The new CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19 came just in time for the State of the Union address.
All 535 members of Congress will be able to attend Tuesday's address by President Joe Biden without wearing masks after the requirement was removed in the House, ABC reporter Ben Siegel said on Twitter Sunday. The tweet added that the Office of the Attending Physician made the rules change based on the CDC's new metrics to determine community risk of COVID-19, released Friday.
Washington, D.C., and its surrounding areas are currently at the green community level, the safest according to the agency's new color-coded chart, so indoor masking is not mandated.
This will be Biden's first State of the Union speech and it's expected to address the crisis in Ukraine after the Russian invasion, along with the nation's pandemic recovery, among other topics.
Mask-wearing will still be a personal choice in Congress and special precautions will be in place for Biden’s speech, which unlike last year’s joint address will be open to all members of Congress. All attendees will be required to take a COVID-19 test before entering the chamber ahead of Biden’s address.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced initial guidelines earlier this month from the Office of the Sergeant at Arms that included a threat that violation of guidelines for social distancing and mask-wearing during the event would “result in the attendee’s removal.”
The new policy eases the fears of some Biden allies who had been gearing up for potentially disruptive protests from Republicans to the policies. Some GOP lawmakers have racked up thousands of dollars in fines for violating mask-wearing mandates on the House floor.
Also in the news:
►Elijah Majak Buoi, a Massachusetts businessman accused of misrepresenting the number of employees and payroll expenses for his startup company, has been convicted of fraudulently seeking more than $13 million in federal coronavirus pandemic relief loans, federal prosecutors said.
►Nearly half of the 500 million free COVID-19 tests the Biden administration recently made available to the public still have not been claimed as virus cases plummet and people feel less urgency to test.
►The COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rhode Island Convention Center closed Saturday. The state is focusing on managing the virus rather than eliminating it.
►Boston is appealing a judge’s order blocking its COVID-19 vaccination mandate on certain classes of firefighters and police officers.
►Hong Kong will no longer require all children who test positive for COVID to be separated from their families and isolated in a hospital after an outcry from families, Reuters reported. In some cases even toddlers were removed from their homes.
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 78.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 948,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 434.7 million cases and 5.9 million deaths. More than 215.4 million Americans – 64.9% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we're reading: After a few false starts, organizations – from banks to nonprofits to hospitals – are once again gearing up to bring their employees back to work. They're bringing anxiety, questions, even fear with them.
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Wuhan market most likely source of virus, studies find
The Wuhan market long suspected as the genesis of the coronavirus was indeed where the pandemic most likely started, according to two new studies that bring into question the often-cited theory that the then-new virus escaped from a Chinese lab.
One of the studies uses spatial and genomic data to establish a link between two lineages of the emerging virus and the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.
The researchers also report that live mammals were sold at the market toward the end of 2019 and that analyses show a strong connection between the vendors selling the animals and the virus.
“Together, these analyses provide dispositive evidence for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 via the live wildlife trade and identify the Huanan market as the unambiguous epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic,’’ they write.
The other study contends there were at least two instances of cross-species virus transmission into humans most likely around late November and early December, followed shortly thereafter by the first reports of COVID-19 cases.
“Hence, as with SARS-CoV-1 in 2002 and 2003, SARS-CoV-2 emergence likely resulted from multiple zoonotic (animal-to-human) events,’’ researchers write.
The studies, which have not been peer-reviewed, run counter to the theory that the virus escaped or was intentionally released from a Wuhan research lab. Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the CDC, is among those who believe the virus was accidentally leaked.
There has been no evidence of such an event, although China’s obfuscation of the investigation into the virus’ source has probably contributed to the speculation.
Another trucker protest convoy falters as numbers thin
A truck convoy that rolled out of California bound for the nation's capital to protest COVID-19 mandates and other matters has given up because of lack of trucker interest.
"The launch in California had a good turnout of supporters, but only 5 trucks were with us on arrival in Vegas," organizers of Freedom Convoy USA said Saturday on the group's Facebook page. "There are 2 other convoys that have massive turnouts."
The organizers encouraged truckers who had expressed interest in joining their ranks to join other convoys headed to Washington, D.C., to air similar concerns. The Freedom Convoy had left Los Angeles on Friday, planning on reaching Washington on Tuesday.
Now the organizers are directing any truckers who had been interested in joining them to join the People’s Convoy that left California earlier last week or the Texas Convoy that has been trying to organize a drive to start in about a week. The group said it had $6,500 that will be dispersed to truckers who reach Maryland and Washington D.C.
New York state to drop mask mandate for schools
New York state's school masking mandate will be lifted Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Sunday. The Democrat cited declining COVID-19 cases and guidance from the CDC but said counties and cities could keep their own mandates in place. Parents can choose to send their kids to school in masks.
The new rules also apply to children 2 years and older in child care facilities. New York state has 2.7 million schoolchildren, including about 1 million in New York City, whose school officials did not immediately announce their plans. Earlier this month, Hochul let a broad mask mandate for most indoor settings expire but said the schools requirement would remain in place.
WHO working to get oxygen, other medical supplies to Ukraine
The World Health Organization is working to establish safe transit of oxygen and other medical supplies to Ukraine through Poland, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Sunday.
The oxygen supply is nearing a dangerously low level, and trucks are unable to transport oxygen supplies from plants to hospitals across the country, including the besieged capital Kyiv, Tedros said.
During the crisis in Ukraine, health must remain a priority "pillar of the humanitarian response," Tedros said. Health systems and facilities must be protected, safe and accessible to all who need essential medical services, and health workers protected "so they can continue to save lives," Tedros said.
Chicago schools to continue requiring masks
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's decision to drop the statewide school mandate effective Monday won't change a thing in Chicago, the nation's fourth-largest public school system with 350,000 students. The decision by Pritzker, a Democrat, to follow the lead of a growing number of governors from both parties comes as the CDC updates its guidance for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip.
The agency says masks may not be needed in almost two-thirds of U.S. counties, citing easing strain on health care systems as new cases plummet.
In a letter to parents and students, the district said masks will remain a requirement in its 650 schools. School buildings are not like other indoor settings, the letter says.
“We all look forward to the day when masks will no longer be required in schools," the letter says. "We plan to work with our labor and public health partners on the best way to preserve a safe learning environment for all.”
Mental health issues in teen girls increased during the pandemic
Mental health issues for teenage girls such as eating disorders, depression and tics increased during the pandemic compared with 2019, according to a study released by the CDC. Emergency department visits in 2020 increased for girls ages 12 to 17 for tic disorders and eating disorders, the study found. In 2021, teen girls went to emergency rooms more often for issues related to depression, eating, tic and obsessive-compulsive disorders. And in the first month of 2022, there was an increase in visits for anxiety, trauma and stressor-related, eating, tic and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Overall pediatric visits to emergency departments have declined during the pandemic. Mental health-related visits have also decreased for minors in this period, emphasizing the need for specific outreach to adolescent girls, the study said.
Most Americans are in areas where they can shed masks indoors, but most Floridians are not
The CDC says the majority of Americans can remove their masks indoors – but that's not true for most Floridians. About 70% of Americans live in counties the CDC classifies as having a “low” or “medium” strain on their health care systems from COVID-19, so there is no need to require mask-wearing indoors and in schools, the agency says.
The same is true for just 44% of Floridians. Only 25 of Florida’s 67 counties are in the "low" or "medium" categories, which emphasize COVID hospitalizations more than case counts. Florida logged at least 25,390 new infections in the past week, state health officials reported Friday, the lowest seven-day sum since Dec. 17. The state also recorded 888 new fatalities this past week, the first time since Jan. 21 when the increase in the seven-day statewide death toll was less than 1,000.
– Chris Persaud, Palm Beach Post
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Congress lifts mask mandate ahead of State of the Union: COVID updates