Supreme Court Halts COVID-19 Vaccine Rule for US Businesses

(AP Photo)

By MARK SHERMAN and JESSICA GRESKO Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job. At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans.

US Children Hospitalized With COVID In Near-Record Numbers

(AP Photo)
Thursday, December 30, 2021 at 2:23 PM
By MARTHA BELLISLE Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — The omicron-fueled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases rocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in close to record numbers. And experts lament that most of the youngsters are not vaccinated. Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says it’s “heartbreaking” knowing that there’s a way prevent such cases. During the week of Dec. 21-27, an average of 334 children with the coronavirus were admitted per day to hospitals, a 58% increase from the week before. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

US Officials Recommend Shorter COVID Isolation and Quarantine

(File Photo)
By MIKE STOBBE AP Medical Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. health officials are cutting isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who test positive for the coronavirus and shortening the time that close contacts have to quarantine. People with the virus can leave isolation after five days, down from 10 days. People exposed to the virus can also leave quarantine after five days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the changes Monday. CDC officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that the coronavirus is most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptom onset. The decision also was influenced by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, driven by the omicron variant.

Pennsylvania’s Acting Health Secretary to Step Down

(File Photo)
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary will depart at the end of December. The governor’s office made the announcement on Monday. Alison Beam had served in an acting role since January, when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf tapped her to replace Dr. Rachel Levine. Beam guided the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response. She oversaw vaccine distribution and imposed a mask mandate for schools that was struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week. Keara Klinepeter, the Health Department’s executive deputy secretary, will take over as acting secretary. The administration did not give a reason for Beam’s departure. Wolf is heading into the last year of his governorship.

US Expands Pfizer COVID Boosters, Opens Extra Dose to Age 16

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and MIKE STOBBE Associated Press
The U.S. is expanding COVID-19 boosters, opening a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine to people as young as age 16. The U.S. and many other nations already urge adults to get a booster to pump up their immunity months after initial vaccination. In the U.S., the Pfizer vaccine is the only option for children and teenagers. The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday cleared an extra dose for those ages 16 and 17, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rapidly endorsed a booster for those ages. It’s not clear if younger teens will need one.

 

Gov. Wolf: State Anticipates Returning K-12 School Mask Requirement to Local Leaders January 17, 2022

Monday November 8, 2021 at 2:08 PM
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today announced the intention to return the commonwealth’s K-12 school mask requirement to local leaders on January 17, 2022. Upon the expiration of the statewide mandate, local school officials will again be able to implement mitigation efforts at the local level. At that time, schools may continue requiring mask-wearing based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

“The school mask order has been critical in ensuring Pennsylvania’s children could safely learn and grow in an in-person classroom setting at the beginning of the school year,” said Gov. Wolf. “During the announcement, my administration made clear that we would continue to reevaluate the status of the school mask mandate. Now, we are in a different place than we were in September, and it is time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus is now a part of our daily lives, but with the knowledge we’ve gained over the past 20 months and critical tools like the vaccine at our disposal, we must take the next step forward in our recovery. With more than 70 percent of adults vaccinated in Pennsylvania and the recently expanded vaccine eligibility, I strongly encourage parents to take safety measures to protect your children and your family – like getting vaccinated.”

The current Secretary of Health order requires masks to be worn inside K-12 school buildings, early learning programs and child care providers for both children and adults regardless of vaccination status. The full order remains in effect until an additional announcement in mid-January at which time the administration anticipates local K-12 school officials will again be able to implement mitigation efforts at the local level. The full order will remain in effect for early learning programs and child care providers until further notification.

“We at the department of education are so appreciative of all that our schools are doing to help teachers and students navigate the incredible challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic,” said Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Secretary Noe Ortega. “We know the mitigation steps we need to implement to keep people safe and keep kids learning in the classroom. School leaders have always made decisions about how to maintain order in schools and ensure that all students have quality learning opportunities. We look forward to working with our schools as they continue to navigate the pandemic and are available to provide them assistance, resources, and best practices.”

“Evidence of the effectiveness of masking has been so clearly demonstrated over the past three months in schools that we are confident local school leaders will take the steps necessary at the local level to preserve in-person education,” said Department of Health (DOH) Acting Secretary Alison Beam. “While we continue to monitor data such as pediatric hospital capacity and case counts, we want to give local leaders plenty of time to prepare for the anticipated expiration of the order. We strongly encourage schools to follow CDC guidance and make decisions with the health of their educators and students in mind. Likewise, we strongly encourage parents to talk to their children’s pediatricians and get their child vaccinated. Vaccinations give your child the power to safely learn, play and be a kid.”

In August, the Acting Secretary of Health signed an order ensuring vaccine availability for school districts interested in hosting vaccination clinics to support Pennsylvanians in creating safe learning environments. This order still applies to vaccine providers across the commonwealth and schools are encouraged to take advantage of the vaccine partnerships with the availability of the pediatric vaccine. Currently, Pennsylvania ranks 5th nationally in first doses of vaccine administered with more than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians ages 18 and older fully vaccinated.

“I have said repeatedly that the vaccine is our strategy out of the pandemic here in the commonwealth and Pennsylvanians are doing their part,” said Gov. Wolf. “With the availability of the pediatric vaccine, I encourage parents to talk to their doctors and pharmacists about getting their child vaccinated, as that is the one, scientific way to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. Thank you to all Pennsylvanians for doing your part and ultimately taking care of your loved ones and neighbors.”

Pennsylvanians ages 5 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. To find a vaccine provider near you, visit vaccines.gov.

Report: PA Kids’ Health Coverage Increased During Pandemic

Keystone State News Connection

November 5, 2021 at 05:48 AM

Emily Scott

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Since the pandemic began, public health coverage for children has increased by 10% in Pennsylvania, and a new report underscored best practices to help ensure that affordable health care is accessible for kids and families.

Becky Ludwick, vice president of public policy at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, the group that published the report, said one possible explanation for more kids being insured is Medicaid’s “disenrollment freeze,” put in place to keep people covered when the federal Public Health Emergency was declared.

Ludwick said it is important to enact more policies to ensure people maintain their coverage.

“One of the simpler things that we’re recommending is to ensure that addresses are current for sending renewals,” Ludwick explained. “And the reason that’s important is because we have been in a public health emergency since March of 2020. And during that time, many individuals may have moved.”

Her organization’s 2021 State of Children’s Health Care report suggests the state also help residents who lose Medicaid coverage to have a smooth transition to other public insurance programs, such as Pennie, the state’s health insurance marketplace, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The report also flagged some of the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on families of color. Black households with children were three times more likely to have lost employment income than white households with children.

Ludwick argued guaranteeing continuous health coverage for all families enrolled in Medicaid is critical to prevent further economic hardship.

“We often see where families have seasonal employment, so their incomes can fluctuate from month to month or from different seasons,” Ludwick observed. “And so, even those slight changes in income could potentially leave families at risk of losing their health insurance.”

Pennsylvania has continuous eligibility for 12 months for all children in CHIP, and kids under four who are covered through Medicaid.

Merck agrees to let other drug makers make its COVID pill

Wednesday October 27, 2021 at 09:23 AM
LONDON (AP) — Pharmaceutical company Merck has agreed to allow other drug makers to make its COVID-19 treatment, the first pill that has been shown to be effective against the disease. The move aims at helping millions of people in poorer countries access to the drug. The U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool said in a statement on Wednesday that it had signed a voluntary licensing agreement for molnupiravir with Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. The deal will allow the Medicines Patent Pool to grant further licenses to qualified companies wishing to make the drug. Neither drug maker will receive royalties under the agreement for as long as the World Health Organization deems COVID-19 to be global emergency.

Legislative Leaders Call for Answers on Testing Delays

(File Photo of Pa. House Speaker Bryan Cutler)
Tuesday, October 26, 2021 at 06:45 AM
(Harrisburg, Pa.) As COVID-19 testing continues to be a crucial component of tracking the impact of the virus on Pennsylvanians, state legislative leaders are requesting access and an explanation of testing processes at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories.
In a letter to Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam, Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), House Health Committee Chair Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Crawford/Forest) and Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester) said in part:
“With the continued importance of COVID-19 testing in mind, we note that according to testing reports that are required as part of Act 70 of 2020, testing efforts appear to have been hampered for over a year. The reports consistently state, ‘The State Laboratory is currently a limiting factor.’
“We must do better. The COVID-19 pandemic has been ongoing since January 2020, and testing should not be a limiting factor at this point.
“There is no rational basis for DOH’s laboratory to be an impediment in any way to the timely receipt, processing and reporting of COVID-19 test results for Pennsylvania citizens.”
The members go on to request a visit and tour of the Chester County facility to determine what legislation or resources may be needed to resolve any deficiencies and improve patient outcomes.
The letter closed in saying, “We owe it to the people of Pennsylvania to ensure anything standing in the way of maximum throughput at the state laboratory is promptly addressed.”

FDA OKs Mixing COVID Vaccines; Backs Moderna, J&J Boosters

FDA OKs mixing COVID vaccines; backs Moderna, J&J boosters
By MATTHEW PERRONE and LAURAN NEERGAARD Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. regulators are extending COVID-19 boosters to Americans who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They also said Wednesday anyone eligible for an extra dose can get a brand different from the one they received initially. The Food and Drug Administration announcement marks a big step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign, which began with extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month. But it’s not the last word. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consult an expert panel later this week before finalizing official recommendations for boosters