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The Executive Briefing - Friday, February 3rd

What the end of the Public Health Emergency means for employers


  • A preprint study says Merck’s COVID pill, Lagevrio, has been linked to viable, spreading mutations of the virus in some patients. Merck says the researchers drew conclusions from “circumstantial associations.” (Bloomberg)
  • A video allegedly showing a Pfizer employee explaining COVID vaccine research has been debunked. It was put out by an anti-vax group called Project Veritas known for intentionally sharing disinformation. (MedPage Today)
  • A positive COVID test is no longer required to start Pfizer and Merck’s pills, though patients should still have a presumed COVID diagnosis. (Reuters)
  • California is dropping its plan to require COVID vaccination for all schoolkids once its emergency order ends on February 28th. (SF Chronicle)
  • The WHO says the COVID global health emergency isn’t over yet, but that it may end its official declaration soon. (Nature)

Public Health News:

  • Employees at the Big Olaf Creamery tied to a listeria outbreak last year had nowhere to wash their hands, the FDA says. (CBS)
  • The largest-ever outbreak of bird flu is spilling over to otters and foxes in the UK. (BBC)
  • EzriCare eye drops may be linked to drug-resistant bacterial infections and one death. They’ve been recalled. (CDC)
  • A containment breach was found in a Dutch polio lab, highlighting the difficulties of fully containing the disease in labs if and when we eradicate it. (STAT)
  • A fentanyl vaccine is in development in Texas, which is a novel strategy for treating opioid use disorder. It has yet to be tested in humans. (Fox)
  • Gas stoves are under scrutiny (and political turmoil) as new US limits have been proposed. (Bloomberg)
  • A Las Vegas school had an apparent foodborne illness outbreak that caused ‘projectile vomiting’ in over 100 students on the same day. The exact cause is unknown. (Fox)
  • A new RSV treatment for kids may soon be approved. (NPR)

Mental Health News:

  • Mental health providers are busier than ever and harder to find. Some strategies include connecting with friends, trying an early-career therapist, and checking your employee benefits. But don’t wait if you’re in crisis - call 988. (NY Times)
  • A drug used to increase dopamine for Parkinson’s may be highly effective in reducing inflammation in the brain associated with depression. (Neuroscience News)
  • Traumatic news events can harm your mental health. Find high-quality news sources, limit consumption, and take breaks to do things that bring you joy. Seek help if you need it. (SF Chronicle)

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

Best Questions:

What will the end of the COVID emergency mean for employers?

Employers need to know that certain basics that have become commonplace over the last few years may suddenly cost more or be harder to get, like at-home tests, COVID treatments, and telehealth. Here are some of the basics:

   At-home tests and COVID treatments may cost more

  • Employees on Medicare will have to pay out of pocket for at-home testing and all COVID treatment, like Paxlovid or monoclonal antibodies.
  • People with private insurance may see higher costs, depending on their insurance type.

   Telehealth changes

  • Employers won’t be able to offer telehealth access as a tax-free benefit separate from other health plans.
  • Telehealth will be less flexible, including an end to doctors prescribing controlled substances virtually. This may be extended through the end of the year.

   Hospitals take a hit

  • Hospitals will take a big financial hit once they stop getting an extra 20% for Medicare COVID patients. This may increase wait time and limit capacity at hospitals.

   Vaccines will still be free

  • COVID vaccines will still be free with Medicare and private insurance

It’s almost 6 months since I got the updated bivalent booster. Can I get another booster soon?

Right now, for most healthy people, if you’ve gotten the updated bivalent booster, you are fully up to date and another booster is not technically recommended by the CDC. That said, there aren’t too many checks and balances in place, and there are certainly plenty of booster doses to go around since less than 20% of the eligible population has the new booster. If you’re at high risk, you’re immunocompromised, or you’re just interested in limiting your individual risk as much as possible, talk to your doctor about getting an additional booster. This is where the CDC and FDA are more focused on general population health (getting the most people boosted by focusing on annual vaccinations like the flu shot) versus maximizing individual health (making sure YOU don’t get seriously ill), so it’s a good thing to discuss with your personal doctor.

An employee has shingles. Can they work?

Not right away - they should be sent home but may be able to return quickly, depending on the location of the shingles. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (which goes dormant and then gets reactivated later in life), so can be passed to others who never had chickenpox or never got the chickenpox vaccine - but they will get sick with chickenpox, not the shingles. It’s passed through contact with fluid from the rash and blisters that are its trademark. After sending the employee home, sanitize surfaces they might have touched and renew focus on handwashing. The employee can return with a doctor’s note AND (regardless of what that note says) should wait to return to work until sores are completely crusted over on any exposed body parts, like face, neck, arms, and hands. ZHH and Zedic clients can check the app for more info, and can send specific shingles questions to our clinical team through the chat feature.

Best Read:

Who's most likely to save us from the next pandemic? The answer may surprise you - NPR

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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.