Health Highlights: March 23, 2021

U.S. Adults Gained Average of 2 Pounds a Month During Lockdowns

American adults under COVID-19 lockdowns gained an average of more than half a pound every 10 days, which works out to 2 pounds a month, a small study shows.

That means that adults who maintained lockdown measures could easily have gained 20 pounds since the start of the pandemic a year ago, study senior author Dr. Gregory Marcus, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, told the The New York Times.

The study included fewer than 300 people nationwide and used weight measurements from Bluetooth-connected smart scales. The findings were outlined in a research letter published Monday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“We know that weight gain is a public health problem in the U.S. already, so anything making it worse is definitely concerning, and shelter-in-place orders are so ubiquitous that the sheer number of people affected by this makes it extremely relevant,” Marcus, told the Times.

Many of the people in the study were losing weight before shelter-in-place orders were issued in their states, Marcus noted.

“It’s reasonable to assume these individuals are more engaged with their health in general, and more disciplined and on top of things,” he said. “That suggests we could be underestimating — that this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Excess weight has been linked to a greater risk of developing more severe COVID-19 disease, and the United States already has among the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the world. Some 42 percent of American adults over age 20 have obesity, while another 32 percent of Americans are overweight, the Times reported.

Obamacare’s Reach Surges With 200,000 New Signups, More States Involved

More than 200,000 Americans signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act during the first two weeks of an open enrollment period created by President Joe Biden.

That response shows that people who lost insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic are in desperate need of coverage, according to federal officials and health policy experts, The New York Times reported.

Tuesday is the 11th anniversary of the health law’s signing, and even some strongly Republican states are thinking about taking advantage of a provision in Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus law that makes Medicaid expansion more fiscally appealing.

Alabama and Wyoming are considering expanding Medicaid to residents whose incomes are too high to qualify at the moment but too low to afford private health insurance, the Times reported.

Expanding access to health care has been a core issue for Biden, both when he was vice president and during his campaign for the presidency. A week after he took office, he ordered the law’s insurance marketplaces to reopen for three months, from February to May 15, to help people struggling to find coverage.

Previously, only those who had “qualifying life events,” including job losses, could sign up outside of the traditional fall enrollment period.

Groups Call for U.S. to Ease International Travel Restrictions

The Biden administration needs to create a plan in the next five weeks to ease international travel restrictions introduced early in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a letter that airlines and other tourism-related groups sent to the White House.

The more than two dozen groups want people who’ve received COVID-19 vaccination to be exempt from testing before entering the United States, and also want the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to say that it’s safe for vaccinated people to travel, the Associated Press reported.

These and other steps will speed the travel and airline industries’ recovery from the devastating drop in travel during the pandemic, according to the groups, which include Airlines for America, the U.S. Travel Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Airline passenger traffic remains below 2019 levels, but is picking up. More than 1 million people passed through U.S. airport checkpoints each of the last 11 days, and on Sunday it reached more than 1.5 million for the first time in more than a year, the AP reported.

In making its case for easing restrictions, the groups cited the recent decline in reported new cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States. Nearly 45 million Americans, more than 13% of the population, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC.

“The time to plan for and chart a defined roadmap to reopen international travel is now,” they wrote in a letter to White House virus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients.

The White House referred to remarks made by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday. Walensky said the health agency is working on new guidance for people who are vaccinated, but raised concern about recent increases in new reported cases of coronavirus in many European countries.

“If we look at our European friends, we just don’t want to be at this rapid uptick of cases again, and that is very possible that that could happen,’ she said. “We are so close to vaccinating so many more people… Now is not the time to travel.”

Fully-Vaccinated People Can Visit Unvaccinated Family and Friends: CDC

Fully-vaccinated people can visit unvaccinated family and friends without restrictions, but should restrict visits to one unvaccinated household at a time, the US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

“In the setting that the unvaccinated people are from a single household, and all the unvaccinated people are at low risk of severe COVID-19 illness, no prevention measures are needed, so these visits could happen indoors with no mask or physical distancing,” Tami Skoff, a CDC epidemiologist on the Clinical Guidelines Team of the Vaccine Task Force, said in a web briefing, CNN reported.

“And the example we like to give here is fully vaccinated grandparents can visit with their unvaccinated daughter and her unvaccinated children, assuming none of them are at high risk of severe disease. These visits can be done indoors with no masks or physical distancing,” Skoff said.

“There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection, and therefore potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others,” Skoff added.

    “There’s a lot of accumulating evidence that the currently available vaccines really helped to reduce or stop spread of this virus from fully vaccinated people to others,” she said.

    Fully vaccinated means that it’s been two weeks since a person has received the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or two weeks since receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, CNN reported.

    But CDC officials said even fully vaccinated grandparents should not take their grandchildren to crowded places, such as church.