Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democrats and public health experts are concerned that the Trump administration's immigration policies could scare immigrants away from getting medical help as the coronavirus spreads.

What we're watching: Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told senators on Thursday that health care facilities are already "sensitive locations" where immigration enforcement isn't carried out, except in "exigent circumstances."

Why it matters: To slow the deadly coronavirus, Americans need to be able to get tested and see doctors. For immigrants, though, that can involve trusting the federal agencies that have made it harder for them to stay in the country.

  • "This administration has given immigrants very little reason to believe them," Migration Policy Institute's Sarah Pierce told Axios.

What they're saying: "It’s potentially a really large public health problem,” said Wake Forest's Christine Coughlin, who has written about unauthorized immigrants' compliance with quarantines. "I believe there is a perception that if you were to go and seek treatment or seek testing, you could be potentially reported and then potentially deported.”

  • The higher uninsured rate among non-citizens is "likely to be especially dangerous during a pandemic," Wendy Parmet, director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at the Northeastern University School of Law, wrote in an op-ed Wednesday.

Between the lines: Through new public charge rules, the administration has begun penalizing some immigrants and visa applicants who use or are considered likely to use certain public programs, including Medicaid programs.

  • Even before the policies took effect, immigrants were reportedly dropping out of Medicaid or public nutrition programs out of fear of being blocked from a green card — a sign that the chilling effect is real.
  • Democratic Senators sent letters this week to multiple administration officials calling for them to suspend "all immigration enforcement activities" near medical facilities, and to rescind the public charge rule.

The other side: A DHS spokesperson pushed back on the impact the public charge rule would have on immigrants seeking medical care. "Nowhere in the rule does it say an immigrant will be denied a change in status if they seek medical care," the spokesperson said.

In the past, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued public guidance during natural disasters to assure immigrants they would not be arrested for getting medical help, former acting ICE director John Sandweg told Axios.

  • He said the same should be done in response to the coronavirus.
  • "The reality is that ICE is very reluctant to arrest and detain anyone with a contagious disease," Sandweg said. "While the risks of arrest are low, the fear in the immigrant communities is real."

The bottom line: Immigrants are unlikely to be impacted by public charge or arrested by ICE while getting emergency medical help. But fear and uncertainty could be enough to stop them.

  • “In general, the very anxiety-ridden environment this administration has created for immigrants drastically decreases the likelihood that immigrants will come forward," Pierce said.

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Updated 42 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1:30 a.m. ET: 18,540,119 — Total deaths: 700,647 — Total recoveries — 11,134,715Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 1:30 a.m. ET: 4,771,087 — Total deaths: 156,801 — Total recoveries: 1,528,979 — Total tests: 57,543,852Map.
  3. States: New York City health commissioner resigns in protest of De Blasio's coronavirus response — Local governments go to war over schools.
  4. Public health: 59% of Americans support nationwide 2-week stay-at-home order in NPR poll.
  5. Politics: Trump's national security adviser returns to work after coronavirus recovery Republicans push to expand small business loan program.
  6. Sports: Indy 500 to be held without fansRafael Nadal opts out of U.S. Open.
Updated 2 hours ago - World

At least 78 killed, 4,000 injured after massive explosion rocks Beirut

Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

A major explosion has slammed central Beirut, Lebanon, damaging buildings as far as several miles away and injuring scores of people.

Driving the news: More than 78 people have been killed and over 4,000 injured, Lebanon's health ministry said, per Reuters. Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the explosions occurred at a warehouse that had been storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate for the past six years.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

In photos: Storm Isaias lashes the East Coast

Floodwaters in Muhlenberg Township, Pennsylvania, a result of Tropical Storm Isaias moving along the East Coast on Tuesday. Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Isaias became a post-tropical cyclone as it moved into southeast Canada late Tuesday after pummeling the East Coast for much of the day with heavy rains and wind —trigging tornadoes, floods and leaving millions without power. At least six people have lost their lives in the storm.

The big picture: Isaias made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in North Carolina late Monday before being downgraded. It dumped heavy rain across Florida as a tropical storm over the weekend and on July 31 lashed the Bahamas and parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as a Category 1 hurricane.