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Health Care — Masks are coming off in Head Start classrooms

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🎭 Another COVID casualty on Broadway: The longest running show in Broadway history is closing this winter. Phantom of the Opera opened in January 1988 and will close in February.

In health news, Head Start, the federal education program for preschools and childcare centers, will soon end its mandatory masking policy.

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

HHS dropping masking requirements for Head Start

The Office of Head Start (OHS), the federal program within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that provides preschool and childcare services to low-income families, announced Friday that it will soon be dropping its universal masking rule for its grant recipients.

  • In a statement provided to The Hill, an HHS spokesperson said, “Today, OHS notified programs that, in the near future, it intends to publish a final rule that will formally remove the requirement for universal masking in Head Start programs for all individuals ages 2 and older, which will align Head Start program masking requirements more closely with the updated CDC guidance.”
  • This decision comes about a month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued more lenient COVID-19 guidance regarding several mitigation methods such as masking and quarantining.

“All in all, we’re pleased to see this. We’ve been really pushing and advocating for some clarity on the masking and vaccine interim final rule for several months now. And so we’re very pleased that it’s being updated,” said Tommy Sheridan, deputy director of the National Head Start Association (NHSA).

However, children and teachers at Head Start programs have still been required to adhere to mandatory mask-wearing. This is despite the updated CDC guidance that stated masks should mainly be considered in high-risk areas or for students who are immunocompromised.

In their communication to Head Start grantees, OHS and ACF encouraged centers to “continue using a combination of tools to reduce COVID-19 risks,” pointing to the more recent CDC guidance.

Read more here.

governor signs bill severely limiting abortion

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed an abortion ban into law on Friday that will only permit the procedure in cases of rape, incest or medical emergencies.

  • Justice said in a tweet announcing his signature that the legislation is a “bill that protects life.”
  • “I said from the beginning that if WV legislators brought me a bill that protected life and included reasonable and logical exceptions I would sign it, and that’s what I did today,” he said.

Both houses of the state’s legislature approved the ban on Tuesday, with the state Senate passing it 22-7 and the state House passing it 77-17. With Justice’s signature, the law goes into effect immediately while its criminal penalties will go into effect in 90 days.

Provisions: The law bans abortion entirely unless the patient is a victim of rape or incest, has informed a law enforcement agency and receives the procedure no later than the eighth week of pregnancy. Minors in either of those circumstances can receive an abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy if they report it to law enforcement and receive treatment from a licensed professional or hospital.

Abortions are also allowed for “medical emergencies” and if the fetus is not medically viable.

Penalties: Licensed providers who are found to have illegally performed an abortion are not subject to imprisonment but could lose their medical license. If anyone who is not licensed to perform an abortion, such as nurses, is found to have done so, they could face felony charges and three to 10 years in prison, starting in 90 days.

Read more here.

EXPERIMENTAL THERAPY PROMISING AGAINST AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

A new autoimmune therapy harnesses a person’s own cells to find and correct other defective cells – an answer for patients who haven’t responded to other treatments and a possible cure for diseases like lupus.

In a study published in Thursday Nature, researchers genetically modified and reinjected immune cells from patients – meaning each person got their own cells back as a treatment. In this type of therapy, called CAR T cell therapy, T cells are changed to recognize a specific protein on the surface of B cells, the ones that produce antibodies that wrongly attack healthy cells.

Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the body’s immune system attacks other cells in the body and causes symptoms like inflammation. This happens through autoantibodies, or antibodies that attack the self, produced by a type of white blood known as B cells.

Researchers were able to perform CAR T cell therapy with five lupus patients with median age of 22 years old.

After about 100 days, the patients were able to produce new B cells that didn’t make autoantibodies. Patients had drug-free remission for a median of eight months post-treatment, up to 12 months.

Read more here.

YOUTH MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP ASTHMA IF THEIR FATHER WAS EXPOSED TO SECONDHAND SMOKE

Air pollution is detrimental to lung health, especially if it is indoors and constant. For example, exposure to secondhand smoke from cigarettes can trigger asthma attacks in children. New research suggests that the effects might even be felt one generation removed.

A study published in the European Respiratory Journal looks at data on 1,689 kids who grew up in Tasmania from the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study, which goes back to 1968.

They also had information about whether the children’s fathers were exposed to secondhand smoke from their parents when they were under the age of 15.

The researchers found that the risk of non-allergic asthma in children increased by
59 percent if their fathers were exposed to secondhand smoke in their childhood, compared to children whose fathers were not exposed.

If the fathers were exposed to secondhand smoke and went on to smoke themselves, the risk for their children to have asthma was even higher at 72 percent.

Read more here.

Billboard campaign all California abortion access

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) launched a billboard campaign in several red states on Thursday, alling access to abortion in the Golden State.

“Just launched billboards in 7 of the most restrictive anti-abortion states that explain how women can access care–no matter where they live,” Newsom said in a tweet. “To any woman seeking an abortion in these anti-freedom states: CA will defend your right to make decisions about your own health.”

Across state lines: The billboards — going up in Texas, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Oklahoma — advertise the state’s new reproductive health website.

  • The website, abortion.ca.gov, provides information about accessing abortion in California, including traveling to obtain an abortion. Newsom announced the website’s launch on Tuesday, just hours after Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) unveiled new legislation for a 15-week national abortion ban.
  • Newsom’s new billboard campaign features slogans like “Texas doesn’t own your body. You do.” and “Need an abortion? California is ready to help.” One billboard quotes the Bible — typically cited by anti-abortion activists — saying “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Best to get new booster before Halloween, White House COVID coordinator Dr. Jha says (ABC News)
  • EU regulator backs wider use of AstraZeneca COVID therapy (Reuters)
  • Covid-19 in seniors linked to increased Alzheimer’s risk, study finds (The Washington Post)

STATE BY STATE

  • A disability program promised to lift people from poverty. Instead, it left many homeless (Kaiser Health News)
  • ‘A Central Virginia problem’ – state probes improper use of mental health crisis service (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
  • Missouri’s hospitals are in ‘crisis’ because of staff shortages at mental health facilities (KCUR)

THE HILL OP-EDS

Health reforms both parties should endorse

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

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