First Edition: April 11, 2022

Linda Rider

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Journalists Discuss Insulin Costs And Ethical Questions Surrounding A North Carolina Rehab Program

KHN Midwest correspondent Bram Sable-Smith discussed insulin costs on NBC’s LX on April 6. … KHN correspondent Aneri Pattani, joined by North Carolina Health News’ Taylor Knopf, discussed some of the ethical questions raised by TROSA — a substance misuse recovery organization in North Carolina that provides free room and board for those in recovery in exchange for free work — on WUNC’s “WUNC Politics” podcast on April 6. (4/9)

NBC News:
Incomplete Data Likely Masks A Rise In U.S. Covid Cases

At first glance, U.S. Covid cases appear to have plateaued over the past two weeks, with a consistent average of around 30,000 cases per day, according to NBC News’ tally. But disease experts say incomplete data likely masks an upward trend. In Washington, D.C., for example, several high-profile government figures recently tested positive, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Attorney General Merrick Garland. (Bendix and Chow, 4/10)

Covid-19 Could Be Spreading Undetected In U.S.

The rise of Covid cases in some regions of the U.S., just as testing efforts wane, has raised the specter that the next major wave of the virus may be difficult to detect. In fact, the country could be in the midst of a surge right now and we might not even know it. Testing and viral sequencing are critical to responding quickly to new outbreaks of Covid. And yet, as the country tries to move on from the pandemic, demand for lab-based testing has declined and federal funding priorities have shifted. The change has forced some testing centers to shutter while others have hiked up prices in response to the end of government-subsidized testing programs.  People are increasingly relying on at-home rapid tests if they decide to test at all. But those results are rarely reported, giving public health officials little insight into how widespread the virus truly is. (Muller, 4/10)

The Wall Street Journal:
The BA.2 Variant Is Spreading. Do You Need To Worry?

You’re going to the movies and eating indoors. Your kid stopped wearing a mask to school; you no longer wear one to work. After two years of Covid precautions, you finally feel normal again. Well, mostly.BA.2—a subvariant of the Omicron variant that tore through the U.S. this winter—is spreading. It’s now the dominant variant throughout the country and has triggered recent surges in Europe. If you live somewhere where local statistics suggest cases are rising but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map still shades your county low-risk green, it can be tough to figure out what to do.  (Reddy, 4/10)

NBC News:
72 People At High-Profile D.C. Dinner Test Positive For Covid

Seventy-two people have tested positive for Covid-19 after having attended the Gridiron Dinner in Washington last weekend, including members of the Biden administration and reporters. Gridiron Club President Tom DeFrank said Sunday that the group had reported 72 cases out of the hundreds of people who attended. New York Mayor Eric Adams, who was also at the dinner, tested positive Sunday. It was the first Gridiron Dinner since 2019, before the pandemic, and guests were required to show proof of vaccination, DeFrank said. (Zhao and Roecker, 4/10)

The Washington Post:
President Joe Biden’s Pandemic Practices Vary As Covid Risks Grow 

Most of the time, President Biden doesn’t wear a mask, but occasionally he’s spotted with one. Sometimes his events are in crowded indoor rooms, other times outdoors. And through it all over the past two weeks, people close to Biden — if not in “close contact” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are contracting covid as part of a wave washing over parts of official Washington. (Linskey and Diamond, 4/8)

Fauci: No Particular Reason To Fear For Biden’s Health

Anthony Fauci said Sunday there’s no particular reason to fear that President Joe Biden will be infected with Covid-19, despite how hard official Washington has been hit lately. Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” the president’s chief medical adviser said, “The protocols to protect the president are pretty strong.” While allowing that an infection was certainly possible, Fauci added: “The president is vaccinated. He is doubly boosted. He got his fourth shot of an mRNA. When we people like myself and my colleagues are in the room closely with him for a considerable period of time — half an hour, 20 minutes, 40 minutes — all of us need to be tested. Yes, he is mingling there, but we feel that the protocols around the president are sufficient to protect him.” (Cohen, 4/10)

Fox News:
Fauci Says People Should Decide ‘Individual Risk’ For COVID, Reverting Back To Masks Possible

Dr. Anthony Fauci advised that individuals will need to decide for themselves their personal level of risk for events and COVID-19 exposure going forward as people learn to live with the virus. “What’s going to happen is that we’re going to see that each individual is going to have to make their calculation of the amount of risk that they want to take in going to indoor dinner is going to functions even within the realm of a green zone,” Fauci said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “It’s going to be a person’s decision about the individual risk they’re going to take.” (Aitken, 4/10)

Bay Area News Group:
Next New COVID-19 Vaccine Will Look Different

After deploying four COVID-19 shots in a little more than two years, the nation is absorbing a troubling realization: That’s a pace that’s impossible to sustain. This past week, experts began charting a path to a future that is less perfect – but more practical. It means building a vaccine that targets more than one strain of the virus. It would reduce severe disease and death, but not prevent every infection. If the design is changed, all vaccines will be updated. Manufacturers will likely offer the same vaccine formulation to everyone, rather than a mélange of different products for different people on different schedules. And the goal is to have it ready by next fall when the risk of illness is likely to soar. That’s a very tight deadline. (Krieger, 4/10)

The Washington Post:
The Next Leap In Coronavirus Vaccine Development Could Be A Nasal Spray

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus moved lightning-fast around the world, it revealed an unsettling truth. The virus had gained a stunning ability to infect people, jumping from one person’s nose to the next. Cases soared this winter, even among vaccinated people. That is leading scientists to rethink their strategy about the best way to fight future variants, by aiming for a higher level of protection: blocking infections altogether. If they succeed, the next vaccine could be a nasal spray. (Johnson, 4/10)

Thousands Rally In LA To Oppose COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

Thousands of people including truckers and firefighters from across the country gathered Sunday outside Los Angeles City Hall to protest vaccination mandates designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.The crowd gathered at Grand Park to hear speakers and performers, while big-rig trucks from the “People’s Convoy” were parked on nearby streets. Members of the convoy jammed traffic during a Washington, D.C., protest earlier this year. (Dovarganes, 4/10)

12 State Police Members Fired For Not Getting COVID Vaccine 

Eleven Massachusetts State Police troopers and one sergeant have been fired for not getting vaccinated against COVID-19, as required by an executive order issued last year, the state police said. State Police spokesperson Dave Procopio said in an email Sunday the 12 individuals were terminated Friday in the culmination of an internal hearing process. (4/10)

The Wall Street Journal:
School Reopening Mess Drives Frustrated Parents Toward GOP 

Democrat Jennifer Loughran spent the pandemic’s early days sewing face masks for neighbors [in Bridgewater, N.J.]. Last month, as a newly elected school-board member, she voted to lift the district’s mask mandate. That came four months after she voted for the state’s Republican candidate for governor. After a monthslong political identity crisis, Ms. Loughran decided her opposition to her party’s mask mandates, economic restrictions and school-closure policies outweighed her support for positions on climate change, abortion and gay rights, at least for the moment. (Bender, 4/1)

Ventilation: A Powerful Covid-19 Mitigation Measure

Two-plus years into the Covid-19 pandemic, you probably know the basics of protection: vaccines, boosters, proper handwashing and masks. But one of the most powerful tools against the coronavirus is one that experts believe is just starting to get the attention it deserves: ventilation. “The challenge for organizations that improve air quality is that it’s invisible,” said Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It’s true: Other Covid tools are more tangible. But visualizing how the virus might behave in poorly ventilated spaces can help people better understand this mitigation measure. (Sealy, 4/10)

USA Today:
After COVID, Congressman Calls For Hearings On Nursing Home Owners

In a biting letter, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. urged Congress to investigate the failures of nursing homes during the pandemic, particularly “profiteering, cold-hearted” corporations that act as landlords in the industry. “It is up to Congress … to shine a bright light on the current practices, to reign them in, and to set and strictly enforce high standards for performance,” Rush wrote to the chair of the House Oversight Committee. “It is Congress’s job to stand in-between greedy corporations and those who are the most defenseless.” (Fraser and Penzenstadler, 4/8)

With COVID Mission Over, Pentagon Plans For Next Pandemic

A COVID-19 patient was in respiratory distress. The Army nurse knew she had to act quickly. It was the peak of this year’s omicron surge and an Army medical team was helping in a Michigan hospital. Regular patient beds were full. So was the intensive care. But the nurse heard of an open spot in an overflow treatment area, so she and another team member raced the gurney across the hospital to claim the space first, denting a wall in their rush. (Baldor, 4/11)

Healthcare Workers Report High Job Turnover Amid Pandemic 

Before the pandemic, on average, 3.2% of healthcare workers reported turnover, compared with 5.6% in the beginning of the pandemic and 3.7% in the following 8 months. More people left the workforce than were unemployed for every group throughout the study period, except in the latter period among people who were multiracial or of an “other” race. (Van Beusekom, 4/8)

Warren, Grassley Threaten To Slap FDA With A 30-Day Deadline For OTC Hearing Aid Rules

A bipartisan duo of senators is done waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to finalize a regulation that will finally let companies sell hearing aids over the counter. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced a bill Friday that would mandate that the Biden administration release the FDA’s long-stalled hearing aid regulation within 30 days. The new bill is the latest sign of frustration in Washington over the FDA’s work on hearing aid access; Grassley and Warren’s passed legislation to pave the way for cheaper, over-the-counter devices five years ago, in 2017. (Florko, 4/8)

CDC Weighs New Opioid Prescribing Guidelines Amid Controversy Over Old Ones

Doctors will soon have new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how and when to prescribe opioids for pain. Those guidelines – currently under review as a draft – will serve as an update to the agency’s previous advice on opioids, issued in 2016. That advice is widely blamed for leading to harmful consequences for patients with chronic pain. Federal officials have acknowledged their original guidance was often misapplied; it was supposed to serve as a roadmap for clinicians navigating tricky decisions around opioids and pain — not as a rigid set of rules. (Stone, 4/9)

Aduhelm Coverage Restrictions Could Shape Future Of Accelerated Approva

Whither accelerated approval? Amid the hubbub over new Medicare coverage restrictions for Alzheimer’s treatments, a key issue may not be fully appreciated: There is now bona fide pushback against accelerated approval, a controversial strategy used by regulators and companies to get new drugs to market faster than usual. On its face, this suggests potentially wider — and sobering — implications for the pharmaceutical industry and patients, because they may one day have to wait longer for new medicines to get out the proverbial door. (Silverman, 4/9)

MRNA Vaccine Boost May Help CAR T-Therapy Treat Solid Cancers 

While CAR T-therapy has cured some people with blood cancers, this form of immunotherapy has so far produced lackluster results for solid tumors like lung or kidney cancer. But a new early-phase clinical trial presented on Sunday at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) conference suggests that CAR T-cells may be able to shrink some solid tumors — as long as it gets a boost from an mRNA vaccine from BioNTech. (Chen, 4/10)

USA Today:
Revolutionary Immunotherapy CAR-T Offers Hope Against More Tumors

On Wednesday, 5-year-old Mary Stegmueller will reach a major milestone. She will have outlived her predicted life expectancy. Twice. At age 4, Mary, a rambunctious animal lover from Northglenn, Colorado, was given nine  months to live. A devastating brain tumor was spreading its tentacles through her brain stem, the area that controls breathing, heartbeat and other essential functions. The tumor, called a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma strikes 300-400 Americans each year, mostly children, and several thousand more worldwide. (Weintraub, 4/10)

Houston Chronicle:
Doctor Completes First TULSA Procedure Performed At A Houston Hospital

History was made Friday as a local doctor carried out a procedure that had never been performed in a Houston hospital. The advanced prostate cancer treatment called transurethral ultrasound ablation is now being offered at Houston Methodist Willowbrook, the hospital announced this week. “This is the first time the TULSA procedure has been performed in a hospital setting in the Houston area, giving patients with prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate a significant opportunity to maintain their lifestyle,” Steven Sukin, MD, said in the announcement. (Feuk, 4/8)

Can Cancer Blood Tests Live Up To Promise Of Saving Lives?

Joyce Ares had just turned 74 and was feeling fine when she agreed to give a blood sample for research. So she was surprised when the screening test came back positive for signs of cancer. After a repeat blood test, a PET scan and a needle biopsy, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. “I cried,” the retired real estate broker said. “Just a couple of tears and thought, ‘OK, now what do we do?’” The Canby, Oregon, resident had volunteered to take a blood test that is being billed as a new frontier in cancer screening for healthy people. It looks for cancer by checking for DNA fragments shed by tumor cells. (Johnson, 4/11)

Feds Accused Of Ignoring Asbestos, Mold At Women’s Prison

A government watchdog has found a “substantial likelihood” the federal Bureau of Prisons committed wrongdoing when it ignored complaints and failed to address asbestos and mold contamination at a federal women’s prison in California that has already been under scrutiny for rampant sexual abuse of inmates. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel now wants Attorney General Merrick Garland to step in to investigate the allegations after multiple whistleblower complaints were filed earlier this year. The office detailed its findings in a letter this past week and has asked Garland to submit a report within 60 days. (Balsamo and Sisak, 4/9)

At Small And Rural Hospitals, Cyberattacks Cause Unprecedented Crises

At 12:08 p.m. on a Monday, a Sky Lakes Medical Center employee tapped an email link. Within minutes, that click cracked open the Oregon hospital’s digital infrastructure for cybercriminals to infiltrate. By the time IT staff started looking into it, “everything was being encrypted,” said John Gaede, director of information services. On a note discovered in a server, the attackers  announced the 100-bed Klamath Falls hospital had been hit with ransomware. (Renault, 4/11)

Billings Gazette:
Citing Patient Danger, Feds Say They Won’t Reimburse For Services At State Hospital

The Montana State Hospital is set to lose its federal reimbursement funding on Tuesday after repeated failures to meet standard health and safety conditions, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a letter to the state on Friday. The letter does not say how much money the state hospital will no longer receive once the federal government stops payment for services provided to Medicare and Medicaid patients. There were 142 patients in the main hospital as of April 4, though it’s not clear how many patients are insured by Medicare and Medicaid. (Larson, 4/11)

Plans To Close ER South Of Atlanta Raising Concerns

Wellstar Health System’s announcement that it is turning the only emergency room in Fulton County south of Interstate 20 into an urgent care clinic is raising concerns among some officials in metro Atlanta. WellStar said Wednesday it will close the ER and hospital beds at Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center South in East Point outside Atlanta in May. It will turn the facility into a 24-hour urgent care and rehabilitation clinic, news outlets reported. (4/10)

Maryland Expands Who Can Perform Abortions After Overriding Hogan’s Veto

Maryland lawmakers voted over the weekend to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would allow health practitioners outside of physicians — including nurse practitioners, midwives and physician’s assistants — to perform abortions. Maryland House members voted 90-46 on Saturday to reverse the governor’s decision, while state Senate members voted 29-15. Hogan is a Republican, while the majority of both the state’s chambers are Democrats. The bill will now become law and take effect on July 1. House Bill 937, known as the Abortion Care Access Act, says that “qualifying providers” include those whose medical licenses or certifications include the performance of abortions. (Archie, 4/11)

Dallas Morning News:
Charges Being Dropped Against Texas Woman Arrested For ‘Illegal Abortion’ In Rio Grande Valley

In a sudden turn of events, Starr County District Attorney Gocha Ramirez announced in a news release Sunday that his office is dismissing the indictment against Lizelle Herrera, who was arrested Thursday and charged with murder on accusations of a “self-induced abortion.”
“The issues surrounding this matter are clearly contentious, however based on Texas law and the facts presented, it is not a criminal matter,” Ramirez said in a statement. (4/10)

The Hill:
CDC Warns Of Meningococcal Disease Outbreak In Florida Primarily Affecting Gay, Bi Men 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health warning about an outbreak of meningococcal disease in Florida, which the agency said is mainly affecting gay and bisexual men, including those living with HIV. The CDC urged gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men to get the MenACWY vaccine if they live in Florida. It also recommended that those planning to visit Florida talk with their health care provider about getting the vaccine. (Rai, 4/9)

Anchorage Daily News:
Alaska House Refuses To Pay Doctors Illegally Fired By Gov. Dunleavy

The Alaska House of Representatives this week rejected a $495,000 legal settlement with two former Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors illegally fired by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his former chief of staff in 2018. The House voted 20-17 on Thursday to strip the money from a state budget line item for settlements. The decision is not yet final and would not revive a lawsuit brought by the doctors, but if the amendment is adopted by both the House and Senate, it would leave the doctors without financial compensation.
“If this amount is not appropriated, the settlement would not be paid, which means the doctors would not receive the payment that was part of the compromise of the settlement,” said assistant attorney general Grace Lee, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law. (Brooks, 4/8)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Police Officers Say They’re Overdosing From Fentanyl Exposure. What’s Really Going On?

“The risk of clinically significant exposure to emergency responders is extremely low,” said Dr. Kathy LeSaint, a medical toxicologist and assistant professor of emergency medicine at UCSF. Last month, six people, including five West Point cadets, reportedly overdosed after taking cocaine laced with fentanyl. But two said they overdosed — going into cardiac arrest — administering CPR to the others, rather than by voluntarily ingesting the opioid themselves. While she said she does not know the specific details of the West Point cadets incident, it seems unlikely to her, as an emergency medicine physician who has seen overdose patients receive CPR, that someone could become intoxicated that way. (Echeverria, 4/9)

UNLV Adding Outdoor Areas To Ban On Smoking In Public Places 

Nevada’s largest university is going smoke-free, going beyond the state’s existing law against smoking in most indoor public places by expanding it to include outdoor areas. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas policy announced Friday and taking effect Aug. 15 in time for the fall 2022 semester also applies to vaping. (4/9)

US Flu Activity Continues Upward Trend, Led By H3N2 Strain

The nation’s flu activity rose again last week, with the levels highest in central and southeast states and increasing in the Northeast, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today in its weekly update. The percentage of outpatient visits for flulike illness, a key marker, rose slightly, to 1.9%, but is still below the national baseline. One state—New Mexico—reported high flu activity, another measure of clinic visits for flulike illness. Four states reported moderate activity: Kansas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Utah. (4/8)

Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Wellness Fair Coming Wednesday In Las Vegas

A large wellness fair focusing on physical, mental and spiritual well-being — as well as activities for kids — is scheduled from 3-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Pearson Community Center in Las Vegas. “Wednesday Wellness Health Fair” will include blood-pressure checks and cholesterol screenings, as well as COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. There will be presentations and vendors. The event, at 1625 West Carey Ave., will include a food truck sponsored by Desert Winds Hospital. (Hynes, 4/9)

CBS News:
Ferrero Recalls Kinder Chocolates In U.S. Over Salmonella Fears

Italian confectionery giant Ferrero said Thursday it had recalled certain varieties of its Kinder chocolates from retailers in the United States due to possible salmonella contamination. The move follows recalls earlier this week in the United Kingdom and several European countries over concerns around products from Ferrero’s factory in the Belgian town of Arlon, although no Kinder products have so far been found to contain the disease. (4/8)

USA Today:
Baby Formula Shortage 2022 Worsens After Abbott Similac Recall

Less than two months after a baby formula recall, retailers are reporting shortages with some stores rationing sales. Nearly 30% of popular baby formula brands may be sold out at retailers across the U.S., according to an analysis by Datasembly, which assessed supplies at more than 11,000 stores. That’s a higher level than other products, said Ben Reich, CEO of the Tysons, Virginia-based research firm. (Snider, 4/9)

The Washington Post:
Despite A Decades-Long Effort, Babies Are Still Dying Of SIDS 

In the years following the 1994 start of the Safe to Sleep campaign, which urged parents to put their babies on their backs at bedtime and keep their cribs free of pillows, bumper pads, blankets, stuffed animals and anything soft that might pose a suffocation risk, cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) plummeted by more 50 percent. But then, the decline stopped. Some 3,400 babies under age 1 still die suddenly and unexpectedly each year. Of these, the number of infant deaths officially attributed to SIDS is probably an underestimate, experts say. In most cases, parents simply find their baby unresponsive in the crib — and autopsy practices are not standardized — so most of these heartbreaking deaths remain mysteries and are not always classified as SIDS. (Cimons, 4/10)

Why America Needs New Urgency Around Diet-Related Diseases

Americans were more vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID in part because of our poor health status heading into the pandemic. Now, preparations for future public health emergencies have to include chronic diet-related illnesses, including those stemming from the obesity crisis, health experts say. Obesity and related diseases like diabetes were closely linked with a far higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID. That was particularly true among older adults, communities of color, and disadvantaged communities, Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Axios. (Reed, 4/11)

CBS News:
Queen Elizabeth II Commiserates With Hospitalized COVID Patients After Her Own Bout With The “Horrible” Virus 

Queen Elizabeth II, after her own recent bout with COVID-19, empathized with patients, doctors and nurses at a London hospital last week as she listened to their stories about life on the front lines of the pandemic. The monarch spoke to patients and staff at the Royal London Hospital during a virtual visit that marked the official dedication of the Queen Elizabeth Unit, a 155-bed critical care facility built in just five weeks at the height of the pandemic. “It does leave one very tired and exhausted, doesn’t it?” she told recovering COVID-19 patient Asef Hussain and his wife, Shamina. “This horrible pandemic.” (4/11)

India To Distribute Fortified Rice To Tackle Malnutrition Issue

India will distribute fortified rice through various government-run food programs to tackle acute malnutrition among children and women in the world’s second-most populous nation. The initiative, which will cost about 27 billion rupees ($356 million) a year, will be funded by the federal government and completed in phases by June 2024, according to an official statement released after the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the plan. (Pradhan, 4/8)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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