Overnight Health Care — CDC unveils long-awaited new mask guidance

Welcome to Friday's Overnight Health Care, where we're following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

If you've been following the sage of Hank the Tank, the 500-pound bear breaking into homes near Lake Tahoe, apparently DNA evidence shows not just one but three bears are responsible.

The CDC's highly awaited new mask guidance came today, so let's get into it.

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

Let's get started.

CDC eases mask guidance

The long-awaited guidance is finally here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday significantly eased its mask recommendations, including for schools, as part of updated guidance for dealing with COVID-19.

Under the new guidelines, more than 70 percent of the U.S. population is in an area with "low" or "medium" COVID-19 community level, meaning masks are not recommended for the general public.

In areas with a "high" level - currently about 30 percent of the U.S. population - masks would still be recommended in public indoor settings, and under the "medium" level, people at higher risk are encouraged to talk to their doctor about wearing a mask.

Masking in schools has been an area of particularly heated debate. Under the new guidelines, universal masking in schools is now only recommended in areas with a "high" level.

The new guidelines are based more on preserving hospital capacity than the previous metrics, which focused on sheer case numbers, a reflection of a new phase of dealing with the pandemic as the wave of omicron infections has declined.


The new guidance received praise from many experts.

"The United States has reached an important milestone in ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19," said Daniel McQuillen, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "As COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization rates in the United States continue to decline, IDSA supports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's update to its COVID-19 community guidance."

Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted the guidance was "well developed" and reflected "rising immunity in [the] population" and "declining overall risk."

Given the impact on schools, the move also got noteworthy praise from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

"We welcome these long-needed new metrics for a safe off-ramp from universal masking," she said in a statement. "The CDC's guidance is informed by science, not politics, and sets us on a path to a new normal in schools and other public places."

Read more here.

Study: 5M kids have lost parent, caregiver

A study newly published in The Lancet medical journal shows that from March 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, about 5.2 million children globally lost a parent or guardian to COVID-19.

The study does not include deaths related to the omicron variant of COVID-19, which would likely increase the number of children who have lost a parent to the virus.

Of the parents who died of COVID-19, about 77 percent of them were fathers, or male guardians, compared to about 23 percent of mothers, or female caregivers, lost, the study reports.

The estimates were reached by gathering data available on COVID-19 mortality from 21 countries - including the United States, Brazil, England, Russia, Mexico, France, Italy, Kenya, and more - which represent 76 percent of coronavirus deaths, in order for the researchers to "model global minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death."

Grandparents were included as caregivers in the study as the researchers acknowledged the pivotal role that grandparents play in children's lives, especially in lower-income settings. Children who live in households that home extended family members, including grandparents, is about 40 percent worldwide and almost 50 percent in the Asia-Pacific, the study notes.

Read more here.


Rare Disease Treatments: Regulatory and Policy Reform--Monday, Feb. 28; 12:00 PM ET/9:00 AM PT

Scientific advances are making new treatments possible for some of the more than 7,000 rare diseases that currently impact one in ten Americans. Yet, some advocates say current regulatory measures are holding back further progress and lack engagement with rare disease patients and experts. On World Rare Disease Day, join The Hill for a discussion on the nuances of regulatory reforms and the policy implications for Americans living with rare diseases. FDA's Dr. Janet Woodcock, Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and more sit down with The Hill's Steve Clemons.


New York City public schools will no longer require students and staff to wear masks outdoors on school property, though indoor mask mandates will remain in place.

Local news outlet NY1 reported that the new policy will go into effect on Monday and will allow students and staff to remove their masks during outdoor activities such as gym class or recess.

"Throughout the pandemic, our schools have remained some of the safest spaces for our students and staff, thanks to our gold standard health and safety protocol," New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks said in a statement, according to NY1. "I am so pleased that we are able to make this exciting announcement and safely allow students and staff to remove their masks when outdoors at NYC public schools."

NY1 reported that New York schools had previously required all staff and students to keep their masks on at all times on school grounds, even if they were outdoors. In recent months, parents have questioned the requirement, noting that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance has said that people do not generally need to wear masks in outdoor settings.

Read more here.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized the first-ever condom intended for safe anal intercourse.

Authorization of the One Male Condom is expected to help reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS in both anal and vaginal intercourse, the FDA said in a press release.

"The risk of STI transmission during anal intercourse is significantly higher than during vaginal intercourse. The FDA's authorization of a condom that is specifically indicated, evaluated and labeled for anal intercourse may improve the likelihood of condom use during anal intercourse," said Courtney Lias, the director of the FDA's Office of GastroRenal, ObGyn, General Hospital, and Urology Devices in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

"Furthermore, this authorization helps us accomplish our priority to advance health equity through the development of safe and effective products that meet the needs of diverse populations," Lias continued.

The One Male Condom is produced by the Global Protection Corp and is available in dozens of sizes and fits.

Read more here.


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Expert says US isn't ready for next pandemic

An infectious disease expert warned Friday that the United States isn't ready for the next pandemic, adding that it's easy for Americans to become "shortsighted and exhausted" by current conditions.

Céline Gounder, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, told The Hill during its "America's Report Card" event that the U.S. is vulnerable to future pandemics as new infectious diseases emerge across the world.

She added that though infections from the highly transmissible omicron variant have waned, the U.S. has not taken steps to prepare itself against future pandemics or the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.

"We get exhausted, we become short sighted, we don't build the necessary pandemic preparedness to protect ourselves and insulate and shield ourselves better for next time and there will be a next time," Gounder said.

To stop the emergence of future variants, Gounder believes the United States should invest in genomic surveillance and vaccination domestically and abroad.

"We tend to be fairly, frankly provisional in how we think about things here, but if you look at every single variant to date, those have emerged elsewhere around the world where there's been high levels of transmission and low levels of vaccination," Gounder said.

Read more here.


  • Catching a flight? You'll still need a mask despite the CDC's new guidance. (Washington Post)

  • C.D.C. Study Raises Questions About Agency's Isolation Guidelines (New York Times)

  • California warehouse manager wanted in theft of $1 million worth of COVID tests (CBS)


  • Florida's new coronavirus guidance: 'Buck the CDC' (Associated Press)

  • N.J. sees record number enroll in Obamacare plans, gov says (Associated Press)

  • Last ditch Medicaid expansion effort coming in Wyoming Senate (KPVI)

That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Monday.

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