The Week the Masks Came Back

Things are happening quickly in D.C. on the mask-wearing front.

Kicking things off, last Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released its opinion that federal law does not prohibit businesses from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for their employees. The opinion backed the Department of Veterans Affairs, which had begun requiring vaccines for its healthcare workers on that same day.

On Tuesday, as many of you likely know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) partially reversed its stance on wearing masks. The CDC continues to maintain that non-vaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors and social distance, but now also recommends that vaccinated individuals “wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

On Tuesday, President Biden also asked the Defense Department to think about adding a vaccine requirement to the two dozen other inoculations that are required for service members.

In spite of all this, however, according to President Biden: “we are not going back” to “the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures, and disruptions we faced in 2020.”

Then, on Thursday, Biden announced that all federal employees and contractors who work in federal buildings must be vaccinated; otherwise, unvaccinated workers must wear masks and undergo repeated testing. That mandate will apply to 2 million federal employees and nearly 4 million federal contractors.

In the meantime, California has already said the same for its state employees and healthcare workers, and New York City has said it will have the same requirements for its city workers. 

Again, on Thursday, the Pentagon announced that vaccines would be required for civilian and military personnel that work at the Pentagon; otherwise, masking and social distancing is required.

Also on Thursday, as Chuck Buck noted during the recent Monitor Mondays broadcast, Washington, D.C. announced that masks once again will be required indoors throughout the District, where cases have quadrupled recently.

Then, on Friday, internal documents from the CDC were leaked to the news media, which reported that the Delta variant takes the gold for contagiousness – being more contagious than SARS, Ebola, the common cold, seasonal flu, and smallpox. The internal documents stated: “the war has changed.”

On Friday, even Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – in the Delta surge’s national epicenter – allowed for some re-masking by signing an executive order giving parents the final say in whether their children wear masks in school.

We can assume that, in the wake of last week’s masking mandates, many more local governments and private companies will bring back similar masking and vaccine requirements.

For some good news, the U.S. Senate released its $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which, at this point, was fully developed and has support from both sides of the aisle.  

In terms of healthcare, the infrastructure bill includes incentives and requirements for manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPP), in the United States; the bill also has language extending certain Medicare sequestration requirements, along with a moratorium on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prescription drug rebate rule.

Programming Note: Listen to Matthew Albright’s Legislative Update, Mondays on Monitor Mondays, 10 Eastern, sponsored by Zelis.

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Matthew Albright

Matthew Albright is the chief legislative affairs officer at Zelis Healthcare. Previously, Albright was senior manager at CAQH CORE, and earlier, he was the acting deputy director of the Office of E-Health and Services for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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