Fate of travel mask mandate in limbo as CDC decides whether to appeal

Fate of travel mask mandate in limbo as CDC decides whether to appeal

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Spencer Platt)

The Department of Justice late Tuesday announced that it disagrees with a Florida judge’s ruling that abruptly nixed the federal travel mask mandate. However, the department said it would not immediately seek an appeal or a stay that would keep the mandate in place while litigation continued.

Instead, the DOJ said that it is now up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine if the mask mandate “remains necessary for the public’s health.” If the CDC determines that it is necessary, the DOJ will appeal the decision.

The CDC is reportedly undecided on the matter. On April 13, just before the mask mandate was set to expire, the CDC extended it for 15 days so it could assess the state of the pandemic and decide if the mandate was still necessary. The agency noted the recent—and continuing—uptick in cases driven by the BA.2 omicron subvariant. “The CDC Mask Order remains in effect while CDC assesses the potential impact of the rise of cases on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths and healthcare system capacity,” the agency said at the time. “[The Transportation Security Administration] will extend the security directive and emergency amendment for 15 days, through May 3, 2022.”

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#appeal, #cdc, #doj, #mandate, #mask, #science

Florida strips federal funding from schools as further punishment for masking

A man in a suit and a medical mask.

Enlarge / Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wears a face mask during a press conference on July 13, 2020. (credit: Getty | CHANDAN KHANNA)

The state of Florida this week withheld nearly $700,000 in funding from two school districts as part of an escalating feud led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over school mask requirements.

The state had previously financially penalized the Alachua and Broward school boards by docking their salaries for issuing school mask requirements, which DeSantis has worked to ban. In response to the financial penalties, the Biden administration last month awarded the counties federal funding to compensate for losses. Alachua County was awarded $147,719 and Broward County Public Schools received $420,957 in federal grants under the US Department of Education (USDOE) Project Safe grant.

But this week, the Florida Department of Education took things a step further. For this month’s budgets, the Sunshine State docked the school boards’ salaries and overall school funding in amounts equal to the federal grants, effectively canceling out the counties’ federal aid.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #desantis, #florida, #mask, #schools, #science

Florida’s surgeon general refused to wear mask to meet senator with cancer

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo speaks during a press conference at Neo City Academy in Kissimmee, Florida.

Enlarge / Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo speaks during a press conference at Neo City Academy in Kissimmee, Florida. (credit: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Florida’s top health official was tossed from a meeting last week after refusing to wear a mask in the presence of a state senator with cancer.

In a reportedly tense exchange on Wednesday, state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo was asked to leave the office of Democratic state Senator Tina Polsky, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer patients are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and becoming severely ill. They also may not be able to mount a full immune response after being vaccinated against the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ladapo had requested the meeting with Polsky in an effort to win Senate confirmation for his appointment, which Gov. Ron DeSantis announced late last month. Ladapo’s appointment has drawn controversy, particularly from Democrats, because of his views on the pandemic and vocal opposition to public health measures. In a series of op-eds and public appearances, Ladapo has advocated for allowing the pandemic coronavirus to spread and signed onto the controversial Great Barrington Declaration. Meanwhile, he has stoked unfounded fears about vaccine safety, misrepresented evidence on mask effectiveness, and opposed mask mandates, vaccine mandates, quarantines for school children, and lockdowns.

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#covid-19, #florida, #ladapo, #mask, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

COVID surge in unvaccinated is pushing US to more mandates, masks, mitigation

Signs requiring masks line the entrance to a grocery store.

Enlarge / People shop at a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles on July 23, 2021. (credit: Getty | Chris Delmas)

The ongoing COVID-19 surge among unvaccinated people is pushing the US toward more vaccine mandates, renewed mask use, and other mitigation efforts.

With around 51 percent of the country not fully vaccinated and the hypertransmissible delta variant spreading rapidly, the country’s pandemic outlook is grim and getting grimmer. Cases are still increasing in all 50 states and up 170 percent in the last two weeks, with the pace of case increases also accelerating.

COVID-19 is thriving in places with relatively low vaccination rates. Arkansas and Louisiana have the highest rates of new cases, and both states have only 36 percent of their residents vaccinated. Florida, Missouri, and Mississippi are also seeing surges among the unvaccinated.

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#ama, #cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #jerome-adams, #mask, #mitigation, #n95, #pandemic, #science, #vaccine-mandates

To entice vaccine-hesitant, Biden touts maskless activities for vaccinated

The most powerful man on Earth speaks into multiple microphones.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden speaks on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday updated masking guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated, now saying that they no longer need to wear a mask when outdoors with members of their household or when attending small, outdoor gatherings with unvaccinated people.

“Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press briefing Tuesday. “There are many situations where fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask, particularly if they are outdoors.”

The new guidance by the CDC lays out several examples of when fully vaccinated people can safely bare their faces.

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#biden, #cdc, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #mask, #public-health, #science

CDC study backs mask doubling with exposure to risky particles down 83%

Colorful face masks are piled on a table.

Enlarge / Self-sewn protective face masks in a fabric store on April 3, 2020, in Jena, Germany. (credit: Getty | Jens Schlueter)

With the pandemic still raging and several dangerous variants looming, many experts have suggested doubling up on masks. Now, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doubles down on that strategy.

Adding a cloth mask over a surgical mask on a rubbery dummy head more than doubled particle blocking when the dummy simulated coughing—aka spewing particles capable of carrying coronavirus—the study found. Specifically, a surgical mask or a cloth mask alone blocked about 42 to 44 percent of particles, respectively, coming out of the coughing dummy. The combo of a cloth mask over a surgical mask blocked 92.5 percent of the risky particles.

Next, the CDC researchers gave the rubbery dummy head an equally disembodied friend, spaced about two meters (six feet) away in a cozy, unventilated experimental chamber. When one of the heads quietly belched aerosol particles (source) while maskless, the researchers measured the dose of particles that the companion (receiver) took in during a 15-minute period. Wearing a surgical mask alone cut the receivers’ exposure to particles by just 7.5 percent, compared to wearing no mask. Wearing a double mask cut the exposure by 83 percent.

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#cdc, #cloth-mask, #coronavirus, #mask, #science, #surgical-mask

LG is releasing a ‘wearable air purifier’

Frankly, the most surprising thing about the PuriCare is that more tech companies haven’t launched a similar product in recent months. LG is showing it off as part of the upcoming IFA press conference in Berlin — though the company is opting for a virtual presence at this year’s show.

There’s a lot going on in the press release for the “wearable air purifier.” As it notes, “LG PuriCare Wearable Air Purifier resolves the dilemma of homemade masks being of inconsistent quality and disposal masks being in short supply. The PuriCare Wearable Air Purifier employs two H13 HEPA filters, similar to the filters used in the company’s home air purifier products.”

The company seemingly goes out of its way not to mention COVID-19. After all, specific health claims are often subject to different regulations. It’s true, of course, that masks have, at various points, been in short supply during the pandemic. And likely that was the case when LG really started pushing the idea in earnest.

That said, it’s also worth noting that even professionally made masks offer a pretty wide range of efficacy against the virus’s transmission. There are plenty of questions here. For starters, the filter and the question of how effective it might potentially be for both the wearer and the people around them. The latter, after all, is the real argument for wearing masks — to protect the people around.

LG’s response to the COVID-19 question defers to potential future approval; “We’re waiting until further testing is complete before we’re able to share full details.” Hopefully we’ll get some more concrete answers before it goes on sale in “the fourth quarter in select markets.” Though there are certainly non-coronavirus-related reasons to wear a mask, including pollution and other environmental contaminants.

Image Credits: LG

Also worth asking is what happens when the battery runs down. The mask is capable of running eight hours on “low” and two hours on “high,” courtesy of an on-board 820mAh battery, according to figures from LG. But stuff happens. Sometimes you’re out longer than expected, or maybe you just forgot to charge it in full before leaving the house.

There are two H13 HEPA filters on-board, similar in nature to the kind the company uses for its in-home air filtration system. There are also UV-LED lights designed to kill bacteria — an added level of protection beyond the filtration system. In addition to the aforementioned home filtration systems, LG also manufacturers UV light wands for disinfecting purposes. The company has been working on a lot of this stuff already and clearly saw an opportunity to capitalize on it in mask form.

There’s a fair bit of on-board technology, including the ability to regulate the speed of the filtration based on the wearer’s breath. Overkill? Almost certainly. From the looks of the images, it’s also potentially cumbersome. And then there’s the matter of the still unknown price.

#air-purifier, #hardware, #health, #lg, #mask, #wearables

Uber drivers and riders will be required to wear face coverings

Uber is planning to require drivers and riders to wear face masks as it prepares to ramp its ride-hailing business back up after being hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

CNN was first to report that executives approved a new policy that would require drivers and riders to wear face masks or coverings in some markets, including the U.S.. TechCrunch confirmed Monday that Uber has developed a policy for certain markets.

Uber still faces one considerable challenge: securing enough face masks and other supplies to protect drivers. The company said multiple orders have either been delayed or canceled as from major manufacturers prioritize healthcare workers and other first responders.

It’s also not clear how Uber will enforce its policy.

“As countries reopen, Uber is focused on safety and proceeding with caution,” an Uber spokesperson said in a emailed statement. “Today, we continue to ask riders to stay home if they can, while shipping safety supplies to drivers who are providing essential trips. At the same time, our teams are preparing for the next phase of recovery, where we will all have a role to play. We’ll communicate updates directly to users when ready, but in the meantime, we continue to urge all riders and drivers to wear masks or face coverings when using Uber.”

Uber has been encouraging riders to stay home through an in-app message and through marketing such as TV spots. The app is still available and people have used it to take trips to grocery stores, to essential jobs and pharmacies. Uber has urged, but not yet required, riders and drivers to wear masks or face coverings.

Protecting drivers

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Europe and North America, Uber drivers have found themselves on the front lines, often times transporting healthcare and other essential workers who were potentially exposed to the disease.

Uber announced last month that it would buy and ship face masks to active drivers and delivery workers globally. However, COVID-19 has squeezed global supplies for face masks and disinfectant. Uber and other ride-share drivers have reported problems accessing the supplies.

In the first week of April, Uber said it began receiving and then shipping about 500,000 ear-loop face masks to drivers. The company initially targeted the most active drivers in COVID-19 hotspots such as New York City and Los Angeles. (In LA, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a Worker Protection Order that requires companies to provide essential workers with personal protective equipment.) Uber said it also is prioritizing cities and states such as San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New Jersey that have asked drivers to wear face covers.

Uber said it will make these supplies available to all active drivers as more become available. Uber’s goal is to be able to offer masks nationwide regardless of local regulations.

As of this week, Uber has either shipped or preparing to ship 1.4 million ear-loop face masks in the United States. The company also started in early April to ship disinfectant to drivers in Chicago, Los Angeles, NYC, Seattle and Washington D.C.

#automotive, #chicago, #covid-19, #culture, #europe, #healthcare, #los-angeles, #mask, #new-jersey, #new-york-city, #north-america, #san-francisco, #seattle, #spokesperson, #techcrunch, #transport, #transportation, #uber, #united-states, #washington-d-c

Duke University uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide to clean N95 face masks for reuse

With shortages of N95 face masks persisting nationwide, healthcare facilities are scrambling to find ways to clean and treat the masks for reuse to protect doctors and nurses most at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Duke University thinks it has found a solution using vaporized hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate the masks.

The process uses specialized equipment to vaporize hydrogen peroxide, which can then infuse all the layers of the mask to kill germs (including viruses) without degrading mask material.

“This is a decontamination technology and method we’ve used for years in our biocontainment laboratory,” said Scott Alderman, associate director of the Duke Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, in a statement.

The university said it has proven effective and will begin using the technology at all three of its hospitals, according to Matthew Stiegel, the director of the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office at Duke.

Ideally, the hospitals would be able to use fresh masks and not need to try to decontaminate their masks, but these are not ideal times.

Duke’s decision to use hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate N95 masks is based on published studies conducted in 2016, but the practice wasn’t widespread, because the industry wasn’t facing shortages. Those earlier studies also didn’t include fit-testing — or the resizing of masks for individual wearers — after cleaning. Duke has now done that efficacy testing in the real world, the university said.

“The ability to reuse the crucial N95 masks will boost the hospitals’ ability to protect front-line healthcare workers during this time of critical shortages of N95 masks,” said Cameron Wolfe, MD, associate professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist.

Monte Brown, MD, vice president at Duke University Health System, said the Duke team is working to spread the word about the technique, making the protocols widely available. He said several health systems and many pharmaceutical companies already have the needed equipment, which is currently used in different ways, and could ramp up operations to come to the aid of their local hospitals.

“We could stand up in front of our staff and state with confidence that we are using a proven decontamination method,” Brown said. “It has been a proven method for years. While this alone will not solve the problem, if we and others can reuse masks even once or twice, that would be a huge benefit given the current shortages.”

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #duke, #duke-university, #health, #mask, #n95, #pharmaceutical, #tc, #vice-president

Fiat Chrysler to start producing 1 million face masks a month

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Monday it will start manufacturing face masks in the coming weeks and donate the critical medical equipment to first responders and healthcare workers — the latest automaker to direct its manufacturing expertise toward the COVID-19 pandemic.

The automaker confirmed to TechCrunch that production capacity is being installed this week at one of its factories in China. Manufacturing will start in the coming weeks and distribution will be focused on the U.S., Canada and Mexico. FCA said it plans to produce 1 million face masks a month. All masks will be donated to police, EMTs and firefighters and workers in hospitals and healthcare clinics.

“Protecting our first responders and healthcare workers has never been more important,” FCA CEO Mike Manley said in a statement. “In addition to the support we are giving to increase the production of ventilators, we canvassed our contacts across the healthcare industry and it was very clear that there is an urgent and critical need for face masks. We’ve marshalled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic.”

The FCA announcement follows a plea last week from Vice President Mike Pence for construction companies to donate their stocks of N95 respirator masks to hospitals. Construction companies have responded, Pence said in a subsequent press conference. Other companies have started donating their caches of face masks as well, including Apple, Facebook, IBM and Tesla.

COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus, has led to a shortage of protective equipment such as N95 respirator masks, gloves and gowns.

Vice President Pence asked construction companies to donate to their local hospitals their stocks of N95 respirator masks and stop ordering more for the time being. This call comes in the middle of a major shortage of these kinds of masks, which get their name from being able to block at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles.

Other manufacturers such as GM, Ford, VW and Tesla have started to work on the complex task of producing ventilators, another critical piece of medical equipment for patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The disease attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT reported.

GM said Friday that it is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said last week that he had a discussion with Medtronic about ventilators. Medtronic later confirmed those talks in a tweet. Musk had previously tweeted that SpaceX and Tesla will work on ventilators, without providing specifics.

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Trump invokes the Defense Production Act to address the coronavirus pandemic

During a White House press briefing on Wednesday, President Trump opened remarks by confirming that he has invoked the Defense Production Act, a move that many have called for him to take to help fight the coronavirus pandemic since at least earlier this week. The Act, which was originally enacted in 1950 as a measure during the Cold War, authorizes the President to require that businesses agree to contracts or orders in service of national defense, as well as permitting the President broad powers around requisitioning property, settling any labor disputes, setting wage and price controls and more in service of producing resources needed for national defense purposes.

Part of the reason that this Act is being invoked is to address the U.S.-wide shortages in basic necessities for front-line medical staff, including protective masks, gloves and ventilators. As pointed out by a reporter in the press pool for the White House briefing today, hospitals have been sounding the alarm about the lack of adequate numbers of ventilators for weeks, signalling a pending critical shortage. Reports from this week increasingly point out the worsening situation regarding masks, too – with medical staff resorting to risky measures like disposable mask re-use and home-made solutions to make due.

We have targets for masks, you know the masks, the numbers of masks are incredible,” Trump said during Wednesday’s briefing “We’ve ordered millions of them, but we need millions more […] we’ve never had to even think in terms of these numbers, but we need millions of masks, and all of that will be ordered. We need respirators, we need ventilators, and that is a big thing because it’s a complex piece of equipment. So we have a lot of ventilators, but we’re going to be ordering more.”

The administration had previously said it would provide specific numbers on how many ventilators are on-hand, and did so again when questioned today. But the best figure that was available immediately was provided by Vice President Mike Pence, who said that there are “in excess of 10,000 ventilators in the stockpile” in terms of strategic reserve, which doesn’t take into account the number in hospitals and in the industry at large, according to the VP.

Trump was asked directly by press why it took so long to invoke the Defense Act, when it was being called for by experts and other politicians including at the state level.

“When we have thousands of ventilators, it sounds like a lot, but this is a very unforeseen thing,” Trump said, despite the fact that while experts were actually sounding the alarm for quite some time, his tone of urgency is actually only a recent shift in stance in terms of his public remarks. “Nobody ever thought of these numbers, nobody ever saw numbers like this.”

Pressed by a reporter again that in fact, we knew for the past many weeks that we needed many more ventilators, Trump conceded that “well, we knew,” but qualified that “we’ll have to see how it goes” arguing that the numbers reflect worst-case scenarios, and that in practice we could ultimately need fewer than anticipated. However, even earlier this week, a U.S. ventilator maker said that it hadn’t even been asked yet to boost production, despite the fact that it was able to do so as much as five-fold.

Invoking the Defense Production Act could have far-reaching consequences for any American company making hardware or devices, since the powers it grants are so broad in terms of what they allow the President to do in order to prioritize production of anything that could provide some kind of help in combatting the coronavirus outbreak. For now, that production effort is likely focused on ventilators and masks, but it could expand to include the establishment of temporary emergency healthcare facilities, including makeshift hospitals and clinics along with necessary equipment.

Trump is also authorizing mobilization of two army hospital ships the Mercy and the Comfort, in the COVID-19 relief effort, and will deploy the Mercy to NYC, while the Comfort, currently docked in San Diego, will go where needed. Both can launch within a week, he said. The Army Corps of Engineers can now also be tapped to provide support in setting up temporary facilities or taking other additional measures.

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