High-risk, disabled Americans feel forgotten as state and local leaders nationwide remove face masks and immunization rules

PHILADELPHIA – Tasha Nelson’s 10-year-old son held back tears when he heard the news. The two were in the car when the radio announced: The newly sworn-in governor of Virginia has signed an order banning face masks in schools.

“My son looked at me and had tears in his eyes because he knew what that meant. He said, ‘Mom, does that mean I can’t go to school anymore?'” Nelson said. “He said, ‘Can’t we let the governor know about kids like me? I also want to go to school. “

Jack, a 4th grader, has cystic fibrosis, a progressive genetic disease that causes persistent, damaging lung infections that make it hard to breathe over time. Like other immunocompromised, disabled, and chronically ill Americans, Jack is also taking measures, like wearing a mask, to avoid infection before the pandemic. But with Covid-19 still rampant, it’s not so easy. Even though he is vaccinated, the virus still causes serious illness, potentially lethal, risk for Jack. His 2-year-old brother, who is not yet eligible for vaccinations, is another concern.

Nelson is among the parents who sued Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin over the order, claiming that the order puts immunocompromised or disabled students at risk and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. CNN has reached out to Youngkin’s office for comment on the lawsuit.

About two weeks after that lawsuit was filed, the governor signed a bill into law that would allow parents who choose their children not to be required to wear masks at school.

Nelson is keeping her son at home again because of him.

“This whole pandemic, our culture, media (and) government has made it very clear to those at risk and with disabilities that we are an acceptable loss.” , said Nelson. “We are also doing everything we can to survive this pandemic.”

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations are declining nationally, but transmission – how much virus is circulating in a community – remains high in more than 90% of the US population, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC still recommends that people stay indoors in areas of strong or high transmission.

However, public health experts have yet to discern whether it is time to lift the mitigation measures. Some say the reduction of protective measures at a time when Covid-19 numbers are so high is more a political move than public health. Others say the downward trend justifies those moves, and note that Omicron is milder than previous variants for most healthy people.

As state and local leaders nationwide scrap mask-wearing and vaccination rules, those at high risk of severe illness say dropping protective measures now leaves them vulnerable. hurt, especially when they, or family members, return to work or school in person. And for some people, the Covid-19 vaccine isn’t effective at preventing severe flare-ups with the virus, prompting the CDC to recommend a fourth shot for immunocompromised people 12 years of age and older. in October.

Approximately seven million American adults are immunocompromised, CDC estimate. While not all have medical conditions that make them severely immunocompromised and vulnerable to Covid-19, approximately 61 million adults — about a quarter in the United States — have one number of disabilities, by agency. More than three million children were disabled in 2019, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Sara Willette, who has been living in quarantine with her husband in Iowa since the state reported its first case of the virus, about 700 days ago.

“The more protections we remove, the less access the rest of the world will have to those at high risk,” said Willette.

Although Willette has had three vaccinations and is preparing for a fourth shot, contracting the virus can be deadly. She has Common Variable Immune Deficiency Disorder (CVID), which means her body doesn’t produce protective antibodies to fight off pathogens like bacteria or viruses.

The couple considered moving out of their home in Ames and moving to southern California, where stricter face covering procedures could help protect her. But they scrapped the idea after the California governor lifted the requirement to wear face masks indoors for vaccinated people this month, citing a reduction in infections.

Iowa’s legislators went even further – an invoice find a way to effectively ban vaccine and mask missions is make its way through the legislature. “We have to choose between surviving and having a life,” said Willette.

The high-risk people CNN spoke to said as the country eagerly awaited to get through the pandemic, they felt forgotten – and worse, they didn’t matter to the rest of the American public. Some say they feel abandoned to adapt to a more dangerous reality, while others are now charting a lifestyle of permanent isolation.

Families are faced with impossible choices

In Wilmington, Massachusetts, Karen Yurek’s family is navigating a difficult balancing act. Yurek and her husband are both at high risk and are taking immunosuppressive drugs. She has rheumatoid arthritis and he has multiple sclerosis. Both have received four Covid-19 photos and operate remotely.

The family was almost completely isolated until last week, when their 6-year-old son, Billy, returned to school. Billy is vaccinated, and Yurek and her husband feel he can stay safe with the help of the popular mask requirement that has been put in place.

Then state officials announced they would lift the mandate at the end of February. Yurek wrote to the Wilmington School Board, calling for them to make masks mandatory to “protect members of our community who no longer have ‘normal’ luxuries.”

The committee voted Wednesday to lift its mask-wearing mandate, posing a dilemma for the Yurek family: drag their child out of in-person classes or risk serious illness.

“It’s really demoralizing,” says Yurek. “It seems like people are so focused on getting back to normal that… they’re forgetting about all the people who are really at risk. And if they don’t forget about them, they’re just saying, ‘Well, you’re the one. your own. ‘”

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s John Berman on Thursday that lifting school mask regulations given current levels of transmission could push cases return. “We’ve been to this show before,” he said. “Where it falls, you step back a little, it bounces back.”

When ask this month about immunocompromised Americans feeling left behind, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency is working to update the mask guidance so it is “appropriate for the general public, but also for the general public.” immunocompromised and disabled public”, but did not provide further details.

To help keep more people safe, mask requirements must depend on how much virus is circulating in the community, said Raymund Razible, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and vice president of public health, hospital. infectious and occupational medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. Razistic told CNN that taking off the mask at a time when the virus is still rampant and the threat of more variants – including the sub-variant Omicron – is a risk.

All but one of the remaining states that still have a mandate to wear masks – Hawaii – have announced plans to get rid of them.

Other local leaders have also announced the end of vaccine measures. The country’s capital ended its indoor business vaccine requirement on Tuesday. In the following days, Philadelphia and Boston also announced that they would be removing vaccine requirements. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams told employers to end the work-from-home policy and told a news conference: “We need people back to work.”

April Moreno, a public health expert and founder of Autoimmune Community Institute, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. “We’re injured.”

Kris Giere, 42, who has type 1 diabetes and lives in Indiana, a state that ended its mask mandate last April, repeats the same.

“I’m tired of worrying about how many vectors I’m exposed to,” says Giere. “I’m stressed every day, because I can’t get back to normal. I can’t get back to normal.”

‘We don’t have the luxury of having to pretend the pandemic is over’

When the CDC updated its isolation guidance in December to say that people could quarantine for 5 days after testing positive if their symptoms disappeared or got better and wore a properly fitting mask for 10 days, The agency also urges them to “avoid people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness” for at least 10 days.

But it’s difficult to tell when someone – a colleague, friend or passerby – is immunocompromised or at high risk, Moreno points out. That’s why many conditions are called “invisible diseases”.

Matthew Cortland, who works on disability and health policy at Data for Progress, said: “Nobody … gave me a giant foam hat with an arrow that said ‘immunosuppressed’. “The amount of time that we have to go through to mitigate, to some extent, the risk that society at large is putting on us is absurd.”

Cortland permanently works from home. But many friends who are also chronically ill and disabled don’t have the same options. That’s why public health measures remain so important, Cortland said, including global vaccination campaigns, widespread dissemination and use of high-quality masks, and research into protective equipment. more adaptive individuals, improved indoor air quality, better testing procedures, and adequate treatments.

US has increased orders for one of the key preventive therapies for immunocompromised people, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced last week. But even with that push, the country will only have enough monoclonal antibody treatments for less than a quarter of the immunocompromised population. And while there are other Covid-19 therapies that can help everyone, including those who are severely immunocompromised, they are still in short supply in many parts of the US and will not be available. more widely through the spring, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

“There’s not enough for the millions of immunocompromised patients,” says Razhable. At his hospital, he said there were “enough” supplies to cover only “the highest-risk groups”.

Two years on, high-risk Americans are feeling traumatized and exhausted by the daily risk assessments and new hurdles that life in a Covid America comes with.

As Cortland put it: “No one wants to be truly affected by a pandemic more than Americans with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and immunocompromise. We have no luxury in pretending the pandemic is over. when it’s not over. And that’s clearly not.”

The-CNN-Wire & Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. Copyright Registered. High-risk, disabled Americans feel forgotten as state and local leaders nationwide remove face masks and immunization rules

Dais Johnston

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