On Tuesday, President Joe Biden addressed the nation in an attempt to calm fears about skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and overwhelmed hospitals across the country. The president leaned on the vaccine for mitigating hospitalization rates as the cases continue to surge due to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.
We have in hand all the vaccines we need to get every American fully vaccinated, including the booster shot. So, there is no excuse — no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the president also took this opportunity to announce that the number of unvaccinated adult Americans had fallen to 35 million from 90 million in the last six months.
According to U.S. News, the chief medical advisor to the President of the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci also held a conference with state governors, advising that Americans should “not be complacent” despite evidence that the Omicron variant carries reduced symptomatic severity.
Congress’s attending physician, Brian P. Monahan, wrote a letter to congressional leaders encouraging “maximal telework posture” due to an “unprecedented” number of COVID-19 cases at the Capitol. Associated Press reports that the seven-day average rate of infection at the Capitol’s testing center has grown from less than 1% to more than 13%.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requested additional 65 military personnel for health care facilities in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania that are having difficulty meeting demands of increased COVID-19 patients in hospitals. According to Stars and Stripes, the deployment will include nurses, respiratory therapists and some medical doctors.
Israel has authorized a second COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for individuals with weakened immune systems, according to Metro. From Prime Minister Naftali Bennett:
Israel’s strategy for overcoming Omicron is clear: the greater the wave, the greater the protection we will need to overcome it.
Employer-based Vaccine Mandates
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidance and survey procedures for the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers in states where it is not already blocked. The guidance, released on December 28, outlines enforcement action thresholds, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. A CMS spokesperson also told Becker’s that facilities in states that have signed onto a lawsuit enjoining the rule’s enforcement will not be expected to comply, but will apply to facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs in the remaining 25 states, Washington, D.C. and the territories.
Last week, the Republican states that joined the lawsuit argued to the Supreme Court of the United States that the remaining states should also not be forced to comply with the CMS mandate. From the Republican brief, via Bloomberg News:
The Secretary [of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra] seeks an extraordinary stay to undo that necessary remedy and immediately reimpose the mandate, creating confusion, causing a logistical nightmare, and unleashing the ‘prevalent, tangible, and irremediable’ harm that the injunction forestalls. The lower courts got it right.
Two U.S. Senators, Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), introduced a resolution to halt the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers under the Congressional Review Act. According to Sen. Blackburn’s press release, 30 Republican Senators signed on in support of the resolution including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
National leading labor organizations including AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a permanent standard that requires employers to protect healthcare workers against COVID-19. According to National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the country, the unions petitioned the court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering OSHA to offer the permanent standard and that it should be:
… aimed at protecting the life and health of the millions of nurses and other frontline health care workers throughout the United States in grave danger fro the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
The American Medical Association (AMA) filed an amicus brief to SCOTUS regarding the OSHA emergency temporary standard (ETS) requiring vaccinations for all employees of businesses that employ more than 100 persons. The AMA brief was joined by 15 other medical associations. From the brief:
The statistics on COVID-19 vaccine efficacy speak for themselves. No other measure has been shown to reduce the risk of infection, hospitalization, and death to the degree that vaccination does. The science is clear: no arguments against the need for vaccination are medically valid, other than to accommodate a medical contraindication.
CDC Justifies Its Confusing Recommendation
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained the scientific rationale for shortening COVID-19 isolation and quarantine recommendations. Last week, the CDC shortened the recommended isolation time following COVID-19 diagnosis or suspected infection from ten days to five. Associated Press reports that the CDC maintained that testing is not required to emerge from five days of isolation and should only end if a person has been “fever-free” for at least 24 hours.
The CDC said the changes were in keeping with evidence that people are most contagious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop. The new guidance applies to school children as well as adults.