August 17, 2022

COVID in California: Justice Department appeals order voiding travel mask mandate

Biden administration to appeal order voiding travel mask mandate: The Justice Department on Wednesday filed an appeal seeking to overturn a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs, according to the Associated Press. The notice came minutes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the Justice Department to appeal the decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week. A notice of appeal was filed in federal court in Tampa.

California aligns with CDC, will not require masking on public transit: California’s Department of Public Health on Wednesday said it has aligned with federal rules and will no longer require masks on public transportation and at transportation hubs, effective immediately. But the agency added, “CDPH strongly recommends that individuals in these settings continue to wear a mask.” On Monday, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida struck down the national mask mandate on airplanes and mass transit, which was due to expire May 3. The Transportation Security Administration stopped enforcing the mask requirement, but the CDC said Wednesday that it continues to recommend that people wear masks in all indoor public transportation settings and was assessing the need for a mask requirement in those settings. The decision created a confusing patchwork of rules for passengers across the U.S. as they navigate airports and regional transit systems. Read the full story here.

Health experts must pick variant by early summer to make modified vaccine for the fall: For COVID vaccine shots to be widely available in the fall that target a specific variant, U.S. health regulators have to select a strain to focus on by early summer, a top U.S. Food and Drug Administration vaccine official said Wednesday. “To even think about having a modified vaccine prepared to begin a fall vaccination campaign, we would need to be making a strain change decision, at the latest, by the beginning of the summer,” the FDA’s Dr. Doran Fink said Wednesday during a meeting of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory group. “That’s the kind of best case scenario for the vaccines most amenable to making changes, the mRNA vaccines.” Vaccine advisors for the FDA and CDC have been trying to map out how and when to update the current vaccines so that they better target variants that will be circulating in the future. The process is more complicated than updating the annual flu vaccine because COVID is less predictable in terms of seasonal surges. The current COVID vaccines are based on the Wuhan or ancestral strain of the coronavirus, and are less effective against the omicron variant.

Wachter says opinion piece comparing masks against vaccines ‘makes no sense’: Dr. Bob Wachter, UCSF’s Chair of Medicine and a prominent voice on pandemic related issues, is questioning a claim by a group of UCSF doctors who in an opinion piece this week argued, “Vaccines work, masks do not.” Wachter disagrees with the premise of the editorial by his colleagues — Dr. Jeanne Noble, Dr. Norman Hearst and Dr. Monica Gandhi, joined by Daniel Halperin of University of North Carolina — which appeared in The Chronicle. “Framing the choice as vaccines vs. masks sets up a false duality: vaccines are critically important. Adding good-quality masks adds protection in risky setting,” Wachter said in a Twitter post on Wednesday. “Posing this as an ‘or’ vs an ‘and’ makes no more sense than saying you can choose seatbelts or airbags, but not both.” In a conversation on The Chronicle’s Fifth & Mission podcast, Wachter explained why he still supports wearing masks in certain public settings.

Boosted people who later got COVID can wait three months before getting second booster: People who are fully vaccinated and boosted, and who later got an omicron infection, can wait three months after the infection before getting a second booster, Dr. Elisha Hall of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said during a Wednesday meeting of the CDC’s vaccine advisory group. This applies to people who are eligible for a second booster — those 50 and older, and those 12 and older who are immunocompromised. It is not the CDC’s official recommendation for recently infected people, but rather a consideration when thinking about who may want to wait to get a second booster. Three months is in line with previous estimates on how long a COVID infection provides some immunity against future infection.

New York governor warns of ‘rising tide’ of COVID-19 cases: New York is experiencing a ‘rising tide’ of new coronavirus infections, driven by two highly-contagious new omicron sub-variants, Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a press briefing Wednesday. “We’re not panicking about this, we’re not changing, but we also want to make sure that we’re smart about this,” she said. New York is reporting 40 cases per 100,000 residents, with about 1,400 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide. New York will keep its mask requirements for public transportation in place for now. “Let’s just be smart about it,” Hochul said. 

Shingles risk increases in people over 50 after COVID-19 infection, study finds: Older adults had an increased risk of developing shingles after a coronavirus infection in the first year of the pandemic, according to a study published by Open Forum Infectious Diseases. Tracking medical records of 400,000 people 50 and older diagnosed with COVID-19, researchers found they were 15% more likely to develop shingles (herpes zoster) within 6 months of infection compared with a cohort of nearly 1.6 million people who were not diagnosed with the disease. That risk increased to 21% in those who were hospitalized with COVID-19. The study did not include those who were vaccinated.

California to terminate $1.7 billion COVID testing lab once touted by Newsom: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration plans to stop using a public-private COVID-19 testing lab operated by PerkinElmer that the California Department of Public Health hired through a no-bid, $1.7 billion annual contract in October 2020, according to a letter obtained by CapRadio. An inspection report released last November by the health department found the lab has routinely underperformed, failing to meet the contract’s goals for turnaround times and numbers of processed tests. Newsom has previously said the laboratory was crucial to expanding the state’s testing capacity for schools and underserved communities. The state auto-renewed the yearlong contract at the end of October 2021, but in the letter it notified the company that it would terminate the contract in 45 days. The future of the facility is unclear.

Most Americans want masks on planes: A majority of Americans continue to support a mask requirement for people traveling on airplanes and other shared transportation, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey finds that despite vocal opposition to masking rules, including widely circulated videos showing verbal abuse and physical violence against flight attendants, 56% of Americans favor requiring that people on planes, trains and public transportation to wear masks. About 24% of those in the poll opposed the mandate, and 20% said they are indifferent to the rule.

Should you still mask up on planes and buses? Bay Area experts assess the risks of public transit: Air, rail and bus travelers faced an altered pandemic-risk landscape this week after a Monday ruling by a federal judge abruptly ended the nation’s mask mandate on public transportation. While videos and photos of passengers excitedly shedding their masks — some midflight — have gone viral, some Bay Area experts on Tuesday decried the sudden end of a longtime pandemic safety measure. Read the full story here.

S.F. Muni, Caltrain still requiring passengers to wear masks as Bay Area transit agencies relax mandates: A patchwork of conflicting mask policies emerged across the Bay Area’s airports and transit agencies after a Florida judge on Monday overturned the federal mask mandate for public transportation. Transit agencies, in particular, were scrambling to decide whether to still enforce mask wearing on trains, buses and ferries. Read the full story here.

Why do some people never get COVID while others get it several times, even if vaccinated?: There are many people who have never gotten COVID-19, despite repeated exposure. At the other extreme, there are lots who’ve gotten sick from the coronavirus more than once, despite being vaccinated and even boosted. Do we know why? A lot of factors are at play, experts said, including genetics and variations in immune response. Scientists are working towards finding a clear answer. Read the full story here.

Does it feel like everyone has COVID? Why some experts say S.F. may be in a surge: While San Francisco’s case counts are showing an increase as the omicron BA.2 subvariant spreads across the U.S., some researchers do not believe current case rates reflect the scale of the actual increase in infections, in part because fewer people are getting tested than before. Read the full story here.

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