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The Executive Briefing - Friday, May 5th

WHO COVID emergency ends 🛑

Health News:

  • The WHO declared an end to the global health emergency today. (STAT)
  • The FDA approved the first-ever RSV vaccine this week! It’s made by GSK and approved for adults over 60. Pfizer is likely to follow soon. (Washington Post)
  • Even the CDC isn’t immune - a recent conference there led to an outbreak of 35 COVID cases. Most attendees didn’t mask or use social distancing. (Washington Post)
  • COVID is still the fourth leading cause of death in the US, but case rates and hospitalizations have hit new lows. (WSJ, AP)
  • Fentanyl overdose deaths surged 279% since 2016, while heroin deaths fell. (ABC)
  • COVID made the opioid crisis worse, especially for Black Americans. (Politico)
  • 900,000 New Yorkers lost at least 3 loved ones to COVID. (NY Times)
  • The US Preventive Services Task Force newly recommends screening for people at higher risk for latent TB infections. (CIDRAP)
  • Dog flu has shown some adaptations that are more likely to be able to infect humans, a new Chinese study shows, but public health experts aren’t worried yet. (Fox)
  • Two people have died and at least 30 are sick, it’s suspected morel mushrooms at a sushi restaurant in Bozeman, MT, which is temporarily closed. The actual pathogen is still unknown. (Montana Standard)
  • Employers are grappling with the cost of Ozempic, Wegovy, and similar weight loss drugs which can cost over $1000 per package. (Axios)
  • A shooting at a hospital in downtown Atlanta killed a CDC employee who was there for treatment. The HHS secretary Javier Becerra says gun violence is a “public health crisis.” (The Hill)

Mental Health News:

  • Young people are struggling now more than during the pandemic. (Georgia Public Broadcasting)
  • Some teens are turning to Snapchat’s AI bot for mental health help, but doctors advise against it. (Fox)
  • The mental health crisis in Latino communities needs more resources. (Axios)
  • Texas was named the worst state for mental health care, while Vermont is the best. (Forbes)

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 does the end of the WHO emergency mean?

It’s an exciting milestone that the World Health Organization has declared an end to the COVID global health emergency. Dr. Katelyn Jeteline from Your Local Epidemiologist does a great job explaining the situation, which we’ll summarize here. The end of the WHO emergency means that COVID is not unusual or unexpected, that international transmission can’t be stopped, and that it no longer requires a coordinated international response. In practice, it means less WHO-coordinated international response, funding, and accelerated timelines for treatments and prevention under emergency-use authorizations. But it does NOT mean that the pandemic is over, that COVID is gone, or that there isn’t more work for both international and US public health agencies to do. COVID rates have plummeted in 2023, but it’s still the 4th leading cause of death in the US, so it’s not done, just an expected part of our lives that we’ll continue to deal with moving forward. It still requires thoughtful planning for future variant waves (which are still possible) and the next major pandemic, which is likely to happen again in our lifetimes. Still, it’s an important milestone in the pandemic story, and we’re glad the worst of it is behind us.

We have a lot of employees recently on Ozempic for diabetes or weight loss reporting GI symptoms. Can they work?

As more people are using semaglutide medications, originally prescribed for diabetes and recently becoming popular as weight-loss drugs, we’re hearing of more employees with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea as side effects. Nausea is an expected side effect of these drugs and is not a reason someone needs to stay home from work. Vomiting and diarrhea can be trickier because it’s hard to tell an infectious illness from new side effect symptoms. Generally, we only recommend keeping employees out of work if their symptoms are new or changed, so if they’ve been on Ozempic for a few months, for example, and know that vomiting happens whenever they eat too much, there’s no need to keep them out of work as long as their symptoms are consistent. What you want them to watch out for is a change in symptoms, like suddenly going from vomiting occasionally to 10 times in a day, which might indicate that there’s an infection or stomach bug at play.

Do we need to do anything about an employee who has been around someone with COVID?

Anyone can continue to work after being exposed to COVID at this point, regardless of their vaccination or infection status. CDC does still recommend that those people wear a mask for 10 days. Some but not all of our clients are still requesting that employees mask after exposure. What is definitely key is asking exposed employees to self-monitor for symptoms and stay home if they develop any.

An employee has latent TB. What does that mean? What should we do?

Latent TB means the employee is infected with M. tuberculosis bacteria, but they don’t have TB disease. That means they don’t feel sick and they don’t have any symptoms. Someone with latent TB is not infectious and can’t spread TB infection to others. ONLY people with active TB disease can spread it. Someone with latent TB infection (LTBI) usually finds out from a TB skin or blood test, which shows TB infection, but their chest X-ray and further testing (like a sputum smear) come back normal. If your employee has tested positive on a blood or skin test, they need follow-up testing before they can return to work, and they still need to be treated for the infection to prevent it from progressing into TB disease. We recommend requiring a note from their doctor or the health department before allowing them to work, but, once cleared, they should be able to continue working as long as they are symptom-free.

Best Read:

The Curious Side Effects of Medical Transparency | The New Yorker

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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.