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Decode what Biden’s health officials told Congress about Omicron

The answers may not allay their fears. Here is what was said, and the takeaways:

The question: What are the CDC’s current guidelines on quarantine and isolation?

What they said: Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky spent several minutes explaining to lawmakers her agency’s recently amended guidelines for Covid infections, which critics called confusing and contradictory,

“If they’re exposed and fully boosted, they don’t need to stay home, but they should be tested on day five. “ said Walensky. “So five days after your symptoms – if you’re feeling better, your fever is better, your cough and sore throat are better, then on the sixth day you can go out, but you have to wear a mask and you have to wear a mask reliably.

When HELP committee chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Cut her off to ask for more clarity on what to do between the fifth and tenth day, Walensky replied, “You shouldn’t go and see. Grandmother. You shouldn’t get on an airplane.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) later told officials that many Americans – including himself – don’t even understand what it means to be “exposed.” Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, explained that it means 15 minutes or more in close contact with someone known to be infected.

Takeaway meals: Confusion still reigns. People after five days of Covid infection should not ‘go to grandma’, but if they are a health worker, they are allowed to treat their grandmothers in a hospital. The lack of a testing component to re-enter society also reflects the administration’s current rush to address a severe shortage of reliable testing, leaving the CDC to ask individuals to make decisions based on subjective assessment. of their own symptoms.

The question: How did the CDC arrive at these guidelines? Was it a public health decision or an economic decision?

What they said: Walensky acknowledged that the CDC had changed its quarantine and isolation guidelines based both on new research on when people with Covid-positive are most contagious as well as “the real-world circumstances that we are currently faced “with a decimated workforce.

In particular, she said she heard from hospitals across the country that “they had a lot of beds, but they didn’t have the staff to fill them” and that preventing the closure of schools and pharmacies was another priority. absolute.

Takeaway meals: Walensky argues that even the economic imperative to get more people back to work faster has a health component. If hospitals don’t have enough workers, for example, they could be forced to turn away patients or delay elective procedures.

Yet acknowledging that the change in direction was not based on science alone suggests that the government is prepared to put workers’ health behind economic interests.

The question: Why are there still testing shortages? When will they be resolved?

What they said: Assistant Secretary of Health Dawn O’Connell said that when the Omicron variant started sweeping across South Africa and Europe in the fall and early winter, the Biden administration ” immediately contacted our manufacturers to understand their supply constraints and assess their peak capacity. “

Beyond the daily follow-up meetings, she said the administration has used the Defense Production Act a dozen times to help release testing supplies, expand manufacturing capacity and ensure states United are given first priority. And she said it was working to deliver on Biden’s recent pledge to provide fast, free at-home testing to those who wanted it, but added that the $ 3 billion invested in the work so far is “not enough”. Only 10 percent of the promised 500 million tests have been purchased so far.

Takeaway meals: They are on the case.

The administration faces supply chain issues and a testing workforce that is itself sidelined by Covid and other challenges. But lawmakers criticized the administration on Tuesday for failing to prepare for the current wave months ago, when demand for testing was weaker.

And while health officials stressed on Tuesday that keeping schools open is a priority this winter, the testing shortage has left schools scrambling to get enough to track infections and decide who goes to class and who stays in. House.

The question: Why is the CDC’s data on immunization rates still spotty and inaccurate? When will the agency do it right?

What they said: Senator Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) asked Walensky why the CDC could not distinguish between booster injections and the first doses of vaccine, which led to incorrect data on vaccination rates in its state and elsewhere.

Walensky responded that “CDC is the compiler of the data and we rely on the state immunization services to provide the CDC with state level data.” She added that when people don’t bring their immunization cards to their reminder appointment, the vaccine is marked as their first dose instead of their third.

Walensky couldn’t say when the issue will be resolved, but she noted that the agency is working with each state to “reconcile” the data gaps.

Takeaway meals: The CDC says the blame really lies on the states and Americans who don’t keep accurate records.

Yet vaccination rates are far from the only area where the federal government has struggled to come together and make available accurate data on the state of the pandemic. As Walensky noted, the data comes from underfunded local and state health departments – many of which still operate with manual data entry, fax machines, and other outdated technology.

The problem extends beyond vaccination rates to meet the challenges of tracking new variants, collecting information on racial disparities in Covid-19 infections and more – forcing the government to look to international data to make national policy decisions as the pandemic continues.

The question: Why does the CDC find it “really encouraging” that people with underlying health conditions are dying from Covid?

What they said: Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) Expressed concern over remarks made by Walensky on Good Morning America on Friday that the CDC found “really encouraging” that the majority of deaths of people infected with Omicron are occurring in people with other health problems.

Walensky said the comment was “taken out of context” and was referring to a recent study that showed currently available vaccines do a great job of protecting most people from Omicron.

“The study involved a cohort of 1.2 million people vaccinated and 36 people died, demonstrating the remarkable effectiveness of our vaccines. But no less tragic are these 36 people who died from Covid-19, and many of them had co-morbidities. “

She added that the agency is taking additional measures to help people with disabilities.

Takeaway meals: Walensky still has a messaging problem. As vaccines resist new variants and prevent millions of hospitalizations and deaths, people with disabilities, parents of children too young to be vaccinated and other vulnerable groups still feel the government is not doing it. not enough or not taking their needs into account when developing policies and guidelines.


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