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Wake Up To Politics - May 14, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Vaxxed and unmasked
Wake Up To Politics - May 14, 2021

Good morning! It’s Friday, May 14, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 543 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,271 days away.

Today’s top story, on the landmark announcement from the CDC, was co-written by me and WUTP health policy contributor Ellen Burstein. And you can read more from Ellen below in this week’s Health Roundup.

But first, a book reccomendation: I just finished “The Premonition” by Michael Lewis and highly recommend it.

  • The book is a story about the people who saw the pandemic coming early; especially in light of the new CDC guidance pointing us back to relative normal, it feels especially important (and painful) to read about how we got here and how we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

CDC: Fully vaccinated Americans can go maskless in most settings

The CDC announced on Thursday that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks or social distance in most places, marking a major milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic crawling through its 16th month in the United States.

According to the new guidance, once two weeks have elapsed after their final Covid-19 vaccine dose, Americans can put aside their masks in nearly all indoor and outdoor settings, with exceptions made for public transit, health care facilities, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

The surprise move from the normally cautious agency came just two weeks after officials announced vaccinated people could remove their masks outdoors when social distancing is possible. Walensky said on Thursday that “the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines, and our understanding of how the virus spreads” allowed the CDC to expand its guidance even further.

CDC graphic

At least eight states began to lift their mask mandates following the federal guidance change, which does not override any state or local requirements. However, some governors and mayors — mostly Democrats — expressed caution at the shift and said they would not yet revise their policies.

Many major stores and retailers have also yet to announce changes to their masking requirements; according to the New York Times, “the new policy seemed to catch many retailers and their workers by surprise.”

According to CDC data, 45.6% of American adults are fully vaccinated and 58.9% have received at least one vaccine dose. The U.S. continues to report about 35,000 new cases of the virus each day.

The Rundown

What else you need to know today.

World: “Israel dramatically escalated its assault on the Gaza Strip early Friday with a combined air and artillery barrage aimed at destroying Hamas’s tunnel system, marking the addition of ground forces for the first time in the five-day battle and tipping the conflict closer to all-out war.”

  • “...Although ground forces were involved, they did not enter Gaza, said Lt. Jonathan Conricus, contradicting a statement the night before that a ground assault on the enclave was underway.” Washington Post

Congress: “Flouting all evidence and their own first-hand experience, a small but growing number of Republican lawmakers are propagating a false portrayal of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, brazenly arguing that the rioters who used flagpoles as weapons, brutally beat police officers and chanted that they wanted to hang Vice President Mike Pence were somehow acting peacefully in their violent bid to overturn Joe Biden’s election.”

  • “One Republican at a hearing Wednesday called the rioters a ‘mob of misfits.’ Another compared them to tourists. And a third suggested the sweeping federal investigation into the riot — which has yielded more than 400 arrests and counting — amounts to a national campaign of harassment.” Associated Press
Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Biden administration: “The Biden administration on Thursday moved to repeal a Trump-era regulation that it said weakened the government’s ability to curb air pollution that threatens public health and is driving climate change.”

“Critics said the regulation distorted the costs of reducing air pollution while diminishing the associated benefits. It is one of several Trump administration policies that have been reversed by Michael S. Regan since he became the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in March.” New York Times

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Policy Roundup: Health

The week’s top health policy news, by Ellen Burstein.

The Biden administration will enforce federal health care protections for transgender people, marking a reversal from Trump-era policy. In announcing the move this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Bacerra cited the June 2020 Supreme Court decision outlawing discrimination against LGBT workers. Lawmakers in 33 states have introduced bills targeting transgender people this year, according to CNN. In April, Arkansas banned physicians from providing gender-affirming treatment for transgender people under 18, becoming the first U.S. state to do so.

Executives at a leading pharmaceutical distributor exchanged emails mocking the opioid epidemic. The emails were submitted as evidence in the landmark trial against AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp. Two West Virginia localities are arguing that the companies have acted as a “public nuisance” by distributing high numbers of opiates to local providers without concern for the addiction epidemic.

The three companies may have brought nearly 100 million doses of opiates into the county during a nine-year period, according to an expert. One email sent by an executive, titled “OxyContinVille,” parodying a Jimmy Buffet song, described buying pills. Another, to the tune of the theme of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” mocked “pillbillies” addicted to opiates.

Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail

Ellen’s food for thought: In a New York Times opinion essay, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci scrutinizes the “hygiene theater” Covid-19 precautions endorsed by the CDC and the WHO earlier in the pandemic, tracing the dated guidance to their 19th-century roots and offering a way forward for future pandemics.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:50 a.m. Later, at 3 p.m., he will meet with six “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors — to discuss the American Dream and Promise Act, his immigration proposal which would provide them with a pathway to citizenship. At 4:30 p.m., Biden will receive his weekly economic briefing.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for his intelligence briefing. In the afternoon, she and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to New York City for her step-daughter Ella’s graduation from the Parsons School of Design.
  • First Lady Jill Biden will deliver a virtual commencement speech for George Mason University at 6:30 p.m.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 12:30 p.m. Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecilia Rouse will also join.

The Senate is not in session.

The House will convene at 9 a.m. and resume consideration of H.R. 1065, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The chamber will hold a final vote on the measure, which would protect pregnant workers from workplace discrimination, after one hour of debate.

  • The House Republican Conference will vote at 8:30 a.m. on its next conference chair. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) is favored to win against Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX).
  • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems will hold a hearing at 11 a.m. on U.S. cyber capabilities. NSA Director Paul Nakasone will testify.

The Supreme Court will meet for its weekly conference.

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