Public health

Feds extend COVID public health emergency another three months

The United States on Wednesday renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency, allowing millions of Americans to keep getting free tests, vaccines and treatments for at least three more months (Source: “U.S. renews COVID-19 public health emergency,” Reuters, April 13).

The public health emergency was initially declared in January 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began. It has been renewed each quarter since and was due to expire on April 16.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a statement said it was extending the public health emergency and that it will give states 60 days notice prior to termination or expiration.


CDC: More than 90% of Americans live in areas where masks not needed

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday said 93% of the U.S. population live in locations where COVID-19 levels are low enough that people do not need to wear masks indoors (Source: “More than 90% of U.S. population in areas where masks not needed -CDC,” Reuters, March 3).

Last week, the CDC dramatically eased its COVID-19 guidelines for when Americans should wear masks indoors, saying they could drop them in counties experiencing what it described as low or medium COVID-19 levels.

The latest figures are an increase from just a week ago, a further indication that COVID hospitalizations - a key benchmark for the new masking recommendations - continue to fall. The agency said on Thursday that 85.4% of counties now rank as low or medium risk and 92.9% of the population lives in those counties.


ODH to divert COVID tests from libraries to schools

The Ohio Dept. of Health says it will divert incoming rapid COVID test kits to K-12 schools, colleges and universities (Source: “Ohio changes priorities for distribution of COVID tests from libraries to schools,” Statehouse News Bureau, Jan. 12).

The state's health department says it had previously ordered 1.2 million antigen tests to be distributed free of charge through libraries and health departments in the month of January but, so far, only 400,000 of those have been distributed. ODH says shipments of the remaining 800,000 proctored test kits have been put on hold by the manufacturer as demand for them has increased nationwide. ODH expects to receive shipments later this month but says when they arrive, they will be given to schools, not libraries and health departments.

ODH says once schools have what they need, the state will once again send test kits to libraries and health departments.


SCOTUS blocks Biden COVID vaccine rule for large employers

The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job (Source: “Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses,” Associated Press, Jan. 14).

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.


Conservative majority on Supreme Court signals doubts about Biden workplace vaccine rule

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared skeptical Friday of the Biden administration’s authority to impose a vaccine-or-testing requirement on the nation’s large employers (Source: “Supreme Court skeptical of Biden’s workplace vaccine rule,” Associated Press, Jan. 7).

The court seemed more open to a separate vaccine mandate for most health care workers. The arguments in the two cases come at a time of spiking coronavirus cases because of the omicron variant.

Beginning Monday, unvaccinated employees in big companies are supposed to wear masks at work, unless the court blocks enforcement. But testing requirements and potential fines for employers don’t kick in until February.

Legal challenges to the policies from Republican-led states and business groups are in their early stages, but the outcome at the high court probably will determine the fate of vaccine requirements affecting more than 80 million people.


Biden targets inequity in new HIV/AIDS strategy

President Biden on Wednesday unveiled a new HIV/AIDS strategy, calling for a renewed focus on vulnerable Americans — including gay and bisexual Black and Latino men, who his administration says are too often stigmatized even as they are disproportionately affected (Source: “Biden says HIV/AIDS strategy needs to confront inequity,” Associated Press, Dec. 2).

The new strategy, which declares racism a “public health threat,” was released on the annual commemoration of (no link) World AIDS Day. It is meant to serve as a framework for how the administration shapes its policies, research, programs and planning over the next three years.

The new strategy asserts that, over generations, “structural inequities have resulted in racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable.”

To reduce disparities, the strategy includes calls for focusing on the needs of disproportionately affected populations, supporting (no link) racial justice, combating HIV-related stigma and discrimination and providing leadership and employment opportunities for people with or at risk for HIV.


CDC: Record 100k overdose deaths in U.S. in past year

An estimated 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in one year, a never-before-seen milestone that health officials say is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and a more dangerous drug supply (Source: “US overdose deaths topped 100,000 in one year, officials say,” Associated Press, Nov. 18).

Drawing from the latest available death certificate data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses from May 2020 to April 2021. It’s not an official count. It can take many months for death investigations involving drug fatalities to become final, so the agency made the estimate based on 98,000 reports it has received so far.

Experts believe the top drivers of overdose deaths are the growing prevalence of deadly fentanyl in the illicit drug supply and the COVID-19 pandemic, which left many drug users socially isolated and unable to get treatment or other support.

Drug overdoses jumped nearly 30% in the latest year and now surpass deaths from car crashes, guns and even flu and pneumonia. The total is close to that for diabetes, the nation’s No. 7 cause of death.

Last month, HPIO released a new fact sheet on Ohio policy options for reducing overdose deaths titled Refocusing Ohio’s Approach to Overdose Deaths. This fact sheet, which was released in conjunction with the HPIO policy brief, Taking Action to Strengthen Ohio’s Addiction Response, explores what drives overdose deaths in Ohio, why overdose deaths continue to increase and what state leaders can do to improve overdose prevention.


CDC reports pre-pandemic childhood vaccine disparities

New research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found disparities in vaccination coverage prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (Source: “Disparities Found in Vaccination Coverage by Age 24 Months Before COVID-19,” HealthDay News, Oct. 18).

The study, which was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that in 2017 and 2018, coverage disparities were seen for race/ethnicity, poverty status and health insurance status. Children who were not privately insured had lower coverage with most vaccines.

"Persistent disparities in vaccination coverage by health insurance status, race and ethnicity, and poverty status indicate that improvement is needed to achieve equity in the national childhood vaccination program," the authors write.


Children of color more likely to die from flu, study finds

People who are Black, Hispanic or American Indian/Alaska Native are more likely than white people to be hospitalized with a case of the flu in the United States, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other institutions (Source: “The flu proves more deadly for children of color than for White youths, study says,” Washington Post, Oct. 11).

Young children in these groups, along with Asian and Pacific Islander children, are also more likely to die of flu than white children.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, took a close look at 113,352 flu hospitalizations between 2009 and 2019 from across the country. Researchers found clear disparities in those hospitalizations as well as among those who were ultimately admitted to the intensive care unit or who died.

Overall, Black people had the highest rates of hospitalization and ICU admission, followed by American Indians or Alaska Natives and Hispanic people, although the trends varied within age groups. Except in the youngest children, Asian and Pacific Islander people had hospitalization rates similar to or slightly lower than non-Hispanic white people. Across racial and ethnic groups, researchers found few differences in hospitalization, ICU admission and death from flu among adults 75 and older.


State lawmakers begin revisiting vaccine exemption bill

State lawmakers this week listened to public testimony for the first time on a fast-tracked bill to limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates and expand exemptions, after the bill failed to get enough support in the Ohio House (Source: “COVID-19 vaccine exemption bill gets another look from Ohio lawmakers,” Akron Beacon-Journal, Oct. 6).

Hearings on Wednesday and Thursday were "informal hearings," said Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, House Commerce and Labor Committee chairman, only to determine "the line between personal freedom and companies' rights... and where that lies."

Republican leadership tried to rush House Bill 435 and pass it out quickly last week, but the speedy timeline resulted in pushback. Legislators are now taking more time to revisit the bill's details.