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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, December 6th

It’s bad out there…


  • COVID hospitalizations are up 25% over the past two weeks, and test positivity rate is up to over 1 in 10. (NY Times)
  • The CDC director is encouraging people to mask up for the holidays, as COVID cases are rising along with flu and RSV. (CNBC)
  • COVID rebound is actually pretty uncommon after treatment with Paxlovid, and doctors say more people should be treated with it to save lives. (CIDRAP)
  • Kids raised during COVID almost certainly have different microbiomes - it’s why they’re all getting sick this year, but how it will affect them long-term remains to be seen. (The Atlantic)
  • A drop in testing, vaccination, and precautions could create the conditions for a deadly new variant, the WHO director warned this week. (Reuters)

Public Health & Mpox News:

  • The flu data this week shows that it’s really, really bad out there. Nearly the entire country is “high” or “very high” and numbers are still rising, with a whopping 25% positivity rate for flu this week. (CDC)
  • The White House says that the FDA is prepared to handle drug shortages amid a surge of respiratory illnesses. (Reuters)
  • Flu sent 20,000 people to the hospital last week, double the week before. (CNN)
  • The CDC issued a warning about travelers returning to the US with cholera, as large outbreaks in Haiti, Malawi, and Syria worsen and 8 people have returned with cholera this year from Pakistan, Iraq, and Bangladesh. (CDC)
  • James Farms frozen raspberries are recalled due to Hep A contamination. They’re sold at Restaurant Depot/Jetro locations across the East Coast. (NBC CT)
  • Hospitals are so slammed by RSV, flu, COVID, and other respiratory illnesses that they’re short on hospital-grade cribs for babies. (CNN)
  • HHS will not renew the public health emergency for Mpox when it expires in January. (HHS)

Mental Health News:

  • Some therapists are helping patients heal by acknowledging structural racism and intergenerational trauma. (NPR)
  • The holiday-suicide myth - the false claim that suicide rates increase around the holidays - persists in some media coverage this year. (Annenberg Public Policy Institute)
  • While the student mental health crisis is vaster than many realize, some schools and students are working to improve access to support, despite the many challenges. (Washington Post)

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 bad is the triple threat of flu, RSV, and COVID right now, really?

It’s definitely alarming right now. For the first time, we’re seeing flu, RSV, and COVID all rising at the same time. There are some indications that RSV is peaking in parts of the US, which is hopeful, but flu is already higher than ever and rising exponentially, and COVID cases are going back up. We’re seeing more hospitalizations for flu than we have in a decade, and our hospitals are already under serious strain. Combine this with the holidays, and we’re certainly concerned. It’s not likely to be the same COVID-specific surge that we saw last year, but we are much more worried about what the next month will look like than we were before we saw this week’s flu and COVID data.  

What should we do differently before the holidays to stay healthy?

Now is the time to start masking again, even if you haven’t been recently. As an individual, you can reduce your own risk by masking up when you go to the grocery store, on public transportation, and other crowded indoor areas. If making it to your family’s holiday gathering is very important for you, take fewer risks in the 10 days before - it may not be the time for you to go unmasked to a large concert, for example. For your business, now might be the time to consider bringing a mask mandate back if staffing issues could shut you down and hurt your bottom line. When illness starts to break out at one location, consider switching from sick calls to daily wellness checks to catch more folks who think it’s “just a sore throat” (now the most common first symptom of COVID and common in flu and RSV, too). Emphasize the importance of staying home when sick, and that COVID is NOT the only thing that employees need to stay home with. If they have the flu or RSV, that’s just as contagious, and can be just as damaging for your business if they come to work sick and infect coworkers and guests.

Why is COVID getting so bad again?

First, it’s winter, and that means people are moving indoors. This year, they’re doing that with far fewer precautions than last year and the year before, so there’s a higher risk. Second, we have abysmal booster uptake. Less than 15% of Americans are up to date on their booster, even among seniors who are most at risk. Boosters lose power over time, so people need to be boosted in the past 6 months to be covered effectively. Having had COVID before isn’t enough - you can still get sick and get long COVID if you’re infected again. To reduce personal risk, wear a mask, ventilate indoor spaces well, get a booster (and flu shot) ASAP, and stay home if you’re sick.

Do we still need to quarantine with COVID? (We didn’t isolate with other illnesses before the pandemic!)

This is actually a very good question as we start to transition out of the acute emergency stage and into living with the virus every day. Eventually, there will probably come a time when we will treat COVID the way that we treated a mild cold before the pandemic, but we’re not there yet. COVID is much more contagious than the flu, RSV, or strep throat, for example. It’s also more dangerous (it’s still killing 300 people a day in the US), and there’s still a lot that we don’t know about it, like how to prevent and treat long COVID. On a larger scale, we still want to prevent the spread because it can mutate very easily, as well, which can cause another variant surge like Omicron’s last year around this time. For now, we’re not ditching the isolation any time soon for those who are COVID positive.

Best Read:

'Zombie’ viruses are thawing from melting permafrost in Russia - The Washington Post

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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.