White House walks back task force phase-out: 5 COVID-19 updates

The U.S. has confirmed 1,205,138 COVID-19 cases and 71,079 deaths as of 9 a.m. CDT May 6. Globally, there have been 3,688,635 reported cases and 258,085 deaths, while 1,210,015 have recovered.

 Five updates:

1. The White House's coronavirus task force will remain in place "indefinitely" and put more focus on reopening the economy, President Donald Trump tweeted May 6. He added that the task force may add or subtract team members and continue to focus on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. President Trump's tweets come a day after the White House announced plans to phase out the task force in late May and transfer oversight of the pandemic response to appropriate federal agencies, according to CNBC. Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the task force, said the group was already creating a transition plan with FEMA.

2. The former director of HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority filed a whistleblower complaint May 5 claiming he was fired after raising concerns about hydroxychloroquine, a drug being tested as a possible COVID-19 treatment. Rick Bright, PhD, was removed from his role April 21 after serving as BARDA's director since 2016. The complaint alleges HHS leaders retaliated against Dr. Bright for refusing to fund drugs that lacked scientific merit. The complaint also claims he warned HHS officials about COVID-19 and the nation's inadequate supply of personal protective equipment in January. Dr. Bright is seeking to be reinstated as BARDA's director and wants a full investigation into his removal.

3. French physicians identified what could be the earliest known European COVID-19 case, according to The New York Times. A sample from a French man hospitalized with pneumonia Dec. 27 has tested positive for COVID-19, suggesting the virus spread to Europe far earlier than previously thought. Physicians tested the patient's sample twice to avoid false positives, but could not definitively rule out that possibility. They said further analysis is needed to confirm the case and assess whether the man played a role in the virus' spread through Europe.

4. Seven Northeastern states are struggling to coordinate reopening efforts, despite a pact aimed at unifying the region, Politico reports. Governors from Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island joined forces in mid-April to coordinate reopening, a task proving more difficult than initially anticipated. On May 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down New York schools for the rest of the year, a decision made without similar announcements from Connecticut and New Jersey, despite hopes of tri-state coordination. Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont said Connecticut would begin reopening businesses such as salons and outdoor dining services after May 20, while Mr. Cuomo said arts and entertainment will be some of the last businesses to reopen in New York. 

"If everyone's going to make their own decision, what's the compact?" said New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Staff from the offices of several Northeastern governors told Politico they communicate daily with their counterparts, and the seven states announced May 3 that they would collectively purchase $5 billion in medical supplies to avoid competing with each other.

5. Illinois reported its highest daily COVID-19 death count May 5, while California recorded its first weekly decrease in deaths, according to The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. In Illinois, 176 COVID-19 deaths were confirmed within 24 hours, for a total of 2,838 deaths and 65,962 known cases as of May 6. Meanwhile, weekly deaths in California dropped for the first time since the pandemic began. Two weeks ago, the state reported its highest weekly death count — 542 fatalities between April 20 and April 26. Last week, the death toll dropped to 495, or nearly 9 percent, according to an analysis by the LA Times.


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