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Health Highlights, March 2, 2021

Health Highlights, March 2, 2021

Dramatic Decline in COVID-19 Cases, Deaths at U.S. Nursing Homes

New COVID-19 cases in U.S. nursing homes have fallen to their lowest number since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) started keeping track in May 2020, which suggests that vaccines are helping and that it might be possible to loosen some nursing home restrictions, a new report says.

There's been an 82% decline in new COVID-19 cases among residents at nursing homes since the peak during the week of Dec. 20, when there were more than 30,000 new cases, CMS data show, according to the report from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).

During the same period, COVID-19 cases in the general population decreased by 46%, indicating that vaccines are especially helping to protect nursing home residents.

It also noted that since Dec. 20, COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes fell by a substantial 63%.

The (AHCA/NCAL) represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and long term care facilities nationwide that care for about five million people each year.

"We still have a long road ahead, but these numbers are incredibly encouraging and a major morale booster for frontline caregivers who have been working tirelessly every day for a year to protect our residents,"Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, said in a statement.

"This new data showcases just how important it is for nursing homes residents and staff, as well as the general public, to get the vaccine because it is clearly working," Parkinson added.

"Though this report brings hope, we cannot let our guard down. We must continue to encourage folks to get vaccinated, especially caregivers and staff," Parkinson cautioned

"Public health officials must also continue to ensure that long term care residents and staff remain the highest priority for accessing the vaccine, as the on-site clinics with CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacy partners are coming to a close."

In light of the new data, the AHCA/NCAL calls "on the [Biden] Administration to review its current guidance to nursing homes on restricting visitors and group activities," Parkinson said. "With millions of residents and caregivers now fully protected thanks to the vaccines, residents must be able to safely reengage in meaningful activities and be reunited with their loved ones."

California Students Could Be Back in Classrooms by April

New legislation could have many California's public school students returning to classrooms by April.

The plan announced Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders provides $2 billion to pay school districts that return select groups of students into schools by the end of the month, the Associated Press reported.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the state's 6.1 million public school students have been learning from home.

Under the legislation, school districts would not be ordered to get students back into classrooms, parents would not be forced to return their children to in-person learning, school districts would not be required to have agreements with teachers' unions on plans for in-class instruction, and COVID-19 vaccinations wouldn't be required for all teachers, the AP reported.

But the legislation would make it state law that 10% of the state's vaccine supply be set aside specifically for teachers and school staff, the AP said.

The state's two largest teachers unions mostly praised the agreement, with California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas calling the prioritization of vaccines for teachers "a huge victory."

Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist representing many of the state's school districts, called the plan "a grand slam home run," saying it "dismantled every impediment to reopening that we've had so far."

Still, the plan, which has to be approved by the legislature, is inadequate, critics say.

The bill does not say how long students must be in the classroom each week, and Jonathan Zachreson, founder of the parent group Reopen California Schools, says districts could offer classroom instruction for a few hours one day per week and still get the money. He predicted many parents will get excited about the announcement, only to end up frustrated.

"It does not compel any school district to open other than just bribing them with extra money," he said. "We need to have higher standards for what in-person learning means."

Misleading Tweets About COVID-19 Vaccines Will be Labeled: Twitter

Labels will be applied to tweets with misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines, Twitter said Monday.

Initially, the labels will be applied by human moderators, but the eventual goal is to use both human and artificial intelligence to tackle vaccine misinformation, CBS News reported.

"As health authorities deepen their understanding of COVID-19 and vaccination programs around the world, we will continue to amplify the most current, up-to-date, and authoritative information," a Twitter blog post said.

The company said the labeling program will first apply to English-language content and eventually expand to other languages, CBS News reported.

Twitter also introduced a strike policy to control users who repeatedly violate rules about COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

In December, Twitter announced that it may require users to remove tweets that advance harmful, false or misleading narratives about vaccines, including suggestions that immunizations and vaccines are used to intentionally control citizens.

On Monday, Twitter said that since introducing its COVID-19 guidance in March 2020, it has removed 8,400 tweets for violating policy, CBS News reported.

Social media companies have been ramping up efforts to remove deliberately false and misleading information about the coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccines from their platforms, CBS News said.

Trump Got COVID-19 Shot in January

Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania received COVID-19 vaccinations at the White House in January, two sources confirmed to CBS News.

It's the first time the information has been revealed, and it's not clear why Trump hasn't made any public remarks about his vaccination. It's unknown if he's received both shots.

During his speech Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump urged attendees to get COVID-19 shots, but didn't mention that he'd been vaccinated, CBS News reported.

Trump contracted COVID-19 last October.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have received COVID-19 shots in televised events.

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