Overnight Health Care — CDC under fire for new guidance
Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
Sometimes you just have to laugh at the world, so without further comment, here’s Irish comic Mario Rosenstock’s “Christmas Covid Handicap Hurdle.”
Let’s get started.
CDC slammed for new COVID-19 guidance
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is under fire from health experts and employee groups who say the new COVID-19 isolation and quarantine guidance has too many holes.
The isolation guidelines announced late Monday apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Some health experts said they worry people will leave isolation while still contagious, and raised questions about the CDC’s decision making.
Critics also argue the guidelines ignore the benefits of rapid antigen testing by not requiring them, and rely on a one-size-fits-all approach that makes assumptions about the fast-spreading omicron variant that may not be true.
What changed: In the early days of the pandemic, CDC recommended a 14-day isolation period for anyone infected with the virus. That eventually changed to 10 days, regardless of a person’s vaccination status and whether or not they were symptomatic.
On Monday evening, federal officials cut in half the recommended time needed to isolate after a COVID-19 infection for those not showing symptoms. The CDC also made changes to guidelines on quarantining after exposure to someone who has been infected.
No testing: The lack of a requirement for a negative test after five days frustrated some experts, who said it was based on data that predated the omicron variant.
Some experts have speculated that CDC didn’t include a testing requirement because of the current shortage of rapid tests. In many places, at-home tests are difficult or impossible to find, and even if they are available, the prices are high.
Biden rescinds African travel restrictions
President Biden on Tuesday formally revoked the travel restrictions his administration imposed on eight countries in southern Africa over the spread of the omicron variant, saying the measures were no longer necessary.
“Since I issued that proclamation, our Nation’s health officials, in collaboration with the South African scientists who originally reported the variant, have made substantial progress in understanding the Omicron variant,” Biden said in a proclamation rescinding the travel restrictions.
“Importantly, scientific experts have determined that people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are protected against severe disease and hospitalization from the Omicron variant,” Biden continued. “Moreover, the Omicron variant has now spread to more than 100 countries, and it is prevalent in the United States.”
Biden administration officials defended the restrictions, arguing they allowed more time to prepare for the spread of the omicron variant before it reached the U.S. But it quickly became clear after analyses of early cases that the variant had been spreading domestically even before the restrictions were put into place.
The decision to impose restrictions sparked immediate backlash from the international community and public health experts, who say it was ineffective and punitive against African countries, especially as Western countries have failed to deliver needed vaccine supplies and logistics to the continent.
CDC SIGNIFICANTLY CUTS ESTIMATE OF OMICRON’S PREVALENCE IN US
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday significantly revised downward the estimate of the percentage of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. caused by the omicron variant of the virus.
According to agency data, omicron accounted for about 59 percent of all U.S. infections as of Dec. 25. Previously, the CDC said the omicron variant comprised 73 percent of all cases for the week ending Dec. 18. But that number has now been revised to 22.5 percent of all cases.
The new estimates mean that while a majority of new infections are attributed to the omicron variant, the delta variant has not been sidelined, and still accounts for about 41 percent of infections.
The first known case of the omicron variant in the United States was identified Dec. 1.
TEXAS RUNS OUT OF MONOCLONAL ANTIBODY TREATMENT
Texas has run out of its supply of monoclonal antibodies, and infusion centers in the state will be unable to offer the treatment until more shipments are sent out in January.
Infusion centers in Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, San Antonio and The Woodlands have all gone through their supply of sotrovimab, the only antibody treatment believed to be effective against the omicron variant, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said on Monday.
The agency said infusion centers in Texas will be unable to offer the treatment until “federal authorities ship additional courses of sotrovimab to Texas in January.”
Backstory: Health officials began stockpiling doses of sotrovimab this month after studies showed that it was effective against the highly transmissible omicron variant.
On Dec. 17, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released distribution determinations for sotrovimab, allocating 2,694 doses for Texas. The department said at the time that the government’s supply of the antibody treatment was “extremely limited” and additional units would not be available until the week of Jan. 3.
Vaccine mandate for domestic travel possible
President Biden said Tuesday he would impose a mandate that Americans be vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel domestically if his medical team recommends it.
When asked when he would make a decision on domestic travel vaccine requirements while out for a walk in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Biden told reporters, “when I get a recommendation from the medical team.”
Many public experts have long called for such a requirement, and the idea of mandating coronavirus vaccines for domestic travel has been bouncing around the administration for months. The emergence of the omicron variant caused the White House to revisit questions over whether to impose one.
Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci on Monday cleaned up his previous remarks on a mandate after he said on Sunday that “anything that could get people more vaccinated would be welcome.”
“Everything that comes up as a possibility, we put it on the able and we consider it, that does not mean that it is likely to happen,” Fauci told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Monday.
If there was any uncertainty to his meaning: “I doubt if we’re going to see something like that in the reasonably foreseeable future,” he added.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Nursing home staff shortages are worsening problems at overwhelmed hospitals (Washington Post)
- Flight attendants fume as CDC gives airlines what they want on quarantine change (Politico)
- 10 lessons I’ve learned from the Covid–19 pandemic (Stat)
STATE BY STATE
- Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says he has no plans to get COVID-19 booster shot (The Oklahoman)
- Omicron is sidelining even health care workers as it rips through Texas (Texas Tribune)
- Providence mandates vaccines for city employees, ending testing alternative (Providence Journal)
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Wednesday.
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