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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, February 15

Tracking dropped mask mandates, plus more on long COVID

COVID Recap:

  • COVID cases are still high, but have dropped by 40% in the past week. Deaths have only dropped by 6%. (CIDRAP)
  • Following the lead of some other employers, Walmart, who has 1.6 million employees, is ditching its mask requirement for vaccinated employees. (WSJ)
  • The NY Times is tracking mask mandates and guidance in each state. (NY Times)
  • The CDC has updated its guidance on the intervals between doses for those who are immunocompromised, recommending earlier boosters and a fourth dose.  (CDC)
  • People who are at the highest risk for severe COVID can now access antivirals in the UK.  Their guidelines clearly define who is at highest risk (primarily immunocompromised) and require a positive COVID test prior to prescribing. (Huffington Post)
  • Vaccine and booster effectiveness drops off over time, meaning it’s incredibly important to get a booster and stay up to date - and that we may see additional doses recommended in the future to keep high levels of protection. (MMWR)
  • A new Spanish study shows a strong correlation between long COVID and the vagus nerve, which is involved in heart rate, swallowing, and breathing. (EEIDMC)
  • People with long COVID are having a very difficult time exercising, and exercise can make their symptoms worse. (NY Times)
  • A new treatment dramatically reduced symptoms of long COVID using contracting and relaxing pneumatic cuffs on the lower body to provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart, brain, and body. Shortness of breath was reduced by 50% and patients did remarkably better on a walk test measuring fatigue. (ACC)
  • Former vaccine skeptics are helping families find evidence-based answers about vaccinating their kids. (The Guardian)

Today’s Health News:

  • Before COVID, TB was the deadliest infection in the world. It evolved from a terrible disease to one that was largely controlled, but is now a “monster” again. (NPR)
  • The US suspended nearly all imports of avocados from Mexico after an inspector received a threatening message on his cell phone.  (NBC)
  • Royal Ice Cream, a CT based ice cream manufacturer, has expanded its recall due to Listeria. The ice cream is distributed under many popular names including Ronny Brook, Gifford’s and Newport Creamery.  (USDA)
  • In huge news for those with diabetes, the FDA approved an implantable continuous glucose monitor - which would eliminate the need for finger-stick glucose testing throughout the day. The device is implanted in the arm using local anesthesia and works for six months.  (MedPage Today)
  • There is a large outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis from fresh eggs that is impacting the UK, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain. (ECDC Europa)

Best Questions:

When can an employee who recently had covid get vaccinated or boosted?

Vaccines offer more reliable and effective protection against COVID than previous infection, so it’s important to stay up to date on your vaccines regardless of whether you’ve had COVID in the past or not. You can get boosted as soon as you meet the criteria for ending self-isolation after you’re sick. Some doctors recommend waiting a few weeks or months after infection to maximize the amount of protection you can get - since immediately after you have COVID you have higher protection, waiting a few weeks to get the booster means you’ll have a few extra weeks of protection down the line. But that’s generally only advised for people who are at very low risk. Especially with Omicron, we see more and more reinfection in short periods of time, implying that the “natural immunity” after an Omicron infection is weaker - and certainly much less effective than the protection of vaccines. If you’ve recently had COVID and have questions about when to time your booster dose, talk to your doctor. If it’s been more than five months since you’ve had COVID, you should absolutely get your booster dose ASAP.

How are others handling when an employee is spreading vaccine misinformation in the workplace?

This is a tough situation, and as time goes on, it’s less about changing the vocal anti-vaxxer’s mind and more about combating misinformation for the few that might still be on the fence - either about initial vaccination or their booster. Listen to the specific misinformation to understand what the concern centers around. Is it concerns about what they’re made of, the speed at which they were produced, microchips? Understanding the specific false information is key. Then, offer clear, simple, and accurate information about that aspect of vaccines, the more memorable the better. Check out this graphic from the CDC and UNICEF that we like about how best to address mis- or disinformation.

Chart showing Fact, Warning, Fallacy, and Fact icons

Can I still use a rapid antigen test past its expiration date?

We’re getting this question regularly now that many test kits are at or approaching their expiration dates. The first thing to do is check that brand’s website to see if they’ve posted an FDA extension to the expiration date, since many brands now have six month extensions. These same exact tests have 24 month expiration dates in Europe. These are the only types of tests for which the FDA is calculating expiration dates from manufacture and quality assurance testing date, rather than others later in the process, which is why the expiration dates are so short. The FDA has not yet had the bandwidth to stress test them for time and temperature, which is part of the hold up.

According to Mara Aspinall, a testing expert from Arizona State, there are several factors in determining how long after the expiration date a test can be safely used.  Most importantly, how were the test kits stored? If they were not refrigerated and not kept at high temps like in hot cars, some experts say they would continue to use them for at least 3 months beyond their expiration dates (but please check with the manufacturer, the FDA, and/or your supplier before making that decision).

Best Read:

Yahoo News:  Is Now the Right Time to Be Rolling Back Mask Mandates?

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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.