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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, June 7th

World Food Safety Day and is the surge peaking?

COVID & Health News:

  • Today, June 7th, is World Food Safety Day - created by the World Health Organization to "draw attention and mobilize action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks and improve human health.” (The WHO)
  • US COVID cases are down for the first time since March 9th - this may be an artifact of changing or reduced testing but considered to be a good sign. (Becker's Hospital Review) However, some models predict a large jump is about to occur over the next two weeks. (Becker's Hospital Review)  
  • Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 now account for 13% of US COVID cases. (Reuters)
  • Long COVID is now a disability affecting millions of workers. Employers will need innovative action plans going forward, according to University of Pennsylvania professor Jasmine Harris (Fortune)
  • New research released by the VA, involving more than 150,000 veterans, shows even mild COVID cases can result in heart problems. The incidence is relatively low (4%), but 83 million people in the US have had COVID, so the cumulative numbers are alarming to cardiologists. (Seattle Times)
  • A recent clinical trial “cured” colorectal cancer in all 18 patients who participated; an amazing outcome and one which researchers and oncologists are extremely excited about. (NY Times)
  • Over 82 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been wasted; CVS and Walmart pharmacies lead the way, but they’ve also administered the most. Health Mart, DaVita, Rite Aid, Publix and Costco had to waste a higher proportion of the doses that they actually received. (Huffington Post)
  • The FDA approved Glaxo’s Priorix, a second Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine to be available for use in the US, which is considered critical if supply or manufacturing issues arise. (Glaxo)
  • There are two distinct variants of the monkeypox now circulating. (NBC News)
  • A bottleneck in monkeypox testing is concerning public health officials who say it reduces the odds of containing it. (Stat News)
  • The CDC has issued a Level 2 travel alert for monkeypox; suggesting some basic precautions and awareness are recommended when traveling. (CDC)
  • Paris Brothers, a specialty food company out of Kansas City, is recalling cheese that was distributed in 9 different states because of possible listeria contamination. No illnesses have been reported. (NPR)

Mental Health News:

May Mental Health Month might be over, but we know this is an issue that’s important to your teams, and to us every day. We’re keeping our Mental Health section as long as it continues to be a major issue for your employees and communities.

  • The new national three-digit number - 988 - is designed to connect people in mental health crises with those who are specially trained responders, like a 911 for mental health. The easy-to-remember number launches nationwide July 16, but many states haven’t figured out how to fund it and some just aren’t ready. (NBC News)
  • A group of teen athletes in New Jersey built a website specifically aimed at the mental health issues of student athletes. (Newsbreak)
  • Arriana Huffington has partnered with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in a campaign to encourage employers to take mental health more seriously. (Fast Company)
  • While we tend to focus on the mental health of our youth, older adults are also at risk. WHO estimates 15% of adults 60 and older are suffering from some sort of mental illness, but navigating Medicare can be confusing. (Very Well Mind)

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Best Questions:

Why does it seem like boosted people are getting COVID more?

The latest CDC data shows a surprising pattern - that case rates among those with boosters are higher than among those who are vaccinated but not boosted. It’s led to some questions, but let’s be clear - boosters do NOT increase the risk of infection! There are a few things going on here. First, the people who are likely to be boosted are also the people who are most likely to get tested after they have symptoms or exposure, especially on the kind of test that gets reported, which are mostly PCR tests and tests through healthcare systems. So there’s some skewed data there based on the demographics of who gets tests that are reported to the CDC, and who gets booster doses. It’s possible that booster doses are waning - most people who got boosters did it at the beginning of their eligibility, which is more than 6 months ago. We know that protection wanes over time, so this is to be expected. And Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH PhD (of Your Local Epidemiologist) suggests that those who aren’t boosted may be more likely to have recently gotten infected with Omicron during its surge, so they may have a leg up on protection right now compared to those who were boosted back in the fall. And those who are boosted have generally relaxed their behavior because they feel that they’re protected, even as their protection is waning.

The most important thing to remember is that people who are boosted have a much, much lower chance of having to go to the hospital or of dying when they get sick. So even if boosters don’t mean you’ll never be infected, they are still incredibly effective at ensuring that any illness doesn’t kill you or send you to the hospital with severe symptoms.

Why are COVID vaccines for young kids taking so long?

We’re now expecting vaccinations to begin as soon as the week of June 21st. There were and continue to be a few factors at play that lead to it taking this long. First, because young kids aren’t seeing the same kind of severe outcomes as adults, the demand for vaccines was relatively low at the start, so clinical trials took longer to get started. Then, the results weren’t very simple - finding the right dose that provides similar protection to the adult vaccines took a little tweaking, including Pfizer going back to trials to test three doses instead of two. Moderna finished their studies before Pfizer, but both are set to be reviewed in a meeting in mid-June. There are some accusations that the FDA waited to review Moderna’s application until Pfizer was ready, which, if true, may have contributed to the delay. Even for kids 5-11 whose vaccine is already approved, vaccine uptake is very, very low. Only just over a quarter of eligible kids are fully vaccinated with two doses. Their boosters, which were approved last week, are expected to have a similarly low uptake. But it’s important to remember that nearly 125,000 kids have been hospitalized for COVID, countless others have gotten sick, and doctors do recommend getting kids vaccinated (and boosted) as soon as they’re eligible.

We have employees struggling with the baby formula shortage. Any advice or helpful info your other clients have shared?

It’s gut wrenching, and we’ve heard from some of your employees asking our clinical team for advice, as well. If it’s urgent, we recommend that employees contact their local health department. Sometimes they have a small stockpile they’re able to share in emergencies, and they’ll likely be clued in if any local stores have any available. Second, they should try their pediatrician, who might be able to suggest ideas and discuss how to manage the child’s nutrition in the meantime. Many parents think they can’t switch brands, for example, but often can. A pediatrician will help you navigate that. Whatever you do, don’t water down formulas or make your own - that can harm your baby’s health.

There is some hope that this will get better soon, with the news that the US government has a shipment of over a million cans coming from overseas and the recent signing of a bill that allows more formula through the WIC program for low-income parents, but we know that’s little consolation to parents who need to feed their babies today.

Should I stop going to the gym?

There’s a new study that shows people who are working out hard at the gym are breathing out exponentially more particles (which may contain the virus in those who are infected) than those who are at rest. Someone at rest breathes out about 500 particles per minute, but someone going all out on the spin bike or treadmill, for example, breathes out a whopping 76,000 particles per minute. It explains why gyms - or weddings with dance floors - tend to be more associated with superspreader events. Whether you should stop going to the gym depends on both how likely it is that you might become severely ill if you’re infected and your personal risk tolerance. If you’re immunocompromised, you should talk with your doctor about that choice. If you are concerned about transmission, but love your group exercise class, consider heading outdoors to group classes while the weather permits. It’s likely to drastically reduce your risk because outdoor transmission is much, much lower due to ventilation.

Best Read:

The “Coronapause”  is over but history doesn't look so good (The Guardian)

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.