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Health Highlights: March 3, 2020

Last Updated: March 03, 2020.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Emergency Measure Will Get More Respirators to U.S. Health Care Workers

An emergency authorization will make more respirators available for U.S. health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, most respirators are approved for use only in industrial settings, but the emergency authorization means that certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved respirators, including N95s, not approved by the FDA can be used by health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

The FDA concluded that the respirators may be effective in protecting against airborne exposure to the coronavirus and approved the CDC's request for an emergency use of such respirators.

When properly fitted, respirators can filter more airborne particles than face masks, which is important during an outbreak of a respiratory disease like COVID-19, according to the FDA and CDC.

The measure does not apply to the public, who should not wear these respirators to protect against COVID-19, according to the agencies.

They said respirators provide no added health benefit to the general public because the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.

"It is important to remember the best way to prevent the spread of respiratory disease is by using everyday preventative actions. These include hand washing, using tissues to cover a cough, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and keeping distance from people who are coughing and sneezing. CDC does not recommend the use of masks by the general public," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an FDA news release.

The FDA and CDC said they're not aware of specific widespread shortages of personal protective equipment at the moment, but said there are reports of increased ordering of these products and shortages have occurred in some U.S. health care institutions.

"The FDA, alongside the CDC and other federal, state and local partners, have been aggressively addressing the COVID-19 outbreak," FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in an agency news release.

"At the FDA, we've been working diligently to mitigate any potential shortages in the supply chain, including addressing increased demand and supply challenges associated with personal protective equipment," Hahn said.

"It is imperative that we assure health care personnel on the front lines of this outbreak have sufficient supplies of respiratory protective devices," he added. "Actions like today's emergency use authorization are one of many tools the FDA can utilize during a public health emergency to respond to critical public health needs."

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U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Obamacare Appeal

An appeal in a case that could lead to the scrapping of the entire Affordable Care Act will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, the court granted petitions from Democratic state officials and the House of Representatives and said it would hear the appeal, The New York Times reported.

Republican state officials argued that the law -- sometimes called Obamacare -- became unconstitutional in 2017 when Congress eliminated the law's requirement that most Americans have health insurance.

The Trump administration supported the state officials, claiming that the rest of the health care law can't survive without the requirement, The Times reported.

Democratic states and the House intervened to preserve the law.

A Federal District Court judge in Texas ruled that the entire law was invalid, but delayed action on the ruling until the case could be appealed.

In December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, agreed that the individual insurance mandate was unconstitutional. However, it didn't make any decision about the rest of the health law. Instead, it asked the lower court to reconsider the question in more detail, The Times reported.

Democratic states and the House asked the Supreme Court to fast track consideration of their appeal, but that request was turned down in January.

In its decision Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to the appeal but didn't say when it would hear it. However, under its ordinary practices, arguments would be held in the fall -- during the presidential election -- and a decision would be announced in the spring or summer of 2021.

Democrats want to keep the Affordable Care Act's future in the public eye during the presidential campaign and ensure that their appeal was decided while justices who had rejected earlier challenges remain on the court, The Times reported.


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