Health Care

Overnight Health Care: CDC study says double masking works | House Democrats propose multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief package | Industry groups back ObamaCare reforms proposed by Democrats

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Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care. It’s been almost a year since many people started working remotely, yet some are still facing the occasional struggle transitioning to virtual life.

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A new study from the CDC shows the importance of face masks fitting correctly, House Democrats unveiled their COVID relief bill, and there’s a new health industry coalition backing some familiar proposals to shore up the Affordable Care Act. 

We’ll start with the CDC:

Double masking works, says CDC study

Masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is something health officials have been saying with some regularity since last April. 

But as a way to avoid infection from new variants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered some new suggestions based on a new study. One is wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask. The other involves looping and tucking to make a surgical-style mask fit tighter.

CDC researchers experimenting in a lab found that the better the fit of the mask, the better the protection it provides. 

The agency’s directions on forming a tight fit are a bit complicated, but knotting the ear loops of a surgical mask and tucking in the sides close to the face can reduce exposure to infectious aerosols by 95 percent. So can wearing two masks.

The agency also said that if a medical procedure mask is worn alone, using a “mask fitter” or wearing a sleeve made of sheer nylon hosiery over either a cloth or medical procedure mask also significantly improved the wearer’s protection.

What’s changing: Essentially, nothing. “I want to be clear that these new scientific data released today do not change the specific recommendations about who should wear a mask or when they should wear one,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said. Updated guidance notes that double masking or wearing a tightly fitted surgical mask are two of the best ways to boost protection against exposure, but it doesn’t outright tell people to wear two masks. 

Not every mask is the same: The CDC said if people choose to wear two masks, the best bet is a cloth mask over a surgical-style mask. But without much explanation, CDC also said not to combine an N95-style respirator with any other type of mask, or wear two respirators. Also, the study was limited and results may vary. The experiments were conducted in a lab, not in a real-world setting, with just one type of medical procedure mask and one type of cloth mask.

Read more here.


House Democrats propose multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief package

House Democrats proposed a multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill that would boost investments in public health, vaccines, testing and health care services for the poor.

The proposal from the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over health care, largely mirrors portions of the framework for a COVID-19 relief package and other proposals released by President Biden, with more funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and expansion of Medicaid to more groups of people.

“As new variants of the virus emerge, it is vital that Congress act quickly to provide relief to the American people and the resources and support needed to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).

The bill includes: 

  • Incentives for states to expand Medicaid to more groups of people, including postpartum women, prisoners 30 days before release and more low-income adults.
  • $8.5 billion for the CDC for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, promotion, administration and monitoring, including $1 billion for education campaigns that dispel concerns about the vaccine. 
  • $5.2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to support the research, development, manufacturing and purchasing of vaccines, treatments and other medical products needed for the COVID response. 
  • $46 billion for HHS to implement a national testing and contact tracing strategy and support those efforts at state and local levels.
  • Billions of dollars to support the public health workforce, community health centers, and grant programs responding to substance abuse prevention, treatment and mental health issues.

Read more here.


Health care industry groups back ObamaCare reforms proposed by Democrats

Powerful interests in the health-care industry united behind a set of proposals Wednesday that they argued would achieve universal insurance coverage, an apparent endorsement of similar plans offered by congressional Democrats and President Biden to build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Groups representing health insurance plans, doctors, hospitals and businesses endorsed policies favored by Democrats that would expand financial assistance to consumers to cover premium costs for ACA plans and incentivize states to expand Medicaid to more low-income adults.

Many of the proposals endorsed by the groups have already been included in COVID-19 relief bills released by House committees this week and House-passed legislation from last year to shore up the ACA.

Why it matters: These proposals would be beneficial to the health-care industry while others that are gaining steam among Democrats, like Medicare for All and a public option, are not. By endorsing policies the industry says would achieve “universal coverage,” they’re trying to steer the conversation away from other proposals they don’t support. 

Read more here.


Cuomo announces New York arenas, venues can reopen Feb. 23

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Wednesday that arenas and venues in the state will be allowed to reopen on Feb. 23 — including indoors — with strict coronavirus prevention guidelines in place for events, including rapid testing.

First up is the Barclays Center, which Cuomo said has been approved to reopen on Feb. 23 for the Brooklyn Nets home game against the Sacramento Kings. 

He said the success of that game, and similar events in approved venues over the coming weeks, will help inform the reopening process for smaller venues in the future.

Face coverings will be mandated, and all staff and spectators will be required to receive a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event. Venues will also have a 10 percent capacity limit.

“While we continue to fight COVID on multiple fronts, we must also get this economy re-opened intelligently and in a balanced way,” Cuomo said in a statement. 

Reality: The pandemic is not over. Cases and hospitalizations are down compared to their peak, but experts are expecting a new wave as more contagious variants become the dominant strains. The CDC still recommends avoiding large crowds, and being indoors with people outside your household. Arenas and concert venues would fit both descriptions. Also, a negative test 72 hours beforehand does not necessarily mean that a person will still be negative the day of the event. 

Read more here


Two-thirds dissatisfied with vaccine rollout: Gallup 

Two-thirds of Americans surveyed in a new Gallup poll expressed dissatisfaction with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.  

The survey determined that 66 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the vaccination distribution and administration process as responsibility for the initiative transferred to the Biden administration. More than one-fifth of participants — at 21 percent — said they were very dissatisfied.  

A total of 34 percent of Americans reported satisfaction with the vaccination rollout, with 4 percent saying they were very satisfied.

The pace of the vaccine rollout has sped up in recent weeks, but it’s been plagued with red tape, complicated signups and supply shortages.

Republicans were split on the issue, with 51 percent expressing dissatisfaction and 49 percent saying they were satisfied with the process. Majorities of Democrats and independents said they were dissatisfied with the process, at 79 percent and 63 percent, respectively. 

Read more here.


More mass vaccination sites opening

The Biden administration is partnering with Texas to help open new mass vaccination sites in Houston, Dallas and Arlington. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said those areas are some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. The sites are NRG Stadium in Houston, home of the Houston Texans, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, where the Dallas Cowboys play, and Ferris Plaza Park in Dallas.

Together, these sites will be capable of administering more than 10,000 shots in arms a day, and will begin operating the week of Feb. 22.

Additionally, the administration will open two community vaccination centers in New York to help underserved communities. 

The sites, which will open the week of Feb. 24, will be located at York College in Queens and at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said at a press briefing. Each site will be able to administer 3,000 shots a day, which will come directly from the federal government.

The announcements follow the news from last week that the administration will be helping California open two mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles. 

President Biden said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would help states open 100 such sites within his first 30 days.


Virtual Event Announcement:

Thursday 2/11 at 1:00 PM ET–COVID-19 & The Opioid Epidemic

In the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis, the opioid epidemic still rages across the nation. According to the AMA, more than “40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder.” Could increased access to medication for opioid use disorder be a turning point in this epidemic? How can we address disparities in treatment and get all Americans the help they need? Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and a panel of experts join The Hill’s Steve Clemons to discuss how the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the opioid epidemic and the path to saving lives. RSVP today


What we’re reading

More Americans say they’re willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine, but supply issues remain (

As CDC weighs coronavirus testing requirement for domestic flights, industry voices fierce opposition (Washington Post)

How Merck, a vaccine titan, lost the Covid race (New York Times)


State by state

Three FEMA-run vaccination sites aimed at underserved Texans to open later this month, Abbott says (Texas Tribune) 

Wasted COVID vaccines in Massachusetts are a ‘missed opportunity,’ Baker says (CBS 4

White House looks at domestic travel restrictions as COVID mutation surges in Florida (Miami Herald) 


Op-eds in The Hill

To ramp up COVID vaccine distribution, empower the nation’s health students

Full COVID recovery requires raising the minimum wage 

Tags Andrew Cuomo Jeff Zients Joe Biden Rob Portman Rochelle Walensky Sheldon Whitehouse

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