Overnight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers

Overnight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care. White House reporters are returning to wearing masks in the briefing room. And after a busy day of health news, much of the country is advised to wear indoors masks again too. 

If you have any tips, email us at nweixel@thehill.com, psullivan@thehill.com and jcoleman@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter at @NateWeixel, @PeterSullivan4, and @JustineColeman8. 


Today: The CDC backpedaled its previous relaxation of mask recommendations, advising the fully vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas. President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE said his administration is weighing whether to require vaccines for federal workers, and a bipartisan group of senators called for support of importing less expensive medications from Canada.

We’ll start with masks:

The big news from the CDC: Vaccinated people should now wear masks in high transmission areas

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday essentially reversed earlier COVID-19 guidance by saying fully vaccinated people should now wear masks in certain situations.

The agency said fully vaccinated people should wear masks in "public, indoor settings" in areas of the country with "substantial" or "high" levels of transmission, as defined by the CDC. Those areas currently include much of the South and West.

The CDC also said all adults and students should wear masks in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.

The new guidance contrasts with coronavirus recommendations from May, when the CDC said fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks, except in a few circumstances.


Why the change? CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyFDA panel endorses COVID-19 booster shots for older Americans, rejects widespread use Watch live: White House COVID-19 response team holds briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows MORE on Tuesday said the change was needed because of new science showing that with the delta variant, some vaccinated people could transmit the virus to others on "rare occasions." 

"This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations," Walensky said.

A big question: Will it actually be followed? In practice, in areas with higher transmission, it will still be up to local government to decide whether to impose mask mandates or not, and many of those areas are in conservative parts of the country that are unlikely to mandate masks. 

Read more here.


Another possible big move: Biden administration considering vaccine requirements for all federal workers

President Biden on Tuesday said his administration is considering making it mandatory for federal workers to get the coronavirus vaccine.

The president's comments, which echoed those of his press secretary hours earlier, came one day after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will require its front-line health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"That is under consideration right now, but if you’re not vaccinated you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were," Biden said during a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiWhite House debates vaccines for air travel France's Macron to speak to Biden about submarine deal Why does Biden's vaccine mandate not apply to welfare recipients and others? MORE earlier Tuesday would not rule out the possibility of more federal agencies joining the VA in requiring their employees to get the vaccine as cases rise around the country with the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

"I think a range of agencies and leaders will look at what steps they should take to protect their workforce and save lives," she said.

The VA mandate marked the first time any part of the federal government has said it will require COVID-19 vaccines.

Read more here


White House defends Biden's past remarks on virus as CDC shifts guidance

The White House on Tuesday defended President Biden's past rhetoric declaring the country had gained the upper hand over the coronavirus and touting vaccinated Americans no longer needed masks on the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out updated guidance that again recommends that those who have gotten the shot wear face coverings in certain settings.

Press secretary Jen Psaki faced a barrage of questions about Biden's past comments in which he expressed optimism the U.S. was in a strong position against the virus. She did not say the president regretted his rhetoric in hindsight but instead noted the delta variant has drastically changed the country's outlook as it battles an evolving threat.

"The role of the federal government and our public health officials is to continue to look at evolving data, evolving threats of a historic virus, provide that public health guidance to the American people to protect more people and save more lives. That's what they're doing," Psaki said.

Biden celebrated in May after the CDC announced vaccinated Americans could go without masks in public settings. The White House put out a video at the time of Biden saying that "it's vaxxed or masked," setting it up a binary choice between getting the shot or wearing a face covering.

Read more here



Biden administration spending $121M to boost vaccinations in underserved communities

The Biden administration is allocating $121 million to increase coronavirus vaccinations in underserved communities across the U.S. as the country’s inoculation rate plateaus and cases rise.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Tuesday that it will distribute $121 million to more than 100 community-based organizations in the U.S. to help push vaccinations in underserved areas of the country.

The money, which comes from the American Rescue Plan, will go towards supporting partnerships between academic and community-based organizations, such as churches and local fire departments, in an effort to boost COVID-19 literacy and inoculation rates in rural counties.

Additionally, the funds will support African American, Latino and Tribal partnerships, according to HHS, which “engage clergy, churchgoers, adolescents, and others with trusted information about vaccines and work within their communities to get more people vaccinated.”

Read more here.



Bipartisan senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada 

A bipartisan group of four senators requested Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all Biden administration announces federal support for patients, abortion providers in Texas Biden administration releases B in COVID-19 relief for providers MORE’s support to allow less costly prescription drugs to be imported from Canada. 

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharKlobuchar: 'It is evil to make it deliberately hard for people to vote' Democrats push to shield election workers from violent threats   Harris, CBC put weight behind activist-led National Black Voter Day MORE (D-Minn.), Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation Woman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (R-Iowa), Angus KingAngus KingSenate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise NY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case MORE (I-Maine) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (R-Maine) sent a letter to the secretary on Monday asking him to back policies permitting states and tribes to import certain prescription drugs from Canada. 

In a letter, the senators argued that personal importation could deliver “a critical solution” to lowering medication costs, a goal of the Biden administration. The letter cited that almost 30 percent of adults say they don’t take their prescribed medications due to the cost.

“Americans should be able to obtain affordable medications, and expanding access to safe and affordable drugs in Canada can make a difference by providing direct relief to the millions of Americans who are struggling to afford the increasing cost of prescription drugs,” the letter reads. 

Read more here.


What we’re reading

Tokyo reports new record for coronavirus infections, but the Games’ bubble holds (Washington Post)

As Virus Cases Rise, Another Contagion Spreads Among the Vaccinated: Anger (New York Times)

At home during the pandemic, she was the healthiest she’d been in years. Then she was called back to work. (Washington Post)


 State by state 

Young people disproportionately refusing COVID-19 vaccine: State health official (Alabama Local News)

Florida Gov. DeSantis not planning new emergency order despite spiking COVID cases, hospitalizations (Tallahassee Democrat)

Tennessee lawmakers claimed federal law blocks vaccine incentives. Here’s why they’re wrong. (The Tennessean)


Op-eds in The Hill

Hate crimes expose a cultural discomfort about mental health for Asian Americans

It's time we had 'safe havens' for vaccinated Americans

Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement