National News Content

High-Stakes Supreme Court Clash Between Growers, Farmworkers Could Blow Up Other Laws

WXXI US News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 5:00am
California's agricultural growers square off against the farmworkers union at the Supreme Court on Monday over a nearly half-century-old law stemming from the work of famed union organizer Cesar Chavez. The law, enacted in 1975, allows union organizers limited access to farms so they can seek support from workers in forming a union. The growers challenging the law contend that California, by giving union organizers a limited right of access to farms, is authorizing a mass trespass on the growers' private property. And that, they argue, is an unconstitutional taking of their property. Property owners, they argue, have the right to exclude whomever they want. Either organizers should be barred from their land, they contend, or the state should pay the growers "just compensation." The case before the court began in 2015 at Cedar Point Nursery near the Oregon border. Strawberry grower Mike Fahner calls what happened "an ambush." In a widely circulated video , he said union organizers,

Fraudsters Still Claim Unemployment Relief, As Feds Pump Billions More Into System

WXXI US News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 5:00am
This year's tax season comes with an extra source of stress: Will you find out that scammers claimed government money in your name? Unemployment benefits fraud was rampant in 2020 as the government rushed to send out COVID-19 relief. The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General has estimated the amount of benefits stolen was at least $63 billion, based on earlier patterns of unemployment fraud. But a lot of the fraud is coming to light only now, during tax time. "People are getting letters from the IRS or different state agencies about the unemployment benefits that they supposedly received last year, when in fact they didn't," says Crane Hassold, senior director of threat research for the email security company Agari. The passage of the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan means billions of dollars more for unemployment benefits, extending supplemental pandemic aid through the summer. It's welcome news for people still out of work, but it also raises the stakes

With Stronger Democratic Support, D.C. Statehood Fight Returns To Capitol Hill

WXXI US News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 5:00am
Updated March 22, 2021 at 9:24 AM ET Thirty years after Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton first introduced a bill for Washington, D.C., statehood, she returns to Capitol Hill to do it again — this time with the broadest support for the cause to date. "We've gotten off of the wish list to an approach of a new reality," Norton, the district's nonvoting delegate, tells NPR. Her legislation, H.R. 51 , will be the subject of a House Oversight Committee hearing on Monday. It was approved by the Democratic-led House in a historic vote last year but never reached the GOP-controlled Senate. And although Democrats now hold a slim majority in the Senate, the measure faces long odds in the upper chamber. The bill would reduce the size of the federal district and admit the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth — in honor of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass — into the union. Advocates contend the statehood cause is a fight for racial justice as the majority of D.C.'s 700,000 residents are people of

Some Dream — Others Scheme — To Find a Vaccine Before Spring Break

Latest Updates From Kaiser Health News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 5:00am

Hawaii, Florida, Seattle and the South of France are on the minds of New York City college students. Those are some of the destinations that undergrads mentioned when asked where they’d go for spring break, if they weren’t grounded by covid-19.

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“I’d be getting a house with 10 people, with a pool, and we’d be going crazy in Miami,” said Sile Ogundeyin, 22, a senior economics major at Columbia University, who was sitting on the steps of the library with his friends.

“I was supposed to be in London for study abroad this semester, so I probably would’ve gone someplace close to there for spring break — maybe in southern Europe,” said New York University sophomore Aliyah Verdiner, 20, a business major from Brooklyn. “That would’ve been a lot of fun, but I guess not this year.”

Some students, however, are being more adventurous. Rumors on campus abound about students who are exploiting loopholes and getting vaccinated against covid in order to party and go on spring break.

“She’s going skiing in Vermont with a bunch of friends,” Aliza Abusch-Magder said of her roommate, whom she declined to name. “She’s very excited to be going to parties and — how do I say this? — making up for lost time in quarantine.”

Abusch-Magder said her roommate was “calling on something in her medical history that doesn’t actually affect her day-to-day, to qualify for the vaccine.” Other young people shared similar reports, such as of peers getting vaccinated who had asthma in their past but not their present.

“I just don’t think it’s ethical,” said Abusch-Magder, a first-year English major from Atlanta. But she also expressed doubt that such behavior is widespread at Columbia.

“I think here it’s an outlier, and I think at some schools it’s standard,” she said, echoing what she’d heard from high school friends on other campuses. “There’s a very high standard of ethics here, and there’s a lot of discourse on it.”

It’s impossible to know how often college students are getting vaccinated. Rumors about it happening illegitimately are widespread, but most of the stories appear to be secondhand. And many aren’t so nefarious on closer examination, because some vaccinated students are actually eligible; they work in labs or health care settings, or they have underlying health issues that put them at high risk for severe covid.

“I put in my height. I put in my weight. And it said I was obese,” said Shira Michaeli, who was sitting on the Columbia library steps, “attending” an online lecture on human rights on her laptop. Obesity qualifies you for early vaccination in at least 29 states.

Michaeli is a bit ambivalent, because she feels healthy, and she’s comfortable with her body weight, which she believes is not really a “comorbidity.” But she said she has had breathing problems ever since suffering a bad case of covid last year. And she also plans to be a camp counselor this summer. So she feels she qualifies for the vaccine on a few counts, even if her body mass index is what officially qualifies her.

“I think, for a while, I was really insecure about it, and then I thought, ‘Listen, for most of my life [my weight] has been bad for me. Clothing hasn’t been my size. People haven’t been … ” Michaeli’s voice trailed off. “But for once in my life, it’ll benefit me, instead of hurting me.”

The 19-year-old Bronx native was scheduled to receive her first shot the next day, so she was several weeks away from being fully vaccinated. She said it wouldn’t have mattered for spring break, anyway, because she had planned to stay close to her dorm, working on papers, perhaps sleeping in a little more than usual, and getting coffee with friends.

“I’m excited to get vaccinated, but I don’t think it’s going to give me any freedom other people don’t have,” Michaeli said. “I think I’ll be a little less anxious, but I don’t think it’s going to change any of my behavior. I think there are plenty of people being unsafe, so I don’t have any wiggle room to be unsafe.”

Down in Greenwich Village, at NYU, there’s very little tension among the vaccine haves and have-nots when it comes to spring break — because there isn’t much of a spring break. It’s a single day, added to create a long weekend in March.

But that doesn’t keep Simran Hajarnavis from dreaming.

“If there wasn’t covid, and there was a real spring break, I’d probably try to plan something with my friends,” she said, turning to one of them and asking: “Want to go to Hawaii?”

Sitting in Washington Square Park, Hajarnavis and her girlfriends said they’re not too worried about being vaccinated right away, as long as they get their shots in time to study abroad in their upcoming junior year.

A few yards away, Aishani Ramireddy said she has already gotten her vaccine, but she’s not doing anything differently from any other student.

“It’s definitely weird,” she said. Ramireddy’s mother is a physician in Los Angeles. She said that, when she was home, she got the vaccine at the end of the day, at her mother’s office, because there were unused doses that would have been thrown out. Still, she feels conflicted about it.

“It just felt like such a privilege to even have that as an option,” Ramireddy said.

Another NYU student, Anna Domahidi, from Chicago, also had an option to get a vaccine, but declined. She doesn’t hold it against her friend Ramireddy, but she does question another friend, who she said talked up his childhood asthma to qualify for a shot. Domahidi still thinks he crossed an ethical line, even though he lives with a parent who’s immunocompromised: “That’s, like, a little better in my mind, but I don’t know.”

This story comes from KHN’s health reporting partnership with NPR.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


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In America, Covid Vaccine Eligibility Is a ‘Crazy Quilt’ of State Rules

Latest Updates From Kaiser Health News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 5:00am

In North Carolina, the nation’s leading tobacco producer, any adult who has smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime can now be vaccinated against covid.

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In Florida, people under 50 with underlying health conditions can get vaccinated only if they have written permission from their doctor.

In Mississippi, more than 30,000 covid vaccine appointments were open Friday — days after the state became the first in the contiguous United States to make the shots available to all adults.

In California — along with about 30 other states — people are eligible only if they are 65 or older or have certain health conditions or work in high-risk jobs.

How does any of this make sense?

“There is no logical rationale for the system we have,” said Graham Allison, a professor of government at Harvard University. “We have a crazy quilt system.”

Jody Gan, a professional lecturer in the health studies department at American University in Washington, D.C., said the lack of a national eligibility system reflects how each state also makes its own rules on public health. “This hasn’t been a great system for keeping, you know, the virus contained,” she said.

The federal government bought hundreds of millions of doses of covid vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — as well as other vaccines still being tested — but it left distribution largely up to the states. Some states let local communities decide when to move to wider phases of eligibility.

When the first vaccines were cleared for emergency use in December, nearly all states followed guidance from the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and restricted use to front-line health workers and nursing home staffs and residents.

But since then states have gone their own way. Some states have prioritized people age 75 and older, while others have also allowed people who held certain jobs that put them at risk of being infected or had health conditions that put them at risk to be included with seniors for eligibility. Even then, categories of jobs and medical conditions have varied across the country.

As the supply of vaccines ramped up over the past month, states expanded eligibility criteria. President Joe Biden promised that by May 1 all adults will be eligible for vaccines and at least a dozen states say they will beat that date or, as in the case of Mississippi and Alaska, already have.

But the different rules among states — and sometimes varying rules even within states — created a mishmash. This has unleashed “vaccine jealousy” as people see friends and family in other states qualify ahead of them even if they are the same age or have the same occupation. And it has raised concerns that decisions on who is eligible are being made based on politics rather than public health.

The hodgepodge mirrors states’ response overall to the pandemic, including wide disparities on mask mandates and restrictions for indoor gatherings.

“It’s caused a lot of confusion, and the last thing we want is confusion,” said Harald Schmidt, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

As a result, some Americans frantically search online every day for an open vaccine appointment, while vaccines in other states go wanting.

The assorted policies have also prompted thousands of people to drive across state lines — sometimes multiple state lines — for an open vaccine appointment. Some states have set up residency requirements, although enforcement has been uneven and those seeking vaccines are often on the honor system.

Todd Jones, an assistant professor of economics at Mississippi State University near Starkville, said the confusion signals a need for a change in how the government handles the vaccine. “The Biden administration should definitely be thinking about how it might want to change state allocations based on demand,” Jones said. “If it does become clear that some states are actually not using lots of their doses, then I think it would make sense to take some appointments from these states to give to other states that have higher demand.”

Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University, said no one should be surprised to see 50 different eligibility systems because states opposed a uniform federal eligibility system.

“Many governors don’t want to be seen as someone who listens to the federal government or the CDC for guidance,” he said. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has boasted of ignoring the CDC advice when he opted to make anyone 65 and older eligible beginning in December.

“There is a lot of political posturing in deciding eligibility,” Khubchandani said.

To be sure, governors also wanted the flexibility to respond to particular needs in their states, such as rushing vaccines to agricultural workers or those in large food-manufacturing plants.

Jones said the decision to open vaccines to all adults in the state may sound good, but Mississippi has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. Part of that is attributed to hesitancy among some minority communities and conservatives. “It’s good news everybody can get it, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of demand for it.”

Jones, 34, was able to go online for a shot on Tuesday and was vaccinated at a large church a short drive from his home on Thursday morning. “I was very happy,” he said.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


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The Hype Has Faded, but Don’t Count Out Convalescent Plasma in Covid Battle

Latest Updates From Kaiser Health News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 5:00am

Six months after it was controversially hailed by Trump administration officials as a “breakthrough” therapy to fight the worst effects of covid-19, convalescent plasma appears to be on the ropes.

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The treatment that infuses blood plasma from recovered covid patients into people newly infected in hopes of boosting their immune response has not lived up to early hype. Some high-profile clinical trials have shown disappointing results. Demand from hospitals for the antibody-rich plasma has plunged. After a year of large-scale national efforts to recruit recovered covid patients as donors and the collection of more than 500,000 units of covid convalescent plasma, known as CCP, some longtime advocates of the therapy say they’re now pessimistic about its future.

“I fear the CCP train has left the station,” said Dr. Michael Busch, director of the Vitalant Research Institute, one of the largest blood-center based transfusion medicine research programs in the U.S. “We created all this enthusiasm, and then these studies came out and they say this stuff didn’t work in the first place.”

But that sentiment is by no means universal. Other respected proponents say we are watching the science progress in real time, and it’s simply too soon to count out convalescent plasma. They note that larger studies employing more calibrated doses of convalescent plasma and more targeted groups of patients, during a set window in their illness, have met the standards for moving forward and may show promise.

“It’s just been a really interesting story to see it unfold,” said Dr. Julie Katz Karp, director of transfusion medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. “People are doing a good job of reading the literature, but one week the answer is ‘yes,’ the next week, ‘maybe not.’”

Convalescent plasma was thrust into the national conversation last August, when the Food and Drug Administration, under political pressure, made the decision to authorize the treatment for emergency use despite objections from federal government scientists cautioning that the therapy was unproven. In the months since, tens of thousands of Americans have been infused with plasma.

Enthusiasm faded in recent weeks following two serious setbacks: A large federal clinical trial, dubbed C3PO, testing the use of convalescent plasma in high-risk patients who came to an emergency room with mild to moderate covid symptoms was halted late last month after researchers concluded that, while the infusions caused no harm, they were unlikely to benefit patients. That same week, a pooled analysis of 10 convalescent plasma studies, published in JAMA, found no clear benefit.

In January, the FDA scaled back the emergency authorization of convalescent plasma, limiting its use to hospitalized covid patients early in the course of the disease and those with medical conditions that impair immune function. The agency also said that only plasma with high concentrations of virus-fighting antibodies could be used after May 31.

At the same time, the covid surge that engulfed the U.S. through much of the winter eased, sending demand for convalescent plasma plummeting. Hospital infusions fell from a high of about 30,000 units a week at the start of the year to about 7,000 per week in early March.

Further complicating matters, federal contracts worth $646 million that paid U.S. blood centers to collect covid convalescent plasma are about to expire, prompting centers nationwide to reconsider whether the complicated process of collecting the plasma is still worth the work. Given the added complexity, blood centers have been reimbursed $600 to $800 a unit for the covid product, compared with the $100 price for a regular unit of fresh, frozen plasma.

“We’re not getting orders,” said Dr. Louis Katz, chief medical officer at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Davenport, Iowa. “I don’t want to collect a product that is not going to get used and will cost me more money.”

Officials with the American Red Cross have paused direct collection of convalescent plasma, citing changes required by the FDA’s revised emergency use authorization and an “evolving” market. People previously infected with covid may still donate whole blood, and those units that test positive for high levels of antibodies could be used as CCP.

Even as they acknowledge the setbacks, plasma proponents say declaring its death just a few months into the research would be a foolish overreach. The idea of using plasma from recovered patients to treat the newly ill is a century-old concept that has been employed on an experimental basis during a host of plagues, including the devastating 1918 flu, the 1930s measles outbreak and, more recently, Ebola.

Rather than abandon efforts, scientists need to refine the way convalescent plasma is used and temper their expectations, said Dr. Michael Joyner, principal investigator of the Mayo Clinic-led program that supplied convalescent plasma for more than 100,000 U.S. patients last year.

“This is an unstandardized dose of an unstandardized product being given to all comer patients for a disease with variable progression,” Joyner said in an email. “So it is unrealistic to expect cookie-cutter results like you get for statin/heart attack trials.”

Joyner and others pointed to research that continues to show promise. In mid-February, scientists in Argentina reported that giving convalescent plasma with very high concentrations of antibodies within three days of onset of mild covid symptoms helped slow the progression of disease in older patients. In mid-March, researchers in the U.S. and Brazil reported in a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed that plasma therapy didn’t improve symptoms during hospitalization for patients with severe cases of covid. But it was associated with a 50% reduction in death after 28 days that “may warrant further evaluation,” the authors wrote.

Oversight committees this month gave the nod to two federally funded clinical trials of convalescent plasma to continue enrolling hundreds of patients. One, led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, is testing convalescent plasma in people who were infected and developed symptoms of covid but were not hospitalized. The other, led by scientists at Vanderbilt University, is testing high-potency plasma in hospitalized patients.

There’s no question “antibodies work against the virus,” said Dr. David Sullivan, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University and a principal investigator for the institution’s plasma trials.

“It’s all dose and time,” Sullivan said, adding that giving convalescent plasma with high concentrations of antibodies within the first few days of infection is crucial.

The most promising use of convalescent plasma might come from “super donors,” people who were infected with covid and then vaccinated, said Dr. Michael Knudson, co-medical director of the DeGowin Blood Center at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

Knudson said his early research shows plasma from recovered then vaccinated people can provide five to 20 times more neutralizing antibody than the plasma from those who have not been vaccinated. “This would be almost a completely different product compared to what is used to date,” he wrote in a presentation to colleagues.

Joyner and others believe “boosted” plasma could be used as a potent antiviral treatment early in infection, similar to how monoclonal antibodies — laboratory-made proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system — are used. It could be a cheaper option for low-resource countries unable to afford the monoclonal treatments at more than $1,200 per dose.

Even the National Institutes of Health scientists conducting the halted C3PO trial, Dr. Simone Glynn and Dr. Nahed El Kasser, agreed that more data about the usefulness of convalescent plasma is needed. “The answer is no, it is not the final word,” they said in an emailed statement.

But overcoming skepticism about the use of any type of convalescent plasma, let alone “super” plasma, won’t be easy, given the roller coaster of recent results. And broad use of convalescent plasma will depend on continued funding. If the federal contracts with blood collectors are not renewed, covid convalescent plasma likely will be paid for by hospitals or private insurers, depending on where patients receive the treatment.

In the meantime, the federal government, along with academic centers and private donors, has continued to fund the Hopkins and Vanderbilt trials. And the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has allocated at least $27 million to for-profit companies that collect covid convalescent plasma from paid donors to create hyperimmune globulin, a purified and concentrated form of plasma that may halt disease. Results from late-stage clinical trials of that therapy are expected later this spring.

“I think that it would be a mistake to stop now,” said Dr. Claudia Cohn, chief medical officer of the AABB, an international nonprofit focused on transfusion medicine and cellular therapies. “We have some evidence that it works and evidence that we can produce high-titer plasma. Let’s see what we can do to keep people out of the hospital.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


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GOP Rep. Tom Reed Won't Seek Elected Office Following Sexual Misconduct Allegations

WXXI US News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 4:22am
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed of New York apologized Sunday for sexual misconduct following allegations that a former lobbyist made against him. He said in a statement he took "full responsibility" for his actions. Reed, who was first elected to Congress in 2010, said Sunday that he would not seek election to public office in 2022. The six-term Republican previously said he would not serve more than six terms in the House of Representatives, but he had been considering a run for New York governor next year. The accusations made by Nicolette Davis, a former lobbyist, were first reported by The Washington Post on Friday. Davis told the paper that during a 2017 networking trip in Minneapolis a group, including lobbyists and Reed, stopped at an Irish pub in the city. She told the Post that a drunk Reed unhooked her bra from the outside of her blouse and moved his hand up her thigh. Davis, 25 at the time and a junior lobbyist for the insurance company Aflac, said she asked for help from a colleague

AstraZeneca Vaccine Can Prevent COVID-19, Late-Stage Study Says

WXXI US News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 4:19am
Preliminary results from a late-stage study examining the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine indicate it is significantly effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-19. Results of the trial, which involved more than 32,000 volunteers, showed two doses of the vaccine administered four weeks apart had an efficacy of 79% at preventing symptoms of COVID-19. In participants ages 65 years and over, vaccine efficacy could be as high as 80%, AstraZeneca announced early Monday. It had an efficacy of 100% at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. The results may mean the doses could soon be put into the arms of Americans. Data pulled from the study provide information to the Food and Drug Administration needed to grant the AstraZeneca vaccine an emergency use authorization. This authorization would allow use of the vaccine by the general public to combat the coronavirus pandemic. AstraZeneca's vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions

So You’re Vaccinated Against Covid. Now What?

Latest Updates From Kaiser Health News - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 2:00am

As you surely know, this country’s covid vaccination effort has been plagued by major birth pangs: registration snafus, poor communication, faulty data and a scant supply of vaccine — all exacerbated by inequitable allocation, alleged political favoritism and unseemly jockeying for shots.

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Still, as of Friday, over 118 million shots had gone into arms, and about 42 million people, 12.6% of the nation’s population, had been fully vaccinated. Nearly one-quarter of U.S. residents have had at least one dose.

The vaccine rollout is finally ramping up — just as the deadly winter surge has ended, dramatically reducing infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths. President Joe Biden has promised enough vaccine for every adult in the country by the end of May and dangled the hope of a return to semi-normalcy by July 4.

We’ll see if that happens. Unfortunately, ill-advised behavior, or a mutant strain of the covid virus — or both — could still ignite another surge. And we’re not entirely certain to what extent vaccination prevents you from infecting unvaccinated people, or for how long it protects against covid.

Bottom line: Optimism is warranted, but all of us — even the vaccinated — still need to be careful.

In case you missed it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new public health guidelines March 8 that offered a small glimpse of what the not-so-distant future might hold if enough people are vaccinated. The most striking point was that it’s OK for vaccinated individuals to meet indoors with unvaccinated members of another household, without masks, as long as nobody in that household is at risk for severe covid.

That’s big news if you’ve not seen your children or grandchildren in person for a while. If you are fully vaccinated, it’s now likely safe to visit with them indoors without masks, regardless of their vaccination status. You can even hug them.

As long as they don’t live too far away, that is: The CDC still frowns on long-distance travel.

If everybody in your group is vaccinated, so much the better. In that case, hosting a maskless dinner party inside your home, for example, is “likely a low risk,” according to the new guidance.

But Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California-San Francisco, warns not to interpret this new freedom too liberally: “People say, ‘Oh, we can have a wedding reception for 50 people at a hotel as long as they are all vaccinated.’ I say, ‘What about the people serving you — are they all vaccinated? And the band?’”

Public health experts and the CDC agree that if you are vaccinated and in the company of people who aren’t — or if you don’t know their status — you should continue the safeguards of masking and maintaining your distance.

“What I tell people who are vaccinated is, ‘You should assume you are one of the 5 or 6% for whom the vaccination will fail, and that everyone around you is a super spreader,” Rutherford says.

That means you should probably tap your inner brakes before going to a movie, working out in a gym, boarding an airplane or dining indoors at a restaurant.

Dr. Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center and professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, points to a possible side benefit of the new CDC approach. “It may enhance vaccine uptake if it shows people that once you get vaccinated you have more freedom to do things,” he says.

Orenstein, like most public health experts, acknowledges that we still have an incomplete picture of covid and how the vaccines will work in the real world. Officials must set guidelines based on the best data available at the time, he says. “If, in fact, there is a marked spike in cases as a result, they will have to revise them.

For now, Orenstein says, he is incorporating the new guidelines into his personal life. “We hadn’t had people over to our house in ages, and last night we had a couple over,” he says.  They were all vaccinated, and they didn’t wear masks.

Others are wary of easing up too soon, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

“I feel a real sense of relief, but it hasn’t changed my behavior,” says Sam Sandmire, a 65-year-old retired gymnastics coach in Boise, Idaho, who’s had two doses of the Moderna vaccine. “I still mask up and will continue to mask up and social distance until the science shows that I can’t infect others.”

Andy Mosley, 74, says he is not entirely convinced by the new CDC statement. “The information that we could start hanging out with each other again was laced with a lot of qualifiers,” says Mosley, a resident of Temecula, California, who’s also had two shots of the Moderna vaccine. “That tells me they are not really sure about it.”

But he may alter his behavior in one instance. He has not seen his daughter, a chef who lives in San Francisco, since October 2019. She is scheduled for surgery soon and may need his help. “Because she’s been immunized and I’ve been immunized and her roommate has been immunized, I would feel safe going up there,” Mosley says. “So that would be a change. But I would drive; I wouldn’t fly.”

Many others, including state and local politicians, are less cautious. Texas recently did away with its mask mandate. Florida has remained largely open for business through much of the pandemic.

In California, 13 counties accounting for nearly half the state’s population have reopened gyms, movie theaters and indoor restaurant dining — albeit at reduced levels. That includes Los Angeles County, one of the hardest-hit regions in the U.S. during the winter surge. And Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested that California’s four-level color-coded system for phased reopening could soon add a “green” tier — meaning pretty much back to normal.

However, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, says localities that open too soon “are going to be in big trouble shortly” because of a new surge he expects to be triggered by a fast-spreading covid strain first detected in the United Kingdom, which is projected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. sometime this month.

For now, stick with masking and physical distancing in most social and commercial encounters. Get vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn and try to persuade the people in your lives to do the same. The more people vaccinated, the greater the protection for the community.

In the near future, we may all have extra incentive to get vaccinated: Proof of vaccination could be required for air travel, sports events, concerts and other mass public gatherings. This is being considered in some parts of the U.S. and is already happening in some countries.

Israel, for example, has begun issuing six-month vaccination “passports” that would allow entry to sporting events, restaurants and other public venues. That has “created this kind of push for people who otherwise might not be that interested in getting vaccinated to get vaccinated,” Rutherford says.

KHN data editor Elizabeth Lucas contributed to this report.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


This story can be republished for free (details).

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