Tuesday, January 11, 2022 – Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News Original Stories
Fire Closes Hospital and Displaces Staff as Colorado Battles Omicron
The most destructive fire in state history has knocked a hospital out of service and left health care workers homeless with omicron driving new covid hospitalizations. (Kate Ruder, 1/11)
Clinics Say California’s New Medicaid Drug Program Will Force Them to Cut Services
On Jan. 1, California started buying prescription drugs for its nearly 14 million Medicaid enrollees, a responsibility that had primarily been held by managed-care insurance plans. State officials estimate California will save hundreds of millions of dollars by flexing its purchasing power, but some health clinics expect to lose money. (Samantha Young, 1/11)
App Attempts to Break Barriers to Bankruptcy for Those in Medical Debt
Medical bills are a leading reason people get stuck in a cycle of debt. Declaring bankruptcy is one lifeline, but attorney and court fees can put it out of reach. The nonprofit Upsolve created an app it calls the “TurboTax of bankruptcy” to help people hit the reset button and rebuild their financial lives. (Blake Farmer, Nashville Public Radio, 1/11)
Political Cartoon: 'Ruff Day?'
Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Ruff Day?'" by Dave Coverly.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
Nurses there for us,
Just say thank you and love you,
No more violence
– 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.
Administration News
White House Directs Private Insurers To Cover Most At-Home Covid Test Costs
Under guidance issued by the Biden administration yesterday, providers must shoulder the costs for up to 8 rapid antigen tests per month starting Jan. 15. Insurers can work with preferred pharmacies or retailers to directly cover over-the-counter test kits or reimburse beneficiaries after purchase.
AP: Home COVID Tests To Be Covered By Insurers Starting Saturday
Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests per month for people on their plans. The Biden administration announced the change Monday as it looks to lower costs and make testing for the virus more convenient amid rising frustrations. Under the new policy, first detailed to the AP, Americans will be able to either purchase home testing kits for free under their insurance or submit receipts for the tests for reimbursement, up to the monthly per-person limit. A family of four, for instance, could be reimbursed for up to 32 tests per month. PCR tests and rapid tests ordered or administered by a health provider will continue to be fully covered by insurance with no limit. (Miller, 1/11)
The Wall Street Journal: White House Says Private Insurers To Cover Rapid Covid-19 Tests 
Consumers can find out from their plan or insurer if it provides direct coverage of over-the-counter Covid-19 tests or whether they will need to submit a claim for reimbursement, officials said. The new policy doesn’t apply to Medicare, with its more than 60 million seniors who are generally at higher risk of severe infection because of their age. Medicaid already covers at-home Covid-19 tests that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Some insurer groups said Monday that the administration should have done more sooner to make testing available and affordable. (Armour and Abbott, 1/10)
Politico: Biden Administration Lays Out Rules For Reimbursing At-Home Covid Tests 
Individuals who purchase home tests outside of their insurers’ preferred network must be reimbursed up to $12 per test, but plans can "provide more generous reimbursement up to the actual price of" more pricey tests, according to the guidance. Still, that could create problems for consumers who don't live near participating pharmacies or who purchase pricier home tests like Detect’s at-home molecular test, which costs $75 for a test and the reusable hub. … Another challenge for insurers will be tracking the number of tests individuals buy from different locations, according to Bagel. If a physician orders an at-home test for an individual, it does not count toward the eight test-a-month limit. (Lim, 1/10)
In other news about covid tests —
Modern Healthcare: ECRI Ranks Seven At-Home COVID-19 Antigen Tests For Usability
All at-home COVID-19 tests are not equal, so says a new report out from ECRI. The patient safety and cost not-for-profit evaluated seven antigen tests available in pharmacies and online for ease of use, which can determine both how accurate results are. "If an at-home test is complicated, if it's cumbersome, it can dramatically increase the error rate, which is of course of concern," said Marcus Schabacker, president and CEO of ECRI. "If you mix up how to do the test, you might get a false positive or more importantly, a false negative test and then you have a degree of comfort that you probably shouldn't have." (Gillespie, 1/10)
The New York Times: At-Home Coronavirus Tests Are Inaccessible To Blind People
Christy Smith has never been tested for the coronavirus. As a blind person, she can’t drive to testing sites near her home in St. Louis, and they are too far away for her to walk. Alternative options — public transportation, ride share apps or having a friend drive her to a test site — would put others at risk for exposure. The rapid tests that millions of other people are taking at home, which require precisely plunking liquid drops into tiny spaces and have no Braille guides, are also inaccessible to Ms. Smith. (Morris, 1/10)
Covid-19 Crisis
One Day, 1.35 Million Covid Infections: US Reports Shocking Record Cases
It's a dreadful world record: On Monday, the number of confirmed covid cases in the U.S. blew through the previous daily high of 1.03 million. That number is triple the count from just a week ago. In a glimmer of good news, parts of the country may be close to or past the omicron peak.
Reuters: U.S. Reports 1.35 Million COVID-19 Cases In A Day, Shattering Global Record 
The United States reported 1.35 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, the highest daily total for any country in the world as the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant showed no signs of slowing. The previous record was 1.03 million cases on Jan. 3. A large number of cases are reported each Monday due to many states not reporting over the weekend. The seven-day average for new cases has tripled in two weeks to over 700,000 new infections a day. (Shumaker, 1/11)
In New York and Florida, omicron’s peak may already be here or coming soon —
Bloomberg: Omicron Covid-19 Cases May Have Hit Peak In New York
New York’s Covid-19 infections may have reached a peak, about a month after the city’s first case of the omicron variant was identified. The seven-day average of people visiting New York emergency departments with Covid-like illness has dipped significantly in all five boroughs since the end of December, according to data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The Bronx saw the biggest drop, with the 7-day average retreating 35% in the week through Friday. (Levin, 1/10)
Health News Florida: UF Researchers Say Omicron Cases Will Peak Sooner Than Expected 
According to a report released by the University of Florida, the COVID-19 omicron variant will peak sooner than expected. In December, UF researchers predicted the omicron wave would reach its peak in February, but with the recent surge they’re now predicting the variant will peak within the next two weeks in the state. UF infectious disease expert Thomas Hladish said omicron continues to spread faster than other COVID variants. (Blake, 1/10)
In covid updates from California —
Los Angeles Times: 6 Million COVID-19 Infections In California, Most In The U.S.
More than 6 million cumulative coronavirus cases have now been reported in California, according to data compiled by The Times, as the Omicron variant continues its staggering spread. The record-setting pace of infections is putting pressure on hospitals, schools and other institutions, which are struggling to maintain full services even as some employees take time off to deal with COVID-19. (Money, Lin II and Evans, 1/10)
Los Angeles Times: More Than 3,800 California Prison Staffers Have Coronavirus Amid Massive Surge This Month
California’s prisons have seen a huge surge in the number of employees testing positive for the coronavirus, with 3,845 active infections Monday, a 212% increase so far this month. In the last two weeks there have been 3,912 new coronavirus cases among state employees working inside California’s prisons, coinciding with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant throughout the state’s population. (Winton, 1/10)
CNN: 62,000 Los Angeles Students And Staff Test Positive For Covid Ahead Of Return To School 
As Los Angeles students and staff prepare to return to school Tuesday, about 62,000 have tested positive for Covid-19, school district data show. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is requiring all students and employees to show a negative test result before returning. It is the nation's second largest district, with more than 640,000 students in grades K-12. (Mossburg, 1/10)
In other news about the spread of the coronavirus —
CNN: 5 Reasons You Should Not Deliberately Catch Omicron To 'Get It Over With' 
The question hung in the air like a bad odor, silencing the small group of fully vaccinated and boosted friends and family at my dinner table. "Why not just get Omicron and get it over with? It's mild, right? And it can boost immunity?" The fully vaccinated, boosted, well-educated friend who asked was sincere, echoing opinions heard on many social platforms. The idea of intentionally trying to catch Omicron is "all the rage," said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, with an exasperated sigh. (LaMotte, 1/11)
The Washington Post: CDC Weighs Recommending Better Masks Against Omicron Variant
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend that people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by health-care personnel, if they can do so consistently, said an official close to the deliberations who was not authorized to speak publicly. With the highly transmissible omicron variant spurring record levels of infections and hospitalizations, experts have repeatedly urged the Biden administration to recommend the better-quality masks rather than cloth coverings to protect against an airborne virus, and to underscore the importance of masking. (Sun and Roubein, 1/10)
AP: US Rep Mace Of South Carolina Has COVID For Second Time
Republican U.S. Rep Nancy Mace of South Carolina has contracted COVID-19 for a second time, saying Monday the infection is milder than her first and that she has been fully vaccinated since last spring. Mace said she knew she had contracted the virus and opted to test after one of her children had tested positive. Her infection comes amid a resurgence of the pandemic fueled by the omicron variant. (Kinnard, 1/11)
Fox News: Deltacron: A New Variant Of COVID-19 Or A Lab Contamination Mishap?
Deltacron, the reported new variant of COVID-19 said to combine both delta and omicron variants, has sparked a reaction of skepticism from world health experts. Scientists have expressed their doubts about its existence to various media platforms, saying that deltacron is likely the result of a lab contamination error. However, on Monday, the scientist behind the discovery defended his findings. A Cyprus researcher discovered deltacron, according to a report in Bloomberg News Saturday. (McGorry, 1/8)
CBS News: T-Cells From Common Colds Could Help Scientists Make The "Holy Grail": A Variant-Proof COVID Vaccine 
T-cells generated as part of the body's natural immune response to the common cold may help protect against serious illness from COVID-19, according to a study carried out in the U.K.  Researchers at Imperial College London told CBS News the findings could help scientists create vaccines that remain more effective against new variants of the coronavirus. (Ott, 1/10)
As Hospitalizations Soar, Ask Yourself: What Else Can I Do To Prevent Covid?
"It's time for everyone to pitch in and do what works. Wear your mask indoors. Avoid gatherings. … Get your vaccine and, if eligible, get boosted. That's how we'll get through this surge" said Democratic Gov. John Carney of Delaware, where hospitals are coping with "over 100% inpatient bed capacity."
CNN: Covid-19 Hospitalizations In The US Reach Levels Not Seen Since Last Winter's Surge 
The spread of the Omicron variant is causing widespread disruption across the US as hospitalizations reach a level not seen since the 2020-21 holiday surge. More than 141,000 Americans were hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Monday, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, nearing the record of 142,246 hospitalizations on January 14, 2021. The burden is straining health care networks as hospitals juggle staffing issues caused by the increased demand coupled with employees, who are at a higher risk of infection, having to isolate and recover after testing positive. (Caldwell, 1/11)
The Washington Post: U.S. Poised To Break Covid-19 Hospitalization Record 
The United States is poised to surpass its record for covid-19 hospitalizations as soon as Tuesday, with no end in sight to skyrocketing case loads, falling staff levels and the struggles of a medical system trying to provide care amid an unprecedented surge of the coronavirus. Monday’s total of 141,385 people in U.S. hospitals with covid-19 fell just short of the record of 142,273 set on Jan. 14, 2021, during the previous peak of the pandemic in this country. (Nirappil, Shammas, Keating and Bernstein, 1/10)
In updates from Virginia, Kentucky, New York and New Jersey —
The Washington Post: Virginia Hospitals In State Of Emergency, Says Northam 
Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday issued a limited state of emergency for hospitals stretched dangerously thin amid historic surges in coronavirus caseloads. The provisions of the targeted 30-day state-of-emergency order will make technical changes to expand capacity and increase staffing at hospitals while they grapple with the pandemic, seasonal flu and a general increase in acuity after patients deferred care. (Portnoy, Brice-Saddler and Vozzella, 1/10)
AP: Beshear Activates National Guard To Help Strained Hospitals 
In response to rising hospitalizations, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Monday that more Kentucky National Guard members will deploy to 30 health care facilities, beginning this week.Kentucky is currently experiencing a record surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant that has started to strain some of the state’s hospitals. Roughly one-third of Kentucky’s hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages. (1/10)
Crain's New York Business: New York City Hospital Data Indicates Available Beds—But Healthcare Workers Say Otherwise
Hospitals across New York City report thousands of available beds, but healthcare workers on the front lines say they struggle to find beds for a rising tide of patients. More than 12,000 total patients are hospitalized in the city, according to state data posted Sunday. About 6,100 have COVID—a number not seen since May 2020—including roughly 750 in intensive care units. Still, about 20% of the city's hospital beds are available, according to self-reported data from hospitals that the state publishes online by hospital. (Kaufman, 1/10)
Bloomberg: New Jersey Now Expects Smaller Covid Peak Later In January
New Jersey may have 8,000 Covid-related hospitalizations, nearing the state’s pandemic peak, in the third week of January, according to Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “We do believe we are going to have high levels for a couple of weeks,” Persichilli said Monday during a virus briefing. She said daily cases were expected to hit 20,000 to 30,000 through January. An earlier prediction, based on modeling, suggested as many as 9,000 hospitalizations by Jan. 14. New Jersey had more than 8,000 virus-infected inpatients in April 2020. (Young, 1/10)
Also —
The New York Times: How Families Can Navigate The I.C.U. 
In the last two years, the letters I.C.U. have become almost as familiar to the listening and reading public as PBS and NBC, as intensive care units across the country have been overwhelmed with people suffering from severe Covid-19. Meanwhile, medical personnel continue to struggle to care for patients with serious injuries, diseases or surgical complications who also require critical care. Intensive care can be a difficult and traumatizing experience for patients whose lives depend on it. And, according to the author of an extraordinarily thorough and helpful new book, the families and friends of patients who require prolonged stays in an I.C.U. often suffer along with them. (Brody, 1/10)
Short-Staffed And Short On Solutions: Your Doctor, Nurse Might Have Covid
In California, two powerful labor unions decried the state's move to temporarily allow health workers who test positive to continue working. Other states across the U.S. are allowing the same as hospitalizations skyrocket. About 24% of nearly 5,000 hospitals are experiencing staff shortages.
Sacramento Bee: Unions Condemn New Policy On COVID-Positive Hospital Workers 
Two influential and powerful health care labor unions condemned California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday for putting corporate interests ahead of public health after state regulators announced that hospitals and other institutions can compel asymptomatic workers to return to work even if they tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to it. “Gov. Newsom and our state’s public health leaders are putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers,” said Cathy Kennedy, a registered nurse and president of the California Nurses Association. “We want to care for our patients and see them get better – not potentially infect them. Sending nurses and other health care workers back to work while infected is dangerous. If we get sick, who will be left to care for our patients and community?” (Anderson, 1/10)
Politico: Health Care Workers Are Panicked As Desperate Hospitals Ask Infected Staff To Return 
“We don't think anyone who is knowingly Covid positive should be interacting with a cancer patient,” the American Cancer Society’s CEO, Karen Knudsen, told POLITICO. The CDC recommends, though doesn’t require, health providers to tell patients if an infected worker spends more than 15 minutes with them at a distance of less than six feet. Many health experts say transmission can occur in less time and distance. None of the hospitals POLITICO contacted responded when asked whether patients are informed if a caregiver was recently infected. (Levy, 1/10)
AP: Vegas-Area Hospital Firm Cuts Staff COVID Quarantine Time 
A hospital company with several facilities in southern Nevada saying Monday it will cut to five days its return-to-work target for medical personnel who test positive for COVID-19. Dignity Health, with suburban medical centers in Henderson, southwest Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, joined facilities around the nation taking steps to let nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus stay on the job if they have mild or no symptoms of illness. (1/11)
And more about staff shortages —
USA Today: COVID Staffing Shortages Reported At 24% Of US Hospitals
Almost a quarter of U.S. hospitals are reporting "critical staffing shortages" as counties across the country set COVID-19 case records. About 24% of nearly 5,000 hospitals are experiencing the shortages — the most since the start of the pandemic — and another 100 anticipate shortages this week, according to the newest data released by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, medical centers nationwide could set a single-day record for in-patient care of coronavirus patients as soon as Tuesday. According to the Washington Post, U.S. hospitalizations totaled 141,385 on Monday, barely under a record set on Jan. 14, 2021. (Yancey-Bragg, Stucka, Ortiz and Rice, 1/10)
The Wall Street Journal: Hospitals Cut Beds As Nurses Call In Sick With Covid-19 
Rising numbers of nurses and other critical healthcare workers are calling in sick across the U.S. due to Covid-19, forcing hospitals to cut capacity just as the Omicron variant sends them more patients, industry officials say. The hospitals are leaving beds empty because the facilities don’t have enough staffers to safely care for the patients, and a tight labor market has made finding replacements difficult. (Evans, 1/10)
WUSF Public Media: Staff Shortages And Surging Coronavirus Cases Are Straining Florida Hospitals 
COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in Florida, although not yet to the peak levels seen during the delta surge last summer. Florida Hospital Association president Mary Mayhew said the omicron variant is causing less severe illness in most patients. She said the portion of COVID patients requiring intensive care or oxygen is far lower than during delta. Some patients aren't even going to the hospital for COVID, but instead are testing positive while seeking care for something else. Still, Mayhew tells Health News Florida's Stephanie Colombini the surge is straining hospitals. (Colombini, 1/10)
In related news —
Billings Gazette: Nursing Labor Market Tightened, Wages Rose During Pandemic, MSU Study Shows
A new study from a Montana State University researcher and his colleagues provides evidence that the labor market tightened for the nursing workforce throughout the first 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a period marked by falling employment and rising wages across the industry. The paper, “Nurse Employment During the First 15 Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was published today in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Current Population Survey, which is administered monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau, the study identified and described the immediate economic impact of the pandemic on registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nursing assistants across the U.S. from April 2020 through June 2021. (Gorham, 1/10)
KHN: Fire Closes Hospital And Displaces Staff As Colorado Battles Omicron 
The Colorado wildfire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes last month has forced the temporary closure of a hospital and upended the lives of health care workers as the state’s already strained health care system braces for another surge in covid-19 hospitalizations. Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville, a community outside Boulder that was devastated in the wildfire that erupted Dec. 30, has been closed due to smoke damage and officials have not announced when it might reopen. In addition, at least 36 people who work in hospitals in the region lost their homes, while others sustained smoke damage to their homes that may prevent them from returning home. (Ruder, 1/11)
Vaccines Tailored For Omicron Coming Soon; Who Will Need One?
Pfizer announced that by March it may have a new covid vaccine ready that is modified specifically to protect against the omicron variant. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson also said their variation is in development. Some health experts say it's unclear if one will even be needed by that timeframe though.
CBS News: Pfizer Says Its Vaccine Targeting Omicron Will Be Ready In March 
Pfizer will have a COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant ready by March, the pharmaceutical company's chief executive said Monday. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company has already begun manufacturing a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine that aims to protect recipients against Omicron. "This vaccine will be ready in March," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday. "We [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk." (Cerullo, 1/10)
NBC News: Omicron-Specific Vaccines Could Be Ready By March. Will We Need Them?
It’s unclear if omicron-specific shots, or additional doses, will even be necessary by the time they are ready, health experts say. John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Weill Cornell Medical College, said by the time the new shots are ready to be deployed, "omicron will almost certainly have come and gone." (Lovelace Jr., 1/10)
In other news about Pfizer’s covid vaccine —
CNBC: Pfizer CEO Says Two Covid Vaccine Doses Aren't 'Enough For Omicron'
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said two doses of the company’s vaccine may not provide strong protection against infection from the omicron Covid variant, and the original shots have also lost some of their efficacy at preventing hospitalization. Bourla, in an interview at J.P. Morgan’s healthcare conference, emphasized the importance of a third shot to boost people’s protection against omicron. “The two doses, they’re not enough for omicron,” Bourla said. “The third dose of the current vaccine is providing quite good protection against deaths, and decent protection against hospitalizations.” (Kimball, 1/10)
CIDRAP: Pfizer COVID Vaccine 91% Effective Against Inflammatory Syndrome 
Among 12- to 18-year-old hospitalized COVID-19 patients, two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 91% effective in preventing the rare but serious coronavirus-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), according to a US study published late last week in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. (Van Beusekom, 1/10)
Also —
CNBC: Universal Flu Vaccine May Be Next Big Moderna, Pfizer MRNA Development
The research and development that led to the Covid-19 vaccines have boosted efforts to find a more powerful, longer-lasting flu vaccine, perhaps taking steps towards virologists’ holy grail: a one-time, universal flu jab. Scientists at Pfizer and Moderna, the pharmaceutical companies that harnessed a half-century of research into mRNA technology to create Covid vaccines, are using that same know-how in exploring ways to inoculate the masses from the flu. (Woods, 1/10)
Stat: Pfizer To Pay Beam $300M In Gene Editing Deal, Upping Its MRNA Ambitions
Pfizer is making a major push to leverage mRNA technology, on which its Covid-19 vaccine is based, to develop new vaccines and treatments. The drug giant said Monday it will pay Beam Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass., startup founded by Harvard researcher David Liu, $300 million to spend four years developing treatments for three undisclosed rare genetic diseases affecting the liver, the muscles, and the central nervous system. (Herper and Molteni, 1/10)
Pandemic Policymaking
Workers' Vax-Or-Test Mandate Begins, Covering Nearly 1 In 4 People
The Hill reminds us that the Biden administration rule, which covers businesses with 100 or more employees, could ultimately be doomed as part of an ongoing Supreme Court battle. Other news outlets cover different vaccine and booster mandates, including efforts to limit them in some places.
The Hill: Biden Coronavirus Vaccine-Or-Test Mandate Goes Into Effect 
Key components of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine or test mandate for more than 80 million workers went into effect Monday amid an ongoing Supreme Court battle that could ultimately doom the rule.   The months-long legal battle over the requirement, which was previously blocked by a federal court before being reinstated, has created confusion among employers about how to move forward. While Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism about the rule on Friday, they did not block its implementation by Monday’s deadline.  As of Monday, businesses with 100 or more employees were required to have a database of their workers’ vaccination status, post their company vaccine policy, provide paid leave to workers getting the vaccine and require unvaccinated employees to wear a mask at work.  (Evers-Hillstrom, 1/10)
In more news about covid mandates —
Houston Chronicle: Houston Hospitals Mandating COVID Boosters For Employees, Amid Omicron Surge
Three major Houston hospitals will require employees to receive booster shots in the coming weeks, becoming some of the first institutions nationwide to elevate vaccination requirements amid widespread worker shortages caused by the omicron surge. Houston Methodist, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine announced booster mandates to little fanfare Friday, a marked change from last year’s contentious debate over the legality and efficacy of such policies in health care settings. (Mishanec, 1/10)
The Wall Street Journal: Facebook Owner To Mandate Covid-19 Vaccine Boosters For Office Workers, Delay Reopening 
Meta Platforms Inc. said that it would require Covid-19 booster shots for employees to work from its U.S. campuses and that it would delay fully opening those offices until late March, in another sign that the Omicron variant is shifting corporate reopening plans. (Cutter, 1/10)
Anchorage Daily News: Ahead Of Session, Alaska Republicans Propose Measures To Limit COVID-19 Response
Alaska state legislators have prefiled 58 new bills ahead of the Legislature’s Jan. 18 start, and almost a quarter of them propose to limit public and private responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirteen bills, all introduced by Republican members of the state House or Senate, would make it more difficult for the state and private businesses to require and administer COVID-19 vaccinations or impose emergency rules during a pandemic. Many of the proposals mimic legislation that has become law in other states. (Brooks, 1/10)
Politico: Omicron Is Surging — And Democrats Aren’t Shutting Things Down This Time
Democrats have a message for Omicron-flooded America: get vaxxed and carry on. From New York to California, Democratic mayors and governors are fighting to keep schools and businesses open with an urgency they haven’t flexed before in the pandemic. (Kashinsky and Luthi, 1/9)
In school updates —
USA Today: Chicago Set To Resume In-Person Classes
Chicago teachers and students were set to come back to the classroom this week after city leaders reached an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union on COVID-19 safety protocols amid a nationwide surge of cases fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Teachers were expected to return to work Tuesday, and students were expected to return Wednesday for the first time in week, city leaders said. The Chicago Teachers Union voted late Monday to suspend its labor action after the city and union reached a tentative agreement, but the union’s 25,000 members must still vote on the agreement. (Yancey-Bragg, Stucka, Ortiz and Rice, 1/10)
Cincinnati Enquirer: Schools Respond To COVID-19 Surge With Temporary Mask Mandates
It's a new year with the same old worries for school administrators in southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky, the main goal remaining: how do we keep students, faculty and staff safe from the COVID-19 virus while providing quality education? Some districts that withdrew mask mandates – a flashpoint in a number of school board elections in the fall – have reimposed them, at least temporarily. The move back to masks comes after both Ohio's governor and the heads of Ohio's children's hospitals' urged schools to resume masking for now. (Mitchell, 1/11)
Becerra Tells Medicare To Review Premiums After Aduhelm Price Drop
The demand from Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is "highly unusual," Stat reports. Becerra's actions could lead to lower Medicare Part B costs — after standard premiums jumped 15% for 2022.
Stat: Becerra Orders Medicare To Reconsider Premiums After Aduhelm Price Cut
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Monday took the highly unusual step of ordering Medicare to reconsider a historic hike in premiums after Biogen slashed the price for its controversial Alzheimer’s drug in half. “With the 50% price drop of Aduhelm on January 1, there is a compelling basis for CMS to reexamine the previous recommendation,” Becerra said in a written statement. It is highly unusual for Medicare to make changes to premiums after a plan year has begun, multiple Medicare policy experts said. Normally, if Medicare has extra premium funds, officials factor that into the next year’s premium calculations. (Cohrs, 1/10)
AP: Medicare Told To Reassess Premium Hike For Alzheimer's Drug
More than 50 million Medicare recipients who pay the $170.10 monthly “Part B” premium for outpatient care will see no immediate change to their costs, but Monday’s move could open the way for a reduction later in the year. The Department of Health and Human Services says it is reaching out to the Social Security Administration, which collects the premium, to examine options. Medicare’s standard premium is rising by about $22 this year, up from $148.50 in 2021 and one of the biggest annual increases ever. About half of that, $11, was attributed to the potential costs of having to cover Aduhelm at its original $56,000 price. Since Aduhelm is administered by infusion in a doctor’s office the cost is factored into Medicare’s outpatient coverage, not the separate prescription plan that pays for pharmacy medicines. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 1/10)
CNBC: Government May Scale Back Medicare Part B Premium Increase
A CMS spokesperson said the agency is “reviewing the secretary’s statement to determine next steps.” Aduhelm was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June. The approval for the drug, manufactured by Biogen, came despite some objections in the scientific community about its effectiveness and side effects, which include brain swelling and bleeding. Medicare officials are expected this week to release a preliminary decision on coverage — i.e., whether it will cover Aduhelm at all or limit its use to certain patients under certain conditions. A final decision should come in the spring. (O'Brien, 1/10)
In more news about Aduhelm —
Stat: Biogen CEO: Company Was ‘Wrong’ About Initial Aduhelm Price
Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos acknowledged Monday that the company was “wrong” to price its Alzheimer’s disease treatment Aduhelm at $56,000 a year, but added that its decision to later slash the cost nearly in half was “courageous.” Speaking virtually at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Vounatsos described the company’s flagging revenue and the disastrous launch of Aduhem as “near-term challenges [that] are not defining Biogen,” and stressed “the company’s fundamentals are very strong.” (Garde and Feuerstein, 1/10)
The Washington Post: Medicare Is About To Make Its Most Important Coverage Decision In Years. Here’s How People With Alzheimer’s And Others Might Be Affected
It is a firestorm rarely seen in the world of drug regulation. Since June, when the Food and Drug Administration approved a controversial Alzheimer’s drug, critics have denounced the move, saying there is not enough evidence to show the drug works. Some have demanded that the agency take the drug off the market, citing potentially dangerous side effects. But the FDA and others have insisted the treatment might provide desperately needed help to patients with a fatal disease for which there are few alternatives. (McGinley, 1/10)
In other pharmaceutical industry news —
Stat: Sarepta's Duchenne Gene Therapy Improves Muscle Function, Data Show
Sarepta Therapeutics said Monday that its gene therapy improved muscle function for a group of patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy — updated results from a mid-stage study the company believes ameliorates an initial negative outcome last year and might support accelerated approval. But the magnitude of the benefit shown by Sarepta’s one-time treatment was lower than some investors hoped to see. That concern, coupled with weaker financial guidance for the year, caused Sarepta’s stock price to drop. (Feuerstein, 1/10)
Stat: Hold Lifted On Cancer Studies Of Allogene Off-The-Shelf CAR-T Treatment
Allogene said Monday that clinical trials involving its off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies for blood cancer are resuming following a safety clearance by U.S. regulators. In October, the Food and Drug Administration placed five Allogene studies on hold after a single treated patient was found to have a “chromosomal abnormality.” But a three-month investigation conducted by Allogene concluded its CAR-T called ALLO-501A was not responsible for the chromosomal abnormality, and that it had no clinical significance for the patient. The FDA agreed with the findings of the safety investigation and removed the hold on Allogene’s clinical trials, the company said. (Feuerstein, 1/10)
Bloomberg: Rite Aid’s Insurer Chubb Is Off the Hook for Opioid-Suit Cost, Court Says
Rite Aid Corp.’s insurer, Chubb Ltd., won’t have to pay the cost of defending the pharmacy chain against lawsuits alleging it mishandled addictive opioid painkillers, an appeals court. The Delaware Supreme Court on Monday, in a 4-1 ruling, overturned a lower court finding that the language of Rite Aid’s insurance policies required Chubb units to cover the liability. States and municipalities across the U.S. sued the chain, along with other pharmacy owners, drug makers and distributors, seeking to recoup costs associated the opioid epidemic. (Feeley, 1/10)
The Wall Street Journal: Elizabeth Holmes’s Mixed Verdict Could Handicap An Appeal, Lawyers Say
Elizabeth Holmes’s conviction on four counts of fraud for intentionally deceiving Theranos Inc. investors is far from the end of the startup founder’s legal fight. Instead, the Jan. 3 verdict is expected to kick off a new round of legal maneuvering that will give her lawyers several chances to clear her name, and to continue to deploy what legal observers say is an intransigent defense strategy that became the team’s signature during the monthslong trial. One tactic will likely involve requesting that Ms. Holmes remain free on bail for the entirety of the appeal process, which could take years. (Randazzo, 1/10)
California Wants Medicaid Coverage Regardless Of Immigration Status
The plan is part of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's $286.4 billion budget. The governor also plans to use some of California's multibillion-dollar surplus to address homelessness and affordable housing problems, as well as housing for mentally ill people.
The Wall Street Journal: California Would Expand Medicaid To People In U.S. Illegally Under Gavin Newsom Proposal 
California would become the first state to provide access to its Medicaid program to all low-income residents, regardless of immigration status, under a proposal unveiled Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The plan is part of a $286.4 billion budget plan the Democrat has proposed that also includes billions of dollars in investments for the state’s wildfire response, homelessness and drought assistance. (Mai-Duc, 1/10)
Los Angeles Times: California Could Remove Medi-Cal Immigration Status Rules
California would allow all income-eligible residents to qualify for the state’s healthcare program for low-income people regardless of immigration status under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal unveiled Monday. Newsom’s plan calls for the state to spend $2.2 billion a year to close the final gap in Medi-Cal eligibility after years of incremental progress toward offering coverage to people living in the country illegally by first allowing children and seniors to qualify. (Gutierrez, 1/10)
AP: Universal Health Care Proposal Gets First Test In California 
California lawmakers on Tuesday will start debating whether to create the nation’s first universal health care system, a key measure of whether the proposal has the support to pass this year. Progressives have tried for years to create a government-funded universal health care system to replace the one that relies on private insurance. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a 1994 ballot initiative that would have created a universal health care system. Another attempt passed the state Senate in 2017, but it died in the state Assembly with no funding plan attached to it. (Beam, 1/11)
KHN: Clinics Say California’s New Medicaid Drug Program Will Force Them To Cut Services
California’s sweeping new program to buy prescription drugs for its nearly 14 million Medicaid patients has alarmed health clinics that say they will lose money and have to cut services. Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged Monday that some clinics, which serve the poorest Californians, would lose funding, and he included $105 million for them in the 2022-23 proposed state budget he unveiled in the state capital. (Young, 1/10)
And more from California —
San Francisco Chronicle: Newsom Wants To Use California’s $46 Billion Surplus To Combat Homelessness, Wildfires And Other Crises
Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a budget Monday that would use California’s repeat surplus to help combat the thorniest problems facing the Bay Area and the state, from a lack of affordable housing to growing street encampments to organized retail theft. Newsom proposes spending tens of billions of dollars from the state’s $286.4 billion budget to confront disparities laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic. His plan calls for $2 billion in new funding to provide housing for mentally ill people and to clear homeless encampments, which comes on the heels of record spending for unhoused people in the current budget. He also proposes $2 billion in grants and tax credits to speed up construction of affordable housing. (Gardiner and Garofoli, 1/10)
AP: California Governor Proposes Tax Cuts, Expanded Health Care
With state revenues at an all-time high, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday proposed a budget that would cut taxes while also promising to pay the health care expenses of all of the state’s low-income adults who are living in the country illegally. It will cost state taxpayers about $2.2 billion per year to cover the cost of health care for the state’s low-income immigrants. Meanwhile, Newsom’s tax cuts would reduce revenue by more than $6.5 billion. (Beam, 1/11)
Science And Innovations
A Pig's Genes Were Tweaked So A Maryland Man Could Get Its Heart
Reporting on the remarkable news, USA Today notes the 57-year-old recipient of the donor pig's heart has lived for three days now. The transplant is the first successful one achieved, and the patient had no other options. Stat reports that inevitably ethical questions have been raised.
USA Today: Human Receives Gene-Edited Pig Heart Transplant In Medical Milestone
A Maryland man has lived for three days with a pig heart beating inside his chest. The surgery, at the University of Maryland Medical Center, marks the first time a gene-edited pig has been used as an organ donor. Dave Bennett, 57, agreed to be the first to risk the experimental surgery, hoping it would give him a shot at making it home to his Maryland duplex and his beloved dog, Lucky. “This is nothing short of a miracle,” his son David said Sunday, two days after his father's life-extending surgery. “That’s what my dad needed, and that’s what I feel like he got.” (Weintraub, 1/10)
The New York Times: In A First, Man Receives A Heart From A Genetically Altered Pig 
It is the first successful transplant of a pig’s heart into a human being. The eight-hour operation took place in Baltimore on Friday, and the patient, David Bennett Sr. of Maryland, was doing well on Monday, according to surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “It creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, who performed the operation. “It’s working and it looks normal. We are thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before.” (Rabin, 1/10)
Stat: First Transplant Of A Pig Heart Into A Person Sparks Ethics Questions 
Bennett had terminal heart failure and was too sick to qualify for a human heart transplant or a mechanical assist device, the lead surgeon said. The pig heart, from an animal created by a Virginia biotech company, was the only option to try to prolong his life. “It was either die or do this transplant,” Bennett said in a hospital news release. “I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.” The groundbreaking procedure raises hopes that animal organs might one day be routinely used for human transplants, which would shorten waiting lists — where thousands of seriously ill people languish and die every year. But it’s also raising a few eyebrows and a lot of questions from bioethicists. (Molteni, 1/10)
Health Industry
Parents Claim Medical Malpractice In Suit Over 'Jeopardy!' Winner's Death
Brayden Smith's family claims his death was related to recent colorectal surgery. Meanwhile, J&J is partnering with Microsoft for advanced digital surgery; Medtronic is buying med tech firm Affera; and medical records/AI firm Cloudmed is being bought by R1 RCM.
Las Vegas Review-Journal: ‘Jeopardy!’ Champion’s Death Blamed On Medical Malpractice
The parents of “Jeopardy!” champion Brayden Smith sued a Henderson hospital and Dignity Health on Monday, claiming medical malpractice caused the Liberty High School graduate’s death following colorectal surgery. “His last days were a nightmare,” the lawsuit states. “His death was preordained by the misconduct of doctors and nurses. None of this had to be.” District Court records show that Smith’s parents, Scott and Debbie, filed the lawsuit against Dignity Health; St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus; Fidelity Home Health Services; two physicians; and the St. Rose nursing staff. (Puit, 1/10)
In other health industry developments —
Modern Healthcare: J&J Partners With Microsoft To Build Out Digital Surgery Portfolio
Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices will collaborate with the software company to advance its digital surgery platform and internet-connected medical devices. The deal establishes Microsoft as Johnson & Johnson's preferred cloud vendor for digital surgery tools, according to a news release. The companies plan to apply Microsoft's artificial intelligence, data analytics and "internet of things" capabilities to improve connectivity between Johnson & Johnson's surgical robotics, visualization and other digital tools. The companies plan to develop digital tools that streamline surgical workflow or support surgical decision-making. (Kim Cohen, 1/10)
Modern Healthcare: Medtronic To Buy Affera, Gain Cardiac Treatment Tech
Medtronic plans to acquire Affera, a private medical technology company, for $925 million in a move to expand its portfolio of advanced ablation products as physicians see more patients with cardiac arrhythmias. The acquisition will likely close during the first half of Medtronic's fiscal year 2023, according to a company presentation shared at J.P. Morgan's annual healthcare conference on Monday. The deal fits into the company's ongoing move to accelerate revenue growth through tuck-in mergers and acquisitions, said Geoff Martha, Medtronic chairman and CEO, at the conference. (Devereaux, 1/10)
Modern Healthcare: R1 RCM To Buy Artificial Intelligence Software Firm Cloudmed
Revenue-cycle management company R1 RCM on Monday said it plans to acquire Cloudmed in an all-stock transaction that values Cloudmed at roughly $4.1 billion. Cloudmed uses artificial intelligence and automation to analyze medical records, payment data and medical insurance models for revenue-cycle management. The company has more than 3,100 healthcare provider customers. The acquisition fits into R1’s vision of creating an end-to-end platform for managing revenue cycle for providers and engaging patients around payment. (Kim Cohen, 1/10)
Also —
Georgia Health News: Kaiser Permanente Gets A New Georgia President 
Kaiser Permanente has appointed Pamela Shipley as the new regional president for the organization’s Georgia operation. Shipley comes from Sharecare, a virtual health IT company based in Atlanta, where she was chief operating officer. She is replacing Jim Simpson, who is taking another position in the Kaiser Permanente organization. (Miller, 1/10)
North Carolina Health News: Camino Health Wants To Know: Who Are NC’s Latinos? 
Between 1990 and 2020, North Carolina’s Latino population ballooned: from 75,000 residents to more than 1 million, an increase of nearly 1,400 percent. The community is diverse; about 61 percent were born in the U.S., while the remaining 39 percent are immigrants, about half from Mexico, and another quarter from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But, beyond these sorts of impersonal data points, little is known about the lives of North Carolina’s Latino residents, according to scholars at the Camino Research Institute, one leg of the larger Camino Health Center in Charlotte. (Donnelly-DeRoven, 1/11)
KHN: App Attempts To Break Barriers To Bankruptcy For Those In Medical Debt
An unplanned and complicated pregnancy pushed Carlazjion Constant of Smyrna, Tennessee, to the financial brink. Her high-deductible health insurance paid virtually nothing toward the extra obstetrician visits needed during her high-risk pregnancy. Just as those bills totaling $5,000 came due last year, a real estate company started garnishing her paycheck over a broken lease during college a decade ago. “I have a child. Like, I can’t do that,” said Constant, who works as a medical assistant in a pediatric office. “Something has to be done. There has to be a way out.” (Farmer, 1/11)
Public Health
US Blood Supply So Low Red Cross Declares First-Ever National Crisis
The pandemic is to blame, of course, with blood drives canceled, staffing problems and a decline in donor numbers. Other news stories cover actress Betty White's cause of death, alcohol consumption, pregnancy rates and more.
CBS News: Red Cross Declares First-Ever National Blood Crisis 
The nation's blood supply is dangerously low, prompting the Red Cross to announce a national blood crisis for the first time. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decline in donor turnout, the cancellation of blood drives and staffing challenges, leading to the worst blood shortage in more than a decade, the Red Cross said. Last year, the Red Cross saw a 34% decline in new donors. "If the nation's blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed," it warned in a joint statement with America's Blood Centers and the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies. (O'Donnell, 1/10)
In celebrity news —
AP: Betty White's Death Caused By Stroke Suffered 6 Days Earlier 
Betty White died from a stroke she had six days before her Dec. 31 death at age 99, according to her death certificate. The beloved “Golden Girls” and “Mary Tyler Moore Show” actor died at her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles as the result of a Dec. 25 cerebrovascular accident, the medical term for a stroke, according to the LA County death certificate obtained Monday by The Associated Press. (1/11)
Newsweek: What Is A Cerebrovascular Accident? Betty White Died After Having Stroke
A stroke or cerebrovascular accident is defined as a loss of blood flow to part of the brain, which can result in damage to brain tissue. There are three main types of stroke. (Browne, 1/11)
In other public health news —
Fox News: Rising Alcohol Consumption During COVID-19 Pandemic Projected To Cause More Liver Disease, Deaths
Increased alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to cause 100 additional deaths and 2,800 additional cases of liver failure by 2023, according to a team of researchers led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). "The COVID-19 pandemic has had many unintended consequences with unknown long-term impact," a co-author of the study, Dr. Turgay Ayer, said in a news release. According to research published in the journal Hepatology, the researchers also projected that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease. The investigators also projected 18,700 cases of liver failure and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040. (McGorry, 1/10)
The Washington Post: When The Pandemic Began, Some Reconsidered Getting Pregnant. The Result: 60,000 Missing Births
A recent Brookings Institution study shows 60,000 fewer births than expected between October 2020 and February 2021 in the United States, corresponding with fewer conceptions earlier in 2020. The largest number of missing births were in January 2021, which roughly corresponds to conceptions in April 2020, when many Americans began to process the magnitude of the pandemic. (Bahrampour, 1/10)
Stat: How One Couple, Confronted By An ALS Diagnosis, Galvanized A Movement
When her husband first floated the idea of an advocacy organization for people diagnosed with ALS, Sandra Abrevaya responded in just two words: The first wasn’t suitable for print, and the second was “no.” Abrevaya had founded and run nonprofits in the past. She had experienced the toll they took on her as a parent, friend, and wife. And, since her husband’s ALS diagnosis months before, she’d been immersed in a crash course on the disease. She knew that within a few short years, he would require more care than their two daughters, a baby and a 2-year-old. “We’re obsessive and we work around the clock,” Abrevaya said. “Founding an organization, I knew what it would take out of us. And I thought: How in the world could we, or why would we, do that to ourselves when given one of the world’s worst possible diagnoses? I was absolutely opposed to it.” (Facher, 1/11)
The Wall Street Journal: Workers Sick With Omicron Add To Manufacturing Woes. ‘The Hope Was That 2022 Would Get Better.’ 
The Covid-19 Omicron variant’s spread among U.S. factory workers is slowing operations and stretching staff for manufacturers, leading some to consider unconventional, and sometimes expensive, solutions to keep operating. Mounting absences among Covid-infected workers are bringing masks back to some factory floors, executives said, while manufacturers shuttle available workers to jobs and plants where they are most needed. Companies are also redoubling recruiting efforts to fortify workforces already worn thin by high turnover in a tight job market. (Tita and Hufford, 1/10)
The Washington Post: Ambivalence Can Prevent Healthy Change. Here’s How To Deal With It
Ambivalence, which essentially means having conflicting feelings about something, makes many people uncomfortable. But it is a normal part of change, experts say. “With every change, people have some ambivalence, because change means moving out of something you’re comfortable or familiar with and into something that’s not familiar. It disrupts the person’s life a bit,” said Carlo DiClemente, professor emeritus in psychology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and author of “Addiction and Change.” Whether you want to lose weight, upgrade your diet, exercise more frequently, cut back on alcohol, quit smoking or something else, ambivalence about making that change will probably be part of the equation. Chances are, the ambivalence has less to do with the goal itself and more to do with the hard work and discomfort that may lie on the path to achieving it, said James E. Maddux, professor emeritus in psychology and a senior scholar in the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University in Virginia. (Colino, 1/10)
Global Watch
CDC Warns Against Travel To Omicron-Hit Canada
Canada is now at level four, or "very high" on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel alert list. Meanwhile the World Health Organization has looked at the trajectory of omicron infections in Europe and concluded over half of Europe's population may test positive within weeks.
Reuters: U.S. Issues 'Do Not Travel' Warning For Canada
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. State Department on Monday advised against travel to neighboring Canada because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant spreads. The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to "Level Four: Very High" for Canada, telling Americans they should avoid travel, while the State Department also on Monday issued its "Level Four: Do Not Travel" advisory for Canada citing COVID-19 cases. (Shepardson, 1/10)
In other global covid news —
Bloomberg: Omicron May Infect Half Of Europeans Within Weeks, WHO Says
More than half of Europe’s population may be infected with omicron within weeks at current transmission rates, a World Health Organization official said. The fast-spreading variant represents a “west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region,” said Hans Kluge, the regional director of the WHO for Europe at a briefing Tuesday. He cited forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that the majority of Europeans could catch it in the next six to eight weeks. (Gretler, 1/11)
The Wall Street Journal: Japan Extends Entry Ban For Foreigners, Citing Omicron 
Japan said Tuesday it would extend its near-total ban on foreigners entering the country until at least the end of February, citing the risk of the Omicron variant. The ban took effect on Nov. 30 and has earned more than 80% support from Japanese surveyed in recent polls. Helped by the perception that he is tough on Covid-19, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet has enjoyed around 60% support. (Landers, 1/10)
The Washington Post: Mexico’s President Tests Positive For Coronavirus A Second Time
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday evening that, for the second time in a year, he has tested positive for the coronavirus. (Sieff and Pietsch, 1/11)
CNBC: Covid Vaccine Programs Could End With Third Dose, Israeli Doctor Says
Three vaccine doses are likely to provide sufficient long-term protection against severe Covid-19, a prominent Israeli doctor has said. Speaking to CNBC in a phone call, Professor Eyal Leshem, an infectious disease specialist at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, predicted that in the long run, a two or three-dose vaccination course would probably provide good protection against severe disease for the majority of people. (Taylor, 1/11)
Bloomberg: Cold Or Covid? Spain Calls For Debate To Consider Covid As Endemic, Like Flu
Spain is calling on Europe to debate the possibility that Covid-19 can now be treated as an endemic illness, setting a model to monitor its evolution akin to the one used for flu.  “It’s a necessary debate; Science has given us the answer to protect ourselves,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in interview yesterday with radio station Cadena Ser, adding that the virus’s lethality has been dropping since the beginning of the pandemic. “We have to evaluate the evolution of covid from pandemic to an endemic illness,” he said. (Gualtieri, 1/11)
CNBC: WEF Report Warns Of Covid Inequalities Fueling Social Tensions
New research from the organizers of the annual Davos gatherings in the Swiss Alps warns of inequalities stemming from the coronavirus pandemic that could flare domestic and cross-border tensions around the world. This year’s Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum describes a “global divergence” — where poorer nations have much lower Covid-19 vaccination rates and, therefore, face more prolonged economic troubles. (Amaro, 1/11)
Editorials And Opinions
Viewpoints: US Wants To Privatize Health Care In Other Countries; Reframing How We Think About Mental Health
Editorial writers tackle these public health topics.
The Washington Post: Why Is The U.S. Trying To Export Its Flawed Health-Care Policies Around The World?
“That’s the only time you’ve received free health care? How in the world have they normalized that?” a Kenyan colleague asked after hearing that my coronavirus vaccine was the only instance in which I, an American, had ever received free public health care. We were months into a research project on the U.S.-backed growth of the for-profit private health sector in Kenya. The irony was not lost on us. (Rebecca Riddell, 1/10)
USA Today: Mental Health Is Weaponized Like No Other Ailments. It's No Joke
Wide receiver Antonio Brown made headlines ripping off his jersey and shoulder pads, then pulling off his gloves and T-shirt and running off the field, flashing a victory sign in his wake. Since then, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion about mental illness and what's happening with him. I don’t  know what’s going on in his mind, and I’m not going to speculate. Nor should others. But we can use the incident and whatever is going on with Brown to focus on the important topic of mental health issues. An overwhelming majority of Americans say we’re in the grips of a full-blown “mental health crisis,” according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. (Steven Petrow, 1/11)
Stat: AMA's New Language Guide Is A Step Toward Health Equity 
In the early 1990s, 10 Black children were treated for severe third-degree burns in a Chicago pediatric clinic. As a result, parents of three of the children were investigated for neglect, and one child was even temporarily removed from parental care. That was a rush to blame, and these interventions re-traumatized families already facing a heartbreaking situation. Thanks to an observant and thoughtful pediatrician, all of the parents were exonerated and the negligent party was shown to be the Chicago Housing Authority. (David Ansell and Vinoo Dissanayake, 1/11)
Stat: Active Surveillance For Prostate Cancer: The Gift That Keeps On Giving 
In the run-up to the holidays 11 years ago, a doctor gave me a gift that keeps on giving. Just one day after being diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 63 and being told by a private-practice urologist that I needed a “cure” — surgery to have my prostate removed (which, by the way, carried the very real possibility of a permanent end to my sex life and urinary incontinence) — a doctor at the University of Chicago gave me an encouraging second opinion: while I could fare well with surgery, an emerging approach known as active surveillance (AS) could be a good option for me. He even called me the “poster boy” for it. (Howard Wolinsky, 1/11)
Different Takes: Protein Subunit Shots Could Vaccinate The World; Should We All Expect To Catch Covid?
Opinion writers examine these covid and vaccine issues.
Bloomberg: To Vaccinate World Against Covid-19, We Need More Than MRNA Shots
Early on in the pandemic, many of us hoped that India would help vaccinate the world. India’s pharmaceutical sector, dominated by companies capable of churning out generic medicines in vast quantities, looked like the obvious location for vaccine production at the scale needed to inoculate the developing world. That hasn’t worked out, partly because the Indian government restricted vaccine exports after the Delta variant emerged here — but also because of the unexpected and early success of the mRNA-based shots from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. (Mihir Sharma, 1/10)
Los Angeles Times: It's Looking Like We All Might Get COVID Someday 
With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 ripping its way around the world, it’s just a matter of time before we all are exposed to COVID. On Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the number of new cases has exploded, as have hospitalizations, and the surge has yet to peak. The good news is that the new variant seems to cause less severe illness and does not appear to attack the lungs as viciously as earlier variants did. (Robin Abcarian, 1/9)
CNN: Why Covid-19 Tests Are In Short Supply 
The US has been on a troubling course in its fight to end the pandemic: Since the first cases of Covid-19 caused by the Omicron variant were identified in the US, case numbers have been on the rise, with hundreds of thousands of new patients diagnosed per day. Given the latest Covid spike, demand for testing is surging along with misperceptions of what it takes to perform a test, from collecting the sample to delivering a diagnosis. It is important for the public to know Covid tests, like many other products facing delays and shortages, have been limited by supply chain shortages. Understanding this helps put in perspective the lack of availability that can arise when demand for tests peaks. It is understandable people are frustrated by resource shortages, but there is something the public can do to help right the ship: be responsible about testing correctly (which includes reporting positive at-home test results to your physician), vaccinating and taking additional safety measure like quarantining when infected with or exposed to Covid-19. (Emily E. Volk, 1/10)
USA Today: COVID Has Wrecked Kids' Mental Health. Here's How To Help Them Cope
Being a clinical psychologist who treats children and teenagers has given me a unique vantage point during this nearly two-year pandemic. I have seen firsthand the psychological toll this national crisis has taken on our youth. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health shows that 46% of parents have noticed a new or worsening mental health condition in their teens since the start of the pandemic. The Nationwide Children’s Hospital noticed up to a 75% increase in children who have shown up for emergency mental health evaluations. Pediatricians at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., have noted a sharp increase in kids coming in with mental health issues. (Alan D. Blotcky, 1/11)
The Baltimore Sun: We All Have Pandemic Fatigue, But We Can’t Give Up Now 
With the holiday travels and gatherings behind us, we can expect that the next few weeks will see an unprecedented surge in COVID infections and hospitalizations. As an immunologist with a Ph.D. and over 40 years’ experience, it has been extremely frustrating to see high levels of noncompliance with common-sense COVID safety precautions that are recommended by many health organizations. I’ve been called stupid, an idiot, or worse many times for advocating wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Nevertheless, I persist. (John F. Krowka, 1/11)
The Star Tribune: We Must Prepare For A Post-Pandemic (But Not Post-COVID) World
For the last 40 years, I have been studying sufferers' experiences of ill-health, health care, and disease prevention — issues associated with what I call health culture. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a kind of participant observation in the most significant health-related development of my lifetime. We can't predict the future with any certainty. But history can help. (Lucinda Myles McCray, 1/8)
Los Angeles Times: Omicron Makes Case For California's Single-Payer Plan 
There has never been a more urgent moment to reimagine healthcare. Two long years into the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are getting sick (thanks to Omicron) and staying sick (thanks to long COVID). A piece of legislation up for debate in the California Assembly on Tuesday, aiming to create single-payer healthcare in the state, couldn’t be more timely. (Rupa Marya, 1/10)
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