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Politics Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Omicron sets off a flurry of responses

02:30  30 november  2021
02:30  30 november  2021 Source:   thehill.com

Omicron Variant: Germany, Czech Republic Report Suspected Cases After U.K. Confirmation

  Omicron Variant: Germany, Czech Republic Report Suspected Cases After U.K. Confirmation Several countries, including the U.S., Japan and Israel, have announced travel restrictions to avoid the mass spread of the latest COVID variant.Germany's Hessian Ministry for Social Affairs and Integration said Saturday that an individual who traveled to Germany from South Africa is suspected to be infected with the Omicron variant.

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

Scotland Officials Concerned Omicron Variant Has Community Spread as 6 Cases Confirmed

  Scotland Officials Concerned Omicron Variant Has Community Spread as 6 Cases Confirmed Countries throughout the world are taking action to prevent a proliferation of the variant as scientists are still working to determine the danger it poses. Some nations like Japan have decided to block any foreign visitors in an effort to stop the highly mutated variant from entering its borders even as cases began popping up around the globe, AP reported.For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.New cases in Portugal and Scotland might already point toward local spread of the variant outside of southern Africa.

A petrol attendant stands next to a newspaper headline in Pretoria, South Africa © Associated Press/Denis Farrell A petrol attendant stands next to a newspaper headline in Pretoria, South Africa

We hope everyone got some rest over the past few days! Obviously there was plenty of health care news over the break with the rise of the omicron variant. Much more on that, as we dive in below.

President Biden addressed the nation Monday on the variant, with a message not to panic and above all to get vaccinated and get boosted.

Americans face at least 2 weeks of uncertainty as scientists work to answer 3 key questions about the new Omicron variant

  Americans face at least 2 weeks of uncertainty as scientists work to answer 3 key questions about the new Omicron variant Americans face at least two weeks of uncertainty before major questions may get answered about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. © Steve Pfost/Newsday/Getty Images Stony Brook, N.Y.: Robert Baird, of Centereach, New York is given a booster shot as members of the community are administered the COVID-19 vaccination and booster at Stony Brook University Research and Development Park in Stony Brook, New York on Nov. 17, 2021.

For The Hill, we're Peter Sullivan (psullivan@thehill.com), Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com) and Justine Coleman (jcoleman@thehill.com). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @PeterSullivan4, @NateWeixel and @JustineColeman8.

Couple Arrested After Leaving Quarantine, Boarding Flight Following South Africa Vacation

  Couple Arrested After Leaving Quarantine, Boarding Flight Following South Africa Vacation Sixty-one passengers on South African flights tested positive for COVID-19 at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Thirteen of them are said to have the Omicron variant.Caroline Pimenta had a layover in Amsterdam on Friday with her husband, Andres Sanz, and was put in a hotel for mandatory isolation after she tested positive after vacationing in Cape Town, the couple told TV3.

Let's get started.

Biden says omicron variant is 'cause for concern, not a cause for panic'

President Biden © Provided by The Hill President Biden

President Biden sought to project calm and reassure that there are tools to fight the new variant in an address on Monday.

He also said officials would release more guidance on how they plan to fight the spread of COVID-19 this winter, but promised it wouldn't include lockdowns.

"This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic," Biden said in prepared remarks at the White House. "We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day. And we'll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed. Not chaos and confusion."

Face masks again mandatory in England amid variant spread

  Face masks again mandatory in England amid variant spread LONDON (AP) — New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus came into force in England Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transport. From Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate. The reintroduction ofFrom Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate.

The president acknowledged the U.S. would see confirmed cases of the latest strain of the virus "sooner or later."

And he pleaded with Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, adding that Anthony Fauci, his top medical adviser on the pandemic, believed the existing vaccines provide at least some protection against the omicron variant.

"If you are vaccinated, but still worried about the new variant, get our booster. If you aren't vaccinated, get that shot. Go get that first shot," Biden said.

Modified vaccine needed? The president said the White House does not believe additional doses of the vaccine will be needed as of now, but officials are in touch with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson "to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed."

"I'm sparing no effort and removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe," Biden said.

Read more here.

Hard-Hit Brazil Sees First Cases of Omicron Variant, Pair of Travelers From South Africa

  Hard-Hit Brazil Sees First Cases of Omicron Variant, Pair of Travelers From South Africa The travelers arrived in Brazil on Nov. 23 and took a PCR test before they planned to return to South Africa two days later, the secretariat statement said.These are the first confirmed cases of the omicron variant in Latin America, in a country with over 600,000 deaths related to COVID reported, a figure that analysts think is below the actual number.

A MESSAGE FROM MARCH OF DIMES

The U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth. Help prioritize the health of our nation's moms and babies by joining the #BlanketChange movement today at BlanketChange.org

ONE RESPONSE BIDEN'S REJECTING? LOCKDOWNS

President Biden said Monday that his administration was not recommending further restrictions on businesses or in-person gatherings to combat the coronavirus pandemic amid concerns about the new omicron variant.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room, Biden described vaccinations as the best possible tool to defeat the virus and any emerging variants. He said his administration would outline a strategy to combat COVID-19 during the winter months later this week.

"On Thursday, I'll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we're going to fight COVID this winter, not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more," he said.

Biden later told reporters that "lockdowns" were off the table "for now" as his administration weighs measures to respond to the omicron variant, much about which remains unknown.

Who Discovered the Highly Mutated Omicron Variant, Now Found in More Than a Dozen Countries?

  Who Discovered the Highly Mutated Omicron Variant, Now Found in More Than a Dozen Countries? The scientific community has praised the efforts of scientists from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong for their early detection of the variant of concern.In a press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the U.S. National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said cases had been confirmed in at least 20 countries and "you're going to expect to see those numbers change rapidly.

"If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there is no need for the lockdown," Biden said.

Lockdowns refer to closures of or restrictions on businesses, schools and other in-person gatherings. The U.S. never had a nationwide lockdown like other countries, though health officials recommended certain business closures in cities and states.

Read more here.

CDC strengthens booster recommendation

A healthcare worker administrates a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a student during a vaccination clinic for ages 5 - 11 hosted by Jewel Osco in Wheeling, Ill., on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 © Provided by The Hill A healthcare worker administrates a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a student during a vaccination clinic for ages 5 - 11 hosted by Jewel Osco in Wheeling, Ill., on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday strengthened its recommendation for all adults to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, citing the risks of the omicron variant.

While booster shots were approved for all adults earlier this month, the previous guidance for younger adults was only that they "may" get a booster if they wanted to. Now, the guidance has been fortified to say all adults "should" get a booster.

"Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Fauci Says COVID Could Be Controlled Not Eliminated With Vaccines Amid Omicron Spread

  Fauci Says COVID Could Be Controlled Not Eliminated With Vaccines Amid Omicron Spread "Better control is what I think we need to look for and then we can get back to some form of normality to our lives," Dr. Anthony Fauci said."I don't think there's a chance you're going to eradicate this because we've only eradicated one virus for humans in history and that was smallpox. Elimination is tough," he said on Friday during a TV appearance with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network. "I'm not so sure we're going to be able to do that, at least not in the near future. That's aspirational.

"The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19," she added.

Backstory/confusion: Booster shots have been a subject of debate among experts for months, with some saying they are not needed.

The Biden administration originally planned to roll out boosters for all adults in September, but a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee that month rejected a recommendation for boosters for all, instead initially limiting them to older and high risk people.

Read more here.

A MESSAGE FROM MARCH OF DIMES

The U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth. Help prioritize the health of our nation's moms and babies by joining the #BlanketChange movement today at BlanketChange.org

Federal workers who don't meet vaccine mandate won't face discipline until January

Employees protest vaccine mandates in Los Angeles © Provided by The Hill Employees protest vaccine mandates in Los Angeles

Federal workers who do not comply with the Biden administration's coronavirus vaccine requirement will not face serious penalties such as suspension or removal until January.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Monday directed federal agencies to engage in education and counseling of workers who have not met the vaccine requirement through the holiday season, with further enforcement actions put off until next year.

"Given that tremendous progress, we encourage your agencies to continue with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process, with no subsequent enforcement actions, beyond that education and counseling and, if warranted, a letter of reprimand, for most employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until the new calendar year begins in January," OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja wrote in an email to agencies obtained by The Hill.

Not a cliff: The deadline for federal workers to comply with the mandate was Nov. 22, though White House officials had made it clear that federal employees who were not compliant would not be immediately reprimanded after the deadline. Still, officials had not set out a specific timeline for enforcement actions until Monday.

The White House said last week that 92 percent of federal government workers have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 4.5 percent have a pending or approved exemption request.

Read more here.

ADMINISTRATION'S HEALTH WORKER VACCINE MANDATE TAKES LEGAL BLOW

A federal court on Monday temporarily halted the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding.

The ruling by a Missouri-based federal judge applies to health care employees in the 10 states that sued to block the administration's Nov. 5 rule. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp, a Trump appointee, appeared persuaded by the states' argument that the mandate would lead to staffing shortages.

"The scale falls clearly in favor of healthcare facilities operating with some unvaccinated employees, staff, trainees, students, volunteers and contractors, rather than the swift, irremediable impact of requiring healthcare facilities to choose between two undesirable choices - providing substandard care or providing no healthcare at all," Schelp wrote in a 32-page order.

Life experience: In most cities, states or businesses with vaccine mandates already in place, widespread labor shortages were feared, but rarely came to fruition.

Read more here.

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • What we know and don't know about the Omicron variant (CNN)
  • Democrats go on the offense with Biden's agenda to avoid a repeat of Obamacare battle (NPR)
  • As antiviral pills arrive, can testing keep up? (The New York Times)

STATE BY STATE

  • Michigan hits new record for adult COVID-19 hospitalizations; 80% of beds full (Detroit News)
  • COVID-19 booster shots are available, but appointments are scarce (Boston Globe)
  • To protest COVID mandates, this California town declared itself a 'constitutional republic' (Los Angeles Times)

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

  • Omicron is already global, tests for international flights are far better than African travel ban
  • Time to think beyond the vax? Reflections from a COVID-stricken doc
  • The opioid crackdown leaves chronic pain patients in limbo

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

Fauci Says COVID Could Be Controlled Not Eliminated With Vaccines Amid Omicron Spread .
"Better control is what I think we need to look for and then we can get back to some form of normality to our lives," Dr. Anthony Fauci said."I don't think there's a chance you're going to eradicate this because we've only eradicated one virus for humans in history and that was smallpox. Elimination is tough," he said on Friday during a TV appearance with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network. "I'm not so sure we're going to be able to do that, at least not in the near future. That's aspirational.

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