CDC ‘test to stay’ to keep children in schools after COVID exposure

December 17, 2021
CDC 'test to stay' to keep children in schools after COVID exposure
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With a potential surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, the Biden administration on Friday pressed its new strategy to reduce the time unvaccinated children miss in school after a virus exposure.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the “test to stay” strategy would increase testing of children and their close contacts after an exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in order to prevent the child from having to isolate at home and miss time in class.

The new guideline allows children to remain in school after an exposure under certain circumstances, including undergoing multiple tests. For children to remain in school, two negative tests within a week after the exposure are required.

Walensky said two studies in Los Angeles County and Lake County in Illinois showed promising results of the strategy working in conjunction with proper mask wearing and monitoring of symptoms and close contacts.

“These studies demonstrate that ‘test to stay’ works to keep unvaccinated children in school safely,” Walensky said.

According to CDC data, about 12% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated and almost 53% of children ages 12-17 are, too. Walensky urged parents of eligible children to have them vaccinated. 

Also in the news:

► Pfizer and BioNTech on Thursday submitted paperwork to the Food and Drug Administration seeking a full license of its vaccine to expand its approval to include children ages 12 to 15.

►More than 100 Marines have been discharged for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, the Marine Corps said Thursday.

►Two South Florida men pleaded guilty in Ohio to leading a nationwide scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $35 million in COVID-19 relief loans.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 50.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 803,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 272 million cases and 5.3 million deaths. More than 202 million Americans — 61% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC

📘 What we’re reading: Flying into the United States? You could be met with a free COVID-19 testing kit upon arrival at certain airports.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Omicron expected to ‘become the dominant strain’ in US

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday she expects the emerging omicron variant to become the dominant strain in the United States, similar to other countries.

“We are in the midst of a situation where we are now facing a very important delta surge and we are looking over our shoulder at an oncoming omicron surge,” added Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.

However, Walensky and Fauci, reassured those worried about upcoming holiday travel that vaccination plus boosters provide “optimum protection.”

“We’re in a very different place this year than we were last year and we really do want people to be able to gather and gather safely. We have the tools now to do it,” Walensky said.

Biden asks SCOTUS to reinstate vaccine mandate for health workers

President Joe Biden’s administration filed an emergency application in the Supreme Court on Thursday in an attempt to reinstate a vaccine mandate for health care workers at hospitals that receive federal money. 

The revived mandate would “save hundreds or even thousands of lives each month,” the application reads, adding: “The vaccine requirement falls squarely within the plain text of the Secretary’s [of Health and Human Services] statutory authority and complies with all procedural requirements.”

Federal judges in Missouri and Louisiana blocked the mandate in 24 states in November, and the Louisiana ruling was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp in the Eastern District of Missouri wrote in his ruling that regulations handed down by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid were issued improperly. The agency did not get approval from Congress to mandate vaccinations for health care workers, Schelp wrote, which he argued was necessary given the mandate’s “vast economic and political significance.”

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for younger children still months off

Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine trial in children ages 2-5 suggests the vaccine is safe but not effective enough to prevent infection with COVID-19, and the companies have decided to add a third dose to their trial. The move will push off the final results well into next year.

Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said that for children under 5, the company had settled on a dose of 3 micrograms — down from 10 micrograms in older children and 30 micrograms in adults. This dose was chosen, she said, because it reduced side effects, particularly fever, in small children.

But interim results in the research trial suggest two doses, given 21 days apart, do not generate enough protective antibodies believed necessary to prevent COVID-19 infection. Young children may need three shots at this dose to receive full protection, she said, with the third dose coming at least two months after the second.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech expect to file for emergency use of their vaccine in children under 5 in the second quarter of 2022, Jansen said. The companies are also evaluating a third vaccine dose in children ages 5 through 15, who are now authorized to receive only two doses.

— Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY

Full vaccination against COVID-19 and a breakthrough infection builds ‘super immunity,’ study finds

A study by Oregon researchers finds that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 who have a breakthrough infection end up with what the authors call “super immunity.”

They caution that vaccinated people should not seek COVID-19 infection, but the “hybrid immunity” offers some solace for those who catch the virus despite having been vaccinated. 

“The bottom line of the study is that vaccine provides you with foundational immunity for whatever comes next,” said Fikadu Tafesse, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Read more here.

— Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

CDC recommends Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 shots over Johnson & Johnson

A CDC panel voted Thursday to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines be preferred for adults over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to a small number of very rare but dangerous blood clots.

Out of approximately 17 million people in the United States who have gotten the J&J vaccine, there have been nine deaths from the condition called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said Thursday.

The CDC acted hours later, accepting the panel’s recommendation.

The cases of TTS have been reported in a wide range of individuals 18 years and older. The highest reporting rate was among women ages 30 to 49, where it was one case per 100,000 doses administered. Overall, 15% of TTS cases have been fatal, the Food and Drug Administration said.

While the 15% fatality rate for TTS sounds “scary,” “these are small numbers, it’s a rare event,” said Dr. Wilbur Chen, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a committee member.

Getting the J&J vaccine was still much safer than any risk of the rare side effect because getting COVID-19 is much more likely to cause severe disease or death, ACIP members said. Read more here.

— Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

Free at-home COVID-19 test kits available at select US airports

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week began distributing free at-home test kits at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, Miami International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, as first reported by Thrifty Traveler.

“This initiative will quickly increase access to post-arrival COVID-19 testing for international travelers arriving in the United States,” CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey said in an emailed statement. “It is critical that travelers get tested 3-5 days after travel to help identify imported cases of COVID-19 and stop the spread of the virus.”

The CDC did not say how many kits were available through this program, but plans to hand out “as many of these free test kits as possible.” 

Free test kits are set to roll out to additional airports “soon.” 

— Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

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