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New variant has 35 mutations 🦠 Should you prep for another surge?

The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, August 22nd

Health News:

  • US COVID markers are continuing to slowly rise, and the UK reported its first case of the new BA.2.86 variant, which is under close scrutiny because of its many mutations. (CIDRAP)
  • The CDC is overhauling its lab operations after the first COVID tests they sent out to public health labs at the start of the pandemic were faulty. (KFF Health)
  • Nearly 1 in 4 middle-class Americans have medical debt. (Axios)
  • Menopause may be the next frontier for corporate benefits. (NY Times)
  • Maryland has a locally-acquired malaria case in a person who didn’t travel to FL or TX, or anywhere outside the country. (NBC)
  • A multistate Salmonella outbreak was linked to pet turtles. (CBS)
  • It may matter which arm you get your shots in - getting your booster in the same arm that you got your previous dose may help increase immune response. (CNN)
  • Last fall’s large outbreak in Peoria, Illinois where more than 300 people became ill was confirmed as norovirus from a single sick employee who prepped salad without gloves. (ABC)
  • 3 people have died and six are ill from Listeria tied to milkshakes in Tacoma, WA. Local health officials continue to advise monitoring for symptoms. (CNN)
  • Guests at a hostel in Montreal are being advised to get Hepatitis A vaccines after another guest with an active infection stayed there. (CBC)
  • 109 cases of E. coli O157:H7 last summer were most likely caused by romaine lettuce at a large fast-food chain, the CDC investigation shows. (MMWR)
  • Marler Clark has filed several lawsuits on behalf of two Hepatitis A victims allegedly caused by Kirkland (Costco) brand frozen fruit. (PR Newswire)

Mental Health News:

  • Maui wildfires have taken an enormous mental toll on those in the community. (NPR)
  • More obituaries acknowledge death by suicide as openness about mental health grows. (Washington Post)
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for a total ban on corporal punishment, like spanking or hitting, in schools. (CNN)
  • As opioid overdoses continue to spike, more restaurants and other public spaces are expected to stock and administer naloxone (Narcan). (NYTimes)

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or need help, call 988 or message the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Best Questions

What is the deal with the new COVID variant with 35 mutations? Should we be doing anything differently?

There’s a new variant, BA.2.86, that’s raising heads in the scientific community because it’s about as different from Omicron as Omicron was from the original virus. It’s normal for viruses to mutate, but other than the major Omicron leap, COVID has really been mutating in a predictable way, one mutation building on another. But this leap is a big one, with 35 new mutations on the spike protein. Even though there are very few confirmed cases (likely because there’s so little reporting compared to a few years ago), BA.2.86 appears to be spreading quickly around the world, with cases in the UK, Israel, Denmark, and here in the US. There’s still a lot we don’t know about this, like whether it will escape our immunity (more likely), cause more severe disease (not very likely), or just how widespread it will be. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, but we do recommend getting your team together and planning for how you’d handle another Omicron-like surge. Will you switch to drive-through only when you get below 75% staffing? Will you provide at-home tests for employees since they’re not provided by the government anymore? Take your lessons learned from the Omicron surge and write up a new procedure. Best case scenario is that you won’t have to use it, but this evolutionary leap in the virus is the closest we’ve seen yet to another Omicron.
Source: CNN, Your Local Epidemiologist

Are you seeing signs of a new COVID surge across your client base?

Yes, we’re unfortunately seeing quite a bit more COVID-positive cases within our own client base. Of employees using our sick call program, we’ve seen over 50% more cases in just the first three weeks of August than we saw for the entire month of June, with cases steadily ticking up. If we look back over the last 30 days, we’ve seen about double the number of COVID+ cases since July 21st. This is likely an undercount, as well, since COVID tests are much less accessible now than they were during previous surges.
Source: ZHH Sick Call & Wellness Check Program

We were in the path of a hurricane. Anything we should know about flooding?

Floodwater presents a health risk, in part because it’s so murky you can’t see hazards (like downed power lines or sharp, rusty metal) and in part because it’s a breeding ground for bacteria and other contaminants. It’s best to stay out of floodwater, and if the only way to open your business is to go through it, consider whether you should close until the water recedes. Floodwater may be contaminated with sewage, which means the risk of diarrheal illnesses like E. coli and Salmonella is higher, so it’s important to focus on handwashing and remind employees to stay home if they have vomiting or diarrhea. If your business itself is flooded, it’s best to fully close until you can clear the water and do a thorough sanitizing, which may require outside services.
Sources: CDC, QSR

Last week the CDC announced a new E. coli strain in romaine lettuce. Is that significant? What does it mean for restaurants and foodservice providers?

There’s a relatively new strain of E. coli that’s been responsible for multiple foodborne illness outbreaks since 2015, including a few in leafy greens and romaine lettuce. The new REPEXH02 is a substrain of O157:H7, which is one of the deadliest strains of E. coli, and responsible for over 60,000 illnesses and 20 deaths per year. The new strain is notable because it’s associated with more severe disease. For restaurants, it means that the CDC will likely be looking closer at E. coli cases while they continue to study this new strain, and may get involved if a lab sample shows the newer REP strain. We recommend doubling down on produce washing and careful prep, especially since we’re heading into fall (the end of the growing season in California) when E. coli is more prevalent on lettuces and leafy greens.
Source: Washington Post

Best Read:

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.