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The Executive Briefing - Friday, May 27

Vaccines for kids, monkeypox, and mental health

COVID & Health News:

  • The real COVID surge in the US is much, much bigger than it seems. Official numbers are 100k new cases per day, but estimates of the actual number are as high as 800,000 per day. (NPR)
  • The U.S. is seeking to release smallpox vaccine from the stockpile, primarily for close contacts of those infected. (UPI)
  • There are now nine confirmed monkeypox cases across seven US states. (The Hill)
  • Warning signs about monkeypox have been largely ignored since doctors raised the alarm back in 2017 in Nigeria. Many are criticizing systems for only working to combat the disease when it affects Western countries. (STAT)
  • A small group of healthcare workers in MA are getting the smallpox vaccine after treating a person infected for over a week. (Boston Globe)
  • CDC officials hope to raise monkeypox awareness ahead of Pride month, as many of those infected in the US are men who have sex with men. They walk a fine line between alerting the community and fear-mongering about a virus that can infect anyone under the right circumstances. (STAT)
  • Health companies like Abbott and Roche are scrambling to develop a monkeypox viral test. (Reuters)
  • The currently dominant coronavirus variant spreads faster than Omicron did, is better at escaping immunity, and may even cause more severe disease. (AP)
  • The Jif peanut butter recall has expanded to other peanut butter-filled products like chocolates and sandwiches. (NPR)
  • The FDA chief says that the baby formula shortage won’t be over until July. (The Hill)
  • The US is pushing to make Paxlovid more readily available for those infected with COVID, after many have had difficulty getting the pills. (LA Times)
  • The impact of COVID isn’t always simple - cancer patients are waiting longer for scans after the factor that makes the dye used has been in lockdown in China due to a COVID surge there. (NY Times)
  • Flu cases and hospitalizations have risen over the past two weeks, which is highly unusual for May. (CDC)

Mental Health News:

May is Mental Health Awareness month. We’re proud to join the movement to bring more awareness to mental health issues that are facing your employees and communities.

  • Mass violence takes a toll on mental health for all Americans by eroding their sense of safety. (Washington Post)
  • Mental health experts are stressing the importance of talking to kids about the Uvalde shooting. (WCVB Boston)
  • The Washington Post shares tips on how to stay up-to-date on terrible tragedies without burning out. (Washington Post)
  • Arizona has one of the best mental health crisis response programs in the country, focusing on intertwining services and getting people support at a centralized place. (Seattle Times)
  • Senate leaders have proposed a bill that will expand telehealth access to mental health care beyond the COVID emergency. (Modern Healthcare)

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Best Questions:

How likely is it that monkeypox turns into a global pandemic, like COVID?

Luckily, that’s not very likely, primarily because it’s much harder to spread. While it’s still possible, the good news is that monkeypox spreads mostly through direct contact. Where COVID spreads through aerosolized particles that spread through the air, monkeypox spreads through body fluids, contact with lesions, and respiratory droplets - which are larger than the tiny microscopic particles that spread COVID. And even then, monkeypox primarily spreads through prolonged skin to skin contact, which is why so much of the transmission in this case appears to be sexual or household-based. It’s also just less transmissible in general - COVID has mutated to be incredibly infectious, and monkeypox, at least in its current form, is not nearly as easily spread. And last but most certainly not least, is the fact that it’s so closely related to smallpox, a disease that we have a vaccine for and have successfully eradicated worldwide. So, is it a concern? Yes. It has been for years, and countries like Nigeria have been sounding the alarm long before this outbreak. But is it likely to have the same years-long global impact as COVID? No.

Should I get the smallpox vaccine if I haven’t had it?

Not yet. If you’re under 50, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t have the smallpox vaccine, since it’s been eradicated worldwide since 1980. But don’t run to get vaccinated for smallpox just yet - you probably wouldn’t be able to! While there is a vaccine and the U.S. has a pretty solid supply of it, you can’t waltz into a CVS pharmacy and get one. If public health officials decide that it’s necessary for the general public to get vaccinated, they’ll let us know and distribute more of it. If you were actually exposed to someone who has monkeypox, call your doctor - they may suggest some combination of vaccine, antiviral, or immune globulin. Otherwise, for most people, you can just sit tight and know that if a larger outbreak occurs, vaccines may be made more widely available.

What should we do if an employee gets monkeypox?

First, this is extremely rare, so if you hear that an employee has monkeypox, you should do some digging first before you jump into action, especially if it’s not coming from an official source. If an employee is genuinely suspected to have or is diagnosed with monkeypox, first make sure they don’t come in to work! Then, send home anyone who lives with them or is dating them. Monkeypox is primarily spread through prolonged close contact, so people who share a residence or bed are the most likely to be infected. Send them home until you get a doctor’s note clearing them to work. The CDC is closely monitoring this outbreak, and might instruct them to quarantine for a length of time. Clean and disinfect the restaurant, and be sure to wash any linens or clothes the sick employee used. Be very careful to avoid contact and to avoid shaking them out, if possible, since there are likely virus particles on the linens. You may consider reinstating daily wellness check surveys, since the initial symptoms of monkeypox are fever and other flu-like symptoms, and could be identified through symptom surveys. You should also be prepared for a visit from the health department - we’d be shocked if in a monkeypox case (or even a suspected one) they didn’t stop by.

What disinfectants work for monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a large enveloped virus, which is a good thing in this case! It means that pretty much any standard disinfectant will work to destroy the virus, by removing the coating that holds the rest of the virus together. Whatever disinfectant you are already using is almost certainly sufficient for killing monkeypox. Similarly, washing linens or clothes in warm water is plenty to kill the virus on those items, though they should be handled with care to avoid spreading virus particles.

Best Read

Viruses that were on hiatus during Covid are back — and behaving in unexpected ways

A Note From ZHH:

This week doesn’t feel like one for laughing. We’re heartbroken and angry about the mass shootings that have taken place over the past few weeks in Buffalo, Southern California, and Uvalde, TX.  We work in public health, and it feels important to note that gun violence and racism are public health crises that require urgency, funding, and focus - immediately.  We’re spending this week thinking about how we can make change in our own community (which includes you all). We’ve made a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety in lieu of a Best Laugh this week.

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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.