, with about half the deaths reported so far occurred in Texas. Many power plants and water facilities were ill-equipped to handle the wintry onslaught and more than 33,000 Texas homes and businesses remained without power Sunday. In West Virginia, more than 27,000 homes and businesses and another 25,000 in Kentucky were without power Sunday. That number was about 20,000 in Mississippi.

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General

“It allows people who are not able to in some situations find or afford a mask, to get a mask, and is part of our

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The Biden administration is planning to distribute millions of free face masks across the country to organizations serving people with low incomes, in a fresh effort to tamp down Covid-19 spread within vulnerable populations.

The federal government will soon begin sending more than 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens, the administration said on Wednesday, with the goal of reaching as many as 15 million people with low incomes beginning in March and continuing through May.
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“It allows people who are not able to in some situations find or afford a mask, to get a mask, and is part of our equity strategy,” White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said, estimating the cost of supplying the masks at about $86 million.
President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus beginning next month as part of his efforts to ensure “equity” in the government’s response to the pandemic.

Biden, who like Donald Trump’s administration considered sending masks to all Americans, is instead adopting a more conservative approach, aiming to reach underserved communities and those bearing the brunt of the outbreak. Trump’s administration shelved the plans entirely.

Biden’s plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but instead through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation’s food bank and food pantry systems, the White House announced Wednesday.

The Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture will be involved in the distribution of more than 25 million American-made cloth masks in both adult and kid sizes. The White House estimates they will reach 12 million to 15 million people.

“Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly, not all have access, and not all masks are equal,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients.

The White House is not distributing safer N95 masks, of which the U.S. now has abundant supply after shortages early in the pandemic.

Youtube video thumbnail
The cloth masks adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “certainly they meet those requirements set by our federal standard,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Biden hinted at the move Tuesday during a virtual roundtable discussion Tuesday with four essential workers who are Black, saying he expected his administration to send millions of masks to people around the country “very shortly.”

Biden has asked all Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term, pointing to models showing it could help save 50,000 lives. He also required mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public transportation in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

In late January, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 75% of Americans said they wear a mask all the time when they go out in public and are around others, and an additional 12% said they wear a mask most of the time.

Biden has made a virtue of his public displays of mask-wearing, drawing direct contrast with Trump, who only rarely was seen covering his face while president. Biden has also required the use of masks around the White House, unlike Trump, whose White House was the scene of at least three outbreaks of the virus.

Psaki suggested earlier this month that logistical concerns underpinned the decision to scale back the plans to send masks to all Americans.

“I think there are some underlying questions about how you target them — the masks — where they go to first; obviously, it couldn’t happen immediately,” she said.

Associated Press writer Hannah Fingurhut contributed to this report.
Why it matters: The initiative comes nearly a year after Trump administration health officials first internally explored whether to send masks to every American in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread — an idea that was rejected at the time.

Public health experts have since pushed for reviving the concept as a way of reaching underserved communities and emphasizing the importance of mask wearing. Those advocates included members of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, who had sketched out rough plans for what masks the government should send and how it should deliver them to the entire U.S. population, according to a person familiar with the conversations.

Zients on Wednesday said such a sweeping initiative would have been a “good idea” months ago, but he noted that masks are now widely available for most people.

The administration’s initiative will be more limited by comparison, with plans to distribute the cloth masks among roughly 1,300 health centers and 300 food banks. About two-thirds of people served by community health centers are living in poverty, the administration said.

Continue Reading

General

Biden has asked all Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term, pointing to models showing it

Published

on

The Biden administration is planning to distribute millions of free face masks across the country to organizations serving people with low incomes, in a fresh effort to tamp down Covid-19 spread within vulnerable populations.

The federal government will soon begin sending more than 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens, the administration said on Wednesday, with the goal of reaching as many as 15 million people with low incomes beginning in March and continuing through May.
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“It allows people who are not able to in some situations find or afford a mask, to get a mask, and is part of our equity strategy,” White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said, estimating the cost of supplying the masks at about $86 million.
President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus beginning next month as part of his efforts to ensure “equity” in the government’s response to the pandemic.

Biden, who like Donald Trump’s administration considered sending masks to all Americans, is instead adopting a more conservative approach, aiming to reach underserved communities and those bearing the brunt of the outbreak. Trump’s administration shelved the plans entirely.

Biden’s plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but instead through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation’s food bank and food pantry systems, the White House announced Wednesday.

The Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture will be involved in the distribution of more than 25 million American-made cloth masks in both adult and kid sizes. The White House estimates they will reach 12 million to 15 million people.

“Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly, not all have access, and not all masks are equal,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients.

The White House is not distributing safer N95 masks, of which the U.S. now has abundant supply after shortages early in the pandemic.

Youtube video thumbnail
The cloth masks adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “certainly they meet those requirements set by our federal standard,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Biden hinted at the move Tuesday during a virtual roundtable discussion Tuesday with four essential workers who are Black, saying he expected his administration to send millions of masks to people around the country “very shortly.”

Biden has asked all Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term, pointing to models showing it could help save 50,000 lives. He also required mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public transportation in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

In late January, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 75% of Americans said they wear a mask all the time when they go out in public and are around others, and an additional 12% said they wear a mask most of the time.

Biden has made a virtue of his public displays of mask-wearing, drawing direct contrast with Trump, who only rarely was seen covering his face while president. Biden has also required the use of masks around the White House, unlike Trump, whose White House was the scene of at least three outbreaks of the virus.

Psaki suggested earlier this month that logistical concerns underpinned the decision to scale back the plans to send masks to all Americans.

“I think there are some underlying questions about how you target them — the masks — where they go to first; obviously, it couldn’t happen immediately,” she said.

Associated Press writer Hannah Fingurhut contributed to this report.
Why it matters: The initiative comes nearly a year after Trump administration health officials first internally explored whether to send masks to every American in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread — an idea that was rejected at the time.

Public health experts have since pushed for reviving the concept as a way of reaching underserved communities and emphasizing the importance of mask wearing. Those advocates included members of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, who had sketched out rough plans for what masks the government should send and how it should deliver them to the entire U.S. population, according to a person familiar with the conversations.

Zients on Wednesday said such a sweeping initiative would have been a “good idea” months ago, but he noted that masks are now widely available for most people.

The administration’s initiative will be more limited by comparison, with plans to distribute the cloth masks among roughly 1,300 health centers and 300 food banks. About two-thirds of people served by community health centers are living in poverty, the administration said.

Continue Reading

General

We’re going to get out of the business of reacting to supply chain crises as they arise, and get into the business of getting ahead of future supply chain problems,” one of the senior administration officials said.

Published

on

President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Wednesday to review the global supply chains used by four key industries in an effort to avoid the shortages in medical equipment, semiconductors and other goods seen as critical during the pandemic.

China reliance targeted: Biden’s order will institute 100-day reviews of the global producers and shippers for: computer chips used in consumer products; large-capacity batteries for electric vehicles; pharmaceuticals and their active ingredients; and critical minerals used in electronics.
A national health care provider has administered COVID-19 vaccinations to people deemed ineligible for the scarce vaccine by local health departments, including people with connections to company leaders and customers of its concierge medical service, according to internal communications leaked to NPR.
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San Francisco-based One Medical has been allocated thousands of vaccine doses by local health departments in some of the areas they provide medical services. Ineligible individuals with connections to company leadership were set up with vaccine appointments, and patients who were disqualified from receiving the vaccine were nonetheless permitted to skip the line ahead of other high-risk patients.

The problems have occurred in numerous company locations across several states. The Washington State Department of Health, citing a complaint it received this month, told NPR it had halted COVID-19 vaccine distribution to the company. Other regulators have also received complaints or stopped providing the vaccine.

One Medical has branded itself a high-end health care provider serving a relatively affluent clientele that pays a $199 fee annually to receive easy online access to appointments, telemedicine and access to a streamlined, tech-focused medical experience. The company went public with an IPO in January 2020, with a valuation in the billions.

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One Medical’s shortcomings take place amid broader anecdotal evidence that suggests patients throughout the country are skipping the line due in part to loose enforcement. The situation highlights a serious ethical issue: Determining who is entitled to a vaccine at a time of scarce availability and who is responsible for enforcing eligibility rules.

Experts say an appropriate system for vaccine distribution focuses on first targeting those most at risk for serious consequences from COVID-19. “We’re trying to focus on those individuals who are most likely to develop severe illness or death, and to most likely be exposed to the virus,” said Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz, who teaches medical ethics and health policy at the Baylor College of Medicine. “The overall goal is to save as many lives as possible, and with that we are not valuing any life over another.”

One Medical claims it does not allow for ineligible patients to be vaccinated knowingly, and that it was confident that it was “doing everything reasonably in our power to ensure… our adherence to state and local department of health vaccine eligibility guidelines.” But NPR obtained internal communications that tell a different story.

‘We are not policing’

Messages between doctors, medical practitioners, administrative staff and leadership show that multiple staffers across One Medical locations in several states — Washington, Oregon and California — privately raised the alarm about what they believed were lax oversight and inappropriate practices within the organization. They also show what appear to be favors done for those close to the organization’s senior staff.

“It seems if you don’t screen out those jumping the [queue], then many will jump in the line and push those that need the vaccine further behind, delaying a potentially life saving injection. This could impact MANY members,” one doctor in California wrote to his colleagues in January, according to the internal documents.

“I have had two [patients] today, both in their 20-30s without risk factors and are tech workers who have gotten their covid vaccines. One was thru us,” wrote another One Medical doctor in Washington state. “I’m curious how these [people] are able to sign up for vaccines when we have a long list of higher priority [patients]? … I just want to understand how they can be prioritized for a vaccine when those at higher tiers have to wait.”

These internal communications indicate that ineligible friends and family of One Medical leadership were vaccinated, as were work-from-home administrative, support and IT staff at its headquarters in San Francisco. While healthcare workers waited in line in January, One Medical made the decision to offer the vaccine to any of its San Francisco County staff, regardless of whether they were patient-facing staff.

Lázaro-Muñoz, the ethics professor, said that offering the vaccine to all staff regardless of whether they see patients was unethical.

“There might not be regulations stopping this company from giving [the COVID vaccine] to their employees. But from an ethical standpoint, when you look at what is right and wrong, this is wrong,” Lázaro-Muñoz told NPR. “Your life and the life of your co-workers and those who work in this company is not any more valuable than the life of the elderly people that are not getting access to that vaccine, thanks to your criteria and system of distributing that vaccine.”

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One Medical said that it had asked some of its staff to volunteer time in their clinics. However, all of its staff in San Francisco County were provided an opportunity to receive the vaccine, regardless of the nature of their job.

Further, patients of One Medical who were ineligible to be vaccinated based on local guidelines were also permitted to book vaccination appointments through an online portal. So was at least one executive of a partner organization with One Medical. Internal communications show providers trying to get eligible health care workers vaccinated, but instead told to put them on a wait list.

“Why are young patients without health problems, on a trial membership… allowed to book and receive a covid vaccine while healthcare workers are being waitlisted?” one medical professional asked in January. “I just saw two appointments for such.”

There were also shortcomings with the company’s system. A question asking patients whether they were in an eligible category was not added to the online portal until Jan. 14, though One Medical started vaccinating patients on Jan. 1. During this two-week period, COVID-19 cases in the United States reached its highest peak.

Following this, the internal documents show that in January, even if a patient noted that they were not in an eligible category for vaccination, some could continue to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine. Suggestions on how the tech-heavy company could use algorithms to scan for ineligible patients were turned down.

The tech-heavy company said that blocking ineligible patients from booking vaccination appointments would have called for a complete overhaul of their system and was too technologically difficult to rebuild in the required timeframe.

The documents also show that in January One Medical was not verifying the eligibility of patients it vaccinated by requiring ID or other evidence at the point of vaccine administration.

“I have questions about our approach of not requiring [patients] to bring proof of vaccine eligibility,” said a One Medical staffer. “A quick Google search indicates that this is not consistent with many states’ requirements… I am concerned about advertising an overly permissive approach.”

“It seems crucial to at least attempt to ensure that the vaccines are going into the ‘right’ people’s arms.”

– a One Medical staff member

As ineligible patients began to get vaccines, staff began raising concerns that word was spreading about One Medical’s lax enforcement of eligibility requirements.

“I’ve had a few patients straight up tell me that once they realized there was no screening that they would be telling their friends…” another medical provider in California wrote. “My partner and I were shocked when we got ours through One Med… that at no point were we asked if we met criteria — let alone asked to prove it.”

Employees were told not to try to enforce the rules barring ineligible patients. “Scanning schedules and cancelling appointments [for ineligible patients] is not recommended,” Spencer Blackman, the director of clinical education at the company said in a communication to a range of staff. He added in another note to a doctor, “If this person sees themself in a tier that is being vaccinated they can attest to that and make an appointment. You don’t get to make the decision if someone ‘gets’ [a] vaccine or not.”

“We are not policing,” Blackman wrote in January, setting off objections in internal company communications.

When asked why One Medical did not verify eligibility, chief medical officer Andrew Diamond said, “There was never guidance that said ‘do not verify’… that would be counter to our principles.” When told NPR was in possession of communications that indicated otherwise, he responded, “that’s clearly not the guidance, nor is that the intent of the guidance. We’ve been far clearer since then.”

“If we don’t ‘police’ we contribute to inequity that rewards those who choose to lie/deceive … As a medical company with tech skills we CAN do more.”

– a One Medical staff member

In fact, many localities require medical providers to check for eligibility documentation. In Los Angeles County, where One Medical has been provided thousands of doses, vaccination is limited currently to healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents, and persons over the age of 65. Proper documentation of eligibility is required for vaccination. “Providers are then responsible for confirming eligibility responses and requesting accepted documentation of eligibility, once [the patient] arrives for onsite appointment,” an L.A. County Department of Public Health spokesperson said.

And in Alameda County, where the company was given close to 1,000 doses, the public health department said that personal ID and proof of a health care role is “required” for the vaccine doses that One Medical received.

As Forbes was preparing a story about One Medical’s practices, One Medical leadership sent out a note to staff warning of consequences, threatening them with “disciplinary action, up to and including termination” if they leaked internal communications. One Medical disputed this characterization. “One Medical is not, and has never been an organization that threatens its staff,” a spokesperson said, characterizing the note as merely “reminders about our business code of conduct.”

Regulators take action

It is not clear how many ineligible vaccine doses were distributed, and One Medical declined to provide a figure on how many total doses it had administered. But the company has likely provided tens of thousands of doses: Of just two jurisdictions that produced information on the doses it allocated to One Medical, San Francisco County said it had provided the company with 12,000 doses, while L.A. County has provided them with nearly 6,000 doses.

One Medical’s practices have not gone unnoticed by state and local regulators. The Washington State Department of Health told NPR that they had halted allocation of vaccine doses to One Medical due to a complaint received on February 10. “We are currently in communication with One Medical regarding the complaint we received,” a state spokesperson said. “We are removing them from the state’s Vaccine Locations webpage and One Medical will not be receiving vaccine from us until this issue is resolved.” One Medical disputed the reason for the halt, and said that it was a misunderstanding.

Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington state, is also concerned about the wider issue of ineligible patients receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. While not commenting on whether or not there were any ongoing investigations into the topic, or on any individual company, a spokesperson for the attorney general said that Ferguson was “extremely concerned. And he has had conversations with his team about this issue.”

Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health has also received a complaint about One Medical — and has reached out to express a warning by phone and email. “Public Health told One Medical if there are breaches and they are not holding tight to our priority groups, and checking and validating groups, we could not allocate vaccine to them any longer,” a spokesperson said. “We reinforced the fact that we could not provide vaccine to any entity not following our partner guidance for checking and ensuring people getting vaccinated are part of our priority groups.” One Medical claimed that complaints and warnings are both common for medical providers.

In Alameda County, California, which includes Oakland, the Public Health Department said that One Medical had received 975 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but received no more after the health care company indicated its desire to vaccinate ineligible patients. “Alameda County did not fulfill One Medical’s next request in early February for additional doses when they indicated that they planned to vaccinate more than their health care workers (who were the only approved group prioritized for vaccinations at the time),” said a county spokesperson. One Medical said that this explanation was “categorically untrue,” but did not contest that their vaccine allocation has not continued beyond the original 975 doses.

In San Francisco, where One Medical’s headquarters are based, the county’s Department of Public Health stressed: “One Medical was engaged primarily to provide vaccine to in-home support services (IHSS), other in-home care providers and healthcare workers… SF DPH expects all its vaccine provider partners to follow State and SF DPH vaccination eligibility guidelines.”

One Medical contested several elements of this story, claiming that it “does not allow for ineligible persons to be vaccinated knowingly.” It also said that it had fired several members of its clinical staff due to disregard for eligibility requirements.

“We are doing absolutely everything in our power to vaccinate as many eligible people as possible,” said Diamond, the chief medical officer of One Medical, attributing difficulties to the “fog of war” that occurs during a period of “myriad uncertainties, conflicting jurisdictional guidance and profound public anxieties.”

The reviews will seek to determine whether U.S. firms in these sectors are relying too much on foreign suppliers, particularly those in China, a senior administration official told reporters. They will also consider other vulnerabilities, like extreme weather and environmental factors.

“Clearly we are looking at the risks posed by dependence on competitor nations, but that is only one of a range of risks we are looking at,” the administration official said.

The order will also direct yearlong reviews for six sectors: defense, public health, information technology, transportation, energy and food production.

Those reviews will be “modeled after the process the Defense Department uses to regularly evaluate and strengthen the defense industrial base,” the official said.

Remedies unclear: If risks are identified in the supply chains for critical sectors, the administration will aim to push those companies to move their suppliers out of countries like China and back to the U.S. mainland or allied nations.

“Resilient supply chains are not the same thing as all products being made in America,” said a second senior official. “That’s not our intention here.”

Any strict directive from the White House for firms to relocate to the U.S. would risk angering allies like Canada and the European Union, which Biden already irked by strengthening “Buy American” provisions on his first day in office by making it more difficult for foreign companies to supply the U.S. government.

But how the White House will prod companies remains to be seen. If the risks are dire, the Biden administration could use the Defense Production Act, a Cold War-era emergency law, to force companies to produce certain goods domestically. Or the president could work with Congress to fashion incentives and worker-training programs to get suppliers to relocate to the U.S. or allies.

For now, the White House is not ”taking anything off the table,” the first official said, and strategies to fix the supply chains will depend on the weak spots identified.

Shortages abound: The order comes as automakers around the U.S. reel from a global shortage in semiconductors — the computer chips in everything from cell phones to SUVs — forcing manufacturers to halt auto production for weeks.

Risks to the battery supply chain are also apparent. Ford and Volkswagen recently told U.S. trade authorities that they would have to delay production of their new electric vehicle lines if their battery supplier — Korean firm SK Innovation — was blacklisted for intellectual property theft. The International Trade Commission subsequently blocked those batteries from entering the U.S., but gave the automakers a grace period to find new suppliers.

Those situations both came on the heels of widespread shortages of masks and other medical protective gear early in the pandemic, which affected hospitals and average consumers alike. The White House says it aims to get out in front of those issues next time around.

“We’re going to get out of the business of reacting to supply chain crises as they arise, and get into the business of getting ahead of future supply chain problems,” one of the senior administration officials said.

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