with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Those frustrated over the Biden administration’s conservative approach to mask and social distancing guidance have been questioning its cautious rules for schools, summer camps and the outdoors.

Guess who else is frustrated by mask mandates? Commercial fishermen.

Commercial fishing crews must be masked at all times, regardless of the number of people.

The requirement stems from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule issued in February saying all those on public transportation must be masked. The Coast Guard interpreted the rule to apply to all vessels, including commercial fisherman who sometimes work with crews of just three to five people. There are around 39,000 commercial fishermen in the United States.

In a hearing with top administration health officials yesterday, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) brought this up. They begged CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to revise the guidance, saying they’ve heard deep frustration from fishermen who argue that wearing a mask while doing their work is unsafe.

“Not only is a wet mask dangerous out on the open water — these guys are used to relying on sign language on the boat, and with the mask it’s a real safety issue,” Hassan said at a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which featured top Biden health officials giving an update on the pandemic response.

Murkowski characterized it as “absolutely a crazy policy,” saying she has heard from fishermen who wear the masks only because they’re concerned about being discovered by the Coast Guard and fined or otherwise penalized.

“You’re out on a boat, the winds are howling, your mask is wet,” Murkowski said. “Tell me how anyone thinks this is a sane or sound policy.”

Walensky seemed aware of the issue during yesterday’s hearing but didn’t give any specific answers. She said the agency is working on new agency guidance.

“We are in the process of reconsidering industry guidance because of this situation,” Walensky said.

There aren’t exceptions for fishermen who have gotten a coronavirus vaccine.

David Goethel is a commercial fisherman who alerted Hassan to the issue when she visited the Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative in Seabrook, N.H. Goethel, who operates a 44-foot stern trawler, told me he has been fully vaccinated and that one of his two employees have received the first dose of a vaccine.

Yet they must still wear masks — including while they’re sleeping — under the Coast Guard guidelines. Goethel said he hates telling his two workers they need to mask up while cleaning fish — a messy activity that can result in the dirtying of masks — but he worries that a Coast Guard patrol will show up.

Goethel also said masks make it nearly impossible to communicate with his crew members on the noisy ship, which uses a diesel engine.

“I can’t see if they understood a shouted order,” he told me. “I can’t see if they’re getting themselves into a problem with the gear; it’s just patently unsafe and unnecessary.”

Alaska’s fishing association has been pushing back, too.

The U.S. fishing industry is concentrated in Alaska, which was responsible for more than 5.4 million pounds of caught produce in 2018. United Fisherman of Alaska, an association representing commercial fishing groups across the state, wants the mask mandates lifted for commercial fishing. 

Most of these operations are small, family-owned operations, the group’s executive director Frances Leach told me. She said the association supports mask mandates for larger boats, such as ferries. But on commercial fishing boats, crew members are already living within the same household or closely associating with one another, she argued.

“You see a tightknit crew that would normally be inside your bubble,” she said.

Leach said the group’s main concern — besides finding the mask requirements “a little strange” — is the safety hazard presented by masks. There's the issue of reading crew's facial expressions. And, crew members are required to wear masks even while they're sleeping, she said.

“Being on a small fishing boat, it’s just silly,” she said.

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: Some parents are scrambling to vaccinate their teenagers, while others are hesitating.

An expert panel of advisers to the CDC is scheduled to meet today to recommend how the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine should be used in 12- to 15-year-olds following the Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization for the vaccine in that age group, The Post’s William Wan, Lena H. Sun and Laura Meckler report.

Some states are not waiting. Youths 12 and older were eligible to get the vaccine on Tuesday in Arkansas, Delaware and Georgia. 

“The decision that the two-shot regimen is safe and effective for younger adolescents had been highly anticipated by many parents and pediatricians, particularly with the growing gap between what vaccinated and unvaccinated people may do safely,” our colleagues write. 

“Some places are seeing enormous demand: At Children’s National Hospital in Washington, 5,900 children have signed up for preregistration. Other parents are much more hesitant to get their children vaccinated,” they write.

A survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation last week found only 3 in 10 parents with children ages 12 to 15 said they would get their child vaccinated as soon as possible. 

OOF: A former nursing aide was sentenced to seven life terms for killing patients with insulin.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh sentenced Reta Mays to federal prison after Mays confessed to injecting lethal doses of insulin into elderly veterans in her care at a West Virginia Veteran Affairs hospital in 2017 and 2018, The Post’s Lisa Rein reports. All but one of Mays’s eight victims died.

“You’re the monster that no one sees coming,” Kleeh told Mays, dismissing her lawyers’ arguments that she deserved leniency because of a long history of mental health issues.

As the sentencing took place, VA Inspector General Michael Missal released an investigative report documenting failures by the Louis A. Johnson Medical Center, the hospital in Clarksburg, W.Va., that hired Mays in 2015. 

“Investigators identified similarities in the deaths: Elderly patients in private rooms were injected in their abdomen and limbs with insulin the hospital had not prescribed — some with multiple shots. Within hours, the veterans’ blood-sugar levels plummeted. Despite those commonalities, the medical staff and those with oversight of hospital procedures failed to identify a pattern for months, the inspector general’s office found,” Lisa reports.

OUCH: Centrist Democrats are signaling opposition to Pelosi’s push on drug pricing.

“House Democrats’ push to tack a sweeping drug price negotiation bill to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package was always going to face a fight in the evenly divided Senate. But the legislation is also hitting troubled waters in the House,” Politico’s Alice Miranda Ollstein and Susannah Luthi report.

Ten caucus moderates sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier this month, a copy of which was obtained by Politico, calling for a more modest drug pricing overhaul that could garner bipartisan support. Eight of the Democrats had previously voted for a version of the bill, but they expressed concern that it could hurt innovation.

“Early resistance to the drug pricing bill, H.R. 3, indicates that drugmakers may escape what they consider a worst-case scenario, in which Democrats extract huge savings from their industry to bankroll a broad range of party priorities in infrastructure legislation," Alice and Susannah write. 

“Though the drug negotiation measure faces long odds in the Senate, House leadership hopes that passing H.R. 3 would give Democrats leverage to keep pressure on drugmakers when the Senate takes up infrastructure legislation.”

Biden did not include drug-pricing reform in his major infrastructure spending proposals. But House Democratic leaders view the infrastructure package as their best chance of passing the bill.

Biden's checkup

The White House said Biden will release updated health information this year.

“President Biden in his first months in office has signed sweeping legislation, reoriented U.S. foreign policy and approved stacks of executive orders. One thing he hasn’t done: gone to the doctor,” The Post’s Matt Viser reports. “The nation’s oldest president in history has yet to get a checkup — or release an update to the three-page medical summary that was last provided to the public some 17 months ago.”

When pressed on a timeline for up-to-date medical information, the White House said that the president would have a checkup later this year and release the information to the public. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that Biden will get a comprehensive exam but has not said when he will schedule it.

None of Biden’s immediate predecessors had released physical results by this point in their presidencies. Biden, 78, vowed as a candidate to be totally transparent about his health.

During the presidential campaign, Biden sought to deflect questions about his age and mental acuity. He challenged a reporter who asked about his medical records to a wrestling match and told an 83-year-old farmer in Iowa that he was prepared for a push-up contest, a footrace or an IQ test.

The transition

The Senate confirmed Andrea Palm for the No. 2 spot at HHS.

Palm was confirmed in a 61-to-37 vote by the full Senate. Palm previously served as the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, where she helped guide the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She also served in the Obama administration, including as chief of staff at the Department of Health and Human Services and as a policy adviser to the White House Domestic Policy Council during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

The push to vaccinate America

The Biden administration is partnering with companies to promote vaccines.

A partnership with McDonald’s will kick off with information about coronavirus vaccines featured on the fast-food chain’s billboard in Times Square. In July, McDonald’s will offer redesigned coffee cups and delivery stickers with the White House’s “We Can Do This” slogan, promoting vaccinations, People’s Eric Todisco reports

The White House also announced that Uber and Lyft will offer free rides to anyone going to get a coronavirus vaccine. That partnership is scheduled to begin in the next two weeks and last through July 4.

More in coronavirus news

  • A bipartisan group of six governors met with Biden to discuss vaccination efforts. The governors shared some of their efforts to promote vaccines through mobile clinics, outreach campaigns and partnerships, The Post’s Eugene Scott reports.
  • Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has said the United States must show global leadership by helping to vaccinate the world, The Post’s Karen DeYoung reports.
  • States won’t receive any Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses next week, the latest sign that production problems are affecting supply of the shots, Politico’s Rachel Roubein reports. Biden administration officials have downplayed the importance of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in reaching the nation’s vaccination goals.

Sugar rush