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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, April 19th

Cases higher than they seem as travel mask mandates end

COVID Recap:

  • TSA, Amtrak, and many airlines have made masks optional after a federal judge struck down the CDC public transportation mask mandate. (The Hill)
  • Reported case counts are up 43% over the past two weeks, though the rise in at-home COVID testing means we’re likey undercounting COVID cases even more than before. (CNN)
  • The two new sub-variants are spreading quickly in New York. (NY Times)
  • Uber also dropped its mask mandate for drivers and riders. (Newsweek)
  • The Supreme Court weighed in on two vaccination cases, ruling that the Pentagon can take action against personnel who refuse the vaccine, but declining to rule on a lower court ruling that allows NYC public schools to keep their vaccination policy. (KHN)
  • In a scary first, the CDC confirmed that 4 people were infected with a virus variant from minks, the first animal-to-human transmission we’ve seen in the U.S. (NY Times)
  • Pfizer is seeking a booster authorization for kids ages 5-11. (MedPage Today)
  • HHS extended the COVID Public Health Emergency by at least another three months. (HHS)
  • An infectious disease specialist in San Francisco suspects a surge there is going underreported, based on anecdotal evidence (everyone he knows is sick!) and high test positivity rates (more of the people getting tested are positive). (SF Chronicle)
  • Up to 49% of those with COVID are still experiencing one or more symptoms 4 months later. (CIDRAP)
  • Pfizer identified two patients whose symptoms of long COVID improved after taking their anti-viral, Paxlovid, and will be studying its effectiveness for long COVID treatment. (Reuters)

Today’s Health News:

  • There’s an outbreak of rare, severe Hepatitis in kids under 10, with over 74 children sick in the UK and 9 in Alabama. Investigators haven’t found a cause yet. (Science)
  • The FDA is investigating reports of foodborne illness from Lucky Charms cereal. (NY Times)
  • The uptick in C.diff may be from hospital patients bringing it home.  (MedPage Today)
  • A severe form of meningitis continues to be a big problem in Florida. (WINK)
  • Bon Appetit magazine is coming under fire for food safety practices, after readers complained that multiple recipes on a popular fermentation video series could lead to botulism. (Gawker)

Best Questions:

How can you tell the difference between seasonal allergies and COVID?

As pollen counts skyrocket and COVID ticks back up, telling the difference between allergies and something more serious can be a real challenge. Lots of symptoms overlap, including headache, cough, fatigue, runny nose, and sore throat. The biggest difference is that allergies don’t typically cause shortness of breath, fever, chills, body aches, or loss of taste and smell. Likewise, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes are more common with allergies than COVID. If you regularly get allergies at this time of year and allergy medication relieves your symptoms, it’s probably safe to assume it’s allergies as long as you have no new or different symptoms than usual.  If you’re not sure if your symptoms are allergies or COVID, it’s better to err on the side of caution and stay home. This is a great case for at-home testing - two negative tests 24 hours apart are nearly as effective as a PCR test and can help you determine if your symptoms are allergies or something more.

I had a family gathering for the holidays this past weekend, and someone is now sick with COVID. Should I quarantine?

Unfortunately, this latest uptick in case counts comes along with Easter, Ramadan, and Passover when families gathered together to celebrate. Generally, someone is infectious for 48 hours before their symptoms first start, so if you had close-contact with someone in the 2 days before their symptoms developed (or before they first tested positive, if they have no symptoms), then you should assume that you were exposed. If you’re fully vaccinated and boosted, you don’t need to quarantine per the latest CDC guidelines, but you should wear a mask for 10 days, and get tested 3-5 days after your exposure. You should also keep an eye out for symptoms - if any develop, you should assume it’s COVID, get tested, and stay home.

What does animal-to-human transmission mean for the future of COVID?

When COVID infects animal populations, like it has in mink, deer, and plenty of zoo animals, among others, it mutates in different ways within that population. While we’re seeing Delta, Omicron, XE, and other new variants mutate within our own population, entirely different variants are mutating within animal populations. There’s some serious concern that the virus might mutate very differently in animals, and then be passed back to humans. It may be more infectious, more severe, or different enough that immune responses and vaccines aren’t as effective against it. The real takeaway here is that in our highly connected world, we need to be prepared for the next surge or the next pandemic - whether it’s the same virus in a different form, or a totally new one.

If an employee tests positive for flu, can they return to work in less than five days?

While technically the answer is yes, many people with flu are quite sick for a number of days and should not return to work until they’re fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication. And most over the counter flu remedies (i.e. Theraflu) do contain fever-reducing medicines like Acetaminophen (A.K.A. Tylenol).  So although there is no specific length of exclusion, generally someone who has tested positive for flu will be out for several days or even longer, similar to an absence from COVID.

Best Read:

Better Ventilation Can Prevent Covid Spread. But Are Companies Paying Attention? | Kaiser Health News

Best Laugh:

Editorial Cartoon U.S. covid mask pollen spring allergies

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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.