CDC cuts quarantine time for all Americans with COVID-19 to 5 days

(Reuters) -U.S. health authorities on Monday shortened the recommended time for isolation for asymptomatic Americans with COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said the people who test positive after quarantining should follow five days of wearing a mask when around others.

Omicron accounts for 73% of U.S. coronavirus infections, the federal CDC had said last week.

Breakthrough infections are rising among the fully vaccinated population, including those who have had a third booster shot. However, Omicron appears to be causing milder symptoms in those people, some of whom have no symptoms at all.

Reducing the CDC’s 10-day quarantine recommendation would help asymptomatic people return to work or school, with proper precautions, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci had told CNN last week.

The CDC on Monday also gave guidance for people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose or more than two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not yet boosted. It recommended quarantine for them for five days followed by strict mask use for an additional six days.

Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure should wear a mask for 10 days, the CDC said.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)

CDC releases new guidance to allow children exposed to coronavirus to attend school

By Nandita Bose and Carl O’Donnell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new strategy called “test-to-stay” that allows unvaccinated children to stay in school even if they have been exposed to the coronavirus, agency Director Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.

“If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test negative, they can stay at school instead of quarantining at home,” Walensky said during a press briefing.

Some states are already advising their schools to use “test-to-stay” strategies in order to keep more children in class.

Schools must test their students twice a week to implement the test-to-stay strategy, Walensky said, adding that many schools already meet that standard.

The new guidance comes as the Omicron variant continues to spread in the United States. More than 39 states and 75 countries have reported cases of the new variant, which is highly contagious and infects vaccinated people at elevated rates.

“We expect it to become the dominant strain in the United States, as it has in other countries, in the coming weeks, Walensky said.

Some data has suggested that cases of Omicron are less severe than past variants, but top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said the severity of the new variant is “still up in the air.”

Fauci said that third booster shots of currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines provide increased protection against Omicron. He said there has been no decision yet on whether to encourage people to get boosted sooner than six months after their initial inoculations.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell and Nandita Bose in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. drug overdose deaths jump over 28%, top 100,000 in the past year

(Reuters) – Over 100,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending April 2021, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Wednesday.

That marks a 28.5% jump from the previous year, with deaths from opioids such as fentanyl, which can be 100 times more potent than morphine, and psychostimulants such as methamphetamine helping drive the increase, provisional data from the health agency showed.

“As we continue to make strides to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Data in July showed that last year’s drug overdoses jumped 30% as pandemic lockdowns made getting treatment difficult and dealers laced more drugs with a powerful synthetic opioid.

The new data showed that deaths from cocaine and prescription pain drugs also increased compared to data from the previous year.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

World at risk of measles outbreaks as COVID-19 disrupts infant shots, report says

(Reuters) – The risk of measles outbreaks is high after more than 22 million infants missed their first vaccine doses during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned.

Reported measles cases fell by more than 80% last year compared with 2019, but a higher number of children missing their vaccine doses leaves them vulnerable, a joint report by the WHO and the U.S. CDC showed on Wednesday.

About 3 million more children missed the shots in 2020 than the previous year, the largest increase in two decades, threatening global efforts to eventually eradicate the highly infectious viral disease.

“Large numbers of unvaccinated children, outbreaks of measles, and disease detection and diagnostics diverted to support COVID-19 responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children,” the U.S. CDC’s immunization head, Kevin Cain, said.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known, more so than COVID-19, Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can be especially dangerous for babies and young children, with pneumonia among the possible complications.

In 2019, reported cases of measles were at their highest in almost a quarter of a century.

The latest report said 24 measles vaccination campaigns originally planned for 2020 in 23 countries were postponed, leaving more than 93 million people at risk.

“It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals.

“Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another,” she said.

(Reporting by Amna Karimi and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)

Over 900,000 U.S. kids to get first COVID-19 shot by end of Wed -White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Over 900,000 U.S. children aged 5-11 are expected to have received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot by the end of Wednesday, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said, as the government ramped up vaccinations of younger children.

The United States on Wednesday began administering Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11, the latest group to become eligible for the shots that provide protection against the illness to recipients and those around them.

“While our program is just fully up and running this week, by the end of the day today, we estimate that over 900,000 kids aged five through 11 will have already gotten their first shot,” Zients said during a briefing with reporters.

The figure comes from a White House analysis of available data from pharmaceutical partners, some states, and localities, Zients said, adding the CDC has not yet collected the full tally.

COVID-19 is the largest vaccine-preventable killer of children in that age group, with 66 children dying from it over the past year, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at the same briefing.

The seven-day average of total COVID-19 cases in the U.S. was flat at about 73,300 over the past week, she said, with the hospitalization rate also flat at 5,000 a day. The seven-day average of daily deaths fell 11% to around 1,000 per day.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Alexandra Alper, and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Nick Zieminski and David Gregorio)

U.S. borders reopen, but not for asylum seekers stuck in Mexico

By Kristina Cooke, Mica Rosenberg and Caitlin O’Hara

NOGALES, Mexico (Reuters) – Leo fled his hometown in southern Mexico after his uncle was murdered by gang members and he received death threats. Earlier this year, he, his wife and their two children headed to the U.S.-Mexico border hoping to claim asylum.

After months of waiting, he hoped he would finally get his chance on Monday. But even as U.S. borders opened for travelers vaccinated against COVID-19, they remained closed to asylum seekers.

When Leo, 23, and his family approached the port of entry in Nogales, Mexico with his and his wife’s vaccination cards in hand, they were told by a border official they could not enter and seek asylum.

“I feel dispirited and sad,” said Leo, who asked his last name not be published for fear of reprisals from the gang he fled. President Joe Biden “is just continuing the same policies of Donald Trump.”

Biden has kept in place a controversial U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order, first implemented by his Republican predecessor Trump in March 2020, that allows migrants to be immediately expelled without an opportunity to seek asylum.

The Biden administration has said the CDC’s order, known as Title 42, remains necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as asylum seekers are processed in crowded settings at the border.

Any foreign national attempting to enter the United States without proper documentation will be subject to expulsion regardless of vaccination status, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Advocates have criticized the Biden administration’s continuation of the expulsion policy as borders reopen.

The idea that a vaccinated asylum seeker is more of a risk than a vaccinated tourist is laughable, said Noah Gottschalk, global policy lead with Oxfam America, one of the advocacy groups suing the Biden administration to overturn the Title 42 order. Gottschalk said the exclusion of vaccinated asylum seekers strengthens the group’s argument that the policy isn’t about public health.

In September, a federal judge ordered the Biden administration to stop expelling family units – parents or legal guardians arriving with their children – under the Title 42 order. The administration appealed, and a higher court put the judge’s ruling on hold as the case moves forward.

Last month, more than 1,300 medical professionals signed letters to the CDC urging it to end the border expulsions order, saying it lacked epidemiological evidence to justify it and put migrants at risk.

New York-based nonprofit Human Rights First has documented more than 7,600 kidnappings and other attacks on migrants stuck in Mexico who were blocked from entering the United States since Biden took office in January.

Leo has been working in construction to pay rent in Nogales, but he says his earnings are not enough to support his family. “They abuse you because they know you are not from here, they pay you what they want,” he said.

He is also worried about his children getting hit by a stray bullet when gunshots ring out at night. The U.S. State Department recommends Americans reconsider travel to the Mexican state of Sonora, where Nogales is located, due to crime and kidnapping.

“We were fleeing a place that was dangerous,” said Leo. “And here it is the same.”

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco, Mica Rosenberg in New York and Caitlin O’Hara in Nogales, Mexico; Editing by Mary Milliken and Karishma Singh)

COVID-19 still rages, but some U.S. states reject federal funds to help

By Andy Sullivan

(Reuters) – As the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic burns through the rural U.S. state of Idaho, health officials say they don’t have enough tests to track the disease’s spread or sufficient medical workers to help the sick.

It’s not for want of funding.

The state’s Republican-led legislature this year voted down $40 million in federal aid available for COVID-19 testing in schools. Another $1.8 billion in pandemic-related federal assistance is sitting idle in the state treasury, waiting for lawmakers to deploy it.

Some Idaho legislators have accused Washington of overreach and reckless spending. Others see testing as disruptive and unnecessary, particularly in schools, since relatively few children have died from the disease.

“If you want your kids in school, you can’t be testing,” said state Representative Ben Adams, a Republican who represents Nampa, a city of about 100,000 people in southwestern Idaho.

Meanwhile, the state is reporting the fifth-highest infection rate in the United States, at 369 confirmed cases per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schools in at least 14 of Idaho’s 115 districts, including Nampa, have had to close temporarily due to COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the year, according to Burbio, a digital platform that tracks U.S. school activity.

Idaho’s experience illustrates how political ideology and polarization around the COVID-19 epidemic have played a role in the decision of mostly conservative states to reject some federal funding meant to help locals officials battle the virus and its economic fallout.

For example, Idaho was one of 26 Republican-led states that ended enhanced federally funded unemployment benefits before they were due to expire in September. Gov. Brad Little claimed that money was discouraging the jobless from returning to work. At least six studies have found that the extra benefits have had little to no impact on the U.S. labor market.

Idaho has also rebuffed $6 million for early-childhood education, as some Republicans in the state said mothers should be the primary caretakers of their children.

The state also did not apply for $6 million that would have bolstered two safety-net programs that aid mothers of young children and working families. Little’s administration said it had enough money already for those programs.

Idaho has accepted some federal COVID-19 help. In fact, the rejected funds are just a small portion of the nearly $2 billion in federal relief Idaho has spent since March 2020 to fight the virus and shore up businesses and families, state figures show.

But hundreds of millions more remain untouched. Idaho has deployed just $780 million, or 30%, of the $2.6 billion it received under the federal American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March.

Neighboring Washington state, by contrast, has parceled out nearly three-quarters of the $7.8 billion it received under that legislation. Washington has recorded roughly 60% as many cases per capita as Idaho since the start of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some in Idaho are exasperated that a state of just 1.8 million people would turn down a dime of assistance when it’s struggling to tame the pandemic.

With no testing in place, nurses in Nampa schools rely mainly on parents to let them know when a child is infected, the district’s top nurse, Rebekah Burley, told the school board in September. She said she needed three or four more staffers to track existing cases and attempt to keep people quarantined.

“We’re tired, we are stressed, and something needs to change,” she said.

REJECTING FEDERAL MONEY

The refusal by red states to accept some types of federal aid that would benefit their constituents isn’t new.

For example, a dozen Republican-controlled states have rejected billions of dollars available through the landmark 2010 Affordable Health Care Act to cover more people under the Medicaid health program for the poor, which is jointly funded by the federal government and the states. Lawmakers from these places contended their states couldn’t afford to pay their share of an expansion. (Idaho initially was among them, but its voters opted in to the Medicaid expansion through a 2018 ballot referendum, bypassing state leaders.)

That same dynamic has played out during the coronavirus crisis. Since March 2020, Congress has approved six aid packages totaling $4.7 trillion under Republican and Democratic administrations, including the bipartisan CARES Act in March 2020 and the Democratic-backed American Rescue Plan Act this year.

Florida and Mississippi didn’t apply for benefits that would give more money to low-income mothers of young children. Four states, including Idaho, North Dakota and Oklahoma, opted not to extend a program that provided grocery money to low-income families with school-age kids in summer months.

Iowa, like Idaho, turned down federal money for COVID-19 testing in schools. New Hampshire rejected money for vaccinations.

Republican lawmakers in Idaho, like those elsewhere, cite concerns about local control, restrictive terms attached to some of the aid, and the skyrocketing national debt.

“We are chaining future generations to a lifetime of financial slavery,” said Adams, the Idaho legislator.

Yet even before the pandemic, Idaho long relied on Washington for much of its budget. Federal funds account for 36% of state spending in Idaho, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, above the national average of 32%.

State officials say they have enough money to handle the COVID-19 crisis for now.

Critics say Idaho’s reluctance to use more federal aid is a symptom of its hands-off approach to COVID-19 safety. Few public schools require masks, and local leaders have refused to impose mask mandates, limits on indoor gatherings and other steps to contain the virus.

“There’s a lot of people in our legislature and some local officials who really have not taken this seriously,” said David Pate, the former head of St. Luke’s Health System, the state’s largest hospital network.

Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with only 55% of adults and teens fully immunized, compared to 67% nationally.

HOSPITALS FULL

COVID-19 is pummeling Idaho even as cases have plunged in much of the nation. Intensive-care units statewide are full, forcing hospitals to turn away non-COVID patients. At least 627 residents died of the disease in October, well above the previous monthly death toll of last winter, records show.

Idaho received $18 million through the American Rescue Plan to hire more public-health workers, but lawmakers did nothing with that money this year.

Some local public health departments say they do not have enough staff to track the virus. “We have a lot of people doing two or three jobs right now,” said Brianna Bodily, a spokesperson for the public-health agency serving Twin Falls, a southern Idaho city of 50,000. The department is working with a 12% smaller budget than last year.

Such staff shortages have contributed to a backlog of test results statewide, which the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says is hurting its ability to provide an up-to-date picture of the disease’s prevalence.

With funding bottled up in the state capitol, Little, the governor, announced in August that he would steer $30 million from a previous round of COVID-19 aid to school testing.

The Nampa school district has requested some of that money but has yet to set up a testing program, spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said. Roughly 20% of the district’s students were not attending class regularly in the first weeks of the school year due to outbreaks, according to superintendent Paula Kellerer.

Nampa resident Jaci Johnson, a mother of two children, ages 10 and 13, said she and other parents have been torn over whether to send their children to class, due to the potential risk.

“Do we feed our kids to the lions, or do we keep them home and make them miserable?” Johnson said.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Marla Dickerson)

U.S. administers 423.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines – CDC

(Reuters) – The United States has administered 423,942,794 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Tuesday morning and distributed 521,502,845 doses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Those figures are up from the 423,005,384 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by Nov. 1 out of 518,561,375 doses delivered.

The agency said 221,961,370 people had received at least one dose while 192,726,406 people were fully vaccinated as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

The CDC tally includes two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine.

About 19.8 million people have received a booster dose of either Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. Booster doses from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson were authorized by the U.S. health regulator on Oct. 20.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru)

U.S. vaccines for children plan fully operational next week, White House says

By Ahmed Aboulenein and Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is rolling out Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 this week, but most of the 15 million shots being shipped initially are unlikely to be available before next week, the White House said on Monday.

Millions of doses specifically formulated for children of that age group will start arriving at distribution centers over the next few days, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said, and the federal government has purchased enough supply for all eligible 28 million children.

“The whole plan is based on Pfizer vaccines,” Zients told reporters at a briefing. “So the bottom line is there’s plenty of supply of the Pfizer vaccine and we look forward to parents having the opportunity to vaccinate their kids.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE coronavirus vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years, making it the first COVID-19 shot for young children in the United States.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still needs to advise on how the shot should be administered, which will be decided after a group of outside advisers discuss the plan on Tuesday.

Following the CDC’s decision, parents will be able to visit vaccines.gov and filter locations offering the vaccine for the children, Zients said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Alexandra Alper; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Alison Williams)

U.S. CDC advisers recommend COVID-19 vaccine boosters for ages 65 and older, those at high risk

By Michael Erman and Manojna Maddipatla

(Reuters) – A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel on Thursday recommended a booster shot of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for Americans aged 65 and older and some adults with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk of severe disease.

The panel declined to recommend boosters for adults ages 18 to 64 who live or work in institutions with high risk of contracting COVID-19, based on individual risk, such as healthcare workers, teachers and residents of homeless shelters and prisons. Some panel members cited the difficulty of implementing such a proposal.

Still, the vote by the group, following U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorization, clears the way for a booster rollout to begin as soon as this week for millions of people who had their second dose of the Pfizer shot at least six months ago.

The CDC said that some 26 million people in the United States received the second Pfizer/BioNTech shot at least six months ago, including 13 million age 65 or older.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)