Health Highlights: March 3, 2021

Good Response to Reopening

More than 200,000 Americans signed up for health insurance in the first two weeks after was reopened for a three-month special enrollment period, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The reopening is part of President Joe Biden's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and applications for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be accepted through May 15, the Associated Press reported.

CMS figures show that more than 206,000 people signed up for coverage from Feb. 15-28, but the numbers are partial because they only include the 36 states served by the federal insurance market.

National enrollment will be higher when totals from states that have their own insurance websites are counted later, the AP reported. offers subsidized private health insurance under the ACA, mainly to working Americans with low- and medium-incomes.

If passed by Congress, Biden's coronavirus response bill would provide more generous financial assistance and increase the number of middle-class households that would qualify for assistance, the AP reported.

Texas, Mississippi Drop Mask Mandates

Texas has lifted its mask mandate and all businesses can reopen next Wednesday with no seating limits, Gov. Gregg Abbott announced Tuesday.

Abbott's moves came as federal health officials have cautioned governors against easing restrictions because nationwide progress against the COVID-19 pandemic has plateaued in the last week, The New York Times reported.

"To be clear, COVID has not, like, suddenly disappeared," Abbott acknowledged. "COVID still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe."

However, "state mandates are no longer needed," because better treatments are now available for COVID-19 patients, the state can conduct large numbers of tests each day and Texans have already received 5.7 million vaccine shots, according to Abbott, theTimes reported.

While saying that most state restrictions would be lifted, Abbott did not specify which mandates would remain in place. He said Texans could decide for themselves what precautionary measures they want to take to limit the spread of the virus and that top elected officials in each county could reimpose restrictions if hospital capacities passed 15 percent, the Times reported.

"At this time, however, people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate," he said, the Times reported.

Shortly after Abbott's announcement, Gov. Tate Reeves announced that he would end Mississippi's statewide mask mandate, effective Wednesday, NBC News reported.

On Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky strongly cautioned against the rollbacks that Abbott and Reeves were about to announce.

"I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19," Walensky said during a White House briefing, NBC News reported.

"Please hear me clearly," Walensky said. "At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained."

Dolly Parton Gets Shot of COVID-19 Vaccine She Backed

Dolly Parton has received a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine whose development she helped fund.

The 75-year-old country music star received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday from her friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, CBS News reported.

Parton tweeted a video of herself getting vaccinated, saying she and Abumrad have been "friends forever."

"I thought it was only appropriate that you should be the one to give me my shot today," she said.

Tennessee began vaccinating those aged 70 and older at the beginning of February. Parton is 75.

Less than a year ago, Parton donated $1 million to help Abumrad develop the vaccine at Vanderbilt University. When she got vaccinated, Parton said quipped that she "got a shot of her own medicine."

Parton also had a message for those who may plan on avoiding getting vaccinated.

"I'm old enough to get it and I'm smart enough to get it. ...The sooner we get to feeling better, the sooner we are going to get back to being normal," Parton said during the video. "So I just wanna say to all of you cowards out there, don't be such a chicken squat, get out there and get your shot."

"Dolly's generous support helped fund early research at Vanderbilt Health into what is now a vaccine that's helping end the pandemic," the Vanderbilt University Medical Center tweeted.

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