Travel Mask Mandate “Outlawed” – What this Means to your Business

Key Points:

  • In today’s Recommendations for Industry, we discuss the dropping of the travel mask mandate. Read more below.
  • Declaring the COVID-19 travel mask mandate to be unlawful, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa said the mandate exceeded the authority granted to the CDC under federal public health law; that Congress had never clearly given the CDC the power to issue population-wide preventive public-health measures like the mask mandate. Because the CDC acted beyond its authority, “the court must hold unlawful and set aside the mask mandate as an agency action that is not in accordance with law,” Judge Mizelle wrote in a 59-page opinion. American, Delta, United, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit have all declared masks to be optional. Others are likely to follow. (NPR)
  • Officials Adopt New Message on COVID-19 Behaviors: It’s Your Call. Federal and local officials are now telling people to decide for themselves how best to protect against the virus. Health officials are leaving it up to people to assess if they need booster shots, whether to wear a mask and how long to isolate after a positive test. Businesses, schools, and other entities are scaling back specific guidelines as they prepare for a return to normal. However, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the new White House COVID-19 response coordinator, is recommending that Americans over 60 get a second booster, citing “pretty compelling” new data from Israel indicating that a fourth shot significantly reduced infections and deaths among older people there.
  • The pandemic wave of a tight labor market with a burst of job-switching now shows signs of easing and economists say that, apart from a one-off rise in wages, these workers may not end up much better off than before. But quit rates in leisure and hospitality have dropped to 5.6% in February 2022 from 5.9% in November 2021, which suggests demand for workers has eased. In concert with that, wage growth is moderating.
  • Last Thursday FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the first COVID-19 diagnostic test that detects chemical compounds in breath samples associated with a SARS-CoV-2 infection. The InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer is about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage. The test can be performed where the patient specimen is both collected and analyzed under the supervision of a health care provider and can provide results in less than three minutes. FDA said the device was 91.2% accurate at identifying positive test samples and 99.3% accurate at identifying negative test samples.
  • The World Health Organization calculation of the global death toll from the pandemic has found that vastly more people died than previously believed — a total of about 15 million by the end of 2021, more than double the official total of 6 million reported by countries individually. Its release has been delayed for months because of objections from India, which disputes the calculation that more than a third of the additional 9 million deaths are estimated to have occurred there.
  • Global COVID:
  • U.S. Northeastern cities have seen a rise in COVID-19 cases – but increased immunization, low hospitalization rates and increasing resources against infection may temper calls for alarm. “The rise does not concern me because it is occurring in the context of a highly immune population that has access to antivirals and monoclonal antibodies,” said Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Cases are increasingly decoupled from hospitalizations. The metric to follow is hospitalizations as a percent of hospital capacity.”
  • The WHO is tracking a few dozen cases of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 in Africa and Europe. BA.4 and BA.5 don’t appear to be more contagious or deadly than the original Omicron mutation so far, but that could change as more cases are detected.
  • Shanghai reports first COVID deaths since lockdown started in March. Shanghai on Monday said three people had died from COVID-19 – all elderly people (89-91) with underlying conditions. It was the first official announcement of deaths from the current outbreak. The eastern business hub posted 22,248 new domestic cases on Monday, according to the municipal health commission.

Flu Update:

  • According to CDC’s latest report, influenza activity increased nationally this week. Influenza activity is highest in the central and south-central regions of the country and is increasing in most regions.
  • CDC recommends flu vaccination as long as flu viruses are circulating.

Food Safety:

  • Consumer demand for alternative proteins is expected to continue rising, especially as innovation and technological enhancements improve the taste, texture, and affordability. Expected 2022 trends are: further technological advances, healthier formulations, plant-based seafoods, and plant-based milk innovation.
  • new peer-reviewed study, published in Applied Sciences, offers a risk–benefit analysis of GMOs based on scientific evidence and debunks myths that interest groups have spread. “Science has not evidenced any harm from use of GM crops,” wrote the authors who serve on the faculties of two universities in Spain. “Instead, it has documented economic, environmental and health benefits from their commercialization. Overall, the considerable scientific consensus holds, insofar as currently marketed GM food do not pose a higher risk than traditional food.” (Cornell)
  • The WHO is investigating at least 74 cases of Hepatitis (liver inflammation) in children mainly in the UK, but there are cases reported in Spain, Scotland, Denmark, and Netherlands as well.  Cases have also been reported in Alabama in the US. Many of the cases previously were infected with other viruses including SARS-CoV-2 and adenovirus; 6 of the cases have been given liver transplants. Officials have excluded hepatitis type A, B, C, and E viruses as the causative agent.
  • Efoodalert article provides an overview of the Abbott Nutrition Similac baby formula contamination based on FDA’s September 20-24, 2021, Establishment Inspection Report (EIR), obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Recommendations for Industry

Travel Mask Mandate “Outlawed” – What this Means to your Business

With the declaration that CDC’s travel mask mandate exceeded its public-health authority, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle published a  59-page opinion, stating that because the CDC acted beyond its authority, “the court must hold unlawful and set aside the mask mandate as an agency action that is not in accordance with law.”

Within a day, major airlines, including American, Delta, United, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit, along with many transit systems, declared masks to now be optional. And on Monday, a White House administration official stated that the court decision means that the masking order is no longer in effect, so “TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time.”

The mandate had been extended to May 3 earlier this month due to the continued transmission of the BA.2 Omicron variant. However, as we are seeing – and TAG has been stating, while there has been some increase in the U.S. due to BA.2, it has been more of a “slow increase” than a surge. Additionally, both federal and local health officials are beginning to leave decisions in the hands of individuals as to personal need and preference for masking, distancing, etc. TAG continues to recommend that businesses maintain programs to monitor employee health, require those who are ill to stay home, and allow workers to mask if and when they prefer – including during travel.

In Case You Missed It:

  • In Thursday’s Recommendations for Industry, we discussed the current status of COVID and the conflicting news. Read more here.
  • The CDC has extended mask mandates on planes through May 3 (NYT).
  • The FDA has “granted an extension for the shelf life of the authorized” Pfizer vaccine; vials can be stored, frozen, at ultra-low temperatures for up to 12 months from the date at manufacturing. Additionally, an extension was extended to J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine, too which can be held at 2 – 8C for 11 months (FDA). 
  • Additionally, the FDA has authorized more over-the-counter antigen tests based on recent data (FDA). 
  • From a study at Virginia Commonwealth University, the pandemic has cut the U.S. life span by 1.87 years. This life expectancy drop is greater than “21 other high-income countries – with greater losses in Hispanic and Black populations.” The study also highlights inequities in the US healthcare system (CIDRAP). 
  • Shanghai continues to record cases; however, China maintains its ‘zero-COVID’ policy (NBC News).

Public Health & Food Safety:

  • OSHA will host a livestream discussion on challenges workers face when reentering the workforce after periods of unemployment with US EEOC Chair Charlotte A Burrows and the US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Jenny Yang. Speakers will highlight the barriers that individuals with gaps in employment history face when looking for good jobs, the strengths these workers offer to employers, and promising practices recruiters and hiring officials can use to attract this untapped talent. The livestream will be on April 28, 2022 between 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm ET. Register here.
  • A recent large-scale analysis finds that antimicrobial resistant Campylobacter remains prevalent in the US and the UK; suggesting that “antibiotic stewardship efforts have not made a large impact” (CIDRAP).
  • Another study is highlighting the risks of patients who have Clostridium difficile infections spreading the disease to household members. In fact, the incidence of CDI “in household members exposed to a recently CDI-hospitalized family member was 73% greater than those not exposed” with increased times in the hospitals for the family member (CIDRAP).
  • Reported by Food Safety News, the “United Nations food safety agencies and GFSI local groups shared the stage at the recent GFSI conference in Barcelona”. At this conference, WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety and a senior food safety offer at FAO, “spoke about the agencies’ respective food safety strategies.”
  • There is a new Listeria monocytogenes outbreak which has sickened at least 15 people; the FDA is on it! (Food Safety News)
  • The CDC has found that US cases of STDs (like gonorrhea and syphilis) has surged to a 30-year high in 2020 (Daily Mail).

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