Americans navigating the COVID-19 pandemic during the latest virus surge say frequent changes in federal guidelines don’t make their lives any easier. These people are not alone in their dismay.

Prominent health experts who have stood by the CDC and its science-based decisions since the beginning of the pandemic are now criticizing the agency for poor communication.

The agency’s “messaging problem” can be divided into three main issues, health experts said, the biggest of which is inconsistent transparency.

On every policy update, the CDC must back up its decision with clear data and translate the science so the general public can understand it, said Thomas Hipper, associate director of the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health.

Hipper stated that CDC officials did not specifically cite science when they announced the new isolation guidelines Dec. 27.

“Simply announcing the change and trying to explain it without the clear rationale leaves you exposed to questioning,” he said. “Letting the public see those imperfect choices helps justify why the decision was made.”

Health experts said the second issue contributing to the CDC’s messaging problem is that local health departments and national organizations feel left out of the agency’s decision-making. 

Experts concluded that the CDC is open to being accused of lacking accountability. The agency has reiterated the science of the pandemic is evolving, and although that is true, health experts say the CDC still needs to acknowledge its errors in that space of inherent uncertainty.

“It humanizes this effort, and it would go a long way in building back trust,” Hipper said. “There’s nothing wrong in acknowledging that, ‘Hey, we didn’t get everything right, but we’re committed to getting it as right as we can.’”

In the news also:

►New Jersey COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 28% since Jan. 2. And the number of people needing a ventilator rose to 500 Monday — a 71% jump in that period.

►Novak Djokovic acknowledged Wednesday that his Australian travel declaration form contained incorrect information, and he also confessed to an “error of judgment” in taking part in an interview and photoshoot in Serbia last month after testing positive for COVID-19.

►The U.S. Army, for the first time, is offering a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to recruits who join for six years as the service struggles to lure soldiers into critical jobs amid the pandemic, according to The Associated Press.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 62.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 843,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 315 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘This is what we are reading Do you need to perform an at-home COVID (coin on the finger) test in order to determine if your throat is free of omicron. Experts disagree.

For the most recent news, keep checking this page. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Patients with COVID are crowding out patients who need them

Just as a cresting wave of COVID-19 patients need care, hospitals are facing severe staffing issues because so many are either out sick themselves, caring for family members, or quarantining due to an exposure. About one in five hospitals reported having “critical staff shortages” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a USA TODAY analysis found. A quarter of hospitals expect to experience critical staff shortages in the coming week. Alabama, Indiana and Kentucky have less than 10% remaining capacity in ICUs.

Chicago-based surgeon Ryan Merkow, a cancer specialist, must decide who is operated on and when.  Northwestern Memorial Hospital “is full of COVID patient,” he said. Our operating rooms have been made COVID. Some patients with cancer fly to their family for support during treatment.

“And then we have to pull the rug out from under them,” he said. Continue reading.

– Elizabeth Weise and Kristen Jordan Shamus

Biden dispatches medical personnel to assist states affected by the surge

The federal government is sending medical teams to six states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico — to help hospitals overburdened by COVID-19, USA TODAY has learned.

According to White House officials, President Joe Biden will announce Thursday’s deployments when he discusses steps that the administration has taken to combat an increase in infection caused by the Omicron variant.

His remarks come as hospitalizations for COVID-19 are setting records. Some hospitals are delaying elective surgeries as states are deploying National Guard members to health care facilities.

Facing pressure from even members of his own party to do more to get the pandemic under control, Biden’s new actions are expected to center on additional manpower. 

USA TODAY, Maureen Groppe & Donovan Slack

Contributing: The Associated Press



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