Wednesday, January 19, 2022 – Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News Original Stories
5 Things You Should Know About ‘Free’ At-Home Covid Tests
Telling insurance companies to pay for rapid covid-19 tests is just the latest covid-related cost the federal government expects them to bear. But who really ends up paying for it? (Damon Darlin, 1/19)
HHS Proposal for Marketplace Plans Carries a Hefty Dose of Consumer Caution
The Department of Health and Human Services issued preliminary rules regarding health insurance marketplaces that aim to deter fraudulent sign-ups for coverage. Experts say the agency’s action indicates a problem exists. (Julie Appleby, 1/19)
Buffy Wicks Turns Her Health History Into Legislation
Assembly member who represents Oakland, is digging into abortion, vaccines and homelessness and drawing on her own health care experiences as she drafts bills. (Rachel Bluth, 1/19)
Here's today's health policy haiku:
Why abortion laws?
Why not to just trust women?
They care for themselves
– Catherine DeLorey
If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.
Pandemic Policymaking
You Can Order Free Covid Tests Now As Government's Beta Website Opens is set to officially launch mid-morning Wednesday, though the site was quietly made available the day before to identify bugs — which a good number of users reported, particularly those who live in multi-dwelling buildings. Delivery of ordered test kits are expected to begin by the end of the month.
NPR: Free COVID Test Kits Are Now Available To Order Via USPS
The U.S. Postal Service has begun taking orders for free at-home coronavirus test kits. The website was originally slated to begin taking orders on Wednesday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the site is in the "beta testing" stage and "will be launched formally tomorrow morning [Wednesday]." Each household order will contain four rapid tests, which the Postal Service says will be shipped for free "in late January." The White House says it will prioritize shipments to Americans from ZIP codes that have experienced high rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, with the first 20% of each day's orders going to those areas. (Naylor, 1/18)
CNN: Website To Order Free Covid-19 Tests Is Up And Running
Given the formal launch wasn't expected until Wednesday, a White House official said this is only the beta phase to ensure the site works seamlessly. Omicron might mark the end of Covid-19's pandemic phase — unless a certain scenario happens, Fauci says "In alignment with website launch best practices, is currently in its beta phase, which means that the website is operating at limited capacity ahead of its official launch," a White House official told CNN. "This is standard practice to address troubleshooting and ensure as smooth of an official launch tomorrow as possible. We expect the website to officially launch mid-morning tomorrow." (Collins, Vazquez and Luhby, 1/18)
The Hill: How To Order Free Rapid COVID-19 Tests 
Any American can order rapid tests for free through the website, and they will be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. All that is required is a name and mailing address; no credit card information is needed. However, there are limits. Each residential address is limited to four tests. And the tests will usually take seven to 12 days to ship, the White House said. (Sullivan, 1/18)
AP: Website For Free Virus Tests Is Here. How Does It Work? 
Free tests can be ordered at or at The first tests will ship by the end of January. The White House says “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” through the U.S. Postal Service. USPS reports shipping times of 1-3 days for its first-class package service in the continental United States. Shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, Army Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO) and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) addresses will be sent through Priority Mail. (Miller and Superville, 1/19)
KHN: 5 Things You Should Know About ‘Free’ At-Home Covid Tests
Americans keep hearing that it is important to test frequently for covid-19 at home. But just try to find an “at-home” rapid covid test in a store and at a price that makes frequent tests affordable. Testing, as well as mask-wearing, is an important measure if the country ever hopes to beat covid, restore normal routines and get the economy running efficiently. To get Americans cheaper tests, the federal government now plans to have insurance companies pay for them. (Darlin, 1/19)
The rollout has some hiccups —
Politico: Biden Administration's Rapid Testing Website Hits Speed Bumps For Some Apartment Residents
Some residents in multi-unit dwellings tried to register to have tests delivered but received error messages saying tests already had been ordered for their address. An administration official said the problem was not widespread and that orders are being prioritized for people in areas facing disproportionate Covid-19 cases and deaths — the first 20 percent of test orders processed will be for people in vulnerable ZIP codes. (Leonard, 1/18)
CNBC: Some Americans Blocked From Ordering Biden's Free Covid Tests In Early Website Launch
Americans on Tuesday started placing orders for free Covid tests promised by the Biden administration after the federal government rolled out the website a day earlier than expected — with some complaining on social media that they were blocked from ordering the tests. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the website,, is in its testing phase and will officially launch Wednesday morning. Orders placed during the website’s testing phase Tuesday are valid and will be shipped, White House spokesman Kevin Munoz told CNBC. (Kimball, 1/18)
Price Gouging And Scams Bedevil Desperate Hunts For Covid Tests
Investigators and lawmakers try to tackle allegations of fraudulent or predatory businesses trying to cash in on the short supply of covid testing supplies during the omicron wave.
CBS News: Lawmakers Call For Investigation Into At-Home COVID Test Price Gouging 
Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into reports of price gouging surrounding over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 test kits. In a letter sent to FTC Chair Lina Khan Wednesday morning, the senators say the surging demand for at-home tests due to the Omicron variant is creating conditions that are "unfortunately ideal for predatory and profiteering behavior, including the sale of fraudulent test kits or charging exorbitant prices for those that are available." (Van Cleave, 1/19)
USA Today: How A Wedding Photographer And A Donut Shop Owner Got Millions In A COVID Testing Operation Now Under Investigation
The inquiries are focused on a nationwide chain of coronavirus testing sites known as the Center for COVID Control, under scrutiny by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Oregon Department of Justice and multiple state health departments. Test takers at the company's more than 300 locations across the USA have reported the sites to state and local authorities, saying they received delayed test results, no results or multiple conflicting results, among other concerns. The company has the Better Business Bureau's lowest customer review rating, and social media pages and Google reviews for the sites are filled with complaints. (Hauck, 1/17)
The New York Times: Scammers Pounce On Demand For Covid Testing In U.S., Officials Say
Federal and state officials warned this week of coronavirus testing scams that have taken advantage of the United States’ strained testing infrastructure and have left Americans with invalid test results, wrongful medical bills and overpriced at-home tests. Fraud related to the virus has persisted since the onset of the pandemic, but the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has created opportunities for scammers preying on the high demand for tests. (Holpuch, 1/18)
And studies show conflicting results about the efficacy of rapid tests on children —
CBS News: Rapid COVID-19 Tests Are Highly Accurate For Kids, Study Finds 
While PCR tests for COVID-19 have become the "gold standard" in detecting the virus, a new study says rapid tests are highly accurate when it comes to children and teens. The study, led by researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in collaboration with other institutions and published in MedRxiv, shows that rapid tests given to adolescents at school or at home has a similar accuracy to PCR tests. (O'Kane, 1/18)
Daily Mail Online: Covid Lateral Flow Tests Don't Work As Well On Children 
Covid lateral flow tests don't work as well on children, according to a study which casts doubt on whether they can curb the spread of the virus in schools.  All secondary school students in Britain are currently encouraged to do LFD tests at least twice a week.  But writing in the BMJ's Evidence-Based Medicine, experts said the rapid kits were not as effective as hoped in youngsters. (Ely, 1/18)
In other news about covid testing —
The Washington Post: The Public Library Is The Latest Place To Pick Up A Coronavirus Test. Librarians Are Overwhelmed
It was another busy day at the public library when a visitor walked up and stood close to the children’s librarian. “My roommate is positive for covid,” the woman said. “How often should I be testing myself?” The librarian grimaced under her mask. “That was one where I took a big step back,” she recalled. (Weil, 1/18)
Wisconsin Public Radio: For Wisconsin Families With Little Kids, COVID-19 Testing Has Many Hurdles 
For children under 3 years old, the hunt for testing is even more complicated. Pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens only test ages 3 and up. The BinaxNOW at-home tests, approved for kids ages 2 and up, are expensive for those who can't now get them covered by insurance, and they are flying off the shelves as soon as they're stocked. Some sites run by county health departments can swab younger children — for example, in Rock County, a Beloit site serves kids ages 12 months and up — but that may mean parents have to drive several towns away to get their kids tested, and even then, that leaves out kids under a year old. (Fox, 1/18)
AP: NHL To Stop Testing Asymptomatic Players Post-All-Star Break
The NHL will stop testing asymptomatic players, coaches and staff who are fully vaccinated following the All-Star break in early February, saying coronavirus cases continue to decline across the league. The league and Players’ Association announced the protocol changes Tuesday. The current policy will remain in place until the All-Star break begins Feb. 3. (Whyno, 1/18)
Coming Next Week To Your Pharmacy: Free N95 Masks From Uncle Sam
The White House said the masks, which come from the nation's emergency Strategic National Stockpile, are the largest deployment of PPE in U.S. history. Meanwhile, a mask battle among Supreme Court justices is proof that no office is immune to the debate over face coverings.
CNBC: Biden Will Make 400 Million N95 Masks Available To Americans For Free
President Joe Biden will make 400 million highly protective N95 masks available to Americans for free at pharmacies and community health centers around the U.S., a White House official said. The masks will start to become available late next week, and the program will be fully up and running by early February, according to the official. The White House said the free masks are the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history. (Kimball, 1/19)
The New York Times: The Biden Administration Will Give Away Masks In The ‘Largest Deployment’ Of Such Equipment In U.S. History.
The masks will come from the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency reserve, which was badly depleted at the outset of the pandemic, leaving health care workers without masks and other personal protective gear essential to fighting the novel virus. An investigation by The New York Times published in March found that for years, the stockpile was heavily weighted toward protecting against bioterror attacks; throughout most of the past decade, nearly half its budget was spent on the anthrax vaccine. (Stolberg, 1/19)
In other mask news —
CNN: Neil Gorsuch Declines To Wear Mask, As Bench-Mate Sonia Sotomayor Works From Her Office 
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been listening to arguments remotely from her chambers because she doesn't feel comfortable sitting on the bench near colleagues who are not masked, including Justice Neil Gorsuch, according to a source familiar with the situation. In addition, Sotomayor has been participating in the justices-only conference sessions remotely, a court spokeswoman confirmed. Those sessions — where only the nine are allowed, no staff or hangers-on — is where the justices debate and essentially determine the legal direction of the country. (de Vogue, 1/18)
The Washington Post: Va. Parents File Lawsuit, Schools Vow Resistance Against Youngkin’s Order Making Masks Optional
A major showdown over masking in Virginia schools — already involving at least one lawsuit — is brewing between newly minted Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and parents and superintendents across the state he was just elected to lead. Youngkin, who took office Saturday, started his term as Virginia’s 74th governor with an executive order that declares masking optional in school systems statewide, subject to the preference of parents. Although some school districts complied almost immediately, other superintendents promised defiance — including the superintendent in Youngkin’s new home, Richmond. Jason Kamras, the head of Richmond Public Schools, vowed in a tweet over the weekend to keep his district’s mask mandate and told The Washington Post, “We will fight it to the end.” (Natanson, 1/18)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Leaders Approve New Mask Mandate With No Enforcement
A mask mandate is returning to Milwaukee, this time with a potential March 1 end date and no plans to enforce it. "I think we're hopeful that businesses will be asking their patrons to mask, all businesses whether it's retail, a coffee shop, a restaurant, the Fiserv Forum, which is already asking people to mask," Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said in a virtual press briefing following Common Council approval Tuesday. Johnson said her department does not have the staff to enforce a mandate as it focuses on COVID-19 testing and vaccination, but she offered support for the ordinance changes approved by the council. (Dirr, 1/18)
AP: Utah Lawmakers Weigh Overturning Local Mask Mandates
The GOP-dominated Utah Senate passed a measure Tuesday to block local mask mandates as the omicron variant of the coronavirus fuels a punishing coronavirus surge. The resolution was introduced on the first day that lawmakers began their work for the year. It would overturn requirements in Salt Lake and Summit counties to wear masks indoors, preferably N95 or KN95 masks that are more effective against the variant. The measure must still pass the state House. (Whitehurst, 1/19)
Covid-19 Crisis
Still Deadly: Omicron May Kill Tens Of Thousands More Americans By March
Don't call the variant mild, since even if it does seem to cause less serious symptoms for some people, recent models place its potential impact as causing anywhere between 50,000 and 300,000 more deaths by mid-March. Other data says a million more hospitalizations could happen, too.
AP: US Faces Wave Of Omicron Deaths In Coming Weeks, Models Say 
The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March. The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Jan. 17 — still below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents started rising slightly two weeks ago, although still at a rate 10 times less than last year before most residents were vaccinated. (Johnson, 1/18)
USA Today: Omicron Is Not That Mild: 50,000 To 300,000 More US Deaths Projected By March
For anyone getting complacent about the coronavirus because the now-dominant omicron variant typically causes less-severe disease than previous strains, here's a sobering thought: 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans may die of COVID-19 before the current surge ebbs in mid-March. Those are the projections of modelers, according to an Associated Press story, and they provide a grim reminder that omicron's remarkable infectiousness more than makes up for its seemingly softer punch. The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Monday – still well below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. (Ortiz, Miller and Tebor, 1/18)
The Atlantic: Why People Are Keeping Unvaccinated COVID Deaths Secret
After Andreea’s mom died of COVID-19 in April, the harassment started. Noxious messages started coming in after she wrote a Facebook post letting friends and family know about her loss. One person messaged her to say they couldn’t believe her mother hadn’t protected herself. Andreea has since deleted most of the other messages, but she remembers people saying things like “I can’t believe your mom was an anti-vaxxer” and “I can’t believe she didn’t understand that COVID could kill you.” “Instead of people saying that they were sorry for my loss, they would question my mom’s medical choices. It became all about her vaccine status. It was incredibly hurtful,” Andreea, a language instructor, who asked to be identified by only her first name in order to prevent further harassment, told me. (Stanley, 1/18)
Also —
Newsweek: U.S. Could See Over 1 Million More Hospitalizations Before Omicron Subsides
Despite some recent positive signs, a new report predicted on Monday that the U.S. could see a significant amount of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths before the Omicron variant subsides. Using several predictive models, a team of analysts has predicted that around 1.5 million Americans could be hospitalized with around 191,000 being hospitalized from COVID as a result of the Omicron surge. The data accounts for a span of time lasting from mid-December, when the variant began to take hold, through mid-March, when it is expected to subside. (Kika, 1/18)
The New York Times: Mayor Says N.Y.C. Is Winning Omicron Fight, But Experts Urge Caution 
Mayor Eric Adams said on Tuesday that New York City was winning its war against the Omicron surge, noting that the numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, while still extremely high, have started to drop. Mr. Adams encouraged New Yorkers to continue to get vaccinated and wear masks. (Fitzsimmons and Otterman, 1/18)
Omicron Could End Pandemic, Limit Future Covid Severity, Study Shows
Though there are warnings that omicron won't be the "final" variant of covid, a new study says omicron really could be the final chapter of the pandemic and end the global health emergency since it causes less serious illness and leads to protection against the delta variant.
AP: COVID-19 Health Emergency Could Be Over This Year, WHO Says 
The worst of the coronavirus pandemic — deaths, hospitalizations and lockdowns — could be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly, the head of emergencies at the World Health Organization said Tuesday. Dr. Michael Ryan, speaking during a panel discussion on vaccine inequity hosted by the World Economic Forum, said “we may never end the virus” because such pandemic viruses “end up becoming part of the ecosystem.” (Keaten, 1/18)
Bloomberg: Omicron May Cut Future Severity Of Coronavirus, Study Shows
A strong wave of coronavirus infections driven by the omicron variant could hasten the end of pandemic disruptions as it appears to cause less severe illness and provides protection against the delta variant, South Africa-based researchers said. A laboratory study that used samples from 23 people infected with the omicron variant in November and December found that while those who previously caught the delta variant could contract omicron, those who get the omicron strain couldn’t be infected with delta, particularly if they have been vaccinated, the researchers said. Results among the unvaccinated were unclear, as was whether they had been previously infected. (Sguazzin, 1/18)
CNBC: WHO Says Omicron Won't Be Last Covid Variant As Global Cases Surge By 20% In A Week
The World Health Organization on Tuesday said the pandemic will not end as the omicron variant subsides in some countries, warning the high levels of infection around the world will likely lead to new variants as the virus mutates. “We’re hearing a lot of people suggest that omicron is the last variant, that it’s over after this. And that is not the case because this virus is circulating at a very intense level around the world,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said during a coronavirus update in Geneva. (Kimball, 1/18)
CBS News: South Africa Is Over Omicron, And Their Good News May Be A Harbinger Of Hope For The U.S.
Only eight weeks after the world first heard about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, when researchers in South Africa who discovered the strain notified global authorities, that country's wave of infections has fallen as sharply as it climbed. Not only that, but South Africa has weathered its fourth wave of COVID-19 with very little interruption to people's lives. CBS News foreign correspondent Debora Patta reports that in the suburbs of Johannesburg, restaurants are busy again, traffic is jammed, and the city is bustling. (1/18)
Axios: The End Of The Omicron Wave Is In Sight 
The Omicron wave is likely beginning to recede in the U.S., experts say. Omicron is still wreaking havoc in parts of the country, but infectious disease experts are optimistic that relief is around the corner. In South Africa and in the U.K., which experienced their Omicron waves before the U.S., cases spiked dramatically and then fell almost as quickly. That appears to be happening now in parts of the U.S. that got hit with the variant early, including Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. (Reed, 1/19)
Stat: After Omicron, We Could Use A Break. We May Just Get It
By month 25 of the Covid-19 pandemic, we all probably should have learned not to try to anticipate what the SARS-CoV-2 virus is going to do next. It has so consistently defied predictions. But the tsunami that is the Omicron wave is tempting us all the same, in large part because of an inescapable fact: By the time it crashes, the immunological landscape in this country — and in much of the world — is going to be profoundly altered. Far more people will have some immunity to Covid-19 than was the case before the wave began. Many will have what is effectively hybrid immunity, from vaccination and infection. (Branswell, 1/19)
Newsweek: The Forever Virus: What Science Says About The Future Of COVID
It is possible, but far from certain, that the Omicron onslaught marks the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. The optimistic scenario goes something like this: Once Omicron is through ravaging the world, enough people will have acquired natural immunity that, together with those who have been vaccinated, the virus is suppressed to more or less permanently low levels in the population. When—if—that happy day arrives, the world will begin making the transition from continual crisis to something more manageable—a slow-boiling concern that keeps scientists and public-health officials occupied but leaves the rest of humanity free to go about the daily business of life. (Potter and Guterl, 1/19)
Genetic Risk Factor May Be Why Some People Lose Sense Of Smell, Taste
A study published Monday said that a genetic "locus" — a fixed position of a gene on a chromosome — near two olfactory genes is associated with covid-induced loss of smell and taste, NBC News reported. This risk factor increases the likelihood a person will lose their sense of smell or taste by 11%, researchers said.
NBC News: Genetic Risk Factor Found For Covid-19 Smell And Taste Loss, Researchers Say
Scientists are piecing together why some people lose their sense of smell after contracting Covid-19. A study published Monday in the journal Nature Genetics identified a genetic risk factor associated with the loss of smell after a Covid infection, a discovery that brings experts closer to understanding the perplexing pattern and may point the way toward much-needed treatments. (Sloat, 1/17)
In other news about the spread of covid —
NBC News: Nearly 1 Million Pediatric Covid Cases Reported Last Week
Nearly 1 million cases of Covid-19 were reported among children in the United States last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Tuesday. The pediatric case count ending the week of Jan. 13 — 981,488 — reflects a 69 percent increase from the previous week's 580,247 cases. (Edwards, 1/18)
Los Angeles Times: California Surpasses 7 Million Coronavirus Cases
California has recorded more than 7 million coronavirus cases after its fastest accumulation of reported infections in the history of the pandemic. The unprecedented count, recorded in California’s databases late Monday, comes one week after the state tallied its 6 millionth coronavirus case. Even during last winter’s disastrous wave, new infections increased more slowly. It took a little over three weeks for California to get from 2 million cumulative coronavirus case to 3 million. (Money and Lin II, 1/18)
AP: Kentucky Surpasses 1 Million COVID-19 Cases 
Kentucky reached another unwanted pandemic milestone, surpassing 1 million COVID-19 cases as the prevalence of the omicron variant puts increased pressure on hospitals, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday. The state reported more than 53,500 new coronavirus cases in the past five days, pushing the case total past the 1 million mark since the first Kentucky case was detected in early March 2020, the governor said. (1/18)
Health News Florida: Members Of Nurses Union Protest In Kissimmee To Call On Hospitals To Increase Staffing 
National Nurses United is calling on hospitals to boost staffing levels. Members of the union for registered nurses protested outside hospitals in 12 states, including Florida, on Thursday. Outside Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee, about 20 nurses waved signs that read: "Staff up for safe care." Chris Setzer, who works in the cardiac intensive care unit, used to spend about nine hours out of her 12-hour shift with her patients. “But with tripling now, I’m lucky if I see them three hours a day,” said Setzer. “So the remaining nine hours, who is watching your ICU loved one? It’s not the nursing staff because we’re just not available.” (Peddie, 1/18)
Also —
Oklahoman: Oklahoma Schools Ask Officials To Substitute As COVID Crushes Staffing
With school staff and substitutes both in extraordinarily short supply, some state leaders  have been covering classes in Oklahoma public schools. Gov. Kevin Stitt announced on Tuesday an executive order to authorize staff of state agencies to substitute teach. The governor urged all state employees to "see what they can do" to help keep schools open. Some officials stepped in already. State Rep. Cyndi Munson spent the school day on Friday teaching physical education at Spero Upper Elementary in Santa Fe South Charter Schools. (Martinez-Keel, 1/18)
The Washington Post: D.C. Opens Covid Centers, Montgomery County Considers Vaccine Passport
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser on Tuesday announced plans to open eight centers — one in each ward — for residents seeking coronavirus vaccinations and tests, as the regional death rate increases and more places consider vaccine mandates. (Portnoy, Wiggins and Tan, 1/18)
Salt Lake Tribune: Senate President Stuart Adams Tested Positive For COVID Twice Tuesday Before Publicly Announcing He Was Negative
After testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Senate President Stuart Adams opened the 2022 session unmasked, conducting business as normal and trying to reassure senators and the public he was fully recovered. In his opening comments to Tuesday, Adams initially said he’d tested positive twice for COVID-19 since yesterday but backtracked seconds later. “I tested negative twice,” he said, joking that he’d misspoken to make sure people were listening. In reality, the senator had indeed tested positive twice Tuesday morning. (Gehrke, 1/18)
Administration News
One Year In, Biden's Health Agenda Hampered By Covid, Divided Congress
Ahead of the anniversary of his inauguration, news outlets review President Joe Biden's first year in office (Spoiler alert: covid, covid, covid. And Congress.) and look ahead to year two that will include critical midterm elections. Biden will mark the occasion with a press conference.
CBS News: How To Watch President Joe Biden's First 2022 Press Conference
President Biden is holding his first press conference of 2022 on Wednesday, January 19, the eve of the first anniversary of when he took office. The press conference comes as his presidency  — and the country  — is struggling amid the Omicron COVID-19 surge and rising inflation, and as his signature legislation, Build Back Better, is stalled in Congress. CBSN will carry Mr. Biden's press conference live. (Linton and Watson, 1/19)
NPR: How Effective Has Biden's COVID Response Been In His First Year? 
Last January, 2021, the day after he was inaugurated, President Biden released a national strategy for beating COVID-19. The 200-page document was hailed as "encouraging" and "well-constructed" — a pandemic exit blueprint that had not been articulated by the Trump administration before it." The plan itself is well-articulated, clear and ambitious — appropriate given the challenge," says Michelle Williams, an epidemiologist and dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But, she adds, "execution is always challenging." (Simmons-Duffin and Huang, 1/18)
The Washington Post: Assessing Biden’s Covid Response After One Year 
President Biden entered office a year ago this week, staking his presidency on defeating the coronavirus pandemic with a battle plan hailed for its scope and specificity. “Our nation continues to experience the darkest days of the pandemic,” the White House declared in its national pandemic strategy, released Jan. 21, 2021, Biden’s first full day as president. “Businesses are closing, hospitals are full, and families are saying goodbye to their loved ones remotely.” (Diamond, 1/18)
AP: Tracking Biden's 1st-Year Progress Delivering On Promises
During his first year in office, President Joe Biden took action on a number of his key campaign promises, from rebuilding U.S. alliances globally to distributing vaccines across America and the world. But others remain works in progress or dependent on Congress to address. That’s particular true of his promises to reform the nation’s immigration system, where Biden is caught between the demands of his Democratic base and Latino voters and the realities of a steep influx of migrants to the U.S. Here's a look at where Biden stands on some of his key promises as he rounds out his first year. (Jaffe and Madhani, 1/19)
AP: After Biden's First Year, The Virus And Disunity Rage On
From the inaugural platform, President Joe Biden saw American sickness on two fronts — a disease of the national spirit and the one from the rampaging coronavirus — and he saw hope, because leaders always must see that. “End this uncivil war,” he implored Americans on Jan. 20, 2021. Of the pathogen, he said: “We can overcome this deadly virus.” Neither malady has abated. (Miller and Woodward, 1/16)
CNN: Joe Biden Enters The Second Year Of His Presidency Looking For A Reset After A Tumultuous First 12 Months
As his second year begins, advisers tell CNN that Covid-19 and its messy fallout is the biggest weight on Biden — the one challenge he believes could reverse his fortunes or forever damage his presidency. Biden has made significant strides, particularly in getting hundreds of millions of Americans vaccinated. But millions still refuse to get shots, a persistent source of frustration for the President. "This virus has fooled us multiple times," one senior health official told CNN. "Nobody expected Delta to just blow us away. And then to have Omicron come out of nowhere, it's a big, big surprise." (Zeleny, Liptak and Collins, 1/19)
PolitiFact: Tracking Biden's Campaign Promises, One Year In
the Biden Promise Tracker does show some victories for the 46th president, along with a somewhat larger number of agenda items that have stalled. Meanwhile, almost half of his promises are in limbo, with some progress being made but nothing final yet. For Biden, we chose 99 promises to evaluate, and we’ll continue rating them until he leaves the Oval Office. (Jacobson, 1/18)
Restrictions On Blood Donations By Gay Men At Issue Amid Shortage
Against the backdrop of a national blood supply crisis, the Biden administration says that a study into the controversial Food and Drug Administration policy is ongoing and acknowledged the historical stigma it has placed on the LGBTQ+ community.
ABC News: Biden Administration Speaks Out On Federal Blood Donation Policy Impacting Gay Men Amid National Blood Shortage 
For the first time, the Biden administration is commenting on the Food and Drug Administration's long-time blood donation guidelines, which are impacting the LGBTQ+ community by preventing gay and bisexual men from being eligible blood donors. The statement, made by a White House official exclusively to ABC News, acknowledges the painful origins of the policy and comes on the heels of the American Red Cross declaring their first-ever national blood crisis last week, as supplies at hospitals and blood banks become dangerously low. (Morrison, 1/18)
The Hill: FDA-Funded Study Aims To Lift Restrictions On Blood Donation For Gay, Bisexual Men 
A new study currently underway could ease eligibility requirements for gay and bisexual men seeking to donate blood. The study, funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, aims to evaluate alternatives to the blood donor deferral policy known as men who have sex with men, or MSM, put in place to reduce the transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. Under current FDA guidelines, men who have sex with men are ineligible to donate blood if they have had sexual contact with another man less than three months prior to donation. (Migdon, 1/18)
In related news —
CBS News: Red Cross Sees Uptick In Blood Donation After Declaring Crisis 
After CBS News reported on the historic blood shortage leading the Red Cross to declare the first ever "national blood crisis," many viewers were inspired to sign up to donate blood, including "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell. In some parts of the country, blood drives are completely booked this week. (1/18)
WLOS: Number Of Blood Donors In The Mountains Sinks Even Lower 
The critical need for blood donations is now even more urgent. A desperate need for blood donations in the mountains has been made even worse by the winter storm that hit the area over the weekend. Officials with The Blood Connection said they were forced to cancel blood drives because of the snow and ice. Those closures meant they couldn't collect the 800 units of blood needed every day across the Carolinas and Georgia. (1/18)
Vaccines and Covid Treatments
Pfizer's Antiviral Pill Works Against Omicron
Paxlovid appears to combat omicron covid, the drugmaker said, effectively working to prevent the virus from replicating. Canada just approved the drug for certain classes of covid patients, but reports from the Bay Area News Group highlight that finding the drug and its rivals remains hard in the U.S.
The Hill: Pfizer Says COVID-19 Antiviral Pill Effective Against Omicron 
Pfizer's COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid appears to be effective against the omicron variant, the company announced Tuesday. Pfizer said three separate lab studies showed nirmatrelvir, the drug's main protease inhibitor, maintains its effectiveness against the omicron variant of the virus. A protease inhibitor is a class of drugs that stop a virus from replicating. Patients take two tablets of nirmatrelvir with one tablet of another antiviral, called ritonavir, twice a day for five days. (Weixel, 1/18)
Bay Area News Group: New COVID Drugs Are Here — You Just Need To Find Them
Simple, easy and effective COVID-fighting pills are arriving in California’s pharmacies, offering hope as cases soar and immunity falls.But the powerful new medicines – Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir – are in short supply, forcing physicians to make tough choices about who will most benefit from the treatment. There’s a second challenge: The pills must be taken within five days of the start of symptoms when the virus is still reproducing. That means it’s important to find a test, pronto. (Krieger, 1/16)
AP: Canada Approves Pfizer COVID Drug
Canada’s health regulator has approved a pill by Pfizer that treats the effects of COVID-19. Health Canada authorized Paxlovid for adult patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are also at high risk of becoming more seriously ill. Health Canada did not authorize it for use on teenagers or on patients who are already hospitalized because of COVID-19. (1/17)
In news about monoclonal antibodies —
CIDRAP: Fewer Racial Minorities Given Monoclonal Antibodies To Treat COVID-19
Analysis of data from 41 healthcare systems participating in the US National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network shows that monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) were administered to Black, Asian, Hispanic, and other minority-race COVID-19 outpatients at lower rates than their White peers. (1/18)
Miami Herald: Florida To Prioritize Transplant Hospitals, Cancer Centers For Scarce COVID-19 Therapeutic
A scarce monoclonal antibody for people who cannot build immunity from COVID-19 vaccines will be prioritized for distribution to Florida hospitals with large numbers of organ transplant and cancer patients, the Florida Department of Health said on Tuesday, signaling a change in strategy more than three weeks after the state passed over large medical centers and delivered the first shipment of the drug to a small clinic in Broward County. (Chang, 1/18)
Healthy Kids Don't Need Booster Shots, WHO Asserts
In the face of global vaccine inequality, the World Health Organization says that there is "no evidence" that healthy children and adolescents need booster shots. Meanwhile, a German study says three Pfizer shots may protect people against the omicron variant of covid.
The Washington Post: WHO Says ‘No Evidence’ Healthy Children Need Boosters Amid Global Vaccine Inequity
There is “no evidence right now” that healthy children and adolescents need booster doses of coronavirus vaccines, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said Tuesday. The comments at a news conference come as global vaccine distribution remains inequitable, with many in lower-income countries still not having received even a first dose. The WHO has criticized countries trying to “boost their way out of the pandemic,” warning this diverts vaccine supplies. (Pietsch and Francis, 1/19)
In other vaccine news —
CIDRAP: Study Suggests 3 Pfizer Vaccine Doses May Protect Against Omicron
Today a study from Germany published in Science shows three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine raised antibody levels against the highly transmissible Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant. The study was based on sera from 51 participants, which was challenged with Wuhan, Beta, Delta, or Omicron pseudoviruses. The participants had received either two or three doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Though neutralizing antibodies are just one measure of vaccine effect and don't demonstrate effectiveness per se, the authors say they can be strongly predictive of the degree of immune protection against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. (1/18)
PBS NewsHour: Getting COVID-19 Is Much Riskier For Your Heart Than Vaccination
The heart has played a central role in COVID-19 since the beginning. Cardiovascular conditions are among the highest risk factors for hospitalization. A significant number of patients hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2 infections have signs of heart damage, and many recover from infection with lasting cardiovascular injury. It’s not surprising that debates over COVID-19 vaccines frequently centre around issues involving cardiovascular health. The high-profile collapse of Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen in June initiated a myth about the link between sudden cardiac death and vaccination among athletes that persists several months later. (Pyle and Huang, 1/18)
Georgia Health News: Covid Vaccination Rates Among Young Children Lag In Georgia, South 
Two months after Pfizer’s Covid vaccine was authorized for children ages 5 to 11, just 27% have received at least one shot, according to Jan. 12 CDC data. Only 18%, or 5 million kids, have both doses, Kaiser Health News reported. In Georgia, as well as other Southern states, the percentages are even lower. Just 16.1 percent of the 5-to-11 age group in Georgia have had at least one shot, and 8.7 percent have received both doses. Only Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming have lower rates of fully vaccinated kids in this age group, according to a KHN analysis. “That’s very, very disappointing,’’ said Dr. Hugo Scornik, a Conyers pediatrician who is president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep your child out of the hospital.” (Pradhan, Recht and Miller, 1/18)
AP: Pfizer Chief Albert Bourla Wins $1 Million Genesis Prize 
Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive of global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., was awarded on Wednesday the prestigious Genesis Prize for his efforts in leading the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. The $1 million award is granted each year to a person for their professional achievements, contributions to humanity and commitment to Jewish values. The Genesis Prize Foundation said Bourla had received the largest number of votes in an online campaign in which some 200,000 people in 71 countries participated. (Federman, 1/19)
Illegal Supply Network Accused Of Selling Fake Gilead HIV Drugs
Meanwhile, Stat reports that low-cost biosimilar drug provision in the U.S. is being stymied by a "thicket" of patents. Other drug company news includes Bristol Myers Squibb plans, a $3 billion biotech fund aimed at disease "reversal," and big data's failure to combat covid.
The Wall Street Journal: Drugmaker Gilead Alleges Counterfeiting Ring Sold Its HIV Drugs
Drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc. said that a network of little-known drug suppliers and distributors sold illicit and potentially dangerous fake versions of its HIV medicines that ended up in pharmacies and in the hands of patients. In all, Gilead identified 85,247 counterfeit bottles of its branded medications worth more than $250 million that were sold to pharmacies over the past two years following an intensive investigation and court-approved civil seizures, a company spokesman said. (Walker and Ramey, 1/18)
In other pharma and biotech news —
Stat: Study: Patent Thickets Thwart U.S. Availability Of Lower-Cost Biosimilars
Amid debate over competition in the pharmaceutical industry, a new analysis found just 6% of patents covered key ingredients — or innovative new molecules — in pricey biologic medicines, underscoring concerns that drug makers abuse the patent system when they go to court to thwart rivals. The researchers examined 21 patent infringement lawsuits filed by pharmaceutical companies against other drug makers and identified 179 patents that were allegedly infringed. But most were for so-called secondary uses, or less critical than uses listed in primary patents. For instance, 42% covered manufacturing processes, 35% covered other ways to use a medicine, and 34% covered formulations. (Silverman, 1/18)
Stat: Bristol CEO Giovanni Caforio On New Drug Launches, Acquisitions In 2022
Later this year, Bristol Myers Squibb will begin to lose billions of dollars in revenue when generic versions of its top-selling cancer drug Revlimid become available. But with six recent drug launches and another three drugs heading for the market this year, Bristol expects to offset the lost Revlimid revenue and continue to grow through the end of the decade. Fresh off a presentation at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Bristol CEO Giovanni Caforio sat down with STAT last week to discuss his company’s outlook and plans for more business development, including acquisitions. (Feuerstein, 1/18)
Stat: With $3B, Biotech Veterans Launch Company Aimed At Disease ‘Reversal’
A team of biotech veterans say they have raised $3 billion to create a continent-spanning company that will aim to battle disease by reprogramming the fundamental machinery of living cells. It appears to be the largest venture capital fundraising effort in biotech history, based on a survey of data from Pitchbook. (Herper, 1/19)
Stat: Why Big Data Didn't Deliver On Its Big Promises To Combat Covid-19
When the pandemic hit, technology companies pledged to do their part by cracking open their secretive datasets and letting public health researchers mine it for clues about how to bring Covid-19 under control. Two years in, it’s clear that big data isn’t the panacea they’d hoped for. (Palmer, 1/18)
In obituaries —
Houston Chronicle: Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, Medical Center Visionary Who Built Genetics Program At Baylor College Of Medicine, Dies At 83
Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, a pioneering Houston researcher who illuminated mysteries in the human genome and built the genetics program at Baylor College of Medicine, died Thursday. He was 83. Caskey became known for his intellectual generosity and bold ideas when he moved to Baylor College of Medicine in 1971 and founded the Institute for Molecular Genetics, now the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics. He left the college in 1994 but returned as a professor in 2011 to continue his work. (Gill, 1/14)
Health Industry
Patient Groups Try Calling Medicare Officials Villains Over Aduhelm Ruling
Politico covers aggressive pushback from drugmakers and patient advocacy groups over the recent decision to strongly limit Medicare coverage of Alzheimer's drug Aduhelm. Meanwhile, Axios says six big health insurers dominate the fast-growing Medicare Advantage market.
Politico: ‘Not A Tolerable Situation’: Patient Groups Take Aim At CMS Over Alzheimer’s Coverage Decision 
Drugmakers and patient advocacy groups are waging a campaign to cast Medicare officials as villains after the program limited coverage of a pricey new Alzheimer’s drug and demanded tougher criteria than the FDA to prove it works. Their goal is to strong arm the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services into covering Aduhelm, the $28,200-per-year drug, for far more people. (Foley and Wilson, 1/17)
And more about the insurance industry —
Axios: UnitedHealth, Other Big Medicare Advantage Insurers Dominate 2022 
Six health insurers control roughly three-quarters of the fast-growing Medicare Advantage market, according to an Axios analysis of federal data. Medicare Advantage enrollment hasn't slowed down in 2022, even though dismal projections from Humana and Cigna freaked out Wall Street earlier this month, and concentration at the top remains high. (Herman, 1/19)
Axios: Insurers May Face Scrutiny Over Birth Control Coverage 
Health insurers could face increased scrutiny and potential enforcement actions regarding their coverage of birth control, following recent guidance from the Biden administration. The ACA requires birth control coverage with no cost-sharing, but some advocates and Democrats in Congress have said insurers are running afoul of the law with restrictions. (Reed, 1/18)
KHN: HHS Proposal For Marketplace Plans Carries A Hefty Dose Of Consumer Caution
Some insurance brokers are enrolling people into Affordable Care Act health plans without their consent, perhaps for the commissions, a move that could put consumers in danger of owing back the subsidies connected with the coverage. The damage could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars. A consumer’s first hint that something is wrong is a big one: a letter from the IRS or a delay in their tax refund. (Appleby, 1/19)
In other health care industry updates —
Crain's Detroit Business: Bottleneck In Acute Care Pipeline Leaves Patients With Nowhere To Go
Last week, case managers at Sparrow Specialty Hospital in Lansing finalized the transfer of a patient. She had contracted COVID-19 nearly three months earlier and required a tracheotomy, a common practice in critically-ill patients with a prolonged need for a ventilator. She was ready to leave Sparrow Specialty's care many weeks earlier but staffing, transportation and beds are in short supply. Sparrow Specialty's case managers sent 60 transfer requests for the patient before a room opened up at Mary Free Bed only one floor above. (Walsh, 1/18)
Modern Healthcare: FTC, DOJ Ask For Public Input In Antitrust 'Overhaul'
The FTC has asked several of the major insurers for data on hospital acquisition of physicians as the healthcare sector continues to vertically consolidate. It is also reworking its vertical merger guidelines, which are expected to bolster an enforcement area where regulators have historically had limited success. About 90% of acute-care markets in metro areas are highly concentrated, lawmakers have said, noting that many hospitals amass market power through small transactions that skirt regulatory review. Most hospital mergers raise prices and stunt quality, research shows. (Kacik, 1/18)
Public Health
Snapchat Tries To Limit Kids Buying Drugs Through Its App
News outlets cover moves by social media app Snapchat to limit kids' access to drug deals on its service, including making it more difficult to target users under 18 by changing its "Quick Add" system. In other news, airlines are stepping up safety and aircraft cleaning to combat covid.
NBC News: Snapchat Makes It Harder For Kids To Buy Drugs
Snapchat’s parent company announced Tuesday that it was taking more steps to curb drug dealing on the app, including making it harder for users to find the accounts of minors under age 17. It is making the change as drug overdoses are spiking across the U.S., partly because of the proliferation of the potent opioid fentanyl. An NBC News investigation published in October found that Snapchat was linked to the sale of fentanyl-laced pills that killed teenagers and young adults in over a dozen states. (Matsakis and Snow, 1/18)
Axios: Snapchat Making It Harder For Strangers To Find Users Under 18
Snapchat is adding a new safeguard meant to ensure that young users only connect with people on the social network that they know in real life. How it works: Snapchat is changing its "Quick Add" friends suggestion so that it is impossible to add users under 18 unless there are a certain number of friends in common, a spokesperson told Axios. (Fischer, 1/18)
In other public health news —
Bloomberg: Airlines Step Up Plane Hygiene And Safety Measures To Keep Covid Out
These days, hygiene is the most important factor in choosing a travel company for almost 60% of Americans, according to a survey by aerospace products manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. That tracks with International Air Transport Association data showing that passengers worry about boarding planes, with 42% of them uncomfortable using lavatories and more than a third concerned about breathing recirculated cabin air. “We know that our customers are more conscious than ever about hygiene,” says Anil Jain, engineering chief at Air India Express, which has introduced robots to clean its planes. “We need to be proactive.” (Ha and Park, 1/19)
Stat: What Types Of Mental Health Apps Work? New Study Examines The Evidence
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have spent years making sure that their meditation app, called the Healthy Minds Program, passes clinical muster and delivers positive outcomes. Designing studies to test the app’s efficacy led Simon Goldberg, an assistant professor at UW, to confront the mountain of thousands of studies of different mobile mental health tools, including apps, text-message based support, and other interventions. Researchers had taken the time to synthesize some of the studies, but it was hard, even for someone steeped in the science like Goldberg, to draw definitive conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. So Goldberg teamed up with a few other researchers and took a step back to see if they could put order to the work collected in these meta-analyses — a kind of deep meditation on the existing research inspired by UW’s meditation app. (Aguilar, 1/19)
State Watch
West Virginia Moves Toward Banning Abortions After 15 Weeks
The proposal introduced by lawmakers is reportedly "nearly identical" to a law currently under review in Mississippi. Also: Maine's plans to fix its insurance exchange; mental health excuses for student absences in Kentucky; suspension of a Florida health official for trying to compel vaccines; and more.
AP: West Virginia Lawmakers Introduce 15-Week Abortion Ban 
West Virginia lawmakers have introduced a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks — a proposal nearly identical to the Mississippi law currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. As the nation waits for the court to make a decision later this year in the abortion case that could overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, at least two states — West Virginia and Florida — have introduced bills mirroring Mississippi’s. (Willingham, 1/18)
In other news from across the U.S. —
Bangor Daily News: Maine Vows To Fix Hiccups Found In 1st Year Of Health Care Marketplace Rollout
Maine’s first year of running its own health insurance exchange came with double-digit enrollment increases and communication and navigation challenges that the state told lawmakers Tuesday it wants to fix before the next enrollment period. The state’s exchange,, which allows residents to shop for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act as well as sign up for MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, rolled out last year. It was a priority of Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat who signed a 2020 bill paving the way for Maine to implement its own marketplace instead of using the federal one. (Andrews, 1/19)
AP: House OK's Bill Excusing Mental-Health Absences For Students
The Kentucky House overwhelmingly passed legislation Tuesday aimed at ensuring that mental health-related absences from school are excused for students. The bipartisan measure heads to the Senate after clearing the House on a 94-0 vote. (1/18)
AP: Florida Suspends Health Official In Probe Over Vaccine Law
A health official who has helped lead central Florida’s response to the pandemic has been put on administrative leave as state officials investigate whether he tried to compel employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in violation of state law. The state health agency is conducting an inquiry into Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, “to determine if any laws were broken in this case,” Florida Department of Health press secretary Jeremy Redfern said in an email. (1/18)
WABE: USG Employees Call On System To Change Rules For Smoking Fee 
Employees of Georgia’s university system are automatically categorized as smokers through the system’s health insurance plan. If employees don’t opt out of that status, they’re charged an additional monthly fee. Employees who don’t smoke have to opt out every year to avoid the fee. The system automatically defaults them to “smoker” status each year. (Dalton, 1/18)
New Orleans Times-Picayune: First Cases Of Drug-Resistant Fungus Found At Louisiana Hospital
Two patients at University Medical Center in New Orleans have been diagnosed with a rare, drug-resistant fungus called Candida auris, hospital officials said Tuesday, marking Louisiana’s first known cases of the pathogen. The fungus, a type of yeast, is considered a global emerging threat by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. C. auris can cause infections in the bloodstream or in wounds, and is typically spread in health care settings. It is sometimes called a “superbug” because it is resistant to common antifungal drugs. (Woodruff, 1/18)
CBS News: U.S. Senate Candidate Gary Chambers Smokes Marijuana In New Campaign Ad 
Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Gary Chambers of Louisiana released an ad on Tuesday showing the candidate smoking marijuana while promoting a pathway toward legalizing the drug. "I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug, and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology," Chambers said in the ad. (Brewster, 1/18)
Anchorage Daily News: Wasilla Doctor Sentenced To Federal Prison For Overprescribing Narcotics
A former Wasilla doctor was sentenced Tuesday to serve nearly three years in federal prison for illegally distributing narcotics to his patients. David Chisholm, 64, prescribed highly addictive prescription drugs — including oxycodone, methadone, morphine and fentanyl — “outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose” to his patients at Camelot Family Health, according to charging documents filed in the case. His prescribing practices contributed to the overdose deaths of at least five of his patients, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Schroeder. Chisholm’s clinic was a “pill mill” where anyone could go to get opioids, he said. (Williams, 1/18)
KHN: Buffy Wicks Turns Her Health History Into Legislation 
In her short tenure as an elected official, California Assembly member Buffy Wicks hasn’t been shy about sharing her most intimate health care struggles with the public. In her very first speech in the Assembly, Wicks, a Democrat who has represented Oakland since late 2018, told the story of her abortion at age 26. She has also spoken publicly about her decision to freeze her eggs. (Bluth, 1/19)
Global Watch
Puerto Rico Suffered Lingering Health Effects From 2017 Hurricane
Higher rates of obesity, high cholesterol and more were identified as long-term health impacts in survivors of 2017's Hurricane Maria. In other news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added 22 international destinations to its "very high" covid risk list, including Israel and Australia.
USA Today: Hurricane Maria Leaves Long-Term Health Woes In Puerto Rico, Study Says
A new study that found long-term health problems in Hurricane Maria survivors underscores the devastating health consequences of climate change on communities of color, experts say. In the aftermath of the September 2017 storm, Puerto Ricans suffered higher rates of obesity, arthritis, high cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The analysis, which compared data from more than 800 participants two years before and after Maria, also found that more than twice as many participants reported eye disease, fatty liver disease and osteoporosis following the hurricane. (Hassanein, 1/17)
In global covid news —
Reuters: U.S. CDC Warns Against Travel To 22 Destinations Over COVID-19 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday advised against travel to 22 nations and territories because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases, including for Israel, Australia, Egypt, Albania, Argentina and Uruguay. The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to "Level Four: Very High," telling Americans they should avoid travel to those destinations, which also include Panama, Qatar, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Suriname, Saint Lucia and Bolivia. (Shepardson, 1/18)
NPR: These 5 Things Could Help Stabilize The Pandemic In Europe, WHO Expert Says
Omicron is hitting Europe like a tidal wave, moving west to east, and is likely to infect half of all Europeans by March, according to the World Health Organization. Dr. Hans Kluge is the WHO regional director for Europe and said while omicron cases were expected to peak in mid-January, it would vary between countries, with the Balkans just now starting to feel the worst of it. Because omicron spreads so easily, Kluge said the strategy in Europe was shifting from reducing transmission to shielding the most vulnerable and avoiding disruption of the economy, schools and health care. (Davis, 1/18)
The Washington Post: Europe’s Unvaccinated Are Locked Out Of Public Life, As Covid Rules Tighten
After many rounds of rules targeting the unvaccinated, the chamber musician’s new life is unrecognizable from the old. Claudio Ronco once performed all over Europe, but now he can’t even board a plane. He can’t check into a hotel, eat at restaurant or get a coffee at a bar. Most important, he can’t use the water taxis needed to get around Venice, his home for 30 years — a loss of mobility that recently prompted him to gather up two of his prized cellos, lock up his Venetian apartment and retreat with his wife to a home owned by his in-laws one hour away in the hills. “Isolation,” Ronco called it, on the fourth day in a row that he hadn’t left the house. (Harlan and Pitrelli, 1/17)
Bloomberg: Hamsters, Wings, Shrimp Ensnared By China’s Covid Zero Zeal
As the goal to stamp out coronavirus infection becomes harder to reach, with more transmissible variants and a world awash with the pathogen, mainland China and Hong Kong are pointing to a wide range of non-human routes as potential evaders of their strict control measures. The crackdowns, which range from parcels to fish and four-legged pets, come despite experts outside of China warning such methods of transmission are unproven and unlikely. (1/19)
In other developments from around the world —
AP: World's Oldest Man Dies At 112, Guinness World Records Says
Saturnino de la Fuente, a Spaniard described by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest man, died Tuesday at the age of 112 years and 341 days, the records agency said. De la Fuente passed away at home in León, a city in northwest Spain, it said. Guinness World Records named De la Fuente as the world’s oldest man in September, when he was 112 years and 211 days. It said he was born in the Puente Castro neighborhood of León on Feb. 11, 1909. He survived the Spanish flu pandemic that broke out in 1918. (1/19)
Bloomberg: Marijuana Legalization: Thailand Plans To Decriminalize Cannabis Possession
Thailand plans to decriminalize marijuana, moving a step closer to clearing its use for recreation, after becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize medical cannabis and its use in food and cosmetics. The nation’s Food and Drug Administration is set to propose the removal of marijuana from a list of controlled drugs to the narcotics control board on Wednesday. Once cleared by the board, the proposal will need to be approved by Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul before it becomes effective. (Chuwiruch, 1/18)
Bloomberg: Menopause Strains U.K. Workforce With Women Planning To Quit
Almost a fifth of the female workforce who are experiencing the menopause are considering leaving their jobs, a survey shows. The study commissioned by the childcare service Koru Kids showed that most women don’t get any support at work for their symptoms, and almost a quarter of them aged are unhappy in their jobs because of it. About 18% are thinking about quitting all together, the survey of 2,000 women between the ages of 45 to 67 showed. (Konotey-Ahulu, 1/17)
Modern Healthcare: UPMC Picks CEO Of Its First Hospital In China 
Cleveland native Dr. Randy Jernejcic first realized his love for China in medical school at Ohio State University. He spent the summer of 1994 working at a hospital in Wuhan, a city that at the time had few foreigners coming through. "It started off my real long history of going back to China and taking part in different aspects of healthcare in China," Jernejcic said. Jernejcic will soon return to the county of more than 1.4 billion people as CEO of Chengdu Wanda UPMC International Hospital, China's first hospital run by an American academic medical center. The 500-bed hospital still under construction is slated to open in March 2023. It's the first of five hospitals UPMC plans to develop with Wanda Group, a multinational conglomerate based in Beijing that specializes in film and real estate. (Bannow, 1/17)
Prescription Drug Watch
Health Care Promises May Bite Back In Midterm Elections, Democrat Warns
Read about the biggest pharmaceutical developments and pricing stories from the past week in KHN's Prescription Drug Watch roundup.
Common Dreams and Truthout: If Dems Don't Deliver On Health Care, They May Suffer In Midterms, Jayapal Warns
Rep. Pramila Jayapal warned Monday that the upcoming midterm elections could be painful for Democrats if they fail to substantively deliver on their healthcare-related campaign promises, which ranged from tackling sky-high drug prices to lowering the Medicare eligibility age. “It has been a concern for us,” Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and lead sponsor of the Medicare for All Act of 2021, told the Washington Post. “You can see it with the number of Democrats in vulnerable districts across the country who want to be able to go back and tell people that we’ve lowered their costs for child care, for pre-K, for elder care, for drug pricing, for healthcare.” (Johnson, 1/18)
San Jose Spotlight: Silicon Valley Lawmaker’s Single-Payer Health Care Plan Faces ‘Uphill Fight’
A bill proposing a state single-payer health care system, which would be the first in the nation if passed, has a swell of public support. But it’s unclear if that will be enough to make it over the finish line. Assembly Bill 1400, also known as CalCare, would address issues such as the lack of transparency in medical billing and drug costs, advocates said. The legislation overcame its first major legislative hurdle last week when it passed the Assembly Health Committee on an 11-3 vote, with one abstention. (Waraich, 1/17)
FiercePharma: Idorsia Makes Friends With Aniston For New Sleep Campaign As It Preps For Insomnia Drug Launch 
The average person doesn’t have a lot in common with Jennifer Aniston—her fame, her money, her looks (that hair!) However, there is one thing 25 million Americans do share with the A-lister—insomnia. Idorsia has partnered with Aniston on a new unbranded educational campaign, “Seize the Night & Day” to raise awareness that insomnia is a real disorder needing real medical attention. The site focuses on the science behind insomnia, offers tips and tricks to help create a sleep routine and offers a forum to connect with others struggling with sleep. (Coey, 1/14)
FiercePharma: How Can Pharma Engage With Caregivers? Try Programs That Ease Their Stress
Pharma companies spend much of their marketing energy on doctors and patients, but another key stakeholder—the caregiver—is sometimes overlooked. And that’s a lost opportunity, a new report from Phreesia Life Sciences suggests.  … More than half of patients (52%) rely on caregivers to make their healthcare decisions, according to the report, while another 30% always discuss their treatment options with their caregivers before making a decision. (Missakian, 1/10)
FiercePharma: The Top 10 Biopharma M&A Deals In 2021
Biopharma merger and acquisition (M&A) activity was subdued in 2021, and it would have approached a record low for recent years but for a flurry of deals in the last quarter.  The top 10 biopharma M&A deals last year reached a combined value of just under $53 billion, well down from the $97 billion tally in 2020 and a fraction of the $207 billion spent on the 10 largest transactions in 2019. (Taylor, 1/18)
Perspectives: Entire Health Care System Shouldering The Burden Of Ivermectin
Read recent commentaries about drug-cost issues.
Los Angeles Times: A New Study Calculates The Incredible Cost Of Ivermectin Stupidity
A couple of things are known about ivermectin, the anti-parasitic treatment being promoted by a clutch of conspiracy-mongering mountebanks as a COVID-19 treatment. First, it doesn’t work on COVID. Second, despite that fact, prescriptions for the drug have rocketed higher — from 3,600 a week pre-pandemic to 88,000 in one sample week in mid-August, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Michael Hiltzik, 1/14)
New York Daily News: The FDA’s Harmful Restrictions On Two New COVID Drugs  
The Food and Drug Administration recently granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Paxlovid and molnupiravir, two lifesaving, direct-acting antiviral drugs that are effective in preventing both hospitalization and death of people who have contracted COVID-19. They are effective against all variants so far, including omicron, which is capable of infecting people regardless of whether they are non-vaccinated or fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, two requirements that the agency put in place in authorizing these drugs will all but guarantee that most people who need them will not be able to get them in time. And time is of the essence since the drugs are only effective when taken within five days of initial symptoms. (Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer and Josh Bloom, 1/13)
The Colorado Sun: Hospitals Aren’t Passing Some Drug-Price Reductions To Patients
For a real New Year’s resolution, we are calling on Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to help us account for billions spent on a healthcare program that leaves struggling families holding the tab. The Federal 340B program is becoming the poster child for federal programs run amok, allowing billions designated for affordable prescriptions to be lost within the system and leaving underserved families without the discounts they need. Ultimately, the 340B program is failing to deliver on its promise of affordable prescription medicines. (Jennifer Churchfield, 1/18)
The Mercury News: Build Back Better's Medicare Drug-Payment Cap Worth Saving
Senate Democrats have restarted negotiations over their Build Back Better Act. The $1.75 trillion bill contains a laundry list of bad ideas, especially when it comes to health care policy. But there’s one reform in the legislation that makes sense — a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. The proposal would save not just money but lives by helping ensure that patients take their medications in the right quantities at the right time. (Sally C. Pipes, 1/15)
Editorials And Opinions
Different Takes: How Will Omicron Change The Future Of Covid?; France Has The Right Idea On Vaccination
Opinion writers examine these covid and vaccine topics.
The New York Times: After Omicron, This Pandemic Will Be Different 
Omicron is really good at infecting people and doing it fast. So fast, in fact, that by the time you read this, chances are that cases may have already reached a peak in your neighborhood. While some countries are experiencing a rapid plunge in cases, it’s unclear how smooth the descent from the Omicron surge will be in others. Some places may continue to experience spikes in cases even after initial peaks or plateaus. (William Hanage, 1/19)
Los Angeles Times: How To Persuade The Unvaccinated? Follow The French 
In the city of Los Angeles, where I live, you can’t enter a restaurant, a government building, a gym, a bar, or a coffee shop without showing proof of vaccination. I know some establishments are less apt to check than others, but each time I walk past a “no vaccination, no service” sign, my heart skips a beat. The few times I’ve entered a restaurant lately, I’ve joyfully whipped out my proof-of-vaccination card. I enjoy doing my part. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is not any kind of sacrifice. (Robin Abcarian, 1/19)
The Baltimore Sun: Vaccine-Hesitant People Can Still Change Their Minds. As A Doctor, I’m Seeing It Happen
Earlier this month, I saw an elderly patient with underlying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who was admitted to the hospital with a bone stuck in his throat. He underwent endoscopic removal the same day; a routine pre-procedure COVID-19 test came back negative. The next day, going over his discharge instructions, I asked if he was vaccinated against COVID-19 yet. He was not, and the room got awkwardly silent for a few seconds. But he followed up by asking if he could get his first dose now. It made me reflect on when I got vaccinated. (Prabhava Bagla, 1/18)
Los Angeles Times: In The Omicron Surge, I Am My Family's Anger Translator 
My 88-year-old Latina mother, triple vaxxed and a diligent mask wearer, is struggling with COVID. Two weeks ago, I sat outside her apartment in my camping chair as her blood pressure plunged 40 points in one day, her heart rate dropped to 50, and her hacking cough prevented her from getting any sleep. We couldn’t get her in for treatment in an emergency room, nor could we access any of the antiviral drugs or monoclonal antibody treatments we’ve heard so much about. I couldn’t even get a her a telemedicine appointment with a doctor — any doctor — for three days. (Natalia Molina, 1/18)
Stat: Fighting Covid-19 In Kibera, A Large Informal Settlement In Africa 
Nearly 10 months after a grandmother in England became the first person in the world to get vaccinated against Covid-19 outside of a clinical trial, we were finally able to start vaccinating residents of Kibera, one of Africa’s largest informal settlements. That first jab was a long time coming. In March 2021, the Kenyan government prioritized vaccination as one of the key measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, reduce community transmission, severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. The informal employment sector had significantly closed, four out of five residents of Kibera and other informal settlements had lost their income, and a majority of households were facing hunger. The level of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, was even higher since people had literally nowhere to go every day. A successful vaccination program would allow for the full reopening of our economy. (Hillary Omala and Ogogo, 1/17)
The Boston Globe: Biden Shouldn’t Give Up On Vaccine Mandates
This is no time for the Biden administration to throw in the towel on vaccine mandates. Last week’s decision by the US Supreme Court, tossing the administration’s efforts to force private employers to be part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, was disappointing. But it shouldn’t be the end of the fight — not as long as a third of the nation’s population remains unvaccinated and the death toll grows by thousands of Americans every day. It’s simply time for the administration’s disease fighters and lawyers to go back to the drawing boards and pursue a series of smaller efforts that can still make an impact and lead the way out of this public health nightmare. (1/19)
The New York Times: Zeynep Tufekci On How To Prepare For The Pandemic’s Next Phase 
I remember thinking, as Covid ravaged the country in December 2020, that at least the holidays the next year would be better. There would be more vaccines, more treatments, more immunity. Instead, we got Omicron and a confusing new phase of the pandemic. What do you do with a variant that is both monstrously more infectious and somewhat milder? What do you say about another year when we didn’t have enough tests, enough ventilation or the best guidance on masks? And how do you handle the fracturing politics of a changing pandemic in an exhausted country? (Zeynep Tufekci, 1/18)
Viewpoints: Will Newsom Deliver On Universal Health Care?; What's The Real Issue Behind The Nursing Crisis?
Editorial writers delve into these various public health issues.
Los Angeles Daily News: Newsom Backs Away From Single-Payer Health Care Pledge 
When he unveiled a new state budget last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom crowed about California becoming the nation’s first state to embrace universal health care coverage. His budget would accomplish that goal by extending state Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented immigrants of all ages, beginning in 2024. “I campaigned on universal health care,” Newsom said a day later. “We’re delivering that.” Not quite. (Dan Walters, 1/18)
The New York Times: Covid Didn’t Create The Nursing Crisis
We’re entering our third year of Covid, and America’s nurses — who we celebrated as heroes during the early days of lockdown — are now leaving the bedside. The pandemic arrived with many people having great hope for reform on many fronts, including the nursing industry, but much of that optimism seems to have faded. (Lucy King and Jonah M. Kessel, 1/19)
East Bay Times: We Must Not Return To Pre-Roe Vs. Wade World Of Restrictions
Current attempts to destroy the right to abortion, if successful, will return us to a pre-1973 Roe vs. Wade world of restrictions. Working at Family Planning Alternatives and Women’s Community Clinic in San Jose allowed me to see the difference between the pre- and post-Roe eras. I heard the horrors of illegal, back-alley abortions. So the moment the Supreme Court decision was announced, women showed up spontaneously on Market Street in San Francisco to celebrate their joy and freedom. Shortly thereafter, our clinic began offering low-cost, safe, legal and accessible abortions onsite. Women no longer needed to go to a hospital to have their abortions. During that period, I held the hands of hundreds of women during their safe, legal abortions. (Susyn Almond, 1/19)
Chicago Tribune: To Improve Breast Cancer Outcomes For Black Women, We Should Expand Health Care Coverage 
A recent op-ed in the Tribune highlighting breast cancer mortality rates among Black women in Chicago should sadden and motivate all of us. It reminded me of a meeting I had with Dr. Robert Winn, former director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center, who left me floored after showing the gap between Black and white residents in a ward-by-ward map of breast cancer mortality rates. (Dick Durbin, 1/18)
USA Today: Racial Inequality, Maternal Death: We Can't Solve What We Don't Measure
The recent Biden-Harris Maternal Health Day of Action focused the nation’s attention on shameful and inexcusable facts about the health and survival of our mothers. Not only is America’s overall maternal mortality rate the highest among wealthy nations, death occurs more than twice as often for Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women. The day saw dozens of organizations, including ours, make significant commitments to act, but how do we increase the chances that these actions will help reverse decades-long trends of worsening health inequities? (Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet and Sema Sgaier, 1/18)
The New York Times: How Being Sick Changed My Health Care Views 
Often around the turn of the year I perform an act of pundit accountability, looking back on the previous year’s columns to assess the things that I got wrong. For this January’s edition, though, I’m going to take a different kind of backward glance, and try to answer one of the frequent questions I received when I wrote, last fall, about my experience with chronic illness: Namely, has being sick altered any of my views on health care policy? (Ross Douthat, 1/19)
Modern Healthcare: A Focus On Preparedness: Infection Prevention Lessons Learned From COVID-19
The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought infection prevention teams into the spotlight, showcasing their expertise and decades of work on preparedness. As the pandemic continues to unfold with the omicron and delta variants driving hospitalizations up again, these teams are helping manage unprecedented surges of critically ill patients in the face of additional ongoing challenges created by inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment, staff shortages, fear and fatigue. The COVID-19 response has challenged established procedures in ways previously unimaginable. (Dr. Mary Hayden and Ann Marie Pettis, 1/18)
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