Overnight Health Care: White House coronavirus task force says ‘significant behavior change’ needed of Americans | HHS working with Biden on transition | 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses expected to be shipped to states by mid-December

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care. The White House coronavirus task force says Americans need…

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care.

The White House coronavirus task force says Americans need to significantly change their behavior to reduce COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. States could receive the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines — about 6.4 million doses — by mid-December. Meanwhile, global flu infections have hit record lows. 

Let’s start with the White House: 

White House coronavirus task force says ‘significant behavior change’ needed of Americans 

The White House coronavirus task force this week issued a dire warning to states of “aggressive, rapid, and expanding” spread of COVID-19 across the country that requires a “significant behavior change” of all Americans ahead of the holidays. 

There is community spread of COVID-19 in more than 2,000 counties, reads a report issued to states obtained by The Hill, and all states must act to “flatten the curve to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies.” 

The U.S. is averaging about 173,000 new coronavirus cases per day in a fall surge that has also seen increases in deaths and hospitalizations.

The pandemic is expected to worsen after the Thanksgiving holiday, when millions of Americans will likely gather with friends and family, against the advice of public health officials. 

The task force report says that states pursuing “aggressive mitigation” are beginning to see a stabilization of cases. 

“However, in many areas of the country, mitigation efforts are inadequate or too recently implemented to see a significant impact,” the report states. 

Why it matters: There seems to be no political appetite to issue mask mandates in the mostly GOP-led states that have refused to do so thus far. But many others, including those led by Democratic governors, don’t want to close indoor dining rooms either, which could help slow transmission much more than overnight curfews

Read more here.

Speaking of the White House:

HHS working with Biden transition after weeks of delays

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to ‘hollow out government agencies’ Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban ‘inflicts concrete harms,’ study says | China objects to US admiral’s Taiwan visit Protect our world: How the Biden administration can save lives and economies worldwide MORE has finally received authorization from the Trump administration to begin the transition process, and the president-elect and his team have begun working with agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“Our top career official was last night in communication with the Biden transition team,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters.

“We will ensure coordinated briefings with them to ensure they are getting whatever information that they feel they need” that is consistent with the law and past practice, Azar said. “Transition planning and execution will be professional, cooperative and collaborative, in the best spirit of looking out for the health and well-being of the American people.” 

On the vaccine front: 

6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses expected to be shipped to states by mid-December

States will begin receiving the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in mid-December, but will make their own determinations on who will be first in line for a shot. 

An estimated 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine will be distributed to states and territories by the middle of next month, assuming it receives Food and Drug Administration authorization by that point, Operation Warp Speed officials told reporters Tuesday. 

State officials were notified Friday how many doses they should expect to receive in the initial distribution, and they will make their own decisions about who will be prioritized for the first doses.

The administration is working with states and Pfizer to test the vaccine distribution networks through a dry run exercise this week.

Still, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday the agency is working on recommendations for prioritization, and he suggested health care workers, people living in nursing homes and other vulnerable people should be first in line. 

“[Governors] will decide whom the vaccine is given to. We hope that our recommendations will carry weight with them but at the end of the day they will make that decision,” Azar told reporters.

Read more here.

The CDC really wants you to listen to public health advice:

CDC considering shorter coronavirus quarantine recommendation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering shortening the amount of time it recommends people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus quarantine in hopes of convincing more people to follow its advice.

The CDC is finalizing rules to shorten the quarantine period for a potentially exposed person from 14 days to seven to 10 days, a senior agency official told The Wall Street Journal.

That official, Henry Walke, the CDC’s coronavirus incident manager, said the agency would recommend that someone quarantining for the shorter period of time also receive a negative test.

“We do think that the work that we’ve done, and some of the studies we have and the modeling data that we have, shows that we can with testing shorten quarantine,” Walke told the Journal.

A CDC spokesman confirmed that the agency is considering making a change to its quarantine recommendations, though no final decisions have been made. 

Read more here.

A glimmer of hope: Global flu infections hit record lows amid pandemic

Public health officials and experts watching the dark cloud of the coronavirus pandemic have picked out the tiniest of silver linings: This year’s influenza transmission appears to be one of the lowest in recorded history.

Experts said it is too early to draw conclusions about what the winter months might bring as colder weather descends on the Northern Hemisphere. But data from the Southern Hemisphere suggests the worst-case scenario — a wave of influenza piling onto health care systems already stressed by a surge of coronavirus cases — might not come to pass.

“They had amazingly low transmission rates,” Christine Petersen, an epidemiologist who studies influenza at the University of Iowa, said of the Southern Hemisphere. “There was no decent levels of transmission anywhere, except for Southeast Asia.”

Data collected by the World Health Organization show remarkably low levels of influenza-like illnesses this year, compared to years past. In March — typically the height of influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere — about 36 of every 1,000 outpatients showed a flu-like illness. In the spring of 2017, the most recent year of significant spread, that number was north of 200 per every 1,000 patients.

Read more here.

In non-virus news:

Federal appeals court sides with Texas, Louisiana efforts to cut Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding

Texas and Louisiana can cut Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs, a federal appeals court ruled Monday evening, a win for abortion opponents who have long sought to cut off federal and state funding to the organization.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Texas and Louisiana state officials Monday in a 11-5 ruling reversing lower court decisions blocking the changes from taking effect. 

State officials argued they should be able to remove “unqualified” providers from Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for the poor. 

The majority of judges wrote that the women who sued Texas officials to challenge the ban, who were represented by Planned Parenthood, had no right to challenge the state’s determination that the organization is “unqualified” and therefore can’t participate in Medicaid.

Why it matters: It’s a major blow for Planned Parenthood, which recently left a separate federal family planning grant program after new restrictions were imposed by the Trump administration. 

Read more here.

Coronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Steve Collis

The Hill’s Editor at large Steve Clemons interviews AmerisourceBergen Chairman, President and CEO Steven Collis on what Americans should think about supply chains and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Read excerpts from the interview here.

What we’re reading: 

Need a COVID-19 nurse? That’ll be $8,000 a week (Kaiser Health News

What we know about AstraZeneca’s head scratching vaccine results (The New York Times

A revamped strategic national stockpile still can’t match the pandemic’s latest surge (NPR)

Essential workers likely to get earlier access to COVID-19 vaccine (STAT)

State by state: 

Biden likely to help states increase health care access (Stateline)

Gov. expands mask mandate to half of Mississippi counties (Kentucky.com)

A North Texas superintendent is openly defying the state mask mandate in schools. No one is stopping him. (Texas Tribune)

Op-eds in The Hill 

How the CDC can get serious about the health of incarcerated people

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