Archive for Kimberly Leonard

An exhausted Iowa ER doctor pleaded with people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in a Facebook Live video: ‘We are drowning in people who are dying with this illness’

A doctor wearing full protective equipment treats a patient in an ICU bed.
Pulmonology physician Catherine Wentowski treats a COVID-19 patient at the Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, on August 10, 2021.
  • An Iowa ER doctor pled with viewers on social media to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
  • He blamed misinformation about vaccines for the swell of COVID-19 patients flooding ICU beds.
  • "It feels like a third-world country sometimes," Dr. Lance VanGundy said.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

An emergency room doctor from Iowa pled with Facebook users during a live video stream to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

"We are drowning in people who are dying with this illness," Dr. Lance VanGundy, an ER doctor who works at UnityPoint Health in Marshalltown, told viewers.

VanGundy said that he'd recently seen non-COVID-19 patients with meningitis, stroke, heart attack, and blood clots in the lung, but couldn't transfer them to ICUs because "they're all full" with people who had COVID-19. He warned that if patients get sick then they'll have to wait as long as "days" for a bed to open up.

"This is bad," he said. "It feels like a third-world country sometimes."

VanGundy decried "misinformation" about vaccines and about the virus for the current state of hospitalizations.

"In over 20 years of doing this I have never been this busy or this stressed or seen this many sick people," he said.

Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that 14% of people in the US do not plan to get vaccinated, and others who haven't yet are taking a "wait-and-see" approach, despite the Pfizer vaccine being fully authorized by the FDA and health experts assuring they're safe.

More than 90% of COVID-19 patients currently in Iowa ICUs aren't fully vaccinated against the virus, according to data from the state Department of Public Health.

The US appeared to turn the corner on the pandemic a few months ago as more Americans got vaccinated, but then vaccinations slowed and down a far more contagious variant of the virus, known as Delta, began to proliferate. Officials also fear new seasonal surges are ahead in states.

Iowa has fully vaccinated 61% of its population 12 and up who are eligible for immunization, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The largest Confederate monument in the US is set for removal this week

Streets are closed around the Robert E. Lee statue ahead of expected protests in Richmond, Virginia on January 17, 2021.
A shot of Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue, covered in anti-racist graffiti, in January 2021.
  • A 12-ton statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee will come down from its pedestal in Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday.
  • This move comes more than a year after Governor Ralph Northam ordered for the statue to be removed.
  • The statue, currently the largest Confederate monument in the country, will be moved to a state-owned facility.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The largest remaining Confederate statue in the US is coming down on Wednesday after towering over Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, for more than 130 years.

A crew is set to store the six-story-tall, 12-ton statue of American Confederate general Robert E. Lee in a state-owned facility until officials decide what to do with it.

Taking down Confederate monuments has become a major focus of anti-racism activists in the US in recent years. In 2020, more than 160 Confederate symbols were renamed or removed from public spaces, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"Virginia's largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week," Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. "This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth."

Northam ordered the statue to be taken down in June 2020, after nationwide protests erupted after white police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis.

The order faced legal challenges from a descendant of the family that gave the statue to Virginia, as well as from families that lived near the statue in Richmond. But last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in Northam's favor.

The statue has towered above Monument Avenue in Richmond since 1890. Five other confederate statues previously stood there, but Lee's is the last remaining, according to a press release from the commonwealth.

Virginia will leave the 40-food granite pedestal holding the statue in place for now, and the city of Richmond and the Virginia Department of Fine Arts will work to "reimagine Monument Avenue," which is a tourism area in the city.

"Richmond is no longer the capital of the confederacy," Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement. "We are a diverse, open, and welcoming city, and our symbols need to reflect this reality."

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Special interest groups spent more than $135,700 for Congress to travel during the August recess

An American Airlines flight takes off near the US Capitol building.
Privately funded trips for Congress members aren't rare.
  • Private groups spent more than $135,700 for members of Congress and their staff to travel during the August recess.
  • A total of 14 trips took place, and the most expensive was to Ukraine for almost $47,000.
  • Although these trips don't use taxpayer money, some argue that they're an excuse for Congress members to go on expensive vacations.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Special interest groups spent more than $135,700 on travel for members of Congress and their staff during the August recess, according to official documents reviewed by Insider.

The trips give business leaders a chance to both hobnob with and influence lawmakers, as well as their top staff who are tasked with writing legislation. This comes as House Democrats are working on a $3.5 trillion spending plan that is expected to set new clean energy goals.

On one of the trips, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association partnered up with 15 biofuel groups - including the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Soybean Association - to spend $14,362.60 for 13 congressional staffers to attend the Annual Biofuels Science and Sustainability Tour in Iowa. The trip included a dinner at the Iowa State Fair and visits to major cities in the state.

Most of these trips touched on other issues that have been at the top of Congress' agenda.

For instance, the Foundation for Rural Service spent $18,932.94 to send 11 congressional staffers on a trip to Montana where they met with broadband companies and learned about the difficulties people in rural areas have in accessing the Internet. Congress is set to invest $65 billion in improving broadband as part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

On another trip, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, a trade group, spent $9,754.82 to send four Republican staffers and one Democratic staffer to Las Vegas to learn about telehealth. The staffers attended HIMSS' annual conference and stayed at the Mirage Hotel, documents show.

Telehealth technology allows doctors to meet with patients over phone or video. The method became more popular during the pandemic and Congress is considering making it more widely available, which would provide a windfall for the industry.

The most expensive trip in August took three GOP House members abroad to Kyiv, Ukraine, for a price tag of $46,933.94. Rep. Barry Moore of Alabama and Reps. Troy Nehls and Tony Gonzales of Texas stayed at the Opera Hotel, meeting with business and cultural leaders.

A post shared by Opera Hotel (@operahotelkyiv)

The Humpty Dumpty Institute - an organization that pays for members of Congress to travel around the world - and the American Charity Fund for Helping Children of Pridnestrovie and Moldova Inc. paid for the trip.

Special interest-funded trips are controversial

Proponents of privately funded travel say it gives lawmakers and their staff crucial opportunities to gather information for policymaking, all without spending taxpayer money. But open government groups fear too many loopholes exist that give special interests a disproportionate amount of influence on Congress, and blur the line between official duties and vacations.

For example, one trip earlier this year included an $84,000 trip to Qatar, where Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Ruben Gallego of Arizona took a break from their official duties to ride camels on the beach with their wives. It was paid for by the US-Qatar Business Council.

The latest round of trips mark an acceleration since July 9, when Insider reported that 11 special interest groups had paid for privately funded travel so far in 2021.

At least 277 members of Congress or their staff have traveled on private groups' dime in 2021. A total of 249 of the travelers were Republicans, according to an Insider review of the disclosures published on Legistorm, a website that tracks travel and other activity in Congress.

But even this is down from pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, private groups spent millions of dollars on congressional travel.

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Photos show a curtain dividing women from men at a university in Afghanistan

A curtain divides male, female students as Afghan universities reopen.
A curtain divides male, female students as Afghan universities reopen.
  • A curtain separates women and men who share classes at universities in Afghanistan, photos show.
  • The images are among the first to surface since college courses resumed after the Taliban takeover.
  • Reuters reported that other classrooms are imposing even stricter divisions between men and women.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Some universities in Afghanistan's largest cites have resumed classes but are now segregating students according to sex, photos and interviews obtained by Reuters show.

Classes were on hiatus after the US ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan and after the Taliban quickly overtook its capitol city, Kabul, three weeks ago. Some students are now back in the classroom, though photos on social media show that the Taliban has already imposed changes to seating arrangements.

Two photos showed men and women in the same classroom but separated by gray curtains. The women in the photo are wearing head coverings and long robes.

Students in Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat told Reuters in interviews that women are also being taught separately or confined only to certain parts of campus.

Students attend class under new classroom conditions at Avicenna University in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 6, 2021, in this picture obtained by Reuters from social media.
Students attend class under new classroom conditions at Avicenna University in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 6, 2021, in this picture obtained by Reuters from social media.

The last time the Taliban was in power, from 1996 to 2001, girls were not allowed to attend school. The Taliban also forbade women from attending university or going to work.

"I really felt terrible when I entered the class," Anjila, a 21-year-old female student at Kabul University told Reuters. "We are gradually going back to 20 years ago."

Women sat separately from men before the Taliban takeover, but didn't have any physical dividers between them.

The Taliban has said that women will be able to keep participating in society under Islamic law, but Afghan women have been protesting in recent weeks, fearful they'll lose their rights and freedoms.

Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting minister for the Ministry of Higher Education, said last week that women could go to college but had to be taught by female professors and separated from male students.

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From abortion care to LGBTQ rights, here’s how Joe Biden is prepared to tear up Donald Trump’s restrictive gender policies

Joe Biden signs executive orders
President Joe Biden signs executive orders as part of the Covid-19 response at the White House.
  • The Biden administration has already started nixing multiple Trump-era policies on gender, transgender rights, and reproductive healthcare through executive order.
  • It's also planning to further entrench those rights into federal to show its commitment to gender equality.
  • Some actions will take more than an executive order or require Congress to get involved.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Many of the Trump administration's restrictive policies on gender, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive healthcare are headed out the door.

Fresh from taking the oath, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day directing agencies to scrap any policies that allow for discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

It's part of his wider pledge to build a more inclusive administration and undo many of former President Donald Trump's policies on such issues as LGBTQ rights, abortion care, transgender military service, and campus sexual assault investigations. 

A second Day 1 order revoked Trump's restriction on federal agencies holding diversity and inclusion training. Biden is expected to announce abortion executive orders on January 28.

If his cabinet and White House picks are anything to go by, they signal his seriousness about turning the tide on gender issues: He's nominated several women to key roles, including Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, Levine would be the highest-ranking openly transgender official in a US government position. And she'll play a key role in shaping transgender healthcare. 

There are several other changes that Biden himself has outlined as part of his campaign promises and his spokesperson indicated he'd sign more orders in the future. 

"In the coming days and weeks we will be announcing additional executive actions that confront these challenges and deliver on the President-elect's promises to the American people, including revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans, and reversing the Mexico City policy," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Biden, a devout Catholic, had a mixed record on abortion over his more than 35-year history in government and initially stumbled during the primary race on whether he supported the Democratic platform to allow federal funding to pay for abortion care. 

But now as his party continues its leftward shift, Biden is expected to go further on reproductive rights than his Democratic predecessors.  Here are key areas that Biden's team could or is already in the process of modifying. 

Revoking the Mexico City policy

The Reagan-era Mexico City policy bans US international aid from going toward organizations that "perform or promote" abortions. 

Critics describe it as the "global gag rule." The policy only allows providers to discuss abortions if someone has already decided to terminate a pregnancy and seeks information about where to go. 

Republican presidents since Ronald Regan have instituted the ban and Democratic presidents have reversed it. The policy allows exemptions for rape, incest, or when a pregnancy is life-threatening. 

Trump reinstated and expanded the policy further than his GOP predecessors. In the past, the rule only applied to roughly $600 million in family planning funds. Under Trump, it extended to $9 billion in programs the US spends on international healthcare aid. That included organizations dedicated to fighting HIV, malaria, and malnutrition. 

Critics say the policies force organizations that discuss or offer abortions to choose between funding or ending their services. They warn the ban is dangerous, pointing to unsafe abortions around the world that drive maternal deaths in low-income countries.

In September, the Trump administration proposed extending the policy not just to grants and cooperative agreements but to government contractors, which would affect even more organizations.

Psaki said on Wednesday that the White House would have "more to say" on the Mexico City policy "soon." Biden is expected to roll back Trump's rules. 

Transgender troops
Activists hold a rally at the Capitol April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC to protest rally the Trump administration's restrictions on transgender military service.

Reversing Trump's ban on transgender troops

One of the most criticized and controversial policies Trump issued was his decision to block any new transgender or transitioning troops from joining the military. He abruptly tweeted his intent to ban them from service in July 2017 arguing that the military would be "burdened" by transgender people. It was a stark reversal from President Barack Obama's decision to allow these troops to join the military and serve openly. 

The Department of Defense subsequently put the rule into effect beginning in the spring of 2019. While the rule allowed transgender soldiers who had already joined or were receiving hormone therapy or mental health support at the time of implementation to continue their service and treatment, any new people who enlisted would have to serve under the sex assigned to them at birth and would be denied relevant necessary medical or mental healthcare.

The Palm Center, a nonpartisan think tank for LGBTQ military policy, called the ban "insidious" and described it as a "perfect parallel to the failed 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," a much-criticized, now-defunct rule from the Clinton administration that prevented LGBTQ troops from serving openly and deterred them from joining the armed forces. 

Biden has vowed to undo the Trump administration's policy and Psaki indicated on Wednesday that the reversal would come soon. 

Expanding anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people

The Supreme Court ruled last year that gay and transgender employees are covered by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination "because of sex." The Trump administration interpreted the decision as applying only to employment. 

But Biden on his first day in office signed an executive order saying gay and transgender people were also protected against discrimination in schools and in healthcare services. Trump's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had rolled back protections for transgender students and stopped investigating complaints from those who said they weren't allowed to use restrooms that aligned with their gender identity. 

Biden already has signaled a shift on inclusion regardless of gender identity with his Levine nomination. 

Removing moral and religious exemptions to birth control coverage under Obamacare 

The Trump administration let employers deny their workers birth control insurance coverage if they had religious objections. The rule also extended to employers with moral objections, although not to publicly traded companies or government entities. 

Reproductive rights groups waged legal challenges but the Supreme Court upheld the exemptions. The Biden administration can still scrap and re-write the rules because they were instituted under a provision in the Affordable Care Act. 

The healthcare law stipulates that the Department of Health and Human Services can decide the type of preventive care health insurance plans should cover without charging patients copays. 

Previously, the Obama administration determined that all forms of birth control should get covered fully by insurance, from the contraceptive pill to intrauterine devices and emergency contraception. The rule had exemptions for houses of worship but not religious organizations such as Catholic hospitals or charities, many of which object to birth control. 

Pro-choice abortion rally
Pro-choice activists protest during outside the US Supreme Court on March 4, 2020, as the Court heard oral arguments on a challenge to a Louisiana abortion law.

Removing abortion restrictions from Title X funding

The Trump administration barred federal family planning dollars in the Title X program from going to organizations that refer people to abortion care. It also required that healthcare organizations house abortion services in a separate building from their other medical services. 

Title X money pays for birth control, testing of sexually transmitted infections, and cancer screenings for 4 million low-income adults. It does not pay for abortions. 

But the Trump administration's rule was primarily aimed at stripping federal dollars from Planned Parenthood, which has been a political punching bag for conservatives for decades. Republicans and abortion foes have repeatedly tried to cut off federal funding from the organization with the political rallying cry "defund Planned Parenthood." 

Planned Parenthood ended up turning down roughly $60 million in annual Title X funding rather than comply with the rule. 

Women's healthcare providers and critics of the policy labeled it the "domestic gag rule." The changes "slashed the Title X national family planning network's patient capacity in half," according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. 

The Biden administration can remove the Trump rules, but it'll take many months because by law it will need to review them, gather public comment, issue a draft, and then finalize new rules. Still, Biden can sign an executive order signaling he intends to make the change. 

Lifting restrictions on the abortion pill 

A Food and Drug Administration rule stipulates that medication abortions have to be given to patients in a healthcare setting such as a doctor's office. Patients are allowed to take the drug at home but have to sign a form saying they were counseled about it.

People have been receiving abortions remotely via telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic, where they talk to a doctor over video and then get the pills in the mail. The Trump administration tried to enforce the FDA's restrictions, and on January 13 got support from the conservative-leaning Supreme Court. 

The FDA could loosen regulations on the abortion pill under the Biden administration. It might choose to do so even once the pandemic is over so that women could privately have abortions or access them in rural parts of the US with few healthcare providers. The pill, mifepristone, is used within 10 weeks of pregnancy in combination with a second drug, misoprostol, for abortions or miscarriage management. 

campus sexual assault
College students in Massachusetts hold a rally in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston to lobby for legislation cracking down on campus sexual assault on April 10, 2018.

Changing Education Department policy on campus sexual assault under Title IX 

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at federally funded schools. In recent years, it's been used to address issues of sexual assault on campus.

As vice president, Biden spearheaded the Obama administration's policy initiatives on reducing campus sexual assault and creating reporting mechanisms for students. In an attempt to encourage people to come forward and to reform the reporting and disciplinary process for assault and harassment, Obama made several major changes including broadening the definition of what constituted sexual assault and harassment, and guidance that colleges should lower the standard of "preponderance of the evidence" during disciplinary proceedings.

While activists campaigning to end campus sexual assault praised the changes, Obama's policies faced criticism from some lawyers, civil liberties groups, and others for what they described as skewing in favor of accusers and failing to give the accused people due process.

In 2017, DeVos proposed rule changes that would roll back Obama's policies. Her proposal unleashed a fierce debate and drew more than 100,000 public comments, dragging the process out for years until 2020, when DeVos' new rules were finalized.

The final version narrowed the definition of sexual assault, pushed federally funded schools to create a process more resembling a judicial system where accusers could be cross-examined, and prevented individuals from both investigating and judging claims.

Biden's campaign platform specifically called out DeVos' changes and vowed to revoke them. 

Biden's campaign wrote that the Trump Education Department was "trying to shame and silence survivors, and take away parents' peace of mind" and its actions guaranteed "that college campuses will be less safe for our nation's young people."

However, the complete process for reversing the Trump administration's stance could take several years and may spark another contentious debate in the world of higher education. 

Coaxing Congress to gut the Hyde Amendment 

Biden could use his budget proposal to call on Congress to toss out the Hyde Amendment, a rider attached to spending bills that prevents most federal funding to pay for abortions. 

Critics, including many Democrats, say the provision unjustly hits low-income people who don't have the means to pay for abortions. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has never held a vote on gutting the Hyde Amendment given that centrist Democrats view it as controversial to use federal dollars to pay for abortion care. 

Biden could also roll back an executive order on the Hyde Amendment that Obama once signed as a tradeoff to help get the ACA across the finish line. Rather than add Hyde to the ACA, the executive order directed that the money used for the healthcare law couldn't directly subsidize coverage for abortion care.

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‘We are not leaving’: Mitch McConnell pledges Congress won’t break for the year until a stimulus plan is passed

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
The Senate is voting on a $500 billion stimulus that Democrats say falls far short of what the US needs to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Republican leaders say they are determined to pass a coronavirus stimulus that includes provisions both sides agree on.
  • The package would contain money to distribute the vaccine, forgivable loans for small businesses, and support for schools.
  • It would leave out contentious issues, including money for states and liability protections for businesses. 
  • "No matter how long it takes, we'll be here," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed Tuesday that Congress would not adjourn for the year until it passed a new stimulus plan, in the surest sign yet that lawmakers will send a relief bill to President Donald Trump's desk before the end of the year.

"We're not leaving here without a COVID package," McConnell said Tuesday at the weekly Republican press conference.

"No matter how long it takes, we'll be here," he added.

The Kentucky Republican reiterated his offer from last week to put aside his push for a liability shield for employers against virus-related lawsuits if Democrats set aside their insistence on funding for state and local governments. Both issues have gummed up the negotiations for months.

McConnell pointed to President-elect Joe Biden's strong support for another relief package and said there would be more time next year to debate the two contentious issues.

"We all know the new administration will be asking for yet another package," McConnell said. "It's not like we won't have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and of state and local government in the very near future."

Most Senate Democrats, apart from Joe Manchin of West Virginia, oppose the liability protections that McConnell has proposed. Many Republicans - though not all - have said that assisting state governments would amount to "a blue-state bailout" because they worry states would use the money to plug their public pension funds or spend it on other non-virus-related priorities.

Read more: 'He's the majority-maker': It's Joe Manchin's moment and he's seizing it as the West Virginia Democrat becomes one of the most important people in the fast-approaching Biden era

McConnell first offered to set aside liability protections last week, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer turned him down. McConnell twice tried to bring a $500 billion relief bill to the Senate floor, but it was blocked by Democrats who panned it as insufficient.

"We have been trying for months," McConnell said. "We shouldn't have been put in this position."

But there are signs that Democratic opposition to punting the issue until next year is softening. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer opened the door in a CNN interview on Sunday to omitting state and local aid from a relief package. Several Democrats in the House and Senate agree with that approach, which could put pressure on Democratic leaders.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is speaking with Pelosi, McConnell, and Schumer at 4 p.m. on Tuesday to hammer out the deal, the speaker's office announced.

Schumer refused to say whether Democrats would drop their push for state and local funding. "I'm not going to get into negotiations in any way. That will occur at 4 o'clock," he said during Democrats' weekly press conference.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers attempted to end the logjam over a new federal rescue package on Monday by introducing two separate bills. One contained $748 billion in funding with provisions that most lawmakers support, and the other included the divisive issues over liability protections for businesses and state funding.

Read more: Bernie Sanders urges Democrats to reject the 'totally inadequate' bipartisan stimulus bill, blasting the lack of $1,200 direct payments and smaller price tag

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Bernie Sanders wants Democrats to push for $1,200 checks as part of next stimulus and take a hard line against coronavirus lawsuit protections

GettyImages bernie sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives at the Capitol on October 20, 2020.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is pushing Congress to pass another round of $1,200 checks in the next coronavirus stimulus package.
  • Congress doesn't have a stimulus deal yet, but more lawmakers are uniting behind a bipartisan $908 billion stimulus that doesn't include direct payments. 
  • "A $1,200 direct payment should be included in this proposal," the senators wrote in a letter. "We also feel strongly that we should not provide immunity to corporations who endanger the health and lives of their employees." 
  • Sanders and other Democrats also want their colleagues to hold the line against coronavirus liability protections. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Democratic senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont want their colleagues to insist that $1,200 payment make it into the next coronavirus stimulus package. 

The latest development adds another wrinkle into the monthslong gridlock over passing a stimulus that would help keep the US economy and healthcare system afloat during the winter months as coronavirus cases surge and hospitals become overwhelmed. 

The provision isn't included in a bipartisan consensus bill that's still being hammered out and which may be the only shot at a deal. 

Congress is running out of time for a deal as they speed toward a Friday deadline to approve a must-pass spending bill to fund the government or face a shutdown. It's possible that a stimulus will get tagged onto the spending bill, which is set to receive a deadline extension until December 18. 

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, told reporters this week that he'd also urged President Donald Trump to veto a stimulus that doesn't include $1,200 checks. On Tuesday, the White House sent a letter to Senate Republicans asking them to pass a stimulus that would include $600 checks for Americans, the Washington Post reported

It's not clear whether Democrats will go along with the lower amount for direct aid checks. The letter from Sanders and five Democrats, obtained by Business Insider, gives a nod to the senators working on the $908 billion coronavirus stimulus but says it doesn't go far enough.  

That bill would provide $160 billion to states and local governments, distribute $16 billion for a vaccine rollout, and allow $288 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses. It would not provide $1,200 checks to Americans, as a previous pandemic relief package signed into law in March did. 

Sanders and the five other senators who signed the letter said the checks are a pivotal measure in any relief package. They also urged their colleagues to push back against measures to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

"It would continue to provide a get-out-of-jail free card to companies that put the lives of their workers and customers at risk," the letter states. It went on to warn that "corporations will be encouraged to avoid implementing the common sense safety standards needed to protect workers and consumers - and make a bad situation worse." 

The bipartisan legislation in the works would provide businesses with federal shields from lawsuits in the short term and then allow states time to come up with their own liability protections. Many states have already implemented such protections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said for months that he wouldn't bring a stimulus to the floor unless it contained liability protections, calling it a "red line." McConnell has said he wants to protect businesses, schools, and hospitals from facing what he has called "frivolous" lawsuits from workers and customers who claim that a place of business was the source of their infection. 

But Democrats argue the liability shield would jeopardize the health and well-being of workers during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, however, McConnell's position appeared to soften. He indicated he was open to setting aside both state aid and the liability shield until early next year, since the incoming Biden administration has said it would pursue another federal assistance package.

"We know the new administration's gonna be asking for another package. What I recommend is we set aside liability, set aside state and local and pass those things that we can agree on, knowing full-well we'll be back at this after the first of the year," the Kentucky Republican said at his weekly press conference. His comments also appeared to acknowledge the incoming Biden administration. 

McConnell emphasized Congress cannot adjourn without passing an economic relief package. "Leaving here without a COVID-relief package - [it] cannot happen."

Read more: Even more people would lose paychecks if Congress misses its critical spending deadline. Here's how a government shutdown would affect you.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Ed Markey of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts all signed the letter. 

READ THE LETTER BELOW:

 

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Trump’s doctors can only legally share health information that the president authorizes — which is why we don’t get the full picture

conley
Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Trump, briefs reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on October 4, 2020.
  • President Trump's doctor has declined to answer several major questions about the president's COVID-19 case.
  • His physicians are bound by HIPAA privacy laws, which only allow them to disclose the details about a patient's health that the patient has authorized them to share.
  • No law requires presidents to share all their health information with the public. 
  • "The ethics are stacked up against the public understanding, knowing, and really following what's happening," one expert said.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The public will likely never know all the details surrounding President Donald Trump's battle with COVID-19.

His doctor, Sean Conley, declined to share key details about Trump's health during a press conference on Monday, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

"I'm not at liberty to discuss," Conley said when asked about Trump's lung scans, adding, "there are HIPAA rules and regulations that restrict me in sharing certain things for his safety and his own health and reasons."

Over the weekend, Conley and his team also would not say whether the president had gotten supplemental oxygen. They later acknowledged he had on two occasions. The likely reason for these omissions is that Conley is limited by the same privacy laws all doctors are: HIPAA stipulates that healthcare providers can't share anything about a patient's condition without their consent. 

That means Conley can only reveal the information about Trump's condition that the president allows.

"The ethics are stacked up against the public understanding, knowing, and really following what's happening," Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University Gross School of Medicine, told Business Insider, "even though that's crucial because we have president in denial about the disease and downplaying it at every turn."

Conley can only share details that Trump authorizes

On Monday, Conley also declined to say when Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus. He wouldn't give specifics about some of his medications either.

trump walter reed discharge
President Trump poses for a White House photograph to show him working during his stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Even though being more forthcoming about the timeline of Trump's infection would assist with contact tracing, Dr. Helen Boucher, professor of medicine at Tufts University Medical Center, said she understands why Conley isn't doing so. 

"As physicians we have a duty to maintain our patients' confidentiality," she told Business Insider. 

HIPAA makes it illegal for doctors to disclose sensitive patient health data without the patient's agreement. If doctors do share such information without patients' consent, they could lose their license, go to jail, or face fines.  So everyone, including Trump, must give healthcare providers permission to discuss their cases — or can choose not to. 

"Physicians' code of ethics and duty to their patients hinges on not revealing what they don't want revealed," Caplan said. "There's no exception for the president."

If anything, he added, the pressure to maintain confidentiality is heightened for Conley.

"The assumption of privacy is being reinforced by the power of the Commander-In-Chief asking for it," Caplan said, adding, "traditionally, sadly, the White House has always spun medical information for political purposes."

So by refusing to reveal whether any of the president's scans were abnormal and when his last negative test result came in, Conley was likely following his patient's orders.

"The spokesperson is only as good as the person they're speaking on behalf of. If there is pressure to say certain things and not to say certain things, that could be part of the game as well," Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at University of California San Francisco, previously told Business Insider.

Trump isn't obligated to tell the public anything about his health

There's no law saying that presidents must release details about their health to the public. 

Instead, it has become something they do voluntarily. Presidents going back to Ronald Reagan have released some of their medical information, though in no uniform format. Presidential candidates also commonly do this when running for office, though again, it's not a requirement and they control what information their doctors offer.

When Trump was running for president in 2016, his longtime physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, wrote a letter declaring that Trump "will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." 

trump walter reed
President Trump drives past supporters in a motorcade outside of Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on October 4, 2020.

Might the rules change? Probably not.

Members of Congress have considered forcing presidents and candidates to be more transparent about their health given the power they wield, but no proposals have received widespread political support.

Proponents of evaluating politicians' fitness point out that it's a common practice in other jobs, such as for airline pilots and members of the military. But those opposed understand that a requirement to reveal medical histories could bring to light unfavorable things in leaders' or candidates' pasts, such as a history of drug use or sexually transmitted infection.  

In 2018, Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania tried to change the rules about access to a president's medical records. Boyle introduced the Stable Genius Act, which would obligate each political party to file a Federal Election Commission report certifying that their nominee had received an exam from the medical office of the secretary of the Navy.

The year prior, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who was chairman of the House Oversight Committee at the time, said he was considering introducing legislation that would require presidents to undergo an independent physical and mental health exam.

But it's unlikely, Caplan said, that such laws would pass — even amid an unprecedented pandemic. 

 

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting to this story. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted clinical trials. A top ALS researcher explains how that helps the work she’s doing.

Dr. Merit Cudkowicz
Dr. Merit Cudkowicz is speeding up how treatments for ALS are developed, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Researchers led by Massachusetts General Hospital are testing several different drugs for ALS at the same time. 
  • They had to delay clinical trials because of the coronavirus pandemic, but ended up finding ways to help people participate from their homes. 
  • Lead researcher Dr. Merit Cudkowicz expects to have answers for three of the ALS drugs by next summer.
  • ALS research got a boost thanks to the "Ice Bucket Challenge," but Cudkowicz said an investment of at least $1 billion will be needed to get a new treatment. 
  • Because of her work, Business Insider named Cudkowicz to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming healthcare.

Back in March, a research arm at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was getting ready to launch an innovative, faster way to deliver results from testing new drugs.

The trial was targeting treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly disease that destroys nerve cells controlling movement. Everything was ready to go. 

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

Dr. Merit Cudkowicz, director of the Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS at Mass General, said scientists had to recalibrate because they didn't want to risk exposing patients to the virus. 

The Healey & AMG Center moved some visits from in-person to video, arranged for a company to visit people's homes to draw blood, and lined up a home device they needed to test people's breathing. The Food and Drug Administration put out new guidance, and ethics review boards became more open to in-home medical research.

It took three months for the Healey & AMG Center to get everything ready. 

As it turned out, the changes worked well for patients, Cudkowicz said. Researchers had talked about moving more parts of clinical trials into people's homes before. The pandemic made the switch not only necessary but possible. 

For patients with ALS — who gradually lose the ability to walk, speak, and swallow — it was a huge help to be able to cut travel. 

"It's almost one of the few positive things out of this pandemic, because I think trials are going to be easier for people with neurological illnesses," said Cudkowicz, who also oversees the neurology department at Mass General. She thinks it'll remain a permanent fixture in medical research. 

Now, a dozen sites across the US are enrolling people in the ALS trials the Healey & AMG Center is leading. By the fall, they're hoping to have all 54 planned sites running, with 480 patients taking part. 

Because of her persistence in steering forward innovative ALS research during the coronavirus pandemic, Cudkowiz is on Business Insider's list of 10 people transforming healthcare

Read more: The US just made a $250 million investment in speeding up coronavirus tests. Here are the 7 companies that got the cash.

The ALS drugs are being tested simultaneously, saving time and money

Healey & AMG Center scientists were already preparing to take on a whole new way of conducting their work even before the pandemic hit. 

The method they're using is called a "platform trial," which allows them to test several drugs in different people at the same time. It has been used to develop cancer treatments and, according to proponents, cuts the time to find an effective treatment in half and cuts costs by a third. 

Doing the study this way means drugs are tested against a single placebo group, and scientists can evaluate results simultaneously. If one drug is working particularly well, then scientists can switch patients to a different drug or do a combination. 

Read more: Science 37, a virtual-trials startup once eyed by Alphabet's Verily, just raised $40 million to push the drug industry decades into the future

Under previous methods, scientists tested one drug at a time. That meant if a drug failed then a lot of time would pass before scientists could start over with another trial.  

"The idea was that there's such a big pipeline in ALS and the current approach of testing drugs is so inefficient that we wanted to do a better way," Cudkowicz said. 

On top of that, Cudkowicz said it allows for better collaboration.

"We went to the FDA with three people from three companies and all sat in the same room together to talk about this," she said. "And it doesn't maybe sound like much, but that never happens."

The three different drugs they've begun testing were developed by UCB Ra Pharmaceuticals in Massachusetts, Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding Company in Connecticut, and Clene Nanomedicine in Utah. The medicines are administered through a shot, a pill, and a liquid that's swallowed, respectively.

In a couple of months, researchers expect to test two more drugs, one from Prilenia Therapeutics of Israel and another from Implicit Bioscience of Australia. Researchers selected the handful of medicines after beginning with a list of almost 30 applications.

If successful, the medicines would provide a much-needed reprieve for patients. Four drugs exist to treat or moderate the symptoms of ALS, but there's no cure. 

Read more: 'Virtual' drug research is becoming a permanent reality as the coronavirus upends clinical trials and fuels a new breed of startups

Ice Bucket Challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $220 million for medical research into ALS.

Funding is up, but Cudkowicz says it needs to hit at least $1 billion

In recent years, funding and awareness about ALS has soared, but Cudkowicz said more will be needed. 

Back in 2014, a trend called the "Ice Bucket Challenge" went viral on social media. People dunked a bucket of iced water on their heads and challenged others to do the same. The idea was to dunk the bucket within 24 hours or otherwise make a charitable contribution, though many people did both.  

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $220 million across the world. Awareness about ALS soared and journals published more scientific articles about the disease. Pete Frates, who inspired the challenge, was Cudkowicz's patient. 

She credited the challenge with funding new projects and bringing more scientists into the field. The Healey & AMG Center was founded in 2018 by a $40 million in donations raised by the late Sean Healey and his company, Affiliated Managers Group Inc.

Cudkowicz thinks at least $1 billion will be needed to find a treatment or two but said she sometimes pegs the amount closer to $2 billion when thinking about a cure or other major breakthrough. She added, however, that much more basic science research about ALS was still needed, which is also costly.  

For the platform trial she's leading, they'll consider a drug to be a success if it can slow the illness by 30% or more. The goal is to keep testing drugs to find the ones that have "a huge impact," such as stopping progression of the disease.

Cudkowicz expects to have answers about the first three drugs they're trying by next summer. 

"All the drugs could work and they could also not work, or some combination," she said. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted clinical trials. A top ALS researcher explains how that helps the work she’s doing.

Dr. Merit Cudkowicz
Dr. Merit Cudkowicz is speeding up how treatments for ALS are developed, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Researchers led by Massachusetts General Hospital are testing several different drugs for ALS at the same time. 
  • They had to delay clinical trials because of the coronavirus pandemic, but ended up finding ways to help people participate from their homes. 
  • Lead researcher Dr. Merit Cudkowicz expects to have answers for three of the ALS drugs by next summer.
  • ALS research got a boost thanks to the "Ice Bucket Challenge," but Cudkowicz said an investment of at least $1 billion will be needed to get a new treatment. 
  • Because of her work, Business Insider named Cudkowicz to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming healthcare.

Back in March, a research arm at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was getting ready to launch an innovative, faster way to deliver results from testing new drugs.

The trial was targeting treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly disease that destroys nerve cells controlling movement. Everything was ready to go. 

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

Dr. Merit Cudkowicz, director of the Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS at Mass General, said scientists had to recalibrate because they didn't want to risk exposing patients to the virus. 

The Healey & AMG Center moved some visits from in-person to video, arranged for a company to visit people's homes to draw blood, and lined up a home device they needed to test people's breathing. The Food and Drug Administration put out new guidance, and ethics review boards became more open to in-home medical research.

It took three months for the Healey & AMG Center to get everything ready. 

As it turned out, the changes worked well for patients, Cudkowicz said. Researchers had talked about moving more parts of clinical trials into people's homes before. The pandemic made the switch not only necessary but possible. 

For patients with ALS — who gradually lose the ability to walk, speak, and swallow — it was a huge help to be able to cut travel. 

"It's almost one of the few positive things out of this pandemic, because I think trials are going to be easier for people with neurological illnesses," said Cudkowicz, who also oversees the neurology department at Mass General. She thinks it'll remain a permanent fixture in medical research. 

Now, a dozen sites across the US are enrolling people in the ALS trials the Healey & AMG Center is leading. By the fall, they're hoping to have all 54 planned sites running, with 480 patients taking part. 

Because of her persistence in steering forward innovative ALS research during the coronavirus pandemic, Cudkowiz is on Business Insider's list of 10 people transforming healthcare

Read more: The US just made a $250 million investment in speeding up coronavirus tests. Here are the 7 companies that got the cash.

The ALS drugs are being tested simultaneously, saving time and money

Healey & AMG Center scientists were already preparing to take on a whole new way of conducting their work even before the pandemic hit. 

The method they're using is called a "platform trial," which allows them to test several drugs in different people at the same time. It has been used to develop cancer treatments and, according to proponents, cuts the time to find an effective treatment in half and cuts costs by a third. 

Doing the study this way means drugs are tested against a single placebo group, and scientists can evaluate results simultaneously. If one drug is working particularly well, then scientists can switch patients to a different drug or do a combination. 

Read more: Science 37, a virtual-trials startup once eyed by Alphabet's Verily, just raised $40 million to push the drug industry decades into the future

Under previous methods, scientists tested one drug at a time. That meant if a drug failed then a lot of time would pass before scientists could start over with another trial.  

"The idea was that there's such a big pipeline in ALS and the current approach of testing drugs is so inefficient that we wanted to do a better way," Cudkowicz said. 

On top of that, Cudkowicz said it allows for better collaboration.

"We went to the FDA with three people from three companies and all sat in the same room together to talk about this," she said. "And it doesn't maybe sound like much, but that never happens."

The three different drugs they've begun testing were developed by UCB Ra Pharmaceuticals in Massachusetts, Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding Company in Connecticut, and Clene Nanomedicine in Utah. The medicines are administered through a shot, a pill, and a liquid that's swallowed, respectively.

In a couple of months, researchers expect to test two more drugs, one from Prilenia Therapeutics of Israel and another from Implicit Bioscience of Australia. Researchers selected the handful of medicines after beginning with a list of almost 30 applications.

If successful, the medicines would provide a much-needed reprieve for patients. Four drugs exist to treat or moderate the symptoms of ALS, but there's no cure. 

Read more: 'Virtual' drug research is becoming a permanent reality as the coronavirus upends clinical trials and fuels a new breed of startups

Ice Bucket Challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $220 million for medical research into ALS.

Funding is up, but Cudkowicz says it needs to hit at least $1 billion

In recent years, funding and awareness about ALS has soared, but Cudkowicz said more will be needed. 

Back in 2014, a trend called the "Ice Bucket Challenge" went viral on social media. People dunked a bucket of iced water on their heads and challenged others to do the same. The idea was to dunk the bucket within 24 hours or otherwise make a charitable contribution, though many people did both.  

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $220 million across the world. Awareness about ALS soared and journals published more scientific articles about the disease. Pete Frates, who inspired the challenge, was Cudkowicz's patient. 

She credited the challenge with funding new projects and bringing more scientists into the field. The Healey & AMG Center was founded in 2018 by a $40 million in donations raised by the late Sean Healey and his company, Affiliated Managers Group Inc.

Cudkowicz thinks at least $1 billion will be needed to find a treatment or two but said she sometimes pegs the amount closer to $2 billion when thinking about a cure or other major breakthrough. She added, however, that much more basic science research about ALS was still needed, which is also costly.  

For the platform trial she's leading, they'll consider a drug to be a success if it can slow the illness by 30% or more. The goal is to keep testing drugs to find the ones that have "a huge impact," such as stopping progression of the disease.

Cudkowicz expects to have answers about the first three drugs they're trying by next summer. 

"All the drugs could work and they could also not work, or some combination," she said. 

Read the original article on Business Insider