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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, January 3rd

What China’s surge means for us…


  • Amid a massive surge in China, starting on January 5th, the US is requiring a negative COVID test taken in the 2 days before any flights to or through the US. (CDC)
  • Chinese health officials are concerned about an even greater spread as we approach Lunar New Year, an enormous travel period in China. (WSJ) The US may start sampling wastewater on planes to better understand the variants spreading worldwide, especially due to the surge in China. (The Guardian)
  • XBB.1.5 is the dominant strain in the US, and is growing by 120% per week, which means every sick person is infecting about 2 others. (YLE)
  • COVID levels in Boston wastewater are surging, nearly as high as they were last January during the surge. (Boston Herald)
  • A new clinical trial showed that educational messaging about vaccines in the Emergency Department (where most Americans get their medical care rather than a primary care doctor) created a significant increase in vaccine uptake. (JAMA)
  • Those who are at high risk for COVID still need to wear masks, even as the rest of the country moves on - with only 30% of Americans now wearing masks in public. (NY Times)
  • Consumers are frustrated with rapid tests and particularly false negatives. (The Atlantic)
  • It’s becoming more common for parties - even casual ones - to ask guests to test before arrival. (NY Times)
  • A new study shows that although people who got fevers after a COVID vaccine booster developed higher antibody levels more quickly, though a month later there was no difference in antibody levels. (SciTech Daily)
  • LA County is urging workers and students to wear masks for the next 10 days as they return from holiday gatherings. (LA Times)

Public Health News:

  • England is on track to eliminate Hepatitis C years ahead of schedule, thanks to a major drug deal and targeted screening program. (Forbes)
  • Flu and RSV appear to have peaked, even as COVID cases and hospitalizations rise. (NBC)
  • A cluster of Legionnaires' Disease cases in New Jersey is being investigated. (NJ.gov)
  • Diabetes is a growing health issue, with a new CDC projection estimating a whopping 700% increase in young people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes by 2060. (The Hill)
  • Norovirus is on the rise, especially in Alabama right now. (NBC)
  • The WHO now recommends that close contacts of Mpox cases avoid sex for 21 days after their most recent exposure. (CIDRAP)
  • The FASTER Act, which includes new regulations addressing food allergies, became law on January 1 and one of its key components is that sesame is now considered a major food allergen. (FDA)

Mental Health News:

  • Adults say they’re expecting even more stress in 2023. (NBC)
  • The number of Americans dealing with anxiety is up, especially since the pandemic, but there are some strategies to help manage it. (NPR)
  • Alcohol abuse surged during the pandemic and treatment has not kept pace. (Politico)

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:

Could the COVID outbreak in China lead to a new variant?

It certainly is a possibility, and is one that we’re watching closely. Any time there are a lot of new cases, it increases the risk that a new variant could start to mutate. China’s massive population, and the fact that very few people are boosted and many are being exposed for the first time, means that they’re particularly vulnerable to a new variant emerging. What’s even more concerning is the reduced testing and case reporting and the fact that China doesn’t share much genomic sequence data, which means that there could be a big delay in identifying new variants of concern if they arise. That’s a big reason the CDC decided to require testing for travelers coming from China.

How concerned should we be about the new XBB variant?

It’s certainly something that needs to be studied and watched closely - and frankly, right now, we’re more concerned about that in the short term than we are about a new variant arising from China (which, to be fair, we’re also concerned about…). XBB.1.5 seems to be growing quickly - not as astronomically fast as Omicron did last year, but exponentially. Every person infected with XBB is spreading it to, on average, two other people. That doesn’t bode well for case counts in the next few weeks, especially given that we still haven’t felt the full effects from holiday travel and gatherings. We’re going to be closely watching cases over the next three weeks, and expect that mid-January will bring a surge in cases. If you’re thinking about staffing, we recommend prepping for a high number of employee sick calls over the next 2-3 weeks.

Is it too late to get a COVID booster?

No! It’s not too late - if you haven’t gotten an updated bivalent booster yet, you can (and should!) still go get one. 2,500 people per week are still dying in the US from COVID, and if you get a booster, you’re basically making sure that you won’t be one of them this winter. This is especially important if you’re older (those over 65 make up three-quarters of the people dying each week).

Are there over-the-counter medicines to treat or cure the flu?

There are no OTC remedies to prevent, treat, or cure the flu. There are things that can help with flu symptoms and fever, like cold medicines and fever-reducers. But the FDA has warned against illegally marketed “cures” for the flu, like herbal teas, light therapies, and homeopathic products that aren’t proven to work against the flu. Unfortunately, there’s no “quick fix” for the flu that’s OTC. Only an antiviral prescribed by a doctor (like Tamiflu) can actually treat the flu. If you’re at high risk or feeling severe symptoms, call your doctor and ask about an antiviral treatment.

Best Read:

The Case for Wearing Masks Forever | The New Yorker

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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.