Overnight Health Care — White House sticks by school mask mandates
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The bells at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., tolled 900 times this evening to mark the 900,000 people who died from COVID-19.
As some Democratic-led states move to remove school mask requirements, the White House is standing firm.
Let’s get started.
Federal guidance steady as some states shift
The White House stood by the guidance on mask mandates in schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) despite some states aiming to remove face covering requirements in classrooms.
“We recommend masking in schools. That is the recommendation from the CDC. It is also true that at some point when the science and the data warrants, of course, our hope is that is no longer the recommendation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.
Democratic governors moving: Both New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) have announced they will end mask mandates for students in March. Psaki did not answer when asked if the White House stands by the governors’ decisions to lift mandates.
“Our advice to every school district is to abide by public health guidelines. It continues to be at this point that the CDC is advising that masks can delay, reduce transmission,” Psaki said. “It’s always been up to local school districts to determine how they implement.”
“It’s always been up to school districts. That’s always been our point of view and always been our policy from here,” she added.
She said that the White House has constant internal discussions when asked if there will be a road map for states to eventually transition out of mask mandates. She said the White House is constantly communicating with the CDC on its guidance.
Experts open door to lifting mask rules
As the spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant wanes, some experts say it is time to start lifting more restrictions, setting up a heated debate, particularly over mask mandates in schools.
People are exhausted with the pandemic after roughly two years, and health advocates warn that pandemic rules cannot last forever.
“We cannot remain in a perpetual state of emergency,” said Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University. “People burn out.”
Many aspects of life have already returned to something like normal. Bars and restaurants are open and packed across the country, and countless travel restrictions have been lifted.
But some locations, including New York and Washington, D.C., still have mask mandates for the general public, and in schools, mask requirements are more common.
Key protection from vaccines: Vaccinations remain as the key source of protection. People who are vaccinated and boosted have strong protection against severe disease, even if there is still a chance they get mild illness.
Wen noted that school-age children 5 and up can now all be vaccinated.
MULTIPLE PEOPLE ARRESTED AT ‘FREEDOM CONVOY’ PROTESTS
Canadian authorities have arrested multiple people in Ottawa who were part of a “Freedom Convoy” protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
In a statement Sunday, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) said it has launched 60 criminal investigations from the protests, stemming from mischief, property crimes and thefts all the way to hate crimes.
According to The Washington Post, Ottawa Police said they have made seven arrests in relation to property damage and other acts of “mischief” as of Sunday evening.
Police also said that multiple vehicles and fuel have been seized during the protests, according to the statement.
Authorities also issued more than 500 tickets over the weekend for notices such as “excessive honking” and seat belt violations, the Post reported.
“More than 100 Highway Traffic Act and other Provincial Offence Notices were issued including excessive honking, driving the wrong way, defective muffler, no seat belt, alcohol readily available and having the improper class of driving licence,” OPS said in its statement.
AUSTRALIA TO REOPEN BORDERS TO VACCINATED VISITORS
Australia plans to reopen its borders for vaccinated international tourists within two weeks, The Associated Press reported.
In a statement on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he and his Cabinet have agreed to reopen the border for vaccinated individuals on Feb. 21.
Morrison referred in his statement to last month’s controversy surrounding Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, who was deported by Australian authorities due to not being vaccinated against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“Events earlier in the year should have sent a very clear message, I think, to everyone around the world that that is the requirement to enter into Australia,” Morrison said.
Since March 2020, Australia has imposed some of the world’s toughest virus restrictions on its citizens, while limiting foreign travelers to skilled immigrants and some seasonal workers.
When its borders reopen later this month, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said visitors can also apply for a travel exemption if they prove a medical reason why they could not be vaccinated, according to the AP.
White House gets set for cautious pivot
The White House is preparing to pivot on the pandemic — but with a different approach than the July 4 celebration last summer that some have subsequently criticized as premature.
At the Independence Day event, President Biden declared near “independence” from COVID-19.
What followed were the delta and omicron variants, which caused spikes in cases and hospitalizations, contributing to the COVID-19 fatigue that has been a factor in declining approval numbers for President Biden.
The omicron variant is showing signs of fading: coronavirus cases are on the decline across the country. The White House is signaling that the new phase is about being able to live with the virus.
But there is caution in Democratic circles after the bad turns from last summer and fall.
What’s next: Biden administration officials haven’t said much publicly about their plans and have made clear they’re still focused on ushering the country through the current surge of the pandemic.
It’s also unclear whether or when Biden himself plans to outline the way forward in the pandemic. White House officials and health experts say the country still has some time before reaching some kind of “new normal.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Bounties and bonuses leave small hospitals behind in staffing wars (Kaiser Health News)
- Walking again after paralysis: Early study suggests stimulation could jolt spinal cord back to life (Stat)
- A new attitude toward the pandemic seems to be taking shape. But we’ve been here before (Washington Post)
STATE BY STATE
- California will lift mask mandate for vaccinated residents in indoor public places next week (LA Times)
- COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining in Minnesota (Star Tribune)
- Keep those masks on, Colorado health officials say, even as COVID picture improves: “We have a long way to come down” (Denver Post)
OP-EDS IN THE HILL
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Tuesday.