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COVID hospitalizations are continuing to rise across the US. It’s hard to tell which variant is causing the rise because we’ve so drastically reduced virus surveillance in the US after the public health emergency ended. At this point, the best data we have is hospitalization rates, which are up - but probably not caused by the Pirola variant (aka BA.2.86). Whether the new variant is causing an increase in cases is another story. It doesn’t seem to be the dominant variant in the US yet, but Pirola is spreading quickly. Genetically similar variants have been found from the US to Switzerland to Thailand, including in people who hadn’t traveled recently, which indicates that there’s local transmission. We’re in a period of waiting to see just how much Pirola will spread, and it’s too soon to tell if it’s related to the increase in cases we’re seeing. The start of school usually brings a rise in respiratory illnesses - flu, COVID, RSV, and common colds included - so we’ll be curious to see just how high cases are in a few weeks.
Sources: WSJ, ABC
Tuberculosis (TB) is on the rise in the US. The CDC estimates that up to 13 million people are living with latent TB infection, and there were 8,300 new TB cases reported last year. While overall TB cases went way down during the first year of the pandemic, they’re returning to pre-pandemic levels and we’re seeing it across our client base with regularity. Particularly concerning is that cases have risen sharply among kids under four, which usually result from recent transmission (versus activation of latent TB infection that they’ve had for a long time, which is more common in adult cases). TB is more common in Latino, Black, and Asian people, and more than 7 out of every 10 cases is in someone who was born outside of the US. These higher-risk populations closely reflect the foodservice industry’s workers, so it’s important to keep employees informed (in their spoken language) about the symptoms and risk of TB. For more info in English and Spanish, check out the CDC’s free, printable public-facing resources here.
As we prep for back-to-school illnesses and with the possibility of a major variant-fueled surge, some of our clients are choosing to stock back up on masks and even tests to have on hand in the event of an outbreak. Any N95, KN95, or KF94 work well and filter out more than 94% of particles when they’re worn properly (which means the metal nosepiece is pinched to match the shape of your nose and the mask isn’t too loose). Shelling out for masks that your employees find more comfortable makes a difference - they do nothing if employees take them off or wear them below their noses. It can be helpful to have a variety of types to account for different personal preferences and to increase the chances that people wear them properly.
One-way masking really does work. It doesn’t work nearly as well as when everyone masks, of course, but it can seriously reduce your own risk of getting infected with COVID if you are in close contact with someone infectious. In one model, those with loose-fitting surgical masks had a 90% chance of infection within 30 minutes of being in close contact with someone sick who was unmasked. When they wore N95s, that dropped down to a 20% chance over a full hour. These are all estimates (it’s really hard to justify getting people sick with COVID to study this), but there is lots and lots and lots of evidence that masks protect the individual wearer. They’re not perfect, but they do lower your risk, especially if they fit well and you don’t remove them when in close contact with someone who might be sick.
Sources: NPR, PNAS, JATM, Insider, CDC
Note: We’ll be skipping the Executive Briefing on Tuesday due to the holiday weekend, and will be back next Friday. If any urgent situations come up, we’ll send push alerts in the app!