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House panel investigates political interference by White House over coronavirus at CDC and FDA

  • A House Oversight subcommittee has requested information about non-expert White House influence at the nation's top health agencies throughout the pandemic. 
  • The subcommittee sent letters to the leaders of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requesting documents and information on agency actions.
  • The allegations of political interference by the White House come at a critical time, particularly for the FDA, which will soon be charged with potentially authorizing the first vaccine for the coronavirus.

A House Oversight subcommittee has opened an investigation looking at whether White House officials unduly pressured the nation's top health agencies throughout the pandemic. 

The subcommittee sent letters to the leaders of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requesting documents and information on agency actions, drafts submitted to the White House and changes made during the review process. 

The letters are signed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., chairman of the subcommittee. The letters emphasize the role of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, known as OIRA, in reviewing agency decisions. The OIRA is part of the White House's Office of Management and Budget and has authority to review regulatory actions made by agencies. 

"We are particularly concerned that a little-known office within the White House — the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, part of the Office of Management and Budget — is exerting influence over what is supposed to be non-partisan, scientific messaging," Krishnamoorthi said Tuesday in a statement.

In congressional testimony, both CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn have said that their agencies have not been affected by political pressure. Both have also vowed to maintain the scientific integrity of their agencies. 

The allegations of political interference by the White House come at a critical time, particularly for the FDA, which will soon be charged with examining data for and potentially authorizing the first vaccine for the coronavirus. Trump has repeatedly said it's possible a vaccine could come before the Nov. 3 presidential election, a timeline that causes skepticism among most scientists.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the FDA planned to publish new standards for an emergency authorization of a potential vaccine, which would make it much less likely for a vaccine to be authorized before the election. However, The New York Times reported Monday that top White House officials are now blocking the guidance, which has still not been published. 

"The public wants a COVID-19 vaccine that it can trust. Assuredly, FDA and its expert staff want that too," Krishnamoorthi wrote in his letter to Hahn. "Unfortunately, President Trump has pledged to rush a vaccine into the market, and that undermines public trust in FDA's ability to ensure a safe and effective vaccine."

President Donald Trump has publicly pressured Hahn and FDA officials in the past. Early in the pandemic, Trump called for the emergency authorization of the use of antimalaria  drug hydroxychloroquine. Prescriptions for the 60-year-old medication surged 2,000% in March, but later studies found that it was actually hastening death in some patients and the FDA pulled its emergency authorization in June.

More recently, the president publicly criticized Hahn and called for him to quickly authorize convalescent plasma for the treatment of Covid-19. Some scientists said that while the treatment appeared safe, the country would have been better served by not authorizing the treatment and instead studying it more rigorously in large clinical trials.

Trump has publicly sparred with the CDC as well. Last month, when Redfield testified that the U.S. should have enough vaccine doses for Americans to return to "regular life" by the third quarter of 2021, Trump later contradicted him, saying he "made a mistake."

Krishnamoorthi's letter to Redfield mentions the appointment of Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official who took over as top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year. For months, Caputo and other politically appointed communications staff at HHS were at the center of reports about meddling in internal CDC affairs, including the publication of medical research about the virus.

Last month, Caputo was placed on a 60-day medical leave after he posted a video on his personal Facebook page accusing CDC scientists of engaging in "sedition" against the president. Caputo, through a spokesman, later said he was diagnosed with cancer. 

Krishnamoorthi said in his letter to Redfield that "we are concerned that the White House is altering and censoring CDC reports and guidance so that they do not provide support for questioning the Administration's pandemic response or harming President Trump's reelection prospects."

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Joe Biden’s NBC Town Hall Early Ratings Down From Similar Trump Event As Ex-VP Faces COVID-19 Delayed NFL In Primetime

Joe Biden’s taken on a lot of opponents over the years but the NFL and COVID-19 threw out the David vs. Goliath script last night, at least in the ratings.

Rescheduled from Sunday after New England Patriots’ quarterback Cam Newton and Kansas City practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend, the 7 PM ET kick-off between the Pats and KC was the bigger winner on Monday night.

Lead by QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City thrashed the Patriots 26-10 on the field and conquered the night for CBS with 12.7 million viewers and a 3.6 rating among adults 18-49 in the early numbers. Now those fast affiliates will change later, but ain’t nobody catching up with this unique Monday game on a broadcast network.

That includes the former Vice-President of the United States.

In a socially distanced live town hall fat 8 PM ET rom Miami, poll leading Biden took questions from NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt and a curated selection of undecided voters. On the night that a COVID-19 infected and visibly short of breath Donald Trump made a seemingly pre-mature return to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center, there was only one topic at hand and the Democrat was in fine form.

However, in terms of the ratings, Biden snared a 0.5 among the key demo and 3.8 million viewers in the unadjusted metrics. Again, like the NFL results, sure to change, those numbers right now are down 17% among the 18-49 and 4% in sets of eyeballs from what the former Celebrity Apprentice host received when he appeared at an ABC News town hall back on September 15.

Having said that, another qualifier must be added here: Unlike Trump’s stint on the Disney-owned network last month, Biden’s town hall last night was also aired live on MSNBC and CNBC – which certainly had viewers of their own, if you know what I mean?

In addition, last night also saw an 8:50 PM ET starting Monday Night Football on ESPN as the Green Bay Packers beat the Atlanta Falcons 30 – 16. Which, just venturing a guess, probably attracted a fair-sized audience too.

Overall, in the early numbers, CBS won primetime with a 2.6 rating and 9.4 million viewers. Among the rest, NBC and Univision were tied for third place among the 18-49s with a 0.4.

And there was more on TV besides politics and pro-football last night.

Leading out of Biden’s Town Hall was American Ninja Warrior (0.4, 2.13M) which dipped to season lows.

Meanwhile, at ABC, Dancing with the Stars (0.9, 6.01M) dropped in the demo while Emergency Call (0.6, 3.49M) slipped a tenth from last week’s debut. However, it should be noted that ABC’s numbers will be adjusted in finals due to local market NFL preemptions in Atlanta and Milwaukee.

At Fox, L.A.’s Finest (0.3, 1.65M) was down from last week while the freshman series Filthy Rich (0.3, 2.05M) held steady. The CW served fresh episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway (0.2, 845,000) and Penn & Teller: Fool Us (0.2, 752,000).

We will update with all the NFL numbers as well as total numbers from Joe Biden’s town hall later today. In the meantime, here’s how things look right now:

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Apple Pulls Rival Earphones, Speakers From Store Ahead Of Launch

Apple Inc. has stopped selling headphones and audio products made by rival companies from its online and physical stores as the tech giant prepares to launch its own audio products, Bloomberg reported.

Shares of Logitech International SA and Sonos Inc. tumbled more than 5 percent in Tuesday’s regular trade following the news. Apple has sold headphones and wireless speakers from Bose Corp., Sonos and Logitech on its website for several years.

However, Bloomberg reported that Apple recently instructed employees at its physical retail stores to remove the third-party hardware from the shelves.

The iPhone maker has also reportedly stopped selling headphones and speakers from Bose, speakers from Logitech’s Ultimate Ears brand, and Sonos’ latest smart speaker from its online store since the end of September.

Apple could announce its first Apple-branded over-ear headphones this year itself, according to the report. The tech giant is also said to be working on a smaller version of its HomePod smart speaker.

The report noted that the only headphones now being offered by Apple are its own AirPods and AirPods Pro, in addition to products from its Beats unit. Meanwhile, the only smart speakers available on Apple’s website are its own HomePod and Beats Pill+ speaker.

Apple is said to be developing its own AirPods Studio headphones that will be made in Vietnam, as the company seeks to diversify its manufacturing as it moves from China.

Previously too, Apple has stopped selling products made by rival companies ahead of the launch of its own new products. The company stopped selling Fitbit wearables after it announced the Apple Watch in 2014.

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65% of voters believe it will take over a year for the economy to recover

Most voters do not believe the U.S. will quickly rebound from the recession caused by the effects of coronavirus pandemic. In fact, about 65% of registered voters expect the U.S. economy to take more than a year to recover. 

That's according to a new survey bill pay service doxo released on Tuesday that polled 1,500 U.S. voters last week. While Americans expect it to take a while for the entire economy to recover, they're more optimistic about their personal wealth. 

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More than half of voters say it will take seven months or more for their households to bounce back from any financial effects of the pandemic. About a third, however, expect it to take longer: more than a year. 

"Consumers struggle to pay their bills. Their confidence in a quick economic recovery — for both the country, and themselves — remains very low," said Jim Kreyenhagen, vice president of marketing and consumer services at doxo.

Kreyenhagen says the difference in optimism levels between the overall economy and personal finances is likely due to the fact that there's a whole section of the country still in financial trouble. The restaurant industry and the travel sector are still struggling to recover, and many employed in those fields are facing unemployment or reduced work hours. 

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Some economists and financial experts are now saying that the U.S. will likely experience a "K-shaped recovery" where Americans feel uneven effects of the recession and recovery. Some sectors, such as Wall Street, and wealthier Americans will recover faster, while the effects on small businesses and those with lower incomes will linger.  

That could indicate more federal assistance is still needed. Yet the level of relief that was made available early in the pandemic may not come back. About 47% of voters surveyed by doxo say they've received some type of government assistance, such as a stimulus payment or unemployment benefits, since the start of the pandemic. But of those, about 57% say they expect those benefits will run out in about a month. 

That makes sense when you consider that the $600 federal weekly boost to unemployment benefits ended in July and the extra $300 extension has also started to sunset. At least nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah — already ended the program for residents last month. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers have yet to reach a deal to pass a new federal relief package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin restarted negotiations over a potential stimulus package last week after Democrats proposed a $2.2 trillion legislative relief package that included both stimulus payments and restoring the $600 weekly boost to unemployment benefits. 

After failing to come to an agreement last week, the House passed their version on Thursday. But without Republican support, the bill is unlikely to be picked up and voted on in the Senate.   

Pelosi and Mnuchin talked again on Monday, but still failed to reach a deal. 

Yet 70% of voters surveyed by doxo say their personal financial health will impact how they vote in the upcoming general election.

"People are really watching this," Kreyenhagen says. "That's the one thing that's on people's minds as the election comes."

Check out: Two months later, the end of the $600 boost to unemployment benefits is already causing a drag on the economy

Don't miss: The 6 best credit cards for shopping at Costco

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Americans who don't normally file taxes have until November 21 to sign up for a stimulus check

  • The IRS has a free online tool that non-filers should use to claim a stimulus payment.
  • The tool is available to people who didn't have a tax liability in 2018 or 2019 and have not yet received their Economic Impact Payment.
  • The deadline to register for a payment is now November 21, 2020.
  • The tool asks for payment information, Social Security number, mailing address, date of birth, and number of qualifying children in order to create and submit a simple tax return.
  • Sign up for Personal Finance Insider's email newsletter here »

The IRS has announced a new deadline for non-filers to register for a stimulus payment: November 21.

Most Americans eligible for an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) authorized under the CARES Act have already received theirs. But the IRS is still trying to reach millions of people who don't earn enough money to file a tax return, but otherwise qualify for a payment.

The agency mailed about 9 million notices in September reminding non-filers to use a free online tool — which is available in English and Spanish and can be found here — to claim their payment. The letter stated that the deadline to register was October 15. It has now been pushed back five weeks, to November 21.

Anyone with income below $12,200 as an individual or $24,400 as a married couple has no tax liability and isn't required to file a return. The IRS said someone is "likely eligible" for a stimulus payment if they are a US citizen or resident alien, have a work-eligible Social Security number, and aren't claimed on another person's tax return.

The tool asks for payment information, Social Security number, mailing address, date of birth, and number of qualifying children in order to create and submit a simple tax return (Form 1040). The IRS will use the information to determine the size and method of payment for each person.

The IRS delivers payments by direct deposit much faster than mailing paper checks. If you don't provide bank information, the IRS will mail a check.

Most people received their stimulus payments automatically

The majority of stimulus check recipients didn't need to register or sign up for a stimulus payment, with the exception of non-filers. Back in April, the IRS and Treasury Department released its free online tool to help get stimulus payments to people who don't normally file taxes but have a Social Security number and are not claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer.

Stimulus payments are nontaxable and worth $1,200 for individuals earning less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $150,000, plus an additional $500 per qualifying child.

Social Security retirement and disability recipients, railroad retirees, Veterans Affairs beneficiaries, and people on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) automatically had stimulus payments sent to the address or bank account where they receive their benefits, even if they haven't filed a tax return in the last two years. 

In most cases, taxpayers who filed returns in 2018 and 2019 were also automatically paid — via either check or direct deposit — based on the adjusted gross income reported on their latest tax return. These filers were given the opportunity to provide direct-deposit information using the "Get My Payment" tool to speed up their payment. 

Find the IRS tool here »

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Honeywell Sees Private-Jet Flights Recovering to Normal in 2021

Private-jet flights are poised to regain their 2019 levels next year as the industry rebounds from a much shallower decline than after the 2008 financial crisis, according to Honeywell International Inc.

The drop in takeoffs and landings will ease to only about 15% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier and will recover fully by mid-2021, Honeywell said Tuesday in an annual survey of 1,050 private-jet operators. By comparison, flights tumbled 76% in April in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, according to another data provider, Argus International Inc.’s TraqPak database.

“This definitely is something that shows a robust recovery in a space where we saw significant reductions in flight hours in April and May,” said Shantanu Vaish, director of strategy and industry marketing for Honeywell’s Aerospace unit, which makes jet engines and cockpit controls.

The declines earlier this year mirrored the collapse of commercial airline flights as countries locked down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now private flying, which for many passengers generates less health anxiety than traveling in a plane full of strangers, has rebounded more quickly despite a severe economic downturn and continued travel restrictions.

Sales of private jets will take longer to recover, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Honeywell said. New aircraft deliveries will drop to 491 this year from 720 in 2019, which was the best year since the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

Deliveries won’t get back to their 2019 level until 2025, Honeywell said. The company is predicting handovers of 7,300 aircraft over the next decade, a 3.9% reduction from last year’s 10-year forecast.

More encouragingly, the pandemic hasn’t spurred a wave of forced aircraft sales like in 2008, Vaish said. About 10% of all respondents to the Honeywell survey plan to shed a plane without replacing it over the next five years — only slightly higher than the 8% in last year’s report.

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CDC Acknowledges Potential Airborne Transmission Of Covid-19 In Updated Guidance

Two weeks after retracting its updated guidance that coronavirus often spreads through air, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back acknowledging the potential for airborne transmission in the spread of coronavirus.

CDC first acknowledged the virus airborne theory on September 18. But three days later, the health agency said the update was posted in error, and removed the mention of airborne transmission from the official website.

In its latest update published on Monday, CDC included information about how Covid-19 spreads through air.

In guidance under the title ‘How COVID-19 Spreads’, CDC says coronavirus can sometimes be spread by airborne transmission.

“Some infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours”.

CDC claimed there is evidence that under certain conditions, these viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space.

However, the agency says available data indicate that it is much more common for the virus to spread through close contact with an infected person than through airborne transmission.

These updates were added to conditions already published on the CDC page, which says that the disease mainly spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)”, and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes.

In a letter published in the journal Science on the same day CDC issued its added guideline, academics said, “One is far more likely to inhale aerosols than be sprayed by a droplet, and so the balance of attention must be shifted to protecting against airborne transmission.”

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Best Public High School in Every State

According to a survey conducted in August, about half of U.S. school districts planned to reintroduce full-time in-person learning this fall, with the remainder either resuming the virtual learning processes introduced during the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak or using a hybrid model.

Many schools throughout the country that have attempted to start the year with full in-person classes have already had to revert to virtual learning. With regional cases high in many parts of the country and the possibility of cases resurging in the future in others, it is unclear how long before normal in-person classes will resume nationwide. Also unclear is the long-term effects that school closure and virtual learning will have on student development.

Already, the public education system in the United States lags behind the schools of many wealthy nations. According to an annual study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. trails 24 other countries — Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. among them — in student performance in core subjects.

Nationwide, only about 33% of public school students about to enter high school are considered proficient in math, and 32% are considered proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Here is a list of the school districts where children are least likely to succeed in every state.

These figures offer a grim assessment of the general state of American schools. Encouragingly, however, there are still public schools all over the country that offer a well-rounded and high-quality education, and where student achievement is high.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed rankings for all public schools from school data clearinghouse Niche and identified the best public high school in every state. Niche’s school rating system accounts for a range of factors, including student and parent survey responses, teacher absenteeism, standardized test scores, and other measures of academic performance. A full methodological breakdown is available here.

Nearly half of the schools on this list are either charter or magnet schools. Unlike regular public high schools, where place of residence is typically the only factor in enrollment, many of these schools have competitive admissions processes that are designed to select only the most motivated and talented students from both inside and outside of the school district. Unlike normal public high schools, magnet and charter schools often receive additional funding through private sources such as tuition and donations.

In many non-charter or magnet schools on this list, high student achievement is often due not only to school quality, but also to advantages outside of the classroom. For example, children of better-educated parents are themselves more likely to succeed academically. The vast majority of non-charter or magnet schools on this list are located in school districts where adults and parents are far more likely to have a four-year college education than the typical American adult. These school districts also tend to be relatively wealthy. Here is a list of the most educated city in every state.

Click here to see the best public high school in every state.
Click here to see our methodology.

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Coronavirus pandemic tests Southwest Airlines' record of no pay cuts, furloughs

  • Southwest is seeking union concessions and other employee pay cuts to avoid job losses.
  • Southwest has never furloughed workers or cut pay in its nearly 50 years of flying.
  • Airline revenue and capacity is down sharply because of the virus.

The pandemic's toll on air travel demand is testing a point of pride at Southwest Airlines: It has never furloughed or cut worker pay in its nearly 50 years of flying.

The Dallas-based airline late Monday announced it's asking its labor unions that represent some 80% of its workers to accept pay cuts to avoid involuntary furloughs through the end of 2021. It will cut non-union workers' pay by 10%.

"It's a shared sacrifice and this is the kind of company that I think is up for that task," Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC's "Squawk Box" Tuesday. Kelly said he is forgoing his base salary until the end of next year.

Airlines are racing to stem cash burn with air travel demand stuck at about a third of last year's levels as the pandemic keeps many potential customers from flying. In September, the Transportation Security Administration screened an average of about 716,000 people a day at U.S. airports, down from 2.2 million a day a year earlier.

Last week, United Airlines and American Airlines started furloughing more than 32,000 employees, a move they say they will reverse if they receive more federal aid.

U.S. airlines agreed not to cut any jobs until Oct. 1 under the terms of $25 billion in federal aid. Southwest has committed not to lay off or cut worker pay through the end of this year, in part thanks to thousands of workers who accepted buyouts or volunteered for time off.

But with a slow recovery ahead, Southwest, its U.S. rivals and labor unions are urging Congress and the Trump administration to approve $25 billion in additional federal aid to support payrolls, generally carriers' largest expense.

The proposal has won bipartisan support, but Congress and the White House have been deadlocked on a new, national coronavirus stimulus package, which could include the airline support, for weeks. An attempt in the House to advance a standalone bill for more airline aid failed on Friday.

"Obviously, any reasonable person realizes this is a huge crisis for the airlines but for the country," Kelly told CNBC.

Kelly told employees late Monday that he wants to have cost-saving agreements with unions in place by Jan. 1 and if there's a failure to reach deals furloughs will be a "last resort."

If Congress passes additional airline payroll support the pay cuts at Southwest would be reversed, Kelly said.

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150 Million Covid Rapid Tests To Be Distributed Nationwide

The Trump Administration announced a national plan to distribute 150 million Abbott rapid point-of-care coronavirus tests in the coming weeks to assist Governors’ efforts to safely reopen their states and schools.

Explaining its details at a White House news conference, President Donald Trump said 50 million tests will go to protect the most vulnerable communities, and 100 million tests will be given to states and territories to support efforts to reopen their economies and schools immediately.

This includes 18 million for nursing homes; 15 million for assisted living facilities; 10 million for home, health, and hospice care agencies; and nearly 1 million for historically black colleges, universities and tribal nation colleges.

6.5 million tests will be shipped to governors this week.

Trump claimed that over the last eight weeks, hospitalizations due to COVID infection have declined by 48 percent, and have reached the lowest point since March. Due to advances in treatment, the fatality rate has fallen 85 percent since April, he added.

Health and Human Services Department said the Abbott BinaxNOW Ag Card rapid test is a unique testing option to provide support to K-12 teachers and students, higher education, critical infrastructure, first responders, and other priorities as governors deem fit.

The BinaxNOW rapid test – the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized antigen rapid point-of-care test that does not require an instrument – is easy to use, will produce COVID-19 test results in 15 minutes, and costs $5.

Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, said testing may be performed by laboratories with a clear certificate of waiver. “This is not a home test. But during the health emergency, Seema Verma and CMS permits laboratories to extend their certificate to operate in temporary sites, like schools or churches or parking lots,” he added.

The Federal government purchased Abbott BinaxNOW diagnostic tests on August 27 after FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to ensure they would be expeditiously distributed to vulnerable populations as quickly as possible. Significantly, the nation’s governors will not have to compete for the initial BinaxNOW shipments, or take time to set up purchasing contracts.

Abbott Diagnostics said it plans to make up to 48 million tests available monthly in the U.S. in the coming weeks.

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