D.C.-area health departments fault contact-tracing efforts amid White House coronavirus outbreak

ASSOCIATED PRESS



a group of people in a park: President Donald Trump, center, stands with Judge Amy Coney Barrett as they arrive for a Sept. 26 ceremony to announce Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington.


© Associated Press
President Donald Trump, center, stands with Judge Amy Coney Barrett as they arrive for a Sept. 26 ceremony to announce Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an extraordinary step, the Washington, D.C., Department of Health has released an open letter appealing to all White House staff and anyone who attended a Sept. 26 event in the Rose Garden to seek medical advice and take a COVID-19 test.

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The letter indicates a lack of confidence in the White House medical team’s own contact-tracing efforts regarding an ongoing virus outbreak that has infected President Donald Trump, multiple senior staff members and two U.S. senators, among others.

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Co-signed by nine other local health departments from neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia, the letter flatly states a belief that contact tracing on the outbreak has been insufficient.

It says the public appeal is based on, “our preliminary understanding that there has been limited contact tracing performed to date, there may be other staff and residents at risk for exposure to COVID positive individuals.”

It asks all White House employees, anyone who attended the Sept. 26 event and anyone who may have been in contact with those people to “contact your local health department for further guidance/questions regarding your potential need to quarantine.”

The letter represents a rising level of concern and a clear shift in strategy by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government, which had previously remained publicly hands-off and said it trusted the White House’s robust medical operation to handle its own contact tracing and follow-up.

Bowser said earlier this week that repeated attempts to contact the White House over the outbreak had received a “very cursory” response but that she believed the necessary steps were being taken.

“There are established public health protocols at the White House that are federal in nature,” Bowser said on Monday. “We assume that those protocols have been engaged.”

A Health Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions on whether the letter had been directly sent to any White House employees or people who attended the Sept. 26 event, or if the D.C. government had been provided with a list of attendees.

The move highlights the public health dilemma faced by Bowser’s government regarding the current outbreak. The Trump White House has operated for months in open violation of several D.C. virus regulations, hosting multiple gatherings that exceeded the local 50-person limit and in which many participants didn’t wear masks.

It shines a further spotlight on the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony to introduce Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. Multiple attendees, including Trump and University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins,

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Meadows says White House stimulus efforts ongoing amid Trump’s back-and-forth

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had proposed at least $2.4 trillion in stimulus, but Trump said he would not agree to a deal of more than $1.6 trillion. “I am rejecting their … request, and looking to the future of our Country,” he tweeted Tuesday afternoon after a phone call with Mnuchin and Republican congressional leaders.

But later Tuesday night, Trump reversed course and seemingly sought to restart relief talks, tweeting that he would approve a stimulus measure to send Americans $1,200 checks “IMMEDIATELY” amid the pandemic. “I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?” he wrote.

The president confused matters further Wednesday morning, minutes after Meadows’ interview, when he took to Twitter to urge Pelosi: “Move Fast, I Am Waiting To Sign!” Although talks between Pelosi and the White House have stalled, her discussions with Mnuchin intensified last week.

Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman, said that Mnuchin asked about a standalone airlines bill with Pelosi Wednesday morning, but the speaker “reminded him that Republicans blocked that bill on Friday & asked him to review the DeFazio bill so that they could have an informed conversation.”

On Friday, House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) tried to push through an airline payroll support bill on the House floor via unanimous consent, but Republicans objected, essentially blocking the effort.

Pelosi and congressional Democrats have previously expressed opposition to a piecemeal stimulus proposal, arguing it does not meet the mammoth needs of an economy still reeling from the effects of Covid-19 restrictions and unemployed workers. Millions have lost their jobs, and the coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also would face difficulty convincing his GOP caucus to get on board with a big, last-minute agreement, as he remains focused on the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

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Trump’s efforts to project normalcy run into reality as virus courses through the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon.

President Trump’s efforts to project normalcy after being hospitalized with Covid-19 a month before Election Day ran into a major stumbling block on Tuesday: the reality on the ground in Washington, where the coronavirus outbreak has upended the federal government.

  • The White House, the leading coronavirus hot spot in the nation’s capital, resembled a ghost town, with its most famous inhabitant convalescing in the residence, as a number of advisers and other officials stayed home, either because they had contracted the coronavirus or had been near people who did, including the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who announced on Monday that she had tested positive.

  • The Capitol, a beehive workplace for 535 legislators and thousands of staff, was eerily empty on Tuesday after Senate leaders agreed to adjourn for two weeks beginning Monday, even as Republicans are trying to fast-track Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. More than 40 senators, along with more than a dozen congressional aides and reporters, have been tested for the coronavirus since late last week, officials said on Tuesday. Three Republican senators — Mike Lee of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — have tested positive in recent days.

  • Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with several of the Pentagon’s most senior uniformed leaders, was quarantining after being exposed to the coronavirus, a Defense Department official said on Tuesday. The official said almost the entirety of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Gen. James C. McConville, the Army chief of staff, are quarantining after Adm. Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, tested positive for coronavirus.

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House Democrats push to renew efforts for second round of $1,200 stimulus checks

  • A second set of $1,200 stimulus checks was one move both Republicans and Democrats agreed on until discussions fell apart.
  • In order to get something done, Senate Republicans pushed for a smaller bill that excluded those checks. 
  • House Democrats reaffirmed their commitment to sending that relief in a hearing on Tuesday. It will require both parties to compromise before Americans would receive any of that money.



a person standing in front of a sign: People gather outside of an apartment complex with the intention to stop the alleged eviction of one of the tenants in Mount Rainier, Maryland, U.S., August 10, 2020.


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People gather outside of an apartment complex with the intention to stop the alleged eviction of one of the tenants in Mount Rainier, Maryland, U.S., August 10, 2020.

The stimulus stalemate has left lawmakers at odds over how to get more relief to millions of Americans who need it.

Earlier this month, Senate Republicans attempted to get a smaller bill through Congress as the standoff between both parties continued.

But that relief bill did not include a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, a measure that both parties had all but signed off on. The bill failed to get the 60 votes it needed to advance.

Still, House Democrats pushed back on the stimulus check exclusion on Tuesday during a congressional hearing with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“The economic impact payments must be made because the rent must be paid,” said Rep. Al Green, D-Texas.

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“If we do not do this, we will put persons at risk of being evicted at a time when we are having a pandemic that is still taking lives in this country,” he said.

Green also said a new Government Accountability Office report that found the Treasury Department does not have adequate data on the number of people who qualify for the first stimulus checks, but who have not yet received them, is cause for concern.

The number excluded, including gig workers, could be in the millions, he said. The IRS is in the process of mailing letters to about 9 million Americans to notify them that they may be eligible for the money.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., also spoke out about the prospect of a second round of payments, asking Mnuchin, “Yes or no, do you believe another stimulus check could help stabilize the economy?”

Mnuchin: Administration does support another stimulus payment

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“I do,” Mnuchin said. “The administration does support another stimulus payment.”

The likelihood and timing of that money still remains unclear. House Democrats and Senate Republicans had both put forward proposals that included a second round of direct payments. Other issues, however, have made it impossible for both sides to come to an agreement, at least for now.

“We obviously can’t pass a bill in the Senate without bipartisan support,” Mnuchin said. “Our job is to continue to work

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Delays, high costs plague efforts to house LA’s homeless

FILE - This May 21, 2020 file photo shows a homeless encampment on Beaudry Avenue as traffic moves along Interstate 110 in downtown Los Angeles. A $1.2 billion program aimed at building housing for homeless people in Los Angeles has been plagued by delays and soaring costs that have seen the average price of constructing a single unit jump to nearly $559,000, according to a city audit, on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

FILE – This May 21, 2020 file photo shows a homeless encampment on Beaudry Avenue as traffic moves along Interstate 110 in downtown Los Angeles. A $1.2 billion program aimed at building housing for homeless people in Los Angeles has been plagued by delays and soaring costs that have seen the average price of constructing a single unit jump to nearly $559,000, according to a city audit, on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

AP

A $1.2 billion program aimed at building housing for homeless people in Los Angeles has been plagued by delays and soaring costs that have seen the average price of constructing a single unit jump to nearly $559,000, according to a city audit.

Voters passed a 2016 bond measure to help ease the deepening homelessness crisis by creating up to 10,000 housing units over a decade.

Since then, only three new housing projects have been completed and others that are under construction won’t be open for at least two more years, City Controller Ron Galperin said in a report released Wednesday.

“Meanwhile, the crisis has gotten far worse, compounded by pressing COVID-19 health and safety concerns. To truly reduce homelessness as LA voters intended, the city must meet the moment by pivoting to an action plan that will house more people right away. We cannot stay the course when people are dying every day on our streets,” Galperin said in a statement.

Galperin recommends the city shift gears and immediately begin converting hotels and other large buildings into interim shelters to save money and get people off the streets quickly.

Since the last audit in 2019, the average cost of housing projects in development increased from $507,000 per unit to nearly $559,000, the report said. Galperin cited two outlier projects that saw costs spike to nearly $750,000 per unit.

Most of the delays began before the coronavirus pandemic, he found.

A January count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported that there were more than 66,400 homeless people in LA County, with the majority living within the city limits.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on the city controller’s findings.

The homelessness crisis is visible in downtown Los Angeles, where hundreds of people live in makeshift shanties that line entire blocks in the notorious neighborhood known as Skid Row. Tents regularly pop up on the pavement outside City Hall, and encampments are increasingly found in suburban areas under freeway overpasses.

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Delays, high costs plague efforts to house LA’s homeless

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A $1.2 billion program aimed at building housing for homeless people in Los Angeles has been plagued by delays and soaring costs that have seen the average price of constructing a single unit jump to nearly $559,000, according to a city audit.

Voters passed a 2016 bond measure to help ease the deepening homelessness crisis by creating up to 10,000 housing units over a decade.


Since then, only three new housing projects have been completed and others that are under construction won’t be open for at least two more years, City Controller Ron Galperin said in a report released Wednesday.

“Meanwhile, the crisis has gotten far worse, compounded by pressing COVID-19 health and safety concerns. To truly reduce homelessness as LA voters intended, the city must meet the moment by pivoting to an action plan that will house more people right away. We cannot stay the course when people are dying every day on our streets,” Galperin said in a statement.



Galperin recommends the city shift gears and immediately begin converting hotels and other large buildings into interim shelters to save money and get people off the streets quickly.


Since the last audit in 2019, the average cost of housing projects in development increased from $507,000 per unit to nearly $559,000, the report said. Galperin cited two outlier projects that saw costs spike to nearly $750,000 per unit.

Most of the delays began before the coronavirus pandemic, he found.

A January count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported that there were more than 66,400 homeless people in

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House Democrats decry efforts to shut down Stars and Stripes newspaper

House Democrats who served in the armed forces harshly criticized the Trump administration’s decision to pull the plug on the Stars and Stripes news outlet, and vowed to fight to keep the military newspaper funded.

“I read it on active duty when I served in Guam, and it is something that is improving the quality of life for military families and military personnel, and I cannot understand why we would get rid of the Stars and Stripes,” Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, told reporters on a press call Friday afternoon.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the $15.5 million typically set aside for the independent newspaper needed to be reallocated to more critical programs at the Pentagon.

The money was left out of the department’s annual budget request this year and officials on Capitol Hill said there was a request to cease publishing Stars and Stripes by September 30 and “completely dissolve” the paper by the end of January.

USA Today reported on Friday that the Pentagon circulated a memo saying the paper will implement a shutdown plan by September 15th.

The paper’s supporters on Capitol Hill pushed back earlier this week, sending a letter to Mr. Esper calling for him to restore its funding.

Mr. Lieu, who served in the United States Air Force and currently serves as a colonel in the reserves, and Rep. Jason Crow, Colorado Democrat, a former Army Ranger, said Friday they plan on keeping pressure on the administration— and hope to get some support from Republicans.

“If the president doesn’t care about the quality of life of our service members and our families, which is quite evident at this point, Congress does, and we’re going to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” Mr. Crow said.

Their comments about the military newspaper came as part of a larger critique from a handful of former service members now working in the House on the president’s performance as commander in chief.

In particular, they slammed the president in light of allegations he called fallen troops ‘suckers’ and ‘losers’ during a trip to France.

The Atlantic released a report late Thursday night citing four anonymous sources “with firsthand knowledge” that claimed the president canceled his visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in November 2018 by falsely blaming rain and a helicopter that couldn’t fly.

“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” the president allegedly told aides. The article also states that the president referred to the more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood in World War I as “suckers” for getting killed.

Despite the story relying on unnamed sources, the Democratic lawmakers said it fit with a pattern of Mr. Trump disrespecting others who sacrificed like the late Sen. John McCain and the Gold Star Khan family, who lost their son in the line of duty.

— Mike Glenn contributed to this report.

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