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Will new boosters work? Plus, updated exclusion chart!

The Executive Briefing - Friday, August 25th, 2023

Updated Exclusion Chart:

  • We’ve made a few minor changes to our exclusion chart to reflect the current landscape of symptoms and variants ahead of the fall. Our goal is to strike a balance between being ready for a surge and making sure that back-to-school sniffles aren’t keeping employees who get better quickly out of work for any longer than they need to be.

  • See our updated exclusion chart here.

  • In short, we’ve reduced the length of some non-COVID exclusions and have removed loss of taste and smell from this list as it is now incredibly rare (less than 3% have it at all, let alone as their only symptom). 
  • COVID, multiple COVID-like symptoms, and new cough remain 5 day exclusions, as these are symptoms we continue to see with the currently circulating variants. COVID cases, while still low, are rising. 

Health News:

  • Conspiracy theories are spreading false information about US plans to return to mask mandates and lockdowns, which the AP has confirmed are untrue. (AP)
  • The CDC expects updated boosters to be available in mid-September. (CNBC)
  • The entertainment company Lionsgate was asked by the LA County Dept. of Health to mandate masks on two floors with clusters of COVID cases. (ABC)
  • Morris Brown College, an Atlanta HBCU, is implementing a 14-day mask mandate after a COVID outbreak there. (ABC)
  • Five people in the Tampa region have died from flesh-eating Vibrio infections this year. (Health News FL)
  • CT has four cases of Powassan virus, a sometimes-fatal tick-borne disease that affects the central nervous system. (CT Insider)
  • COVID isn’t seasonal yet, and experts don’t really understand why. (STAT)
  • Last month’s Salmonella Paratyphi outbreak was linked to pico de gallo, but a specific ingredient wasn’t identified. The salsa is no longer available for sale. (FDA) 
  • People who tested positive at home were 29% less likely to isolate than those who tested at a healthcare provider, and those who did isolate stayed home for 2 fewer days. (Emerging Infectious Disease via Sensitive and Specific)
  • The FDA has a new ‘Human Foods’ program as part of a reorg after last year’s baby formula crisis. (Roll Call)
  • One Kentucky school district canceled classes after nearly 20% of students were out sick with flu, COVID, strep, and other illnesses - less than two weeks into the school year (NBC)
  • The kindergarten vaccine exemption rate has nearly doubled in the past decade. (Axios)
  • An Indiana hospital notified hundreds of patients after an employee tested positive for active TB. (AP)
  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a mosquito-borne virus, has killed one person and infected another in Alabama and been found in horses in NY state. (USA Today)

Mental Health & Substance Use News: 

  • Workers in construction, food prep, and foodservice industries had the highest rates of drug overdose death rates in 2020. (CDC)
  • The majority of employers are grappling with rising mental health needs and costs in 2024. (Business Group on Health)
  • Two-thirds of adults in the US have been personally impacted by substance use, either themselves or within their family. (KFF)

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or need help, call 988 or message the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Best Questions

Can the new variant infect people who have already had COVID or a vaccine? 

Unfortunately, yes. We already know that vaccines and prior infection help prevent severe illness and reduce our likelihood of infection, but that they don’t prevent infection entirely. In fact, the new BA.2.86 variant seems like it might be more likely than previous variants to infect people who have already had COVID or the vaccine (or both). Because it has so many mutations (36), scientists do believe it will be better able to escape the immunity we already have. But it’s still new - there are only a few confirmed cases and wastewater positives right now, and it likely isn’t responsible for the current increase in hospitalizations we’re seeing. 

Source: Reuters

Do our tests still work for the new variant if it has so many mutations? 

Yes, luckily, both at-home rapid tests and PCR tests still work to detect the latest BA.2.86 variant, despite its many mutations. That’s because those mutations are mostly on the spike protein, but tests use the N protein to detect COVID, and this variant only has one mutation there. As a result, the tests we already have should continue to work well. There’s even a bonus, which is that this variant shows up a little differently from the current dominant variants on PCR tests, which should allow labs to estimate how quickly the new variant is spreading without relying on time-intensive genetic sequencing. 

Source: Your Local Epidemiologist, Sensitive and Specific

Will the new boosters coming out next month work against the new BA.2.86 variant?

The new boosters that are expected to be rolled out in mid-September are formulated for the XBB lineage, which are all sub-variants of Omicron. So there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that even though we’re hearing a lot about the new variant, the majority of cases in the US are still XBB-related (like the Eris variant), which makes them a good match for boosters that will be available soon. The bad news is that some experts expect those boosters may be a relatively bad match for the new BA.2.86 variant (being dubbed Pirola online). So, if Pirola were to take off and cause a big surge, the boosters wouldn’t be as much help. That said, Pirola is still relatively new and doesn’t appear to be responsible for the current increase, so the updated fall boosters are still useful for the variants causing the uptick right now. 

Sources: Today, Ground Truths

Best Read:

Guide to Fall Vaccines - Your Local Epidemiologist

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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.