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The Executive Briefing - Friday, January 6th

XBB.1.5: What you need to know


  • XBB.1.5, which is the dominant strain in the US, is the most transmissible variant we’ve seen yet. (Politico)
  • While calling XBB.1.5’s rise a “stunning increase,” the White House cautions against panic about the new variant. (The Hill)
  • The WHO says China is underreporting COVID deaths. (STAT)
  • Long COVID negatively affects well-being. (CIDRAP)
  • Parents with childcare disruptions can’t move on from COVID when their lives continue to be upended regularly. (AP)
  • The NIH launched a pilot telehealth program to offer rapid testing, consultation, and prescriptions for antivirals. (NIH)
  • NY’s COVID quarantine leave rules remain in place while the state’s childhood vaccine leave expired (which required parental leave for kids’ vaccinations). (Ellendorf Client Alert)
  • The University of Massachusetts reinstated indoor mask requirements for certain campuses. (Boston Globe)
  • Sleep problems during and after COVID are real and persistent, according to a new study reported by the WHO. (Science Alert)
  • The family of a crew member that worked in a “bubble” for the filming of the series American Horror Story is suing the production companies for wrongful death after the employee died from COVID. (CBS News)

Public Health News:

  • Fears of the tripledemic continue after the holidays, with NYC flu, RSV, and COVID cases rising. (Politico)
  • New rules for federally regulated drivers go into effect today. Employers are responsible for conducting 3-year pre-employment and annual drug and alcohol violation checks through a national clearinghouse. (DOT)
  • Health departments are working on improving their messaging after mistrust and skepticism of COVID vaccines are threatening other public health priorities, like flu shots and routine childhood vaccines. (KHN)
  • The Ebola outbreak in Uganda appears to be coming under control, as it’s been 39 days since the last case. (Reuters)
  • Children’s Tylenol is still in such high demand that it’s nearly impossible to find in some areas. It’s not a supply chain issue, there are just that many sick kids. (Axios)
  • NFL player Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest triggered a rise in COVID misinformation, with false claims that it was linked to the vaccine. (Washington Post)
  • Doctors are urging more people to learn CPR after Hamlin’s cardiac arrest. (NBC)
  • A TikTok weight loss trend led to a shortage of Ozempic, a diabetes drug that keeps blood sugar levels in check. (Bloomberg)
  • A plume of toxic chemicals has leaked into Michigan’s Green Bay. (AP)
  • A Colorado library closed after traces of meth were found in public areas. (NY Times)

Mental Health News:

  • The number of ketamine treatment clinics for mental health has skyrocketed. (NBC)
  • Noise pollution is a growing problem that can lead to physical and mental health issues. (KHN)
  • The VA is studying using psychedelics to treat veterans with PTSD. (St. Louis Public Radio)
  • Social media use actually changes teens’ brains. (NY Times)

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:

How concerned should we be about the new XBB.1.5 variant?

The latest Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, is the most transmissible yet. On average, every person infected with it is infecting two others, which creates the potential for quite a big surge. It has quickly become dominant in the US, making up nearly half of all new cases. While its transmissibility is concerning, we’re not too worried about a massive wave like the original Omicron one last winter, at least not yet. Each variant that’s become dominant has at some point been the most transmissible one up to that point, so unless we see some massive waves in the next few weeks, we’ll treat it like the other Omicron sub-variants we’ve seen this year. It is a good reminder that it’s time to go get your updated booster for better protection if you haven’t yet!

Someone told us that they had “just a cold,” then it “turned into COVID” after five days. Is that possible?

Almost certainly not - they likely had COVID that entire time, and may have been spreading it if they didn’t isolate due to their cold symptoms. It’s very common for it to take one or two days of having symptoms before an at-home rapid test will come back positive for COVID, but it can take more than that. We’ve heard more folks saying their colds turned into COVID, but it’s more likely that they just tested negative on an antigen test and assumed it was a cold when in fact it was COVID all along.

What employee health risks should businesses be preparing for next?

One of the biggest risks that we’re thinking about these days is not just the next new virus, but the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and chickenpox. Growing vaccine hesitancy in the US means that we’re already seeing these preventable diseases rise - there’s a measles outbreak in Ohio that’s sickened over 80 kids so far. Certain vaccines are required to attend public schools, though exactly which ones changes by state. But a much higher percentage of parents now oppose school vaccine mandates, even when there’s lots of data to support that they reduce health risks and save lives.

I tested positive for COVID on an at-home rapid test. Should I go get a PCR test, too?

You don’t strictly need one - it won’t change how long you need to isolate or the way you should behave over the next ten days. But for those with long COVID, having a PCR result has helped with getting insurance to help cover long COVID medical expenses, and for getting into clinics and trials. If you think you’re at higher risk for long COVID - you had severe COVID, you have underlying health issues, or you haven’t gotten vaccinated - you may want to consider getting a PCR test, just in case. If not, you should at least take a time-stamped picture of your positive rapid test just to have on hand.

Best Read

Epidemics That Weren’t: How Countries Shut Down Recent Outbreaks - The New York Times

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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.