President Biden is seen before giving remarks about lowering healthcare and prescription drug cost at Germanna Community College in Culpepper, Va., on Thursday, February 10, 2022.

Health Care — WH acknowledges risk of Biden getting COVID

Greg Nash

Will Smith has been banned from the Oscars for 10 years after slapping Chris Rock on stage.

Today, COVID-19 cases keep popping up among DC officials, and getting close to President Biden.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

WH: Biden could get COVID, but he’s vaccinated

The White House on Friday acknowledged President Biden could get COVID-19 amid an uptick in positive cases surrounding the president but stressed he has taken steps to protect himself.

“We take every precaution to ensure that we keep him safe, we keep the vice president safe, the first lady, the second gentleman, our staff here. But it is certainly possible that he will test positive for COVID, and he is vaccinated, he is boosted and protected from the most severe strains of the virus,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said.

Biden’s last COVID-19 test on Wednesday evening, part of his regular testing routine, came back negative.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tested positive for COVID-19 early Thursday after she was with Biden at the White House and at times in very close proximity on Wednesday.

The White House has dismissed concerns that Biden is at risk of catching the virus from Pelosi, arguing he was not considered a close contact of Pelosi’s as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because they spent less than 15 minutes in close proximity to each other.

New phase in virus fight: “People are out living their lives and certainly the president of the United States is doing that too,” Bedingfield said.

Read more here.

COVID cases rise rapidly in NYC, DC

Coronavirus cases are rapidly rising in New York City and Washington, DC, amid the spread of the dominant omicron subvariant, BA. 2.

The New York Times’ coronavirus tracker for New York City showed that cases had risen by more than 50 percent in the last two weeks while the newspaper’s tracker for DC indicated that cases had doubled.

Still, cases in both cities are relatively low compared to where they were just months ago, in January.

The number of new infections on Wednesday for DC was more than 700, much lower than the roughly 9,200 reported in early January, according to the Times’ tracker. The number of new infections on Wednesday for New York City was roughly 800 cases, compared to close to 40,000 in mid-January.

In New York City, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 have both declined over the last 14 days — 17 percent and 53 percent respectively, according to the Times’ tracker. In DC, while COVID-19 deaths have risen 5 percent in the past two weeks, hospitalizations have declined 39 percent.

The development comes as states weeks ago began lifting indoor mask mandates and other COVID-19 protocols in response to lowered case numbers and other indicators.

Read more here.

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DEA SOUNDS ALARM ON FENTANYL OVERDOSES

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is sounding the alarm over a troubling trend in which people are overdosing after unknowingly ingesting the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl.

In a letter to federal, state and local law enforcement this week, the DEA said there’s been a nationwide spike in fentanyl-related mass-overdose events involving three or more overdoses occurring at the same time and location.

According to the agency, there have been at least seven confirmed mass overdose events in the US in just two months, resulting in 58 overdoses and 29 overdose deaths.

Drug traffickers often mix illicit fentanyl — which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine — with other powder drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine because it’s cheap to manufacture and a small amount can be incredibly powerful.

Dealers also sell fake prescription pills containing fentanyl designed to look like legitimate prescription opioids such as OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin.

Read more here.

PENTAGON RESTRICTIONS ON HIV-POSITIVE SERVICE MEMBERS OVERTURNED

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down longstanding Department of Defense restrictions that bar HIV-positive military service members from becoming officers and deploying on active duty outside the US

District Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in favor of three service members in two separate cases, according to court documents shared by Buzzfeed News.

The plaintiffs in one case, under the pseudonyms Richard Roe and Victor Voe, had sued after being discharged by the Air Force in relation to a ban on overseas deployment because they were HIV-positive.

In the other, Nicholas Harrison brought a lawsuit after his application to commission as a military lawyer with the Judge Advocate General Corps was denied.

In the former case, Brinkema ruled that the Defense Department cannot separate or discharge Roe and Voe or any other asymptomatic HIV-positive service member “with an undetectable viral load” because their HIV leads them to be deemed ineligible for “worldwide deployment” or to be deployed to US Central Command.

Read more here.

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Court upholds vaccine mandate for federal workers

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers, ordering that a preliminary injunction issued against the requirement be eliminated.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’s 2-1 decision reversed an earlier ruling by US District Judge Jeffrey Brown, a Trump appointee in Texas, who in January blocked the mandate for federal workers. The 5th Circuit Court further ordered that the district court dismiss the case.

Judge Carl Stewart, writing for the majority opinion, said plaintiffs in the case could have challenged the vaccine mandate through the federal government’s internal process for federal workers.

“The plaintiffs could have challenged an agency’s proposed action against them before filing this suit and certainly before getting vaccinated,” the judge wrote.

Biden implemented the mandate for federal workers in September, with religious and medical exemptions allowed. Under the order, non-exempt employees must get vaccinated or they could face disciplinary procedures, including termination.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • How Long Do Symptoms Last? When Should You Test? At Covid Timeline. (New York Times)
  • German government drops plan for Covid vaccine mandate (The Guardian)
  • New Laws Let Visitors See Loved Ones in Health Care Facilities, Even in an Outbreak (Kaiser Health News)

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Monday.

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