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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, February 22

Another highly contagious variant already here

COVID Recap:

  • The WHO reports that conditions are “ideal” for another “more transmissible and potentially dangerous variant”. (Newsweek)
  • The BA2 variant is spreading quickly in the US and reportedly 30% more transmissible than Omicron. It accounted for about 4% of new infections last week and appears to be doubling weekly.  (NPR)
  • While newer cruise ship guidelines are generally voluntary, the CDC is strongly recommending boosters for all cruise ship travelers and many cruise lines are now requiring them. (USA Today).
  • The Novavax vaccine, approved for use in Canada last week, may address concerns of those with religious objections to current vaccines as no human fetal cells were used in its development. (Newsweek)
  • For the first time in a month, daily average deaths in the US drops under 2,000, with new infections dropping by 87% from its peak in January. (ABC News)
  • Researchers are now saying a second booster probably won’t be needed for a while (maybe the fall or even later?).  (NYT)
  • Reports last year that labeled an anime convention in New York City as a superspreader event may have been off track, according to a detailed epidemiologic study which showed the convention’s protocols were highly effective in limiting spread and that social gatherings outside might have been to blame. (CDC)
  • While indoor mask mandates are being dropped in many places, Hawaii and Puerto Rico remain holdouts. (NY Times)
  • Greenwich CT is reporting an uptick in COVID cases, one of the first school districts to report that as students return from winter break. (Greenwich Time)
  • The US Supreme Court once again rejected a challenge to Maine's vaccine mandate for healthcare workers seeking religious exemptions. (Reuters)

Today’s Health News:

  • Malawi has it’s first wild Polio case in 30 years. (Bloomberg)
  • A new report from the CDC confirms that the incidence of Legionnaires Disease is steadily rising. (CDC)
  • New York has now joined the list of states where the new highly pathogenic bird flu has been detected, this time in a backyard flock on Long Island. (ABC)
  • Moderna is now working on an mRNA vaccine for RSV which is one of the most common illnesses in children. They’d previously announced work on an mRNA flu shot.  (Reuters)
  • It’s been a mild flu season that seems to be waning, but experts debate if it’s actually over. (Stat News)
  • And last but not least, Environmental Health experts are concerned about risks from the leaching copper in cold Moscow Mules and seem to suggest drinking them fast! (US News)

Best Questions:

It seems that health departments are behaving differently than before the pandemic. Any insight or guidance for us?

That is absolutely correct. Health departments are reacting differently to many situations - and in many cases, responding in a much more scattershot manner. We know that public health has been impacted dramatically by the pandemic - stressed and stretched in ways that weren’t imaginable prior. Most health departments have experienced massive turnover in personnel. Up to 50% of the public health staff have been in their jobs for one year or less. Many don’t know each other, where previously employees had worked together for years. We’re seeing investigations get dropped, follow ups missed, conclusions reached without supporting labs or interviews and an overall lack of understanding on who is in charge and responsible for what in an outbreak investigation. This means the onus often falls on the restaurant, venue or employer (and Zero Hour health) to do rapid interventions, thorough internal investigations and keep diligent records (as sometimes we’re first hearing back from health departments weeks or months after we all thought the matter was resolved).  

One of our largest clients is requiring boosters for all of our employees who service them. This was a surprise to us. Are you seeing that across your client base?

We are consistently seeing a lack of clarity for clients who work inside or in partnership with other companies, from universities to stadiums to hospitals. More and more, we’re hearing of companies requiring people to be “up-to-date” on their vaccinations, meaning that they’re boosted if eligible. Still, those companies tend to be on the leading edge, and most companies outside of healthcare that we know of have less stringent requirements for workers operating in their buildings.

Are you seeing more Norovirus activity recently?

Unfortunately, that’s a resounding YES.  We’re currently monitoring several Noro-like situations and they are quite spread out.  Hotspots that we’re closely watching include NC, PA, MI and OR. Noro used to be called the winter vomiting disease, but has become much less seasonal over the last decade. Since Omicron has a significant GI component, telling COVID from Noro continues to be challenging. Some public health pros think this was totally predictable as we drop some COVID precautions. Keeping employees with Noro like symptoms out three days is best practice for good reason - you’re shedding the virus at nearly as high levels for three days after symptoms end as while you’re actually vomiting.

Best Read:

The New Yorker:  Beyond the Booster Shot

Best Laugh:

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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.