Overnight Health Care – The White House increases mask availability

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Supply chain problems even affect Girl Scouts who have trouble filling orders for their latest cookie.

In addition to testing moves, there is now a new push in the White House to also distribute masks, with the Biden administration planning to make millions of masks available for free.

For The Hill we are Peter Sullivan (psullivan@thehill.com) and Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @ PeterSullivan4 and @NateWeixel.

Let’s get started.

400 million N95 masks must be available

The White House announced on Wednesday that it is making 400 million N95 masks available for free, part of a series of actions aimed at combating the growing omicron variant.

The masks will be available for collection at “tens of thousands of local pharmacies” as well as thousands of health centers, the White House said. The masks will start shipping later this week and will start being available late next week before they are “fully up and running” in early February.

Making high quality masks more accessible has been one of the areas where President BidenJoe BidenBiden says he will not ‘promise’ Finland’s prime minister promises ‘extremely harsh’ sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO’s enlargement ban is acceptable MORE has been under pressure to increase efforts against the virus.

Dens. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema White House to make 400 million N95 masks available for free MORE (I-Vt.) And more than 50 Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill last week, for example, to send three N95 masks to every person in the United States

Warning: Similar to action on testing, experts say the Biden administration should have acted months ago to make high-quality masks more accessible, but the new steps are still progress.

The masks will be deployed from the strategic national warehouse, which currently has more than 750 million N95 masks, tripling the number in January 2021, the White House said.

Why they are needed: Experts have intensified the calls for people to wear higher quality masks like N95s, which provide much better protection than simple fabric masks, especially in light of the highly transferable omicron variant.

Read more here.

CDC: Previous infection more protective of delta

Vaccinated Americans with previous COVID-19 infections had the highest protection against hospitalization and re-infection from the delta variant, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday.

The study found that protection against re-infection and hospitalization increased significantly among both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals who had previously recovered from COVID-19, in the period before the delta variant emerged, after it became the dominant strain in the United States.

Previous infection provided better protection than vaccination alone, the study found.

The study is likely to provide further nourishment to those people who insist that natural immunity is just as protective and who will not be vaccinated because they have been infected with COVID-19 at some point.

Main reservations: While the investigation period ranged from the time before delta took over until it was the dominant variant, data ends in November before omicron took over. The CDC also noted that the analysis did not include information on the severity of the initial infection and does not reflect the risk of serious illness or death due to a COVID-19 infection.

CDC conclusion: “We know that vaccination remains the safest strategy to protect against Covid-19,” said Benjamin Silk, a CDC epidemiologist and one of the authors.

Read more here.

STARBUCKS ENDS VACCINE REQUIREMENTS

Starbucks scraps its COVID-19 vaccine claim for U.S. workers after the Supreme Court blocked Biden’s administration’s vaccine or test mandate for large employers last week.

“We respect the court’s decision and will comply,” Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver wrote in a note sent to employees Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Culver said in the memo that the Seattle company will continue to strongly urge its employees to get their vaccines and booster shots, according to the AP.

This turnaround comes after Starbucks announced earlier this month that it would enforce a vaccine-or-test mandate for the company’s 220,000 U.S. employees. The original order required workers to be vaccinated by February 9 or undergo weekly tests.

Culver said at the time that “the vaccine is by far the best option we have when it comes to staying safe and slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against the Biden administration’s vaccine or test mandate for large employers, blocking it from coming into force while other legal challenges play out.

Read more here.

Senate Democrats are calling for pricing

Two Democratic senators are urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate reports on pricing COVID-19 tests at home.

“As media reports continue to expose price spills and fraud in connection with home test kits, we strongly urge the FTC to act as necessary and use its full authority to investigate the situation and hold bad actors accountable without delay,” writes Sens. Ed MarkeyEd Markey Senate Democrats Call for Examination of Reported Price Cut for COVID-19 Test Bidens FDA Nominees Move Through Senate Central Committee Overnight Energy & Environment – Manchin Raises Hope for Climate Expense MORE (Mass.) And Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) In a letter to the FTC Chair Lina KhanLina Khan Senate Democrats Call for Investigation into Reported Price Leakage for COVID-19 Tests Hillicon Valley – 5G Delayed Again Near On The Money Airports – US Regulators Go After Illegal Mergers MORE. “No one should be allowed to reap a winner and fraudulently exploit fear and human suffering.”

The letter comes amid broader concerns about the price and availability of quick tests at home, a key tool to combat the pandemic.

Experts have long lamented that a package of two tests can cost more than $ 20 in the US, while quick tests are often free or a few dollars in Europe.

Markey also wrote to leading manufacturers and retailers of COVID-19 tests urging them to lower their prices. He said a test can cost as little as $ 2 to make, but often sells for $ 12 or more.

He also raised concerns that retailers appreciate the tests and called for them to be sold at cost price.

Read more here.

NEW MEXICO CALLS NATIONALGARDEN

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico convenes National Guard to staff schools, child care centers. Democrats are eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi leaves White House asks governors to name infrastructure coordinators MORE (D) on Wednesday announced a “supportive teachers and families” initiative to encourage state workers and members of the National Guard to help in schools affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.

In a press release Wednesday, the governor said “extreme staff shortages due to an increase in COVID-19 cases” prompted the initiative.

Specifically, the program encourages state workers and members of the National Guard to volunteer to be authorized as substitute teachers prior to K-12 or as child care workers so that they can be available to assist with personal learning and child care.

“Our schools are a critical source of stability for our children – we know they learn better in the classroom and thrive among their peers,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

The governor’s announcement noted that many schools in the state have been forced to move toward distance education, as staff members have either tested positive for the virus or been required to isolate due to exposure.

Read more here.

WHAT WE READ

  • After Omicron we could well take a break. We can only get it (State)
  • How many healthcare professionals are vaccinated? It’s someone’s guess (Politico)
  • PCR vs. antigen: What test should you take after taking Covid-19 (CNN)

STATE BY STATE

  • Massachusetts child care programs will receive free fast COVID tests later this month, Gov. Charlie Baker (Mass Live) announces
  • Iowa sets new one-week record for COVID cases, nearly 1,000 in hospitals (Des Moines Register)
  • 15-week abortion ban passes first test in Florida Legislature (Orlando Sentinel)
  • Omicron rise appears to have peaked in Illinois, but officials are urging continued caution as hospitals remain stressed (Chicago Tribune)

OP-EDS IN THE SLOPE

Let’s stop saying ‘breakthrough cases’ – it does not help

That was it for today, thank you for reading along. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. I’ll see you tomorrow.

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