Overnight Health Care: CDC says vaccinated people can take masks off indoors and outdoors | Missouri abandons voter-approved Medicaid expansion | White House unveils $7B plan to hire public health workers
Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care. Officials are cashing in their cheat days to promote incentives to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) feasting on Shake Shack and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) enjoying a Ledo’s Pizza.
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Today: The CDC further relaxed its mask guidance for vaccinated people. Missouri won’t go forward with Medicaid expansion, the White House is going to hire public health workers, and the head of the second largest teachers union wants schools to be open in the fall.
We’ll start with masks:
CDC says vaccinated people can take masks off indoors and outdoors
People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely resume life without any restrictions in most cases, according to long-awaited federal guidance released Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says if you are fully vaccinated — two weeks past the last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — you don’t need to wear masks indoors or outside, and you don’t need to maintain physical distance.
The change is a monumental shift in how the agency has communicated about the risks of the coronavirus and the benefits of vaccines, and is a major step towards reopening America in time for the July 4 holiday.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated, can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Big asterisks: The new guidelines do not apply to health care settings, correctional facilities or homeless shelters, the agency said. People will also need to follow local business and workplace guidances, so masks are likely to continue to be required in private businesses.
Travel is also not exempt, at least not yet, so masks will still be required on airplanes, trains and public transportation.
Kids under 12 can’t be vaccinated yet, so they will also have to keep wearing masks. And, according to an agency spokesman, if you have already recovered from COVID-19 but have not been vaccinated, you are considered unvaccinated and still need to wear a mask.
What’s next: States across the country have been easing restrictions and reopening businesses as local vaccination rates increase, despite the CDC and federal health officials who continued to urge caution. This is a major shift in messaging and puts even more pressure on businesses and local governments. There is no way to know who is vaccinated and who is not, and the idea of some kind of “vaccine passport” or digital identifier has become a partisan flashpoint vehemently opposed by Republicans.
Biden calls new mask guidance a ‘great milestone’
President Biden on Thursday took a rare victory lap on the coronavirus, calling new federal guidance that suggests people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks a “great milestone.”
Standing at a lectern in the Rose Garden without a mask on, Biden praised the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance, which was announced just an hour before he spoke.
“If you have been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat, if you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said.
“I think it’s a great milestone, a great day. It’s been made possible by the extraordinary success we have had in vaccinating so many Americans, so quickly,” Biden added.
The president, who has often taken a more somber tone when talking about the pandemic, praised the speed of the U.S. vaccination effort, saying its success in such a short time period has led to Americans having fewer restrictions.
Missouri abandons voter-approved Medicaid expansion
Missouri voters approved Medicaid expansion in the state, but it still is facing a tough fight to go into effect.
Less than a year after Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment expanding Medicaid coverage, Gov. Mike Parson (R) said Thursday he will drop plans to implement the expansion after the GOP supermajority legislature refused to provide funding.
Parson sent a letter to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services formally withdrawing plans to expand MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid program. He said the legislature’s refusal to fund the expansion threatened the entire program’s fiscal solvency.
“[W]ithout a revenue source or funding authority from the General Assembly, we are unable to proceed with the expansion at this time,” Parson wrote.
White House unveils plan to spend $7B to hire public health workers
The White House announced Thursday that it is providing $7.4 billion of funding from the pandemic relief measure passed earlier this year to hire and train public health workers to respond to COVID-19 and future crises.
The funding includes $3.4 billion for “overstretched public health departments” in states and localities to hire additional staff who can work on vaccination outreach, testing, contact tracing and other tasks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and AmeriCorps will team up to launch a Public Health AmeriCorps, with $400 million in funding “to recruit and build a new workforce ready to respond to the public health needs of the nation,” the White House said.
At least $500 million will go toward hiring school nurses who can help in the COVID-19 vaccination effort for younger people. The CDC on Wednesday cleared the way for adolescents aged 12-15 to get vaccinated, and approval for younger children could come down the line.
A final $3 billion will focus on longer-term funding to “modernize the public health workforce” with a new grant program focused on helping public health departments beyond the current pandemic.
Second largest teachers union president calls for full school reopenings in the fall
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) called for schools to fully reopen for in-person instruction five days a week in the fall during an address on Thursday.
The AFT president weighed in on the debate over school reopenings amid the COVID-19 pandemic as supporters of returning to full in-person learning have accused teachers’ unions of being an obstacle to the move for requesting safety precautions.
She argued that “prolonged isolation is harmful” for students and that remote school inhibits parents’, in particular mothers’, ability to work.
“Conditions have changed,” she said. “We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning and support. And we must keep them open. Fully and safely five days a week.”
School update: Weingarten’s address comes as about half of schools have returned to full in-person teaching, while the other half remain on either fully remote or hybrid schedules, according to the Return to Learn Tracker.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said last week that he expects “all schools to be open full-time in person for all students” in the fall.
What we’re reading
Coronavirus strain fueling India crisis is the newest ‘variant of concern’ and is spreading globally (The Washington Post)
Here’s how effective vaccine incentives like free beer really are (ABC News)
Poll finds public health has a trust problem (NPR)
State by state
Colorado Democrats’ big health insurance bill may deliver the nation’s lowest premiums. But much is still unclear. (The Colorado Sun)
Jacksonville’s deep-rooted health disparities can impact lifetimes. A ‘concerted effort’ needed to fix it (The Florida Times-Union)
Michigan Senate panel votes to subpoena nursing home documents (The Detroit News)
Op-eds in The Hill
DeSantis’s cruise line battle shows contempt for public health federalism
New models for pandemic response can be found in existing agencies
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