U.S. CDC says trend of decline in COVID-19 cases may be stalling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that a recent decline in COVID-19 cases may be stalling, a development she described as concerning while urging that restrictions to fight the virus remain in place.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters the CDC was watching the concerning data closely.

The White House on Friday also urged companies to join efforts to help fight the pandemic by requiring mask wearing by employees and educating customers.

Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser on the White House’s COVID-19 response team, listed a number of companies that were taking measures to help with the pandemic fight and urged more to join.

Ford and the Gap were producing and donating millions of masks, he said, while Best Buy, Target and Dollar General were giving workers paid time off to get vaccines.

The White House is working on a broad campaign to educate Americans about the vaccine as it seeks to bring the pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 people in the United States under control.

President Joe Biden on Thursday noted concerns that later this spring supply of the vaccines would outstrip demand because of vaccine hesitancy.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Carl O’Donnell and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Biden administration to distribute more than 25 million masks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will deliver more than 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens this spring as part of its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, the White House said on Wednesday.

U.S. health authorities recommend mask wearing as a critical measure to help slow the spread of disease and the White House said low-income Americans still don’t have access to masks.

The government will deliver the masks to more than 1,300 community health centers and 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens between March and May, the White House said.

The masks are expected to reach between 12 million and 15 million Americans, it said.

Democratic President Joe Biden issued a mask mandate when he took office in January as the pandemic raged on, requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings and the development of a testing program for federal employees for COVID-19.

Shortly afterward, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a sweeping order requiring the use of face masks on nearly all forms of public transportation.

The White House said two-thirds of the people served by community health Centers live in poverty, 60% are racial and/or ethnic minorities, and nearly 1.4 million are homeless.

“These masks will be no cost, high-quality, washable, and consistent with the mask guidance from the CDC. All of these masks will be made in America, and will not impact availability of masks for health care workers,” the statement said.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Teachers may play role in in-school COVID-19 transmission: U.S. CDC

(Reuters) – Teachers may play an important role in the transmission of COVID-19 within schools, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday, citing a study conducted in elementary schools in a Georgia school district.

The report comes after researchers from the agency last month said there was little evidence that schools were spreading COVID-19 infections in the country – based in part on a study of schools in Wisconsin – easing concerns about allowing in-person learning. The Wisconsin study found significantly lower virus spread within schools compared with transmission in the surrounding communities.

An investigation involving about 2,600 students and 700 staff members of a Georgia school district’s elementary schools showed nine clusters of COVID-19 cases involving 13 educators and 32 students at six elementary schools, the CDC said.

Of these, two clusters involved probable teacher-to-teacher transmission that was followed by teacher-to-student transmission in classrooms, the agency said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Transmission from teachers resulted in about half of 31 school-related cases, according to the investigation.

The study was subject to some limitations including difficulty in determining whether coronavirus transmission happened in school or out in the local community, the agency noted.

Distinguishing between the two types of transmission was particularly challenging when the 7-day average number of cases per 100,000 persons exceeded 150, the agency said.

The CDC said COVID-19 vaccination of educators should be considered as an additional mitigation measure to be added when available, although not required for reopening schools.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. CDC recommends schools reopen with universal masking and other rigid health protocols

By Gabriella Borter and Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued new guidance for U.S. schools to reopen, recommending universal mask-wearing and physical distancing as key mitigation strategies to getting children back in the classroom.

The guidelines, which also emphasize the need for facility-cleaning, personal hygiene and contact tracing, are intended to give school districts a road map to bring the nation’s 55 million public school students back to classrooms without sparking COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We believe with the strategies we have put forward that there will be limited to no transmission in schools if followed,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters, noting that the CDC was not mandating that schools reopen.

The agency also said school reopenings should not be conditional on teachers’ access to COVID-19 vaccines, but strongly recommended U.S. states prioritize teachers and school staff for vaccination.

School reopenings have been the focus of labor disputes between teachers unions and their districts in major U.S. cities. In Chicago this week, after months of negotiations that included threats of a lock-out and strike, the teachers union and district reached agreement on a safety plan.

President Joe Biden promised to reopen most schools within 100 days of taking office on Jan. 20. On Sunday, he said the problems arising from the continued closure of schools, including children’s mental health struggles and the exodus of parents from the workforce, have amounted to a national emergency.

Just 44% of U.S. school districts were offering fully in-person learning as of December and 31% were operating all remotely, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, which surveyed 477 of the nation’s nearly 13,000 school districts. Other districts have employed a hybrid learning model where students attend some school days in-person and some virtually.

The CDC’s phased mitigation strategy is intended to be flexible depending on the level of COVID-19 transmission in a school’s community.

In areas where the COVID-19 positive test rate is below 5% and there are fewer than nine new cases per 100,000 in the last seven days, schools can fully reopen and safely relax social distancing measures as long as masks are worn, Walensky said. In areas of high transmission, the agency is urging 6 feet of separation in classrooms and weekly testing of students, teachers and staff.

Recent studies have shown that in-person learning has not been associated with increased community transmission, especially in elementary schools, the CDC guidance noted.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Boca Raton, Florida, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis)

White House says no intention to require COVID-19 testing on domestic flights

By David Shepardson and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Friday it was not currently planning to require people to take COVID-19 tests before domestic airline flights after the prospects of new rules raised serious concerns among U.S. airlines, unions and some lawmakers.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Friday that “reports that there is an intention to put in place new requirements, such as testing, are not accurate.”

Psaki spoke after the chief executives of major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, met virtually with White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last month the agency was “actively looking” at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to U.S. domestic flights.

The CDC on Jan. 26 began requiring negative COVID-19 tests or evidence of recovery from the disease from nearly all U.S.-bound international passengers aged 2 and older.

Any CDC order would first need to be drafted and then reviewed by other federal agencies in the Biden administration, including the White House.

The White House and officials told Reuters this week that no formal order had been circulated and that officials were not expected to endorse requiring negative COVID-19 tests before domestic flights, but added that decision could change at a later date.

“We had a very positive, constructive conversation focused on our shared commitment to science-based policies as we work together to end the pandemic, restore air travel and lead our nation toward recovery,” Nick Calio, chief executive of the Airlines for America industry group, said in a statement after the meeting on Friday.

The White House has a separate interagency meeting scheduled for later Friday to discuss coronavirus issues.

The meeting of airline CEOs, Zients and other administration officials involved in COVID-19 issues came after the industry strongly objected to the possibility of requiring COVID-19 testing before domestic flights.

Southwest Airlines warned such a requirement could put jobs at risk and a major aviation union said it could lead to airline bankruptcies.

One idea that has been under serious consideration is for the CDC to issue recommendations advising against travel to specific areas of the United States with high COVID-19 caseloads, although those travel recommendations would not be binding, officials said.

The CDC currently has a broad recommendation discouraging all non-essential air travel.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

White House says no specific decisions on domestic air travel under review

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Thursday rejected media reports it is considering any new domestic air travel restrictions.

“To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety. The administration is continuing to discuss recommendations across the travel space, but no specific decisions are under consideration,” a White House spokesman told Reuters.

Reports that the administration was considering imposing restrictions on travel to Florida brought denunciations from many Republican lawmakers.

The chief executives of major U.S. airlines are scheduled to meet virtually on Friday with the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator to discuss travel-related issues, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The meeting with coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients and other administration officials involved in COVID-19 issues comes as airlines, aviation unions and other industry groups have strongly objected to the possibility of requiring COVID-19 testing before boarding domestic flights.

Southwest Airlines Co Chief Executive Gary Kelly and the leaders of the airline’s unions urged President Joe Biden in a letter not to mandate COVID-19 testing, saying it would put “jobs at risk.”

“Such a mandate would be counterproductive, costly, and have serious unintended consequences,” said the letter, which was dated Tuesday and released on Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last month said the Biden administration was “actively looking” at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to U.S. domestic flights. The CDC on Jan. 26 began requiring negative COVID-19 tests or evidence of recovery from the disease from nearly all U.S.-bound international passengers age 2 and older.

One idea that has been under review within the Biden administration is for the CDC to issue recommendations advising against travel to areas of the United States with high COVID-19 caseloads, but no decisions have been made and recommendations would not be binding, officials said.

CDC officials have repeatedly urged Americans not to travel unless necessary.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Vaccinated people need not quarantine post COVID-19 exposure, CDC says

(Reuters) – People who have received the full course of COVID-19 vaccines can skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with the infection as long as they remain asymptomatic, U.S. public health officials advised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday the vaccines have been shown to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, thought to play a greater role in the transmission of the virus than asymptomatic disease.

“Individual and societal benefits of avoiding unnecessary quarantine may outweigh the potential but unknown risk of transmission (among vaccinated individuals),” the CDC said.

The agency has laid down strict criteria for people who would no longer have to quarantine after the vaccinations, including having received both doses of a two-dose vaccine.

People who choose not to quarantine should do so only if they received their last dose within three months, and should only avoid 14 days quarantine after their last shot, the time it takes to develop immunity, CDC said.

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms for 14 days following an exposure.

Two-dose vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. Johnson & Johnson applied for a U.S. authorization of its single-dose shot last week.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)

CDC to issue new COVID-19 guidelines for schools on Friday: White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue new guidelines for U.S. schools reopening on Friday, White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt said.

Reopening schools is a top priority for the administration of President Joe Biden, who has stressed he wants it done safely and has supported vaccinations for teachers.

The top U.S. health safety agency has been working on a new set of guidelines to meet the challenges that school districts face across the country.

“Tomorrow, the CDC is going to roll out their operating plan to give school districts, local communities, the guidance they need to know to begin to do that and to begin to do that aggressively,” Slavitt said on Thursday.

Pressure to reopen or expand in-person learning for students has been building across the United States in recent weeks as the impact of remote learning on education and family life has become more apparent. The debate over how and when to safely reopen has become heated in many school districts.

Slavitt said he understood why some parents were impatient to reopen and stressed that the CDC was being very thorough in formulating its guidelines on masking, social distancing and other issues.

“I can assure you of one thing: There’s no debate over whether to open schools here. There’s a debate over how,” Slavitt said. “And if it were as simple as ‘open all the schools,’ they’d all be open by now.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Bernadette Baum)

65.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines delivered, 44.7 million administered: U.S. CDC

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 44,769,970 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Wednesday morning and delivered 65,972,575 doses.

The tally of vaccine doses are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, vaccines as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday, the agency said.

According to the tally posted on Tuesday, the agency had administered 43,206,190 doses of the vaccines, and delivered 62,898,775 doses.

The agency said 33,783,384 people had received 1 or more doses while 10,469,514 people have got the second dose as of Wednesday.

A total of 5,176,499 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

Double-masking, knotting-and-tucking for snug fit reduces COVID-19 spread, U.S. study shows

By Manas Mishra

(Reuters) – Making sure a mask fits snugly on the face and use of two masks is likely to significantly reduce a person’s exposure to the coronavirus, laboratory experiments described by U.S. health officials on Wednesday showed.

The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January conducted experiments to see how well wearing a cloth mask over a three-ply medical procedure mask, and knotting the ear loops of a surgical mask and then tucking the excess material close to the face, protects against COVID-19.

They found that both these methods helped reduce the exposure to potentially infected aerosols by more than 90% in laboratory simulations.

Results from one experiment demonstrated that the un-knotted medical procedure mask alone blocked 42.0% of the particles from a simulated cough, and the cloth mask alone blocked 44.3%.

The double mask combination blocked 92.5% of the cough particles.

In another experiment, the CDC tried to simulate the spread of COVID-19 during breathing when one or both people are properly masked. In the first scenario with only the source of the aerosols wearing a mask, they found coronavirus exposure was reduced by 82.2% when double-masking, and 62.9% with a snug fitting, knotted and tucked surgical mask.

When the source and receiver of simulated breathing aerosols were both fitted with double masks, or knotted and tucked medical masks, the exposure of the receiver was reduced 96.4% and 95.9%, respectively, the experiments found.

The data underscore that a good, tight fit with no spaces around the sides or use of a second cloth mask to improve the fit of the first mask increases overall efficiency and reduces virus transmission risk, the CDC said.

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