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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, February 21st

Do masks work? 😷


  • Having previously had COVID in the past 10 months slashes the chances of severe illness by nearly 90% compared to those who are never infected. (CIDRAP)
  • A newly proposed bill in Idaho would make it a misdemeanor to administer COVID mRNA vaccines in the state. (Forbes)
  • Being vaccinated for COVID is tied to fewer heart attacks and strokes among those who have previously been infected. This is important, especially because of rampant misinformation about the vaccine and heart issues. (CIDRAP)
  • Long COVID looks like a neurological disease, which helps doctors to focus treatments. (Scientific American)
  • The newest data shows that there really is no COVID rebound after taking Paxlovid for treating COVID. (MedScape)

Public Health News:

  • The bird flu has cost the government over $660 million as the outbreak enters its second year, with rising egg prices driven by bird deaths and higher feed, fuel, and labor costs. (AP)
  • The incoming WHO chief scientist is calling for the development of vaccines for all animal influenza strains in case of an outbreak in humans. (Reuters)
  • In the US, flu cases are falling and the types of flu that people are getting are changing slightly. (CIDRAP)
  • Text message reminders about kids’ flu vaccines worked more than a doctor’s nudge alone. (MedPage Today)
  • A fifth person was cured of HIV after a stem cell transplant. (The Hill)
  • Reckitt recalled baby formula over possible contamination with Cronobacter sakazakii, which can be life-threatening for infants. (The Hill)
  • More than 300,000 bottles of Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino drinks were recalled by Pepsi after glass was found in some of the bottles. (Reuters)
  • A medical clinic will open near the toxic Ohio train derailment to evaluate those who are concerned about the health effects. (AP)
  • Last month’s Seattle shigella outbreak sickened a total of 32 people who ate at a local restaurant. (Independent)

Mental Health News:

  • A new report by the Workforce Institute at UKG found that employees say their manager has more influence on their mental health than a therapist. (SHRM)
  • Two-thirds of workers surveyed said they’d take a pay cut for a job that better supports their mental wellness. (SHRM)
  • A depression test devised by a Zoloft marketer became a bedrock for the US mental health system - even though it wasn’t designed by a doctor. (STAT)

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:

I saw a study saying masks don’t work. What’s the deal?

Social media was flooded with takes after a Cochrane review was published. First, it’s important to note that the source is legit. Cochrane reviews are meta-analyses of many different studies to try to find patterns or answers. This particular review (found here) included 12 studies on masks. Katelyn Jetelina from YLE points out a few important facts about the review. It only includes randomized control trials, which don’t include some of the best real-world examples of studies on masks. It combines flu and COVID, even though COVID is far more transmissible. Basically, the study found that there wasn’t clear evidence that masks protect the individual, but in the wise words of YLE, “‘no evidence of difference’ is different from ‘evidence of no difference.” This review was inconclusive about the effectiveness of masks for respiratory viruses, which is NOT the same as proof that masks don’t work to protect individuals against COVID.

So, should I wear a mask to protect myself individually?

The short story is that masks can protect you individually, but how much protection you get depends on if you wear it properly and often. The more that people wear masks in indoor public places, the less likely they are to get infected in those places. It’s not a guarantee, but it will reduce the likelihood because it reduces the amount of particles that you inhale. The type of mask matters - an N95 or KN95 is by far the best option and works much better than surgical or cloth masks. It’s not black and white, either. Do you have a big event coming up that you don’t want to miss? You can reduce your chances of getting sick by more consistently wearing an N95 mask in the week or two before the event.

Why is the daily COVID death toll still so high?

The US still has roughly 400 COVID deaths per day. Most of those who are dying daily are elderly with underlying health issues, like heart or lung problems. It still ranks in the top 4 causes of death along with cancer and heart disease, so it’s still killing more people than would normally die each day. Increasing booster rates and access to treatment with Paxlovid for those 65+ would likely reduce these deaths, though it won’t eliminate them entirely.

Should we budget for annual COVID boosters like we do for flu?

Yes, we think that’s your best bet right now. The FDA and CDC expect to recommend once-yearly shots in the fall, just like the flu shot. Boosters will likely be recommended for everyone, and will probably have similar insurance coverage to flu shots, though Moderna just announced that they’ll offer their COVID shots for free to uninsured Americans. Until we know more about the specific cost of boosters, and barring any major new variant surges, we expect that annual flu and COVID immunization budgets will look very similar.

Best Read:

How Bad of a Norovirus Wave Are We In For? -Vox

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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.