Amid calls from public health experts to swap cloth face coverings for higher-quality masks as COVID-19 cases surge, the CDC updated its mask information Friday to acknowledge some types of masks provide more protection than others.
The agency also recognized that some types of masks may be harder to wear consistently than others and that it is important to choose a mask that is comfortable and provides good protection. It also removed concerns related to supply shortages.
“Masking is a critical public health tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the CDC said in a statement. “To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, CDC continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.”
Loosely woven cloth masks provide less protection than well-fitted disposable surgical masks. And KN95s offer more protection, according to the CDC guidance.
The guideline also notes that “NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.” Such face coverings are even more important in high-risk situation such as when caring for someone who has COVID, riding a plane or using public transportation.
The updated guidelines come as many experts advocate for increasing mask protection amid growing evidence that common cloth masks are not protective enough against the latest variants of the virus.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America voiced its support for the update in a Friday statement, noting that the omicron variant’s high transmissibility makes wearing the right mask even more important.
The organization said surgical N95 respirators, which the CDC said offers the highest level of protection, should be reserved for use in health care settings, but others should consider non-surgical N95 or KN95 masks.
The IDSA also acknowledged that while these masks have become more readily available, they are also more expensive.
“This cost barrier can exacerbate already significant health inequities,” the IDSA said.
Also in the news:
►As some experts say the current COVID-19 wave may be peaking, new coronavirus cases ticked down slightly for the second time this week. The U.S. reported some 5.51 million cases in the week ending Thursday, down from a revised 5.53 million in the week ending Wednesday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
►Roughly one in five hospitals reported having “critical staff shortages” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a USA TODAY analysis found. One in four anticipated critical shortages within the next week.
►U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office apologized Friday to the royal family for holding a late-night staff party the day before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone and mourned her late Prince Philip in a socially distanced funeral service due to the country’s COVID-19 rules.
►New York’s eviction moratorium, which protected hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who were late on payments due to hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic from eviction, expires Saturday.
►More than half-a-million people in Israel have received a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the country’s health ministry said Friday.
►Cruise lines will no longer be obliged to follow COVID-19 guidance on ships as the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, which was extended and modified in October, will expire Saturday.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 63.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 846,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 319 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.8% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we’re reading: When will this COVID surge end? Scientists search your sewage for clues.
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More school districts shift to remote learning
As COVID-19 cases skyrocket among teachers, school officials in Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada announced this week they would temporarily close or shift to remote learning amid worsening teacher shortages.
In Indiana, at least four Marion County school districts have shifted to remote learning. Indianapolis Public Schools said Wednesday the decision “has been made based on the number of staff absences, including COVID-19 isolation and quarantines at the middle and high school levels.”
North Carolina has resorted to allowing state employees to use their allotted volunteer days to fill in as paid substitute teachers, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday. In Nevada, all schools in Carson City School District were closed for part of this week because of a surge in staff members getting infected with COVID-19.
Maryland’s largest school district asked the National Guard to fill in for bus drivers, ABC News reported. New Mexico’s governor said Thursday she’s considering seeking help from the National Guard to address COVID-19 staffing shortages at public schools in the state, too.
US insurers paid estimated $100M+ for disproven COVID-19 treatment ivermectin, study finds
A new study says U.S. insurers paid the annual equivalent of $129 million for the de-worming medication ivermectin, despite the drug having not been found to benefit COVID-19 patients.
Ivermectin is used to treat heart worms and ear mites in cats and dogs and to fight parasites in horses, cattle, pigs and sheep. In rare occasions it is given to humans with parasitic worm infestations.
It’s been promoted as a COVID-19 cure but there’s little data to suggest it is effective.
The researchers excluded the few patients who had a diagnosis of parasitic infection, about 6% of prescriptions.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School and Boston University, it was published Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Food and Drug Administration specifically says ivermectin should not be taken for COVID-19 and cites side effects such as skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, seizures and confusion and liver injury.
Despite that, millions of prescriptions for the drug have been written for COVID-19 patients.
The study found that on average the insurer reimbursement for the drug was $35.75 for private insurance and $39.13 for Medicare Advantage patients.
– Elizabeth Weise
Biden administration to launch website for free testing kits
The Biden administration on Wednesday will launch a website where Americans can order up to four free COVID-19 testing kits per person, according to a senior administration official.
The tests, part of the Biden administration’s purchase of 500 million tests last month to help tackle a record surge in infections, will be available at COVIDTest.gov and mailed to homes within 7-12 days, according to the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the announcement.
President Joe Biden announced earlier this week the administration would double its order with the purchase of an additional 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests amid a shortage of tests nationwide that’s led to long lines at testing locations and overburdened hospitals. The second batch of testing kits will also be distributed for free through the federal website, officials said.
— Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
Students walk out over COVID safety, call schools a ‘petri dish’
As teachers unions and schools battle over in-person and remote learning, students nationwide are demanding a seat at the table. Many are staging walkouts this week, including Boston on Friday.
“We are the ones who have been in this environment every day. It’s our bodies that we’re putting at risk,” said Kayla Quinlan, a 16-year-old student activist at Boston Day and Evening Academy. “Students should have a say in what their learning environment looks like, but our voices are always left out.”
Students at schools across the Boston Public Schools system walked out around 10:30 a.m. Friday, the Boston Globe and NBC Boston confirmed.
While specific demands vary across districts, students’ requests largely center around allowing remote learning options as an alternative for those worried about coming to school, rather than shutting classrooms down altogether. Student coalitions that have advocated for shifting fully to remote have only called to do so temporarily if schools do not enforce stricter COVID-19 precautions, including more frequent testing and higher-quality masks.
“It feels like a breeding ground for COVID, like a COVID petri dish,” Quinlan added. “How are you supposed to feel safe?”
Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after Australian government revokes his visa a second time
Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds three days before the Australian Open is to begin. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancelation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court as they successfully did after the first cancellation.
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne last week to defend his Australian Open title. His exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer. That apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.
But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa upon arrival in Melbourne. Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge on Monday overturned that decision.
— The Associated Press
Center for COVID Control to ‘pause’ nationwide testing sites
A coronavirus testing company under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and which has drawn criticism from customers in several states announced Thursday a “one-week pause on all operations.”
The pause was expected to take effect Friday through Jan. 21 at all Center for COVID Control testing sites. The Illinois-based company’s website says it has more than 300 locations in the U.S. across several states. Two of those, Massachusetts and Washington, took action this week to shut down several of the company’s testing centers in their communities.
In an internal company memo addressed to “all location owners and managers” and obtained by USA TODAY, the Center for COVID Control cited “increased scrutiny by the media into the operations of our collection sites” over the past week. The company says it processes 80,000 test requests per day.
“This, coupled with various customer complaints, resulted in various state health departments and even Department of Justice taking a keen interest in our company,” the notice said.
— Grace Hauck, USA TODAY
Supreme Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing mandate for workplaces
The Supreme Court on Thursday halted enforcement of one of President Joe Biden’s signature efforts to combat COVID-19, ruling that his administration doesn’t have the authority to impose vaccine-or-testing requirements on employers that would have covered tens of millions of Americans.
The unsigned opinion, which came days after the justices heard arguments in the emergency appeal, marked the second time the nation’s highest court unwound a pandemic policy of the Biden administration, again concluding that federal officials exceeded the power given to them by Congress. The court blocked Biden’s eviction moratorium in August, ruling that it also was an overreach.
At issue in the workplace case was whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had the power to impose the requirements under a 1970 law.
It was not immediately clear what, if any, options the Biden administration has to respond to the ruling. In a statement, the president said he was “disappointed,” and it was “now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees.” Read more here about what could be next for Biden’s vaccine campaign.
— John Fritze, USA TODAY
Contributing: Celina Tebor, USA TODAY; The Associated Press