7 things to know as health officials testify before senate

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Top health experts from the Biden administration testified before the Senate on Jan. 11 in a hearing where they were questioned by lawmakers seeking clarity on the federal response to the omicron variant, Politico reported.

Seven things to know about the hearing: 

1. Those testifying included White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, and Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS.

2. Senators asked about the updated guidance on quarantining and isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, which have been called confusing. Dr. Walensky said for those fully vaccinated and boosted, exposed people do not need to self-isolate. She did suggest, however, that those who are exposed get tested on Day 5. For positive cases, if five days into the onset of symptoms the individual is feeling better, isolation is no longer necessary. When asked what an individual can do between days 5 and 10, Dr. Walensky said, "You shouldn’t go visit Grandma. You shouldn’t get on an airplane."

3. This prompted one senator to seek clarification, given healthcare workers are cleared to go back to work and treat patients from day five of a positive test, ABC News reported. Dr. Walensky said the guidelines had been changed with keeping schools and hospitals open and staffed in mind as well as the latest data on when people are most infectious.

4. Senators also asked why there was a shortage of tests. Ms. O’Connell said the administration had been in touch with test manufacturers when the early wave of omicron was detected and had used the Defense Production Act to make more tests available. Supply chain issues and a depleted testing workforce are also key causes for the deficit of tests. Lawmakers criticized the administration for not preparing for this surge months ago, Politico reported. 

5. Dr. Walensky was also pressed about comments she made on "Good Morning America" on Jan. 7, when she said it was "really encouraging" that COVID-19 deaths were occuring in those with comorbidities. She said the comments were taken out of context, but critics slammed her messaging, Politico reported.

6. Ms. O’Connell said there are plans to sign a contract with a supplier by February to obtain 140 million N95 masks per month. She also said there are  737 million N95 masks in a national stockpile reserved for hospitals, ABC News reported.

7. According to the Jan. 12 Politico Pulse newsletter, President Joe Biden is slated to give a speech Jan. 13 on the state of the pandemic and offer new public health guidance in light of omicron.

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