HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: CDC to Update Guidance on Masking Outdoors

A mounting call for health officials to relax rules about outdoor mask wearing could soon lead to one of the most significant changes in virus guidelines since the U.S. first told Americans to don face coverings to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Outdoor mask wearing has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. There’s evidence that vaccines not only prevent illness, but also viral transmission. And with the U.S. averaging 2.74 million vaccine doses daily, with a total of 231 million given out overall, even some public health experts are calling for less strict guidelines as warmer weather arrives.

A response could come as early as today, when President Joe Biden is expected to announce that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will publish new guidance on whether vaccinated people still have to wear a face mask outside, according to a CNN report.

It’s long been understood that indoor environments present the highest risk of transmission. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, spreads largely via aerosolized viral particles. The size of a space, how many people are in it, the length of exposure and air circulation all factor into how easily viral particles might spread. Outside, those particles disperse far more quickly, lowering risk significantly.

But even then, the question of risk is not so black-and-white. The risks of inhaling aerosolized virus from a fellow hiker passing on a trail is virtually nonexistent. But if you are in a situation where it’s harder to maintain distance from others, such as an outdoor concert, the risk goes up.

Earlier this month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a blog posting by Paul Sax, clinical director of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, questioning whether it’s time to do away with outdoor mandates. “It’s best when public health mandates come out that they really follow the science,” he wrote. “Transmission doesn’t happen when people are outdoors by themselves walking around.” Read more from Kristen V. Brown.

More on the Pandemic

Biden to Send AstraZeneca Doses Abroad: The U.S. announced yesterday that it would send 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine abroad, and Biden pledged his full support to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who’s fighting the world’s largest spike in infections. The U.S.’s AstraZeneca doses will be released “as they become available,” White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said in a tweet. It’s not clear how many doses would be sent to India. In a phone call, Biden and Modi vowed to “work closely together” to combat Covid-19, and Biden pledged “steadfast support for the people of India,” Jordan Fabian and Josh Wingrove report.

Related:

Health Experts Defend J&J Pause: For Americans wary of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it returns to use after an investigation of a potentially severe side effect, top health experts have a message: The system worked. A recommended hold on the vaccine was lifted last Friday by the CDC and FDA after a 10-day review of extremely rare blood clots in some people who had taken the shot. Despite concerns the pause would exacerbate vaccine hesitancy, some health officials say the scrutiny of the clots and public deliberations by regulators should put people more at ease. Read more from Angelica LaVito and Riley Griffin.

Sanofi Agrees to Make Moderna Vaccines: Sanofi will help produce up to 200 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, the French drugmaker’s third agreement to throw its weight behind a rival pharmaceutical company during the pandemic. Sanofi will perform “fill-and-finish” work for Moderna’s messenger RNA shot in New Jersey starting in September, it said yesterday in a statement. That entails putting already prepared vaccine solution into vials and packaging it—a key step that Sanofi is also performing for Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Tim Loh has more.

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Happening on the Hill

Child Care: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plans a hearing on strengthening the child-care sector.

Democrats Press Biden to Expand Medicare: More than 80 progressives and moderates in the House Democratic caucus yesterday sent a letter to Biden requesting that he strengthen Medicare as part of his American Families Plan. Its signers include members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Their letter urges Biden to expand Medicare by lowering its eligibility age and giving the program negotiating power for drug prices. Read the letter here.

Bill Boosts Home Health Care: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would provide Medicare reimbursements for audio “and video telehealth services furnished by home health agencies during the COVID-19 public health crisis” and for future public health emergencies. Read a statement on the legislation here.

Trump Backs Wright Over Ex-HHS Official: Former President Donald Trump yesterday said he’s endorsing Republican candidate Susan Wright over an ex-official from his administration in the House race for Texas’s 6th congressional district. Brian Harrison, who was chief of staff for HHS Secretary Alex Azar, is running on his record as supporting Trump’s health agenda. But the endorsement means Wright holds Trump’s stamp of approval, not Harrison, Alex Ruoff reports. Wright is the widow of the late Rep. Ron Wright (R), who died in February after a Covid-19 diagnosis.

What Else to Know Today

Lobby Firm Announces Health Hires: Waxman Strategies, a lobbying and public affairs firm by former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), is adding two to its health practice: Claire McAndrew, who served as director of campaigns and partnerships and private insurance programs lead at Families USA, and Zara Day, who served as an associate policy director at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. McAndrew will tackle work on “health care costs and access,” the firm said in a statement. Day “will focus on helping clients use policy levers in service of advancing equity in health care,” Megan R. Wilson reports.

White House Greenlights Hospital Rule Plan: The White House has completed its review of a proposed rule to revise the Medicare hospital inpatient and long-term care hospital prospective payment systems for operating and capital-related costs in 2022. The proposed rule (RIN 0938-AU44) can now be released at any time by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Read more from Tony Pugh.

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With assistance from Alex Ruoff and Megan R. Wilson

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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