First Edition: Jan. 26, 2022 – Kaiser Health News

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.
KHN: After Miscarriages, Workers Have Few Guarantees For Time Off Or Job-Based Help 
For three years, Rachel Makkar said, she thrived in her job as a broker and asset manager at J&B Building Co. in Colorado. She excelled at her work — she said her performance reviews noted that — and she thought it was “the best place I’ve ever worked.” That changed in August. After trying for “a really long time” to conceive a second child, she suffered an early miscarriage at home one weekend. She couldn’t go to work that Monday. “I was really traumatized,” she said. “That entire first week was like a heightened level of emotion that I hadn’t really been through before.” She also had a doctor’s appointment to ensure she wasn’t experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, which would have required immediate surgery. (Covert, 1/26)
KHN: What The Federal ‘No Surprises Act’ Means In California 
Betty Chow, a Los Angeles resident, had a cervical disc replaced in August 2020 at a surgery center that was part of her Anthem Blue Cross PPO network. Thirteen months later, she was blindsided by a bill for nearly $2,000 from the anesthesiologist who was on her surgical team but was not contracted with her PPO, or preferred provider organization. (Wolfson, 1/26)
NBC News: Biden Administration Withdraws Vaccine-Or-Test Mandate For Large Employers
The Biden administration is withdrawing its Covid vaccination-or-test requirement for large employers, citing the Supreme Court's recent decision to block the rule. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, said Tuesday that the withdrawal of the emergency mandate would be effective Wednesday. The Supreme Court this month blocked the mandate, which required larger businesses to ensure that workers are vaccinated against Covid-19 or wear masks and get tested weekly. The court's conservative majority said the administration had gone too far in imposing such a sweeping requirement on the country's businesses. (Finn, 1/25)
Modern Healthcare: OSHA Withdraws COVID Vaccine Mandate For Employers
OSHA's emergency temporary standard had sought to require employers with at least 100 employees to develop, implement and enforce vaccination policies, with exceptions for those that instead required employees to either get vaccinated or undergo regular testing for COVID-19 and wear face coverings at work. OSHA wrote in a filing Tuesday that emergency temporary standards, like the one being withdrawn, also serve as proposed rules. The agency noted the vaccination policy still exists as a proposed rule, which received "robust participation" from more than 100,000 commenters that will be available for public review. (Bannow, 1/25)
The Hill: Biden Administration Withdraws Its Vaccine-Or-Test Mandate For Businesses 
Given the Supreme Court's decision, the Biden administration filed a motion on Tuesday to have the existing lawsuits that were filed against the employer vaccine mandate dismissed. Twenty-seven Republican-led states and a coalition of businesses had brought those legal challenges against the mandate. “The federal government respectfully moves to dismiss the petitions challenging the Vaccination and Testing emergency temporary standard (Vaccination and Testing ETS) issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to address the grave danger of COVID-19 in the workplace,” the Biden administration said in a motion. (Vakil, 1/25)
Bloomberg: Covid-19: Few Employers To Drop Vaccine Mandate After Supreme Court Ruling
More than one-third of U.S. employers still plan to implement a vaccine mandate despite the Supreme Court’s rejection of a federal rule that would have required workers to get shots or periodic tests. Thirty-five percent of companies polled by Gartner Inc. last week said the court’s Jan. 13 ruling won’t derail their plans to require vaccinations, compared with just 4% that said they’re now dropping their mandate. A further 29% haven’t made a decision yet, while 12% said they’re now less likely to impose a requirement. (Boyle, 1/25)
The Hill: White House Dismisses DeSantis Calls To Reverse Decision On Antibody Therapies That Don't Work 
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday dismissed criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other Republicans who are demanding the Biden administration continue to allow states to use a COVID-19 treatment that doesn't work against the omicron variant. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday said it is limiting the use of two monoclonal antibody therapies from Eli Lilly and Regeneron because they are ineffective at treating the omicron variant. As a result, Florida health officials closed the state's antibody treatment centers. (Weixel, 1/25)
Politico: Republicans See Political Gold In Democrats' Race-Sensitive Covid Drug Guidance
Republicans are accusing the Biden administration of racism — against white people. The administration’s recommendation that race and ethnicity be considered when deciding who gets the limited supply of new Covid drugs is the latest political talking points with which Republicans are hammering Democrats, looking to energize their base ahead of the midterm elections. (Ollstein and Messerly, 1/25)
The Washington Post: Americans Losing Confidence In Biden’s Handling Of Pandemic, Poll Shows
Americans are less confident in President Biden’s handling of the pandemic than they were nearly a year ago, according to results from a new Pew Research Center poll. In a national survey conducted Jan. 10-17, 44 percent of Americans said they are very or somewhat confident in the president’s ability to handle the public health impact of the pandemic, a drop of 21 percentage points since March 2021. The public was nearly evenly split on whether they thought the worst of the pandemic was over, with 49 percent responding in the affirmative and 50 percent saying that “the worst is still to come.” (Cheng and Suliman, 1/26)
Modern Healthcare: Members Of Congress Call For Investigation Into Nurse Staffing Agencies' Pricing
Nearly 200 members of Congress have asked the White House to open an investigation into whether nurse-staffing agencies are illegally profiting off of the pandemic. Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) led their colleagues in a letter to COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zients Monday that urges the White House to direct federal agencies to scrutinize staffing agencies for potential "anticompetitive activity" and violations of consumer protection laws. (Hellmann, 1/25)
Stat: Key Senators Propose An Overhaul Of How The U.S. Prepares For Pandemics
A powerful, bipartisan duo of senators wants to empower Congress to ensure the government’s response to the next pandemic is far smoother than it was on Covid-19. One of the most significant policies in the plan, released in a draft on Tuesday, would create a 9/11-style bipartisan commission to formally investigate the United States’ pandemic response — a proposal that has failed to gain traction until now. Another would require Senate confirmation for the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sweeping measure, which was in the works for nearly a year, is the product of negotiations between Senate health committee chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking member Richard Burr (R-N.C.). (Cohrs, 1/25)
Modern Healthcare: HHS Releases $2B In Relief Grants As AHA Pleads For More Help
The Health and Human Services Department will make roughly $2 billion more in Provider Relief Funding payments this week, the government announced Tuesday. But that's not enough for the American Hospital Association, which is urging President Joe Biden's administration to distribute another $6 billion and Congress to authorize $25 billion more. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there is no money left over, however. The $6 billion remaining in the account is already set aside for purposes such as reconsiderations of previous grants and reimbursements to providers that treated uninsured patients, an agency spokesperson wrote in an email. The PRF dollars come from the $178 billion CARES Act that President Donald Trump enacted in 2020. (Goldman, 1/25)
AP: Judge Temporarily Restores New York's Mask Mandate
An appeals judge restored New York’s mask mandate Tuesday, a day after a judge in a lower court ruled that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration lacked the constitutional authority to order people to wear face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic. After hearing brief arguments, Appellate Division Justice Robert Miller granted the state’s request to keep the masking rule in place while the governor’s administration pursues an appeal. He offered no opinion on the mandate’s legality. (Thompson, 1/25)
The New York Times: New York Restaurant Won’t Face City Scrutiny for Admitting Sarah Palin
New York City will not investigate Elio’s, an Upper East Side restaurant, for allowing Sarah Palin to dine indoors on Saturday night without asking for proof that she had been vaccinated. City rules require that restaurants demand such proof before admitting guests indoors. Ms. Palin is unvaccinated, and on Monday, she tested positive for Covid. But a spokesman for the city said Tuesday that the many agencies that enforce the vaccination rules issue violations only for incidents that have been observed by a city inspector. Ms. Palin’s visit to Elio’s was disclosed in a tweet by a fellow diner. (Krishna, 1/25)
USA Today: Only 40% Of US. Population Has Gotten Boosters
The evidence about the protection from severe disease provided by booster shots is compelling, as outlined by the recent CDC study that showed they're 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations from omicron infections. And yet that data hasn't convinced even a majority of Americans to get boosted. Only 40% of the U.S. population has received the extra dose, considerably lower than the less-than-impressive 63% who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Even though President Joe Biden and health care experts continue to harp on the importance of booster doses as protection from the initial vaccinations wanes, the average number of boosters administered per day in the U.S. has dropped from a peak of 1 million in early December to about 490,000 as of last week. (Ortiz, Fernando and Tebor, 1/25)
AP: COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Drive Is Faltering In The US
The COVID-19 booster drive in the U.S. is losing steam, worrying health experts who have pleaded with Americans to get an extra shot to shore up their protection against the highly contagious omicron variant. Just 40% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the average number of booster shots dispensed per day in the U.S. has plummeted from a peak of 1 million in early December to about 490,000 as of last week. (Anderson, 1/26)
Austin American-Statesman: Do I Really Need To Get A COVID-19 Booster? CDC Real-World Study Supports Effectiveness
The new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides real-world U.S. numbers about the effectiveness of boosters for both the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19. The study analyzed cases from 383 emergency departments and urgent care clinics and 259 hospitals across 10 states from Aug. 26 to Jan. 5. It looked only at people 18 and older. The study found that mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna have waning effectiveness 180 days after the second dose. The effectiveness went from 94% during the delta variant spread to 82% amid omicron's spread for keeping people out of the emergency room and urgent care and from 94% to 90% for people keeping people from being hospitalized. (Villalpando, 1/25)
The New York Times: New Research Hints At 4 Factors That May Increase Chances Of Long Covid
It is one of many mysteries about long Covid: Who is more prone to developing it? Are some people more likely than others to experience physical, neurological or cognitive symptoms than can emerge, or linger for, months after their coronavirus infections have cleared? Now, a team of researchers who followed more than 200 patients for two to three months after their Covid diagnoses report that they have identified biological factors that might help predict if a person will develop long Covid. (Belluck, 1/25)
NBC News: Who Will Get Long Covid? Study May Offer Clues
A blood test may someday help determine a person's risk for long Covid, new research suggests. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, found that people who go on to develop long Covid have lower levels of certain antibodies in their blood soon after they are infected with the coronavirus. (Edwards, 1/25)
USA Today: Is Long COVID A Syndrome Or A Series Of Coronavirus Complications?
Long COVID largely remains a mystery, experts say, but a few clues are starting to emerge. With symptoms ranging from breathlessness to blood clots to lack of smell, what has been called long COVID might actually be a constellation of problems not one overarching condition. Calling it one thing is like saying someone has "cancer," rather than specifying "pancreatic cancer" or "skin cancer," said Dr. Nir Goldstein, a pulmonologist and director for The Center for Post-COVID Care and Recovery at National Jewish Health in Denver. (Weintraub, 1/25)
CIDRAP: 75% Of COVID ICU Survivors Have Physical Symptoms 1 Year On 
One year after 246 COVID-19 survivors were treated in 1 of 11 intensive care units (ICUs) in the Netherlands, nearly 75% reported lingering physical symptoms, more than 26% said they had mental symptoms, and upwards of 16% still had cognitive symptoms, according to a study yesterday in JAMA. (Van Beusekom, 1/25)
Philadelphia Inquirer: Heart Function Returns To Normal Within 3 Months For Children With COVID Inflammatory Syndrome, CHOP Study Finds
Some good news for young COVID-19 patients who develop dangerous inflammation in multiple organs: After three months, their heart function generally has returned to normal, according to a new study from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. That’s not to say this condition, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), isn’t serious. Children have died from it, and while most survive, the symptoms can linger for months. Some type of heart injury is usually part of the mix. (Avril, 1/25)
The Washington Post: CDC Is Asked To Release Race And Gender Data On Long Covid
A pair of Democratic House members asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a letter Tuesday to release data on the number of Americans who suffer lingering symptoms of coronavirus infection, including breakdowns along race, gender and age. The National Institutes of Health and the CDC have launched detailed studies of long-term covid, often shortened to “long covid,” but those examinations are expected to take years. In the meantime, policymakers lack good information about how many people in the United States and worldwide suffer from long-term, debilitating effects of the disease. (Rowland, 1/25)
USA Today: COVID Omicron Variant Is Less Severe Despite Hospitalizations
A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published Tuesday found that although the omicron variant has shattered COVID-19 case and hospitalization records, other factors have shown it's still less severe than other waves in the pandemic. The highly contagious variant has pushed the U.S. to break 1 million cases in a day multiple times and the pace of reported deaths is currently above 15,000 per week. But despite omicron seeing the highest reported numbers of hospitalizations during the pandemic, the ratio of emergency department visits and hospitalizations to case numbers were actually lower compared to the COVID waves from the delta variant and during winter 2020–21, the study says. (Tebor, 1/26)
Reuters: COVID Is Less Severe With Omicron Than Delta, U.S. Study Suggests
The Omicron variant appears to result in less severe COVID-19 than seen during previous periods of high coronavirus transmission including the Delta wave, with shorter hospital stays, less need for intensive care and fewer deaths, according to a new U.S. study. However, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has led to record numbers of infections and hospitalizations, straining the U.S. healthcare system. (Maddipatla and Leo, 1/25)
The Wall Street Journal: Covid-19 Deaths In The U.S. Top 2,100 A Day, Highest In Nearly A Year
Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. have reached the highest level since early last year, eclipsing daily averages from the recent Delta-fueled surge, after the newer Omicron variant spread wildly through the country and caused record-shattering case counts. The seven-day average for newly reported Covid-19 deaths reached 2,191 a day by Monday, up about 1,000 from daily death counts two months ago, before Omicron was first detected, data from Johns Hopkins University show. (Kamp, 1/25)
The Washington Post: Maryland Covid-19 Deaths Hit New Monthly Record As Omicron Begins To Retreat
Covid-19 deaths are mounting in Maryland even as new infections decline. With nearly a week left in January, the state on Tuesday already had logged 1,475 covid-related fatalities, more than double the number recorded in December, and higher than any other month since the pandemic began. (Tan and Portnoy, 1/25)
AP: California Appears To Pass Peak Of Omicron Variant Wave
California showed signs it turned the corner on the omicron wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with infection rates falling and hospitalizations well short of the overwhelming deluge officials feared a few weeks ago. Over 15,000 people are hospitalized with coronavirus, a huge figure but well short of last January’s peak of about 22,000 and half of what officials had feared. Positivity rates are down 15% from earlier this month and the state’s projection model shows the number of hospitalizations falling by half, to less than 7,700, in another month. (Thompson, 1/26)
USA Today: Omicron Has A New Variant Cousin, BA.2. But Don't Panic, Experts Say
Yes, a new variant of omicron is spreading on at least four continents. But, no, it shouldn't be a cause for panic, Massachusetts scientists said Tuesday. Unlike two years ago when everyone was first learning about COVID-19, there are now many tools to combat the disease, and, like its cousin, omicron BA.2 is expected to remain relatively mild. "I don't think it's going to cause the degree of chaos and disruption, morbidity and mortality that BA.1 did," said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to continue to move to a better place and, hopefully, one where each new variant on the horizon isn't news." (Weintraub, 1/25)
AP: EXPLAINER: What's Known About 'Stealth' Version Of Omicron?
Since mid-November, more than three dozen countries have uploaded nearly 15,000 genetic sequences of BA.2 to GISAID, a global platform for sharing coronavirus data. As of Tuesday morning, 96 of those sequenced cases came from the U.S. “Thus far, we haven’t seen it start to gain ground” in the U.S., said Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas, which has identified three cases of BA.2. (Ungar, 1/25)
CBS News: Photojournalist-Turned-Nurse Captures COVID Patients' Intimate Moments 
CBS News and David Begnaud, lead national correspondent for "CBS Mornings," have extensively covered COVID-19 across the country since the pandemic began. Invariably, everywhere they went, a nurse or doctor has told Begnaud, "If only the public could see what we've seen." Photographer Alan Hawes has tried to document the impact of COVID-19 with his photos. When he goes to work at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, he brings with him a special ability as he cares for the sickest of the sick COVID patients: he takes pictures of what many will never see. (1/25)
AP: Pennsylvania Fast-Tracks $225M In Pandemic Aid To Hospitals 
Pennsylvania’s state Senate fast-tracked legislation Tuesday to spend $225 million to help hospitals struggling to keep staff on board as the omicron variant of the coronavirus has packed hospitals with unvaccinated patients. The bill has backing from Gov. Tom Wolf and House leaders, and was expected to receive a final House vote Wednesday. The money is from federal pandemic relief signed by President Joe Biden last March. (1/26)
NPR: Elton John Postpones Texas Concerts After Testing Positive For COVID
British singer and pianist Elton John says he is rescheduling his two farewell concert dates in Dallas after testing positive for COVID-19. The award-winning musician started back on his farewell tour entitled "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" last week. "It's always a massive disappointment to move shows and I'm so sorry to anyone who's been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe," he announced on Instagram. John added that he's fully vaccinated and boosted, experiencing only mild symptoms and expects to be able to perform at his scheduled show this weekend in Arkansas. (Franklin, 1/25)
AP: Virginia Sen. Warner Announces Positive COVID-19 Test 
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia has tested positive for a breakthrough case of COVID-19 and is working from home, his office said Tuesday. Rachel S. Cohen, Warner’s communications director, said the 67-year-old Demcorat was glad he had been vaccinated and received booster shots. Her statement said all of his symptoms are “extremely mild.” (1/26)
AP: Health Official Bows Out Of Mardi Gras Parade; Cites Threats
New Orleans’ health director says she won’t take part in one of the earliest parades of the Mardi Gras season, citing threats over the city’s resumption of COVID-19 restrictions to combat the highly contagious omicron variant. The Krewe du Vieux says it still considers Dr. Jennifer Avegno its queen and will include her float in its parade, one of the first in the Carnival season leading up to Fat Tuesday, news outlets reported. The parade, known for wild satire, will be held Feb. 12 under the theme “Vaxxed and Confused.” (1/25)
Los Angeles Times: Super Bowl Guests To Get KN95 Masks At SoFi Stadium
Face masks will be given to spectators watching the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, officials announced Tuesday, to ensure COVID-19 protocols are met at the event, which is a little more than two weeks away. The masks — KN95 varieties — will be handed out as part of health and safety plans ahead of the Feb. 13 game. L.A. County’s health officer order requires that patrons, customers and guests wear masks at “outdoor mega events,” now defined as those hosting 5,000 or more people, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. (Lin II, Money and Alpert Reyes, 1/25)
The Washington Post: D.C. Students Walk Out To Protest ‘Not Safe’ School Covid Protocols
Dozens of students from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School walked out Tuesday afternoon in a push for more coronavirus testing and virtual options in D.C. Public Schools. Students in smaller numbers from eight other schools staged similar protests. … Brianna Stallings, a lead organizer in the demonstration, said her school wasn’t being transparent about how many people at Banneker have contracted covid-19. (Asbury, 1/25)
AP: Wisconsin Assembly OKs Vaccine Passport Ban, Immunity Waiver 
Republicans who control the Wisconsin Assembly approved a pair of bills Tuesday that would require employers to count a prior coronavirus infection as an alternative to vaccination and testing and prohibit government agencies from issuing vaccine passports. Both measures face a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The governor last year vetoed a GOP bill that would have barred public health officials from requiring people get vaccinated. (Richmond, 1/25)
The Washington Post: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Apologizes For Saying The Unvaccinated Have Less Freedom Than Anne Frank Did
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized Tuesday for invoking Anne Frank to imply Jews had more freedoms during the Holocaust than unvaccinated Americans do today — remarks that drew a public backlash and criticism from Kennedy’s wife. … On Tuesday, after intense criticism, he tweeted that to “the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry.” “I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors,” wrote Kennedy, the son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) and nephew of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy’s wife, actress Cheryl Hines, also distanced herself from his remarks. “My husband’s opinions are not a reflection of my own,” she tweeted. “While we love each other, we differ on many current issues.” (Jeong, 1/25)
AP: Nationwide Blood Shortage Puts Idaho Hospitals In Dire Need 
A national blood shortage caused by a surge in omicron cases has hit Idaho hard, with some hospitals nearly running out of the critical medical resource before they are resupplied, state health officials said Tuesday. Much of the southern half of the state entered crisis standards of care on Monday, partly because of staff shortages and partly because the inventory of blood products used in transfusions, surgeries and other treatments is running dangerously low. The designation allows hospitals to ration care as needed when they don’t have enough resources for all patients. (Boone, 1/26)
Modern Healthcare: Mass General Brigham Must Reduce Spending, Commission Orders
Mass General Brigham's excessive spending jeopardizes the entire state's healthcare system, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission warned Tuesday. The largest health system in the state has spent $293 million in excess of Massachusetts' cost growth benchmark from 2014 to 2019, which was the highest trajectory among Massachusetts providers, HPC's analysis of Center for Health Information data shows. Prices and its payer mix were the main drivers of Mass General Brigham's spending growth, not utilization. (Kacik, 1/25)
AP: Challenges To NC Medicaid Contracts Now Over With Dismissal
The end of appeals by two insurance providers fighting how North Carolina’s health department decided who would run its new Medicaid managed-care initiative means legal challenges over the awarding of the contracts are now over. The Court of Appeals last week agreed to accept the voluntary dismissal request by the two providers that lost out on contracts awarded in 2019 by the Department of Health and Human Services. Four conventional insurers and one physician partnership received the awards to run the program, which began last July and covers 1.6 million Medicaid consumers. (1/25)
Stat: FDA Scolds Lilly For Misleading Instagram Post About Diabetes Drug
Eli Lilly (LLY) was rebuked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for running a misleading Instagram post that omitted risk information about its best-selling Trulicity diabetes medicine, marking the second time in as many months the regulator scolded the company for failing to follow advertising rules. In the latest transgression, the FDA noted the Instagram post made an incorrect claim that the drug could lower blood sugar levels and displayed key information about risks and appropriate use in small, fast-moving type on the screen. Yet the benefits of the diabetes drug were prominently featured in “colorful, compelling, and attention-grabbing fast-paced visuals.” (Silverman, 1/25)
AP: New Mexico Lawmakers Propose $1 Million For 'Baby Boxes' 
Two lawmakers are proposing funding “baby boxes” in each of New Mexico’s 33 counties in an effort to increase options for parents who want to abandon their babies under the state’s existing safe haven law. A bill to fund the initiative introduced by Sens. David Gallegos, a Republican, and Leo Jaramillo, a Democrat, would allocate around $30,000 for each of the boxes, which would be equipped with heat regulation and silent alarms. (1/25)
AP: Maine Lawmakers Take Aim At Prescription Drug Double Billing 
A Maine legislative committee unanimously endorsed a proposal Tuesday that supporters said would seek to stop insurance companies from double-billing patients for their prescription drugs. The Maine Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee gave an 11-0 approval to the proposal by Democratic Sen. Heather Sanborn. Sanborn said the proposal concerns “co-pay accumulator programs” that insurers use. (1/25)
AP: Senate And House Pass Medical Pot Bills, Collision Looms
South Dakota’s Senate on Tuesday passed a spate of bills to put lawmakers’ mark on the state’s new voter-passed medical marijuana law. Several of the bills approved by the Senate would ease access to medical pot for some patients, but House Republican lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction. On Monday, they passed a proposal that would bar patients from growing cannabis plants at home, setting up a potential collision as the Senate seeks to cap the number of homegrown plants. (Groves, 1/25)
Los Angeles Times: No Ifs, Ands Or Butts: California Bill Would Ban Single-Use Smoking Products Like Cigarette Filters
California could see fewer cigarette butts and vape pods on the streets under a measure introduced Tuesday. Assembly Bill 1690 would ban single-use cigarette filters, e-cigarettes and vape products in the state with the aim of benefiting the environment and public health. “For more than half a century, tobacco filters have caused a public and environmental health crisis that found renewed vigor in recent years as the tobacco industry began to sell electronic vape products,” Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-North Hollywood), who introduced the bill, said in a news release Tuesday. (Martinez, 1/25)
NBC News: Birth Trends Like ‘Lotus Births’ And Placenta Consumption Come With Risks, Report Says 
As interest grows in alternative birthing choices such as water births, consumption of placentas and deferring newborn vaccinations, doctors should counsel expectant parents on the risks such decisions could pose to babies, a new report said. The clinical report was published online in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and examined seven emerging birth trends. (Chuck, 1/25)
AP: Georgia Lawmakers Aim To Tackle Spike In Suicides, Overdoses 
Facing a surge in overdose deaths and rural suicides, Georgia lawmakers want to bolster the state’s dismal mental health care system by pressuring private insurers to improve coverage and increasing state funding for treatment and crisis services. Members of the state Legislature are scheduled to unveil a policy package for mental health and substance abuse on Wednesday. Efforts to ensure private insurers provide the same level of benefits for depression, anxiety and other mental disorders as they do for medical conditions are expected to be a central part of the legislation. (Thanawala, 1/26)
AP: Kansas Governor Calls For Investigation Into Teen's Death
Gov. Laura Kelly has ordered the Kansas agency that oversees foster care to investigate the death of a 17-year-old who was restrained face down for more than 30 minutes last fall at a Wichita juvenile intake center after his foster father called begging for help because the teen was hallucinating. (Hollingsworth, 1/25)
ProPublica and The Seattle Times: Toxic PCBs Festered At This Public School For Eight Years As Students And Teachers Grew Sicker 
For Michelle Leahy, it started with headaches, inflamed rashes on her arms and legs, and blisters in her mouth. Some students and staff at Sky Valley Education Center, an alternative public school in Monroe, also had strange symptoms: cognitive problems, skin cysts, girls as young as 6 suddenly hitting puberty. Leahy, like others, eventually became too sick to return to campus. She developed uterine cancer as her other symptoms escalated. (Ramadan, 1/23)
The Washington Post: A Texas Teen Raised $30,500 At A Livestock Show. She Donated It To The Hospital That Treated Her Cancer
After the cancer surgeries and treatments, Maddie Barber, 17, had some partial paralysis on her right side.It prevented Maddie, who lives near San Antonio, from playing favorite school sports like volleyball. So her father encouraged her to join Future Farmers of America (officially called the National FFA Organization) and raise pigs with her brother on the family’s nine-acre farm. … The family has had an overwhelming sense of gratitude since 2018, when Maddie was declared free from the brain cancer, medulloblastoma, that had consumed their lives since she was diagnosed at age 12. This month, Maddie figured out a way she could say thank you to doctors and nurses at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who not only treated her cancer but were also supportive of the entire family. (Free, 1/25)
Bloomberg: Covid Cases In U.K. Start To Slow Down, Study Shows
About two-thirds of the participants in a large U.K. Covid-19 study who tested positive this month reported a previous infection with the virus, researchers found. Another 7.5% said they suspected they’d had an earlier case, according to the React-1 study led by Imperial College London. Researchers looked at infections among some 100,000 volunteers from Jan. 5 to Jan. 20. (Anghel, 1/26)
The Boston Globe: Australians Can Be Fined $1,000 For Not Reporting A Positive Rapid Test. In Massachusetts, Reporting A Test Isn’t Even Possible
If a person in Sydney tests positive for COVID using an at-home rapid test but fails to report it to authorities, they could be slapped with a $1,000 fine. Halfway around the world in Massachusetts, however, even someone eager to report a positive at-home test has no means of alerting health authorities. In the past few months, at-home rapid tests have ballooned in popularity as quick screening tools to slow the spread of the virus. Federal and state officials have slowly begun distributing the tests at little or no cost to residents. And the general public — aware of Omicron’s sharp rise, but uninterested in further lockdowns — gobbled them up, stalking pharmacies before dawn and scouring online inventory. (Krueger, 1/25)
AP: Thailand First In Asia To Move To Decriminalize Marijuana 
Thailand on Tuesday became the first country in Asia to approve the de facto decriminalization of marijuana, though authorities have left a grey area around its recreational use. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced that the Narcotics Control Board had approved the dropping cannabis from the ministry’s list of controlled drugs. (Ekvitthayavechnukul, 1/26)
AP: WHO Chief Makes Case For 2nd Term As Ethiopia Criticizes Him
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus laid out more plans Tuesday to fight the virus as he pitched his case for a new five-year term and faced criticism from his own country — Ethiopia — over his comments about the embattled Tigray region. edros, who like many Ethiopians goes by his first name, is running unopposed for a second term as WHO director-general. That makes his presentation to the U.N. health agency’s executive board a bit of a formality, since he is all but certain to win re-election when the WHO Assembly takes place in May. (Keaten, 1/25)
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