Logistics expert Jeff Zients, who has headed the White House covid-19 response team since the start of the Biden administration, is stepping down and will be replaced by popular public health expert Dr. Ashish Jha, who will take a leave from his post as dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. Meanwhile, White House officials are scrambling to figure out how to get the funding they need to continue their covid control efforts now that the president has signed the big spending bill for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.
In the states, the Texas Supreme Court closed off the latest effort to stop a law that has all but ended legal abortion in the nation’s second-largest state since September. Other states are scrambling to copy Texas’ novel law, even before the Supreme Court formally moves to weaken or reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent that guaranteed the right to legal abortion nationwide.
This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico.
Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:
- Covid restrictions are being dropped around the country, but another wave of the coronavirus threatens. Covid cases are spiking in many parts of the world, and wastewater testing in the U.S. suggests there is more covid still circulating than many people seem to think.
- The announcement of Jha to head the White House covid response was met with cheers from many in the public health community, who worry the administration has not met the communications challenge of dealing with the virus.
- The Texas Supreme Court has rejected a long-shot effort by abortion providers to block a law that has effectively banned all abortions in the state after about six weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court has not directly ruled on the law, even though it allowed it to take effect, and other states are trying to copy its unique enforcement mechanism, including Idaho, where legislators this week sent a similar bill to the governor.
- The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a sweeping bill to remake portions of the federal public health bureaucracy on a bipartisan vote of 20-2. The bill includes the formal creation of President Joe Biden’s proposal for an “Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health,” or ARPA-H.
- Many questions remain to be answered, however, including where much of the funding would come from for the changes, whether ARPA-H would become part of the National Institutes of Health or remain separate, and whether the full Senate and the House would be able to pass the bipartisan compromise worked out in the HELP Committee.
- In something of a surprise, the Senate by voice vote passed a bill this week that would make daylight saving time permanent. But while stopping the practice of changing the clocks twice a year is popular, there is less agreement on whether the U.S. should stay on standard time, which favors more light in the morning, or daylight time, which stretches the evening light.
Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:
Julie Rovner: KHN’s “‘American Diagnosis’: A Fuller Moon Rising — Revised ‘Violence Against Women Act’ Offers Hope,” hosted by Dr. Céline Gounder
Joanne Kenen: The Washington Post’s “Disease Took My Brother. Our Health-Care System Added to His Ordeal,” by Karen Tumulty
Sandhya Raman: The New York Times’ “As a Crisis Hotline Grows, So Do Fears It Won’t Be Ready,” by Steve Eder
Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico’s “Covid Chaos Fueled Another Public Health Crisis: STDs,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein
Also discussed on this week’s podcast:
New White House covid-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha on “What the Health?,” Sept. 9, 2021
Freakonomics M.D.’s “Is Daylight Saving Time Hazardous to Your Health?” by Bapu Jena
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