Coronavirus Live Updates: Firm Helping Run Federal Database Refuses Senators’ Questions



The manager of the Trump administration’s new virus database refuses Senate questioning, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

The private health care technology vendor that is helping to manage the Trump administration’s new coronavirus database has refused to answer questions from top Senate Democrats about its $10.2 million contract, saying it signed a nondisclosure agreement with the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

In a letter obtained by The New York Times, dated Aug. 3, a lawyer for the Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking Technologies cited the nondisclosure agreement in refusing to provide information about its process for collecting and sharing data; its proposal to the government; communications with White House staff or other officials; and any other information related to the award.

A spokeswoman for Department of Health and Human Services said members of Congress should direct their inquiries to the government, not the company. But Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, sent a letter to the agency in June seeking similar information and has not received a reply, her office said.

The arrangement was unusual, Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School who teaches about government contracts and anti-corruption, said in an interview.

“One of the cornerstones of the federal procurement system is transparency, so it strikes me as odd,” she said.

TeleTracking was responding to a July 22 letter from two top Democrats: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and Ms. Murray. The two recently introduced legislation aimed at protecting data transparency — an issue Mr. Schumer addressed during recent talks with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a person familiar with their discussion.

“The Trump administration’s decision to hire a private vendor and then cloak that vendor in a nondisclosure agreement raises numerous questions about their motivations and risks the ability of our public health experts to understand and effectively fight this virus,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement Friday.

The controversy over the contract stems from the administration’s abrupt order in July for hospitals to stop reporting coronavirus information to the C.D.C.’s National Healthcare Safety Network — a longstanding government data system — and instead send it to TeleTracking for inclusion in a coronavirus database overseen by H.H.S. officials in Washington. H.H.S. has said the switch was necessary because the C.D.C.’s system was slow and incomplete; the government uses the hospital data to make critical decisions about how to allocate scarce supplies, like ventilators and the drug Remdesivir.

The contract — and in particular the sudden switch in reporting from C.D.C. to TeleTracking — generated objections from public health experts and outside advisers to the health agency, who say that the new system is burdening hospitals and endangering scientific integrity by sidelining government experts.

The incident — just the latest example of science about the virus unfolding in front of our eyes — underscores the need to consider the preponderance of evidence, rather than any single study, when making decisions about children’s health or education, scientists said.

The disclosure does not negate the overall message of that study: Children under 10 do not spread the virus as much as adults do, and the ability to transmit seems to increase with age.

“It’s indisputable that the highest risk of becoming infected and being detected as being infected is in older age groups,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “I think you have to be really careful before you decide to open high schools.”

The earlier study was not intended to demonstrate transmission from children to adults, only to describe contact-tracing efforts in South Korea, said Dr. Young June Choe, assistant professor of social and preventive medicine at Hallym University College of Medicine and an author of both studies.

The first study from South Korea grouped children in 10-year ranges. Tracing the contacts of 29 children ages 9 or younger, it found that the children were about half as likely as adults to spread the virus to others, consistent with other research.

But Dr. Choe and his colleagues reported an odd finding in the group of 124 children aged 10 to 19: They appeared significantly more likely than adults to spread the coronavirus. Experts told The Times at the time that the finding was likely to be a fluke.

U.S. Roundup

Obesity alone, apart from accompanying health problems, adds to Covid-19 risks for men.

Various factors are known to increase the risk of severe Covid-19, including older age and chronic health conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also lists extreme obesity as a high risk.

But is the excess weight to blame? Or is it the health problems that accompany obesity, like metabolic disorders and breathing problems?

A new study points to obesity itself as a culprit. An analysis of thousands of patients treated in Southern California identified extreme obesity as an independent risk factor for dying among Covid-19 patients — most strikingly among adults 60 and younger, and particularly among men.

Among female Covid-19 patients, body mass index — a measure of body fat based on height and weight — does not appear to be independently associated with an increased risk of dying at any age, the authors said, possibly because women carry weight differently than do men, who tend to have more visceral and abdominal fat. The study was published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Body mass index is a really important, strong independent risk factor for death among those who are diagnosed with Covid-19,” said Sara Tartof, the study’s first author, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente of Southern California.

In other news from around the United States:

  • The five metropolitan areas that have the highest rate of new coronavirus cases relative to their population are all in South Texas, according to data compiled by The Times.

  • The Department of Homeland Security announced an extension of the U.S. agreement with Canada and Mexico to limit nonessential travel through Sept. 21. It was the fifth extension since the measure was put in place in March.

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said that the state would give four million free face masks to homeless shelters, tribal organizations, community health centers, schools and grocery stores. The effort, which targets people particularly vulnerable to the virus, includes one million masks provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 1.5 million masks donated by Ford Motor.

  • At least 22 workers at a remote mining camp in Alaska have been infected with the virus, forcing a temporary stoppage to underground work. The Kensington Mine, about 45 miles north of Juneau, has about 200 to 250 workers on site at a time, said a spokeswoman for its owner, Coeur Alaska. The state has embraced a broad reopening but implemented protocols to keep infections in check, and though Alaska has had a spike in reported infections this summer, its numbers remain low compared with other states’.

France’s rising caseload reflected not only an increase in the number of tests, which stand at more than 600,000 per week, but also a higher infection rate, especially among young people, the health authorities said. The country’s total caseload has risen to 209,365, with 30,388 deaths, according to the Times database.

In other news from around the world:

  • South Korea reported 103 new cases, mostly in Seoul, the country’s biggest daily jump in three weeks. The daily caseload has remained in double digits since July 25. Last month’s spike was primarily attributed to workers returning home with the virus from Iraq, but 85 of the 103 new cases reported on Friday were local transmissions.

  • Spain ordered bars and clubs to close by 1 a.m. and banned drinking on the street on Friday, according to Reuters. Virus cases have risen steadily since July when the country emerged from a strict lockdown that only allowed residents to leave their home to walk their dog or grocery shop.

  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has delayed opening schools until Oct. 5, his chief aide said. The Philippines has the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia, with 153,660 confirmed cases and 2,442 deaths, according to the Times database.

  • Health officials in Toronto said that about 550 people may have been exposed to the coronavirus at a strip club bar after an employee tested positive for the virus. The occupation of the infected employee was not disclosed.

  • Vietnam’s health ministry announced that it had registered to buy Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, despite experts’ concerns that the Kremlin is distributing it before the last phase of human trials have even begun. The ministry said it had also registered to buy a vaccine from the United Kingdom. It cautioned that using the vaccines would depend on the progress of clinical trials and compliance with Vietnam’s “strict regulations.

Long-term financial damage to states may be greater than that of the last recession, economists say.

U.S. retail sales rose 1.2 percent in July, returning to pre-pandemic levels.

But some of the recovery was helped by the $600 a week in unemployment assistance that expired at the end of July, and Congress’ failure so far to extend the emergency benefit could derail the retail rebound in coming months. And certain sectors of the industry may not truly bounce back until a vaccine is approved and widely distributed, allowing people to shop and dine indoors again without fear.

How do people learn to be more resilient?

If you feel as if you can barely cope, while others are doing just fine, remember that the very earliest days of our lives, and our closest relationships, can offer clues about how we deal with adversity.

Reporting was contributed by Sarah Bahr, Mike Baker, Damien Cave, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Michael Corkery, James Dobbins, Thomas Erdbrink, Manny Fernandez, Abby Goodnough, Jason Gutierrez, Rebecca Halleck, Sapna Maheshwari, Apoorva Mandavilli, Constant Méheut, Claire Moses, Colin Moynih, an, Richard C. Paddock, Alan Rappeport, Rick Rojas, Anna Schaverien, Jeanna Smialek, Mitch Smith, Paula Span, Eileen Sullivan, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Katie Thomas, Billy Witz and Katherine J. Wu.



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