Employer mandate blocked
The Supreme Court today blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers. The move was a huge blow to a core part of the president’s plan to get the virus under control.
The employer mandate would have required workers to be vaccinated or wear masks and be tested weekly. There were exceptions for some, including workers with religious objections and those who work from home or exclusively outdoors.
The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, had issued the mandate in November. The administration estimated that it would cause 22 million people to get vaccinated and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations.
Parts of the mandate had been scheduled to take effect on Monday. But in a 6-3 vote, with liberal justices in dissent, the court blocked the administration from enforcing the rules, my colleague Adam Liptak reports.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld state vaccine mandates, but this case was different, as it primarily presented the question of whether Congress had authorized OSHA to institute the requirements.
“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” the majority opinion said.
The majority added that more targeted regulations may be permissible, suggesting that OSHA could “regulate risks associated with working in particularly crowded or cramped environments.”
The three dissenting justices agreed that the key issue in the case was that of institutional competence to address the health care crisis.
“Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from Covid-19?” they asked. “An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the president authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces, and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?”
The wiser course would have been to defer to OSHA, they wrote. “Today, we are not wise.”
However, the court allowed a more modest mandate to go forward that requires vaccinations for health care workers at facilities receiving federal money. It would affect more than 17 million workers, the administration said. The vote in the health care case was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh joining the liberal justices to form a majority.
Time to upgrade your mask
Many experts are saying that it’s time to upgrade your mask, because certain types of face coverings just don’t cut it in the age of Omicron.
Cloth masks, which many of us wore at the beginning of the pandemic and were supposed to be a temporary fix, are made of woven materials that do a good job of trapping large droplets, but can miss smaller aerosol particles that contain the virus.
Instead, experts recommend N95 masks — the gold standard — which are made of synthetic materials that are much better at capturing the virus. And they have an extra feature: an electrostatic charge that attracts and captures particles, which this Times interactive demonstrates. (KN95 masks, which are manufactured to Chinese standards, are similar.)
A variety of studies show that N95 masks offer better protection than cloth or surgical mask. A properly fitted N95 mask can reduce transmission by 95 percent (hence the name). Here are a couple of recommendations for optimizing fit; masks with back-of-the-head loops tend to fit more snugly than those with ear loops.
But what about those blue surgical masks? The issue, experts say, is that they can often be loose around the edges, allowing aerosols to leak out or sneak in. For a better fit, try the knot-and-tuck method. Or, experts say, you can increase your protection by wearing two surgical masks.
For many Americans, the biggest obstacle to upgrading their mask is finding a better one.
Many pharmacies and big-box stores can’t keep superior masks in stock and N95 masks offered on sites like Amazon can be counterfeit or poorly made. The Wirecutter, The Times’s companion review site, recommends these sites for legitimate N95 and KN95 masks.
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know
Covid and pregnancy
Researchers in Scotland reported today that pregnant women with Covid were more likely to lose their fetuses and babies in the womb or shortly after birth, compared with uninfected women who gave birth during the pandemic.
The risk of losing a baby through stillbirth or during the first month of life was highest among women who delivered their babies within four weeks of the onset of a Covid infection: 22.6 deaths for every 1,000 births. That’s four times the overall rate in Scotland. All the deaths occurred in pregnancies among unvaccinated women, the researchers found.
“Quite strikingly, no baby deaths occurred in women who had SARS-CoV-2 and were vaccinated,” said Dr. Sarah J. Stock, the paper’s first author, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Edinburgh Usher Institute in Exeter.
What else we’re following
What you’re doing
Me and my parents still haven’t caught the virus, partially due to the fact that I am the one who leaves home to be in social contexts (the subway, for instance, and always with an N95 mask). Being an 18-year-old first-year college student is immensely frustrating: Only two of my new classmates have seen my face unmasked. Since there aren’t any outside-class events, it makes it harder for a not-so-extroverted girl to bond with others. But not everything is bad: Those two people who have seen my face are now my friends!
— Rita Neves, Lisbon
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