KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Trump Twists on Virus Response

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President Donald Trump — who has spent the past six months trying to play down the coronavirus pandemic — seems to have pivoted. In back-to-back briefings on July 21 and 22, Trump cautioned that the U.S. is in a dangerous place vis-a-vis the pandemic. He urged the public to wear masks — although he has rarely worn one in public.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are scrambling to put together a package for the next COVID-19 relief bill, facing a July 31 deadline, when some of the benefits passed in the spring expire. House Democrats passed their bill in May.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times and Tami Luhby of CNN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Although Trump’s renewed emphasis on
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Ex-West Virginia Health Chief Says Cuts Hurt Virus Response

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The former West Virginia public health leader forced out by the governor says decades-old computer systems and cuts to staff over a period of years had made a challenging job even harder during a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice demanded Dr. Cathy Slemp’s resignation on June 24. He complained about discrepancies in the number of active cases and accused Slemp of not doing her job. He has refused to elaborate.

In her first comments about what happened, Slemp declined in a series of interviews to directly discuss the governor’s decision, saying she wanted to focus on improving the public health system. She defended how the data was handled and she detailed how money dwindled over the years. That meant fewer staff members, and they were hobbled by outdated technology that slowed their everyday work and their focus on the coronavirus.

Among the challenges: a computer

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Watch: Fauci, Other Health Officials Weigh California’s COVID Response

Samantha Young, California Healthline’s California politics correspondent, helped moderate a discussion hosted by the Sacramento Press Club about California’s response to the coronavirus crisis. The discussion touched on the reopening of the economy, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order requiring Californians to wear face coverings and whether hospitals are ready to handle a surge in cases as infections continue to rise statewide.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading public health voice on the COVID-19 pandemic, kicked off the event, with praise for the state’s approach. He urged Californians to keep social-distancing and wear their masks. His comments were later echoed in a panel discussion that included Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health director, who was one of the drivers behind the nation’s first stay-at-home order; Dr. Sarah Medeiros, an emergency medicine physician at UC Davis Health; and state Assembly member Jim Wood, a Democrat who chairs the

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Public Health Officials Face Wave Of Threats, Pressure Amid Coronavirus Response

Emily Brown was stretched thin.

As the director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in rural Colorado, she was working 12- and 14-hour days, struggling to respond to the pandemic with only five full-time employees for more than 11,000 residents. Case counts were rising.

She was already at odds with county commissioners, who were pushing to loosen public health restrictions in late May, against her advice. She had previously clashed with them over data releases and had haggled over a variance regarding reopening businesses.

But she reasoned that standing up for public health principles was worth it, even if she risked losing the job that allowed her to live close to her hometown and help her parents with their farm.

Then came the Facebook post: a photo of her and other health officials with comments about their weight and references to “armed citizens” and “bodies swinging from trees.”

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