COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
CDC says fully vaccinated Americans no longer need masks indoors or outdoors in many cases
The relaxation of restrictions incentivizes people to get the shots and helps pave the way for a full reopening of society.

Americans who are fully vaccinated can go without masks or physical distancing in many cases, even when they are indoors or in large groups, federal officials said Thursday, paving the way for a full reopening of society.

The change represents a huge shift symbolically and practically for pandemic-weary Americans, millions of whom have lived with the restrictions for more than a year. A growing number have complained they cannot do more even after being fully vaccinated and criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for being overly cautious. More than 154 million Americans have had at least one shot and 117 million are fully vaccinated, about 35 percent of the population.

“We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing. “Based on the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines and our understanding of how the virus spreads, that moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.”

Walensky cited a growing body of real-world evidence demonstrating the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines and noted the shots offer protection even against more contagious variants circulating in the United States. She also noted the rarity of breakthrough infections in those who are fully vaccinated and the lesser severity of the relatively few infections that have occurred.

She did leave open the possibility that the restrictions could return should the pandemic worsen. “This past year has shown us that this virus can be unpredictable,” she said.

Updated CDC Mask Guidelines
The relaxation of masking does not apply to airplanes, buses, trains and other public transportation, to health-care settings, or where state or local restrictions still require them, Walensky said. Officials also noted that some business settings may require masks, especially since some workers may remain unvaccinated.
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Biden Celebrates New C.D.C. Mask Guidance

President Biden applauded new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows Americans who are fully vaccinated to stop wearing masks for most indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Just a few hours ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the C.D.C., announced that they are no longer recommending that fully vaccinated people need wear masks. This recommendation holds true, whether you are inside or outside. I think it’s a great milestone, a great day. It’s been made possible by the extraordinary success we’ve had in vaccinating so many Americans so quickly. The C.D.C. is saying they have concluded that fully vaccinated people are at a very, very low risk of getting Covid-19. Therefore, if you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. But if you’ve not been vaccinated or if you’re getting a two-shot vaccine and you’ve not gotten your, you only had your first shot, but not your second, or you haven’t waited the full two weeks after your second shot, you still need to wear a mask. Look, we’ve gotten this far. Please protect yourself.
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Nancy Pelosi is keeping a mask mandate on the House floor despite CDC guidance and pushback from Republicans
  • The CDC announced Thursday vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most settings.
  • Biden relaxed mask rules at the White House, but Pelosi said she's keeping a mandate in the House.
  • Republicans urged her to drop the rule and "show the country we can resume normal life through vaccination."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that she would continue requiring masks to be worn on the House floor, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidance.

... Pelosi instituted a mask mandate in the chamber in July, after some Republican members refused to wear one. The Senate does not have a mask requirement.

... Despite the CDC's relaxed guidelines, private businesses and workplaces may continue to require customers or employees to wear masks.
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Biden announces $7.4 billion to hire more public health workers amid pandemic
The funding could give much needed boost to crumbling U.S. public health infrastructure

The Biden administration said it plans to invest $7.4 billion of the latest federal relief package to hire more public health workers, including disease specialists and school nurses. Some of the funding will also go toward expanding the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, which helps contain disease outbreaks. The spending is meant to boost the nation's lackluster public health infrastructure after health departments demonstrated last year that they are poorly positioned to carry out day-to-day functions, much less respond to a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.

... In the years before the pandemic struck, local public health agencies had lost almost a quarter of their overall workforce since 2008 — a reduction of almost 60,000 workers, according to national associations of health officials. The agencies’ main source of federal funding — the CDC’s emergency preparedness budget — had been cut 30 percent since 2003.

A new report published this month by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health found that the underfunding of U.S. public health played an outsized role in the country’s disastrous response.

In the wake of the pandemic, America has spent trillions of dollars. Much of that could have saved if the nation had just spent a few billion more on public health in the previous years, the report found.

“Unfortunately, a pattern has emerged: the country temporarily pays attention to public health investment when there is a crisis and then moves on when the emergency passes,” the report concluded. “This boom-bust cycle has left the nation’s public health infrastructure on weak footing.”

Among the report’s recommendations is that Congress establish an annual, regularly occurring $4.5 billion infusion to public health to prepare for future crises, including the next pandemic.
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A maskless airline passenger blew his nose into a blanket. He now faces a $10,500 fine.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced this week that it had proposed a civil penalty of $10,500 against a JetBlue passenger whose disruptive behavior on a flight included coughing and blowing his nose into a blanket.

“The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly ignored, and was abusive to, flight attendants who instructed him to wear a face mask,” the agency said in a news release. “The passenger’s disruptive behavior diverted flight crew members from their duties.”

It was just the latest such announcement from the FAA, which has been cracking down on passengers who refuse to wear masks and otherwise disrupt crew members.

Airlines have reported about 1,300 cases of unruly passengers to the FAA since February, a huge spike compared to earlier years. The agency said recently it had identified “potential violations” in about 260 cases and had notified passengers of enforcement in about 20 cases. “A number of additional enforcement actions” were in the works, the FAA said.

In March, the agency extended a zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers that was first announced in January. The Transportation Security Administration last month extended its mask orders for people in airports and on airplanes, trains and buses through September.

After the FAA proposes a civil penalty, a passenger can take several actions in response. Options include simply paying the fine, requesting a lower penalty, demonstrating they can’t afford to pay, trying to prove the violation didn’t happen, asking to discuss the case with the agency or requesting a hearing with an administrative law judge. Passengers have 30 days after receiving a letter about a penalty to respond.

The incident that prompted the $10,500 fine happened on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles on Dec. 27. While the FAA did not identify the passenger, JetBlue said at the time that it had banned rapper Lil Pump for refusing to wear a mask during a flight on that date and route.

The performer has railed against mask mandates and said he does not “believe in corona.” He could not be reached for comment about the penalty.

According to the news release this week, the FAA also proposed a $9,000 penalty against a passenger who was flying from Los Angeles to Newark on March 16. That passenger’s disruptive behavior allegedly started while he was boarding.

“He yelled, slammed overhead bins, and shouted profanities at the cabin crew, including threatening to harass a flight attendant during the entire flight,” the release said. The passenger also cursed at the captain, the FAA said, and was escorted out of the terminal by law enforcement.

It is against federal law to interfere with airline crew, or assault or threaten crew members. Passengers can face civil penalties, criminal fines or imprisonment.

“It’s not permissible and we will not tolerate interfering with a flight crew in the performance of their safety duties,” FAA administrator Steve Dickson told NBC News recently. “Period.”
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9,000 employees sick as COVID overwhelms Arkansas workplaces
Poultry giant Tyson Foods Inc., the third-largest employer in Arkansas, reported 2,866 COVID-19 cases at its workplaces, nearly one-third of the state’s 9,065 sickened workers across all industries from May 19, 2020, to April 8, 2021, according to an analysis of Arkansas Department of Health data.

The state health department publishes COVID-19 occupational illness reports that show businesses with five or more active cases. In less than one year, Tyson had 281 appearances in these reports. Comparatively, Walmart Inc., the largest employer in the state, had two appearances that totaled 12 sick workers.

Of Tyson’s 21 major locations in Arkansas, four have not appeared in the state’s data during the pandemic. Near the company’s headquarters in northwest Arkansas, the Tyson location on Berry Street in Springdale reported 416 COVID-19 cases, the most of any company workplace in the data.

... In working conditions that stress a quick turnaround on products and have close contact between employees, workers told they were put at risk for catching COVID-19. Legal-aid attorneys and worker-advocacy groups said the state regulatory structure was overwhelmed by the pandemic. That, combined with a weak union presence, led to a failure to provide adequate protections for struggling workers.

“We got a fair number of calls from workers who were really worried about going back to an unsafe working condition,” said Kevin De Liban, director of advocacy for Legal Aid of Arkansas. The state does not have many protections for low-wage workers, which has led to employers taking advantage of their staff, he said.

... Interviews with workers and advocacy groups revealed a fear of balancing the need to make a living against possible virus exposures in the workplace.

“It’s not easy to see so many of your coworkers become sick and know that some of them have even died,” said a worker for Tyson’s Chick-N-Quick in Rogers, Arkansas. The Spanish-speaking worker did not want to be identified due to concerns of workplace retaliation.

This employee spent the last year working with the fear of infecting their family, similar to eight other Arkansas workers interviewed for this story. Every poultry employee interviewed said their workplace’s management did not formally tell them about sick coworkers.

“It’s sad and difficult because you don’t know if the next person is going to be you or bring the sickness home with you, and then possibly infect your wife and children,” the worker said.

Workers agreed that lack of communication concerning sick colleagues was a problem, but some expressed support for the efforts to contain COVID-19 made by Tyson and other companies.
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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia