Coronavirus: Must-Know Info

Coronavirus Alert: FDA Warning About False Cures, Study Says Antidepressants Don’t Offer Protection Against Virus, and More

Here is the latest news, data, and expert insight?on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022, 12:27 P.M. EST

FDA Warns of False Coronavirus Cures

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter jointly with the Federal Trade Commission to the online CBD shop CannaAid for selling unapproved and misbranded products for use in treating or preventing COVID-19. Consumers concerned about COVID-19 should consult with their healthcare provider, advises the federal health agency.

Antidepressants Do Not Reduce COVID-19 Severity

A new study by researchers at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City has found that the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants does not help reduce the severity of illness or even death for people who get COVID-19, as once thought.

Some observational studies had suggested there may be a link between greater survival and lower COVID-19 severity in patients taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants in America.

The research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 examined 33,088 people who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 14, 2020, and December 31, 2021. Of those, 8,272 were also on a fluoxetine or fluvoxamine SSRI. Study authors noted that hospitalization and death were significantly greater in the SSRI group than the non-SSRI group, and that not being on an SSRI was associated with a lower 14-day COVID-19 hospitalization risk.

Heidi T. May, PhD, principal investigator of the study and cardiovascular epidemiologist with the Intermountain Healthcare Heart and Vascular Program, said in a?press release that the results did not mean that being on an SSRI prompts severe COVID-19, but that in this study, they didn’t offer any protection against the virus.

Chronic Kidney Disease Patients Are Vulnerable to Developing Severe Coronavirus

Findings to be presented at American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week 2022 from November 3 to 6 show that during four waves of the pandemic in New York City, the risk of severe COVID-19 was associated with preexisting chronic kidney disease (CKD), as well as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Based on 64,246 coronaviruses cases, the study also found that acute kidney injury occurred in 49 percent of severe cases and 35 percent of hospitalized ones. “Preexisting CKD was one of the most consistent clinical predictors of COVID-19 severity, complications, and poor outcomes across multiple pandemic waves,” said lead author Ning Shang, PhD, in a statement.

Virus Is Still a Leading Cause of Death in Los Angeles

New figures from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health indicated that COVID-19 was the second-leading cause of death in the first six months of 2022, despite widespread availability of vaccines and the dominance of the less-severe omicron strain, according to the Los Angeles Times. From January through June of this year, the mortality rate from the virus in the county was 30.1 deaths for every 100,000 residents — second only to coronary heart disease, which had a rate of 47.5. The death rate for diabetes was 15.5, and flu and pneumonia, which was 7.1.

Rhode Island Pediatric Beds Are Completely Full

NBC News analysis on Tuesday of data from the Department of Health and Human Services revealed that every single pediatric hospital bed in Rhode Island was full on Sunday and Monday as the state grapples with an aggressive surge of pediatric respiratory infections. Like most states, Rhode Island is seeing a rise in cases of flu, respiratory synctial virus (RSV), COVID-19, and other respiratory viruses all at the same time.

COVID-19 Outbreak Hits Antarctic Research Station

The National Science Foundation reported this week that the coronavirus has infected 10 percent of the personnel at the McMurdo research station, the largest base in Antarctica, and the United States is pausing all inbound travel. Currently, of the total population of 993 at the station, there are 64 active cases and 98 have tested positive since the beginning of October. Most have mild symptoms and are isolating in their rooms.

CDC Director Walensky Has Recovered From COVID-19

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH,?tweeted on Tuesday that she has recovered from COVID-19. She tested positive for COVID-19 with mild symptoms a second time on October 31 after completing a course of Pfizer’s antiviral treatment Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir). “I am fortunate to have only had mild symptoms, which I credit to being up to date on my #COVID19 vaccines,” wrote Dr. Walensky.

Rare Heart Inflammation May Be Higher After Moderna Shot Compared to Pfizer

Incidence of inflammatory heart conditions myocarditis, pericarditis, or myopericarditis is two- to threefold higher after a second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine when compared with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine; however, overall cases of heart inflammation with either vaccine are very rare, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found. The investigation observed that males younger than 40 years old who received the Moderna vaccine were shown to have the highest rates of myocarditis, which according to the authors, may have implications for choosing specific vaccines for certain populations. Results were determined from analysis of more than 870,000 Moderna and 2.2 million Pfizer second doses administered in British Columbia from January 1 to September 9, 2021.

In related commentary, Guy Witberg, MD, MPH, and Ilan Richter, MD, MPH, both of Rabin Medical Center in Petah-Tikva, Israel, wrote that the findings “help put to rest “vaccine hesitancy” caused by concerns over cardiac adverse events.”

Monday, November 7, 2022, 1:01 P.M. EST

Pfizer released study data at the end of last week showing that its updated bivalent COVID-19 booster produced about 4 times the level of omicron-fighting antibodies compared with its original vaccine in individuals age 55 and older. One month after receiving a 30-microgram dose of the new booster, this population experienced a 13.2-fold increase in omicron BA.4-BA.5-neutralizing antibodies from pre-booster levels compared with a 2.9-fold increase in adults 55 and up who received the original booster vaccine. Scientists noted that the safety and tolerability of bivalent booster remains favorable and similar to the original shot.

“As we head into the holiday season, we hope these updated data will encourage people to seek out a COVID-19 bivalent booster as soon as they are eligible in order to maintain high levels of protection against the widely circulating omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages,” said Albert Bourla, PhD, chairman and CEO at Pfizer. “These updated data also provide confidence in the adaptability of our mRNA platform and our ability to rapidly update the vaccine to match the most prevalent strains each season.”

The federal government has been encouraging more Americans to get the booster as just over 8 percent of Americans ages 5 and up who qualify have gotten the shot, according to latest data from the CDC.

New Cases Climb Back Over 40,000 a Day

New York Times tracking shows that the daily average for coronavirus infections in the United States is back over 40,000 as of November 5. The number is a 6 percent rise over two weeks ago. Hospitalizations have also ticked up by 2 percent nationwide to 27,395. Deaths are averaging about 320 per day, which is an 11 percent drop from two weeks ago and a significant decline from the summer when 500 Americans were dying daily.

BQ Variant Keeps on Climbing

The variant landscape is rapidly changing as the coronavirus continues to mutate. At the beginning of August, more than 80 percent of infections in the United States were due to BA.5. As of November 5, the CDC data shows that BA.5 makes up just under 40 percent of cases, while BQ.1 and the related BQ.1.1 variants comprise over 35 percent of infections. In the CDC region that includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, just over half of infections are BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Whether these BQ mutations cause more serious illness is uncertain, but Scientific American says that they are “likely spreading so quickly because they sneak past some of the immune defenses acquired through previous infections and vaccinations.”

CDC Warns Parents to Be on Alert for RSV and Flu Symptoms

In a?press conference on Friday, the CDC warned that the United States is experiencing a resurgence in the circulation of non-COVID respiratory viruses, specifically the flu and respiratory syncytial virus known as RSV. Because respiratory viral disease activity had been low due to COVID-19 protections, scientists believe many children are now being exposed to some respiratory viruses for the first time. The CDC underscored the seriousness of that matter as two children have died from influenza this season and increasing illness is straining hospital care. Jose Romero, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, added that RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the small airways of the lungs) and pneumonia in children less than one year of age.

If your child is experiencing any of the following warning signs, Romero advises seeking medical attention right away:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Blues lips or face
  • Chest pain or muscle pain, which may be the cause if a child refuses to walk or is crying excessively if you pick them up
  • Dehydration, shown by no urine over an eight-hour period, a dry mouth, or crying without tears
  • Not being alert or interactive when awake

COVID-19 Spread Through Walls and Floors

A paper published this month in Emerging Infectious Diseases, and reported on by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention, indicated that the omicron variant of the coronavirus likely spread through the floors and walls of a quarantine hotel in Taiwan in December 2021. The research contributed to a growing body of evidence that aerosol transmission plays a significant role in outbreaks and clusters.

“In the setting of under-ventilated indoor environments with recirculated air conditioning systems, the exhaled aerosol might remain suspended for a prolonged period and disperse across a long range,” concluded the authors. “It is plausible, then, that a high concentration of virus-laden aerosol might have accumulated in a poorly ventilated room and might have been transported by the airflow across different rooms through the structural defects.”

Alcohol Deaths Jumped 26 Percent First Year of Pandemic

Alcohol-induced deaths increased 26 percent from 2019 to 2020, a November National Center for Health Statistics report has found. In 2020, the alcohol-induced death rate was highest for both males and females ages 55 to 64. Among women, those ages 35 to 44 had the largest percentage spike in death rates during that time span. On the other hand, men in age groups under 45 had the largest percentage of deaths among males. Alcoholic liver disease was the most frequent underlying cause for these deaths. Deaths from alcohol-induced acute pancreatitis climbed by 50 percent from 2019–2020 and deaths from mental and behavioral disorders due to use of alcohol rose by a third.

Friday, November 4, 2022, 2:40 P.M. EDT

Study of Combined COVID-Flu Vaccine Begins

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Thursday that they had begun their first human trial of an mRNA vaccine that targets both influenza and COVID-19. In the study, which will include 180 volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 64, the first dose of the combo-vaccine was administered to a participant this week. To evaluate effectiveness, participants will be followed for six months. The shot combines the updated omicron-adapted bivalent COVID-19 vaccine and a quadrivalent flu vaccine (created to protect against four different flu strains). “By combining both indications in one vaccine approach, we aim to provide individuals with an efficient way to receive immunization against two severe respiratory diseases with evolving viruses that require vaccine adaptation,” said Ugur Sahin, MD, CEO and cofounder of BioNTech, in a statement.

COVID-19 Survivors Urged to Be Alert for Stroke Symptoms

An investigation by the?Washington Post this week looks at research indicating that some who have had COVID-19 will develop an elevated risk of blood clots, strokes, or heart attacks. A recent study in the journal Heart involving 54,000 people in the United Kingdom concluded that those who had been infected were 2.7 times more likely to develop venous thromboembolism — a dangerous type of blood clot. The Post warned that because most people have had COVID-19 by now, everyone should be more vigilant about the early warning signs of stroke, such as chest pain, unusual swelling, numbness or weakness, or sudden changes in balance, speech, or vision.

Now Is the Time to Stock Up on Rapid Tests

Experts interviewed by The Today Show this week advised Americans to get a good supply of at-home rapid tests as COVID-19 cases are expected to climb in the weeks ahead when people gather together for the winter holidays. “We may see the two diseases [influenza and COVID-19] peaking around the same time, so that’s why it’s important to differentiate what you have,” Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Today. “I encourage people to order [rapid tests] early, because when everybody has flu-like symptoms there will be a run on those tests and you want to get them now before they run out.”

1 in 3 Fail to Return to Preinfection Health

As reported by The Times of Israel, surveys completed by 699 COVID-19 patients conducted between one and six months after their recovery found that 34.6 percent had not regained their health as it was prior to infection. Published online this week in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, the study discovered the most prevalent long COVID symptoms to be a decreased sensation of smell and taste, memory disturbances, dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing), arthralgia (joint stiffness), cough, vision disturbances, chest pain, weakness, myalgia (muscle aches and pain), increased heart rate, fatigue, nausea, headache, and decreased libido.

Can Coffee Offer COVID-19 Protection?

Although not proven in human trials, biochemical research out of Jacobs University in Bremen suggests that drinking coffee may be a way to protect yourself against infection from coronavirus, according to a?press release issued by the school this week. A team of scientists at Jacobs University was able to show in laboratory experiments that the chemical compound 5-caffeoylquinic acid, which is found in coffee, inhibits by a factor of 50 the interaction between the coronavirus spike protein of the coronavirus and the ACE-2 receptor, the docking site for the virus on the human cell.

Man With Longest COVID-19 Infection Finally Cured

After 411 days of testing positive with the coronavirus, a 59-year-old British man was finally free of the infection as of last Friday, according to Barron’s. The patient was infected with an early variant of COVID-19 and could not clear the infection due to a weakened immune system following a kidney transplant. Researchers said that a combination of casirivimab and imdevimab monoclonal antibodies helped to rid the man of infection.

Subvariants Demonstrate Ability to Get Past Vaccine Protection

Researchers at the University of Texas have found that omicron sublineages, including BQ.1.1 and XBB.1, have accumulated additional spike mutations that make them more able to elude vaccine protection. Their preprint?results, posted to bioRxiv on Thursday were based on blood samples collected from individuals one to three months after they had a fourth dose of the original formula mRNA vaccine or one month after a bivalent booster dose. The study authors noted that the updated bivalent booster elicited better neutralization against the new omicron strains compared with the original vaccine. Still, despite this, subvariants BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1, and XBB.1 “exhibited the greatest evasion against vaccine-elicited neutralization, suggesting the potential of these new sublineages to dethrone BA.5 as the dominant lineage in circulation.”

Thursday, November 3, 2022, 2:30 P.M. EDT

Cases and Hospitalizations Inch Up Nationwide

As of November 2, New York Times tracking of the coronavirus shows that after weeks of decline, the numbers are reversing course. The daily averages for infections and hospitalizations have both risen by 2 percent over the last two weeks.

In the regions of the Americas (which includes the United States) and the Western Pacific, cases were up by 5 percent, according to the November 2 COVID update from the World Health Organization (WHO). Globally, however, the number of new weekly cases decreased by 17 percent and the number of new weekly deaths decreased by 5 percent, during the week of October 24 to 30 as compared with the previous week. The WHO noted that the true number of infections is likely to be underestimated due to a decline in testing worldwide. The highest number of weekly cases were reported from Germany, Japan, the United States, China, and South Korea.

Colorado COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rise Significantly

The?Denver Post reported on Wednesday that COVID-related hospitalizations in Colorado increased notably over the last week for the first time since June. Compared with December 2020 when more than 1,800 were hospitalized in the state, the latest numbers are comparatively small with 218 currently in the hospital, up from 183 a week earlier. The article also said that virus concentrations in wastewater were increasing in 17 Colorado watersheds while falling in seven.

COVID-19 Tests Must Say That Repeat Testing Increases Accuracy

The FDA is requiring that all COVID-19 antigen tests update their labeling to include information explaining that repeat testing increases accuracy in people with and without symptoms and could help prevent individuals from unknowingly spreading the coronavirus to others.

Severe Effects After Vaccination More Likely Among Those Who Already Had Virus

Significant adverse effects following vaccination are rare. A new study published this week in the journal Vaccine, however, demonstrated that Americans who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after infection were more likely to experience severe adverse events than those who were never infected. Compared with those who never had the virus, recipients of the Moderna vaccine who already had COVID-19 in the past were 2.4 times more likely to have severe adverse events (defined as events that result in an emergency department visit or hospitalization). Among previously infected Pfizer vaccine recipients, the likelihood of adverse events was 1.5 times higher.

Teens With COVID Knowledge Have Better Well-Being

A survey of U.S. teens during the pandemic revealed that those who answered more COVID-19 test questions correctly also reported lower stress, anxiety, and depression as well as lower levels of loneliness and fear of missing out, also known as FOMO. For the study, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, 215 teens between ages 14 and 17 were polled in July 2020 during the early phase of the pandemic. “The teens who did better on our quiz tended to report lower depression, anxiety and stress — just across the board,” said corresponding author Chris Barry, PhD, a psychology professor at Washington State University.

RSV Vaccine Trial Produces Strong Results

Pfizer announced on Tuesday that its respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine candidate administered to mothers-to-be was 82 percent effective in preventing severe lower respiratory tract illness (due to RSV) in infants from birth through the first 90 days of life. The trial results also showed the vaccine candidate to provide a high efficacy of 69.4 percent through the first six months of life. “We look forward to working with the FDA and other regulatory agencies to bring this vaccine candidate to expectant mothers to help protect their infants against severe RSV during their most vulnerable first six months of life,”said Annaliesa Anderson, PhD, senior vice president and chief scientific officer of vaccine research & development at Pfizer, in a statement.

FDA Investigates Accuracy of Pulse Oximeters on Dark Skin

As reported by CNN, a panel of the FDA’s Medical Devices Advisory Committee met Tuesday to review clinical data about the accuracy of pulse oximeters when used by patients with darker skin. Panel members were considering whether these devices should have labels noting that inaccurate readings may be associated with skin color. Pulse oximeters are used to measure the saturation of oxygen in a person's blood. The CDC says that many people with COVID-19 have low oxygen levels (a life-threatening condition), but not everyone with a low oxygen level will have difficulty breathing — pulse oximeters can help detect if a person’s oxygen saturation is dangerously low.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022, 12:37 P.M. EDT

Supreme Court Allows TSA to Mandate Masking

As The Hill reported on Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) may require mask-wearing on planes, trains, and other forms of transport under its authority to maintain safety and security within the transportation system. In April, the TSA stopped enforcing a mask mandate after the mask mandate imposed by the CDC was struck down by a Federal judge in Florida.

Scientists Monitor ‘Deltacron’ Variants

Fortune magazine reported on Tuesday that scientists are keeping close tabs on the emergence of new COVID-19 variants XBC, XAY, and XAW, which are hybrid forms of the coronavirus, combining elements of the delta variant and omicron variants. Raj Rajnarayanan, PhD, assistant dean of research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology campus in Jonesboro, Arkansas, told Fortune that XBC — a combination of delta and “stealth omicron” BA.2 circulating in Asian countries such as the Philippines — has the greatest potential in the group for transmission.

Orange County Declares Health Emergency

Southern California’s Orange County — which includes Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Irvine —?declared a health emergency on Monday due to rapidly spreading virus infections causing record numbers of pediatric hospitalizations and daily emergency room visits. The county has seen a growing number of children with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) while flu cases are also starting to rise. COVID-19 also continues to be a problem, with 1,136 cases and 23 deaths reported the week ending October 27.

“While there isn’t a vaccine against RSV, we want OC residents to know there are many ways to protect children and at-risk individuals. Following preventive measures, including remaining up to date with other vaccinations such as flu and COVID-19, can help reduce the severity of disease and can help reduce the burden on hospitals this fall and winter” said Regina Chinsio-Kwong, DO, Orange County Health Care Agency's chief medical officer, in a statement. “Our best shot at protecting ourselves and our children from respiratory illnesses continues to be the same things we practiced throughout the pandemic, including the use of masks when indoors around others and staying home when you are sick.”

Blood Pressure Levels Rose During the Pandemic

Adults with hypertension saw a small but consequential rise in their blood pressure levels during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the number of times they had their blood pressure measured dropped significantly, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health and published November 1 in the journal Hypertension. Researchers examined electronic data records of 137,593 adults with hypertension and compared blood pressure outcomes before the pandemic (August 2018 through January 2020) with those during the peak of the pandemic (April 2020 through January 2021). Scientists noted that the number of blood pressure measurements patients had taken declined significantly in the first three months of the pandemic — by as much as 90 percent compared with before the pandemic. They also found that the patients’ systolic readings (the top number) rose on average by 1.79 mmHg, while their diastolic readings (the bottom number) rose on average by 1.30 mmHg. Even these small increases can raise the risk of major cardiovascular events.

COVID-19 Triggers Inflammation in the Brain Similar to Parkinson’s

Research led by the University of Queensland in Australia has discovered that COVID-19 activates the same inflammatory response in the brain as Parkinson’s disease. Published Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the study focused on the effect of the virus on the brain’s immune cells, or “microglia,” which are the key cells involved in the progression of brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Microglia cells infected with the coronavirus effectively became “angry,” according to the study leaders, activating the same pathway that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s proteins can activate in disease. “It may explain why some people who’ve had COVID-19 are more vulnerable to developing neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease,” said Eduardo Albornoz Balmaceda, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland’s School of Biomedical Sciences, in a press release.

Long COVID Is Affecting Women More Than Men

CNBC shared information from U.S. Census Bureau and National Center for Health Statistics showing that more than 17 percent of women had long COVID at some point during the pandemic, compared with 11 percent of men. Data indicated that some 2.4 percent of women had symptoms that significantly limited their normal activities, compared with 1.3 percent of men.

Can a Nose Spray Keep COVID Away?

Scientists are working on fast-acting nasal sprays to block coronavirus infections, according to a story in Nature?on Monday. A team at Columbia University in New York City is working on fast-acting sprays that would be applied daily or twice a day to the nasal lining and throat where the virus first takes hold. The sprays would directly block the virus’s ability to enter cells.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022, 1:37 P.M. EDT

CDC Director Has COVID Rebound After Taking Paxlovid

Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, experienced mild symptoms from her recent COVID-19 infection and completed a course of the antiviral treatment Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir). After a period of isolation, she tested negative for the virus, but on Sunday, Dr. Walensky began to develop mild symptoms again and tested positive a second time, the CDC announced. Consistent with CDC guidelines, she is isolating at home and will participate in her planned meetings virtually.

Flu Hospitalizations Are Highest in a Decade

Analysis of CDC data by ABC News revealed that flu-related hospitalizations are the highest in ten years. Figures released Friday showed that there have been an estimated 880,000 cases of lab-confirmed influenza illnesses, 6,900 hospitalizations, and 360 flu-related deaths nationally this season. The predominant flu strain this season in H3N2, which is known to cause more severe illness compared with other flu strains, especially in older adults and young children. The Hill said that a 3-year-old’s death last week was the first flu-related pediatric fatality during this year’s flu season.

COVID-19 Shuts Shanghai Disney and Some Visitors Can’t Leave

As reported by the Reuters on Monday, the Disney Resort in Shanghai abruptly closed on Monday to comply with COVID-19 prevention measures — all visitors at the time of the announcement were directed to stay in the park until they were tested and returned a negative result for the virus. The theme park continued to operate rides for visitors stuck in the park during the closure.

China Starts Administering Inhalable Vaccine

Last week, some residents of Shanghai began to receive COVID-19 immunizations via an inhaled vaccine, according to the Associated Press. Taken via the mouth from a container that looks like a take-out coffee cup with a short nozzle, the vaccine is being offered for free as a booster dose for previously vaccinated people. Health authorities hope this mist form of the vaccine will encourage more people to get inoculated against the virus.

As to why the United States doesn’t have an inhalable COVID-19 vaccine yet, Politico has said that nasal and oral vaccines are being studied here, but none are close to coming on the market because Congress hasn’t approved more money to support research and development.

BQ Subvariants Make Up More Infections in NY Region Than BA.5

Based on latest CDC numbers, MarketWatch said that the region that includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands has more coronavirus cases attributed to the new BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariants than BA.5, which made up more than 80 percent of cases in July. In the region, 42.5 percent of infections are now BQ while 35.7 are BA.5.

Entirely New Subvariant Joins the Mix

As reported by the?San Francisco Chronicle?on Monday, federal health officials have added yet another subvariant to the list of those infecting people in the United States. As of last week, BA.5.2.6 made up 2.8 percent of cases. In some parts of the United States, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, the mutation made up more than 5.5 percent of sampled infections. The global science initiative GSAID ranks this immune-evasive strain among the “top lineages” in Europe. In two weeks, BA.5.2.6 has gone from appearing in 4 percent of sequenced cases in Ireland to 28 percent. The Chronicle added that the subvariant is also growing in proportion in Ukraine, France, and the United Kingdom.

Severe COVID-19 May Heighten Risk of Long COVID, Study Finds

Details from a European Center for Disease Prevention and Control report released Monday indicated that the risk of having post COVID-19 conditions may be higher among individuals who experience more severe COVID-19 disease. Based on studies conducted in the European Union (EU)–European Economic Area (EEA), the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the report found five post COVID-19 symptoms (fatigue, shortness of breath, depression, headache, and dizziness) were more prevalent among patients who were hospitalized compared with those who were not.

Monday, October 31, 2022, 1:39 P.M. EDT

COVID-19 Symptoms Can Rebound Even Without Paxlovid

Researchers at the University of California at San Diego and Harvard who followed 158 COVID-19 patients who were not treated with the antiviral Paxlovid observed that almost one-third who were symptom-free for at least two days had symptoms return four to five weeks later. A rebound of symptoms has been increasingly recognized among COVID-19 patients who have taken Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir). President Biden experienced rebound after taking the antiviral at the end of July. Likewise, first lady Jill Biden had rebound COVID-19 later in the summer after she took the treatment. This study, published in JAMA Network Open, revealed that rebound happens often even among those who haven’t taken Paxlovid. The most common symptoms reported during relapse were cough, fatigue, and headache. “Our results in persons with untreated COVID-19 shows that recurring symptoms are common among those who initially improve, but these recrudescent [rebound] symptoms do not portend progression to severe COVID-19,” wrote the study authors.

CDC Investigates Outbreak at Maine High School

As reported by WGME in Portland, Maine, the state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into a COVID-19 outbreak at Cape Elizabeth High School, which was closed Friday amid reports of rising cases of illnesses, including COVID-19. “When a school reports 15 percent or more of students and staff are absent, Maine CDC follows up with the school to determine if an outbreak should be opened,” said Robert Long, a spokesperson for the Maine CDC.

BQ Variant Continues to Rise in U.S. as BA.5 Sinks

For the week ending October 29, the CDC presented estimates indicating that the BA.5 variant, which accounted for more than 80 percent of infections at the end of July, now makes up just under half of all COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 account for just over 27 percent of infections. A region comprised of New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has the highest proportion of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 viruses, at 42.5 percent.

WHO Weighs in on XBB and BQ Mutations

Last week, WHO members met to discuss the public health implications of the rise of some omicron variants, specifically XBB and its sublineages, as well as BQ.1 and its sublineages. BQ.1 cases have been steadily climbing in the United States and Europe. XBB has recently been spreading fast in Singapore — a few cases have been identified in the United States as well. For the time being, the WHO decided not to label these the new mutations “variants of concern” because “these two sublineages remain part of omicron, which is [already] a variant of concern with very high reinfection and vaccination breakthrough potential, and surges in new infections should be handled accordingly.” The WHO said it will continue to monitor both subvariants but underscored that so far there is no epidemiological evidence that these sublineages will be of substantially greater risk compared with other omicron sublineages. The organization did warn, however, that early evidence points to a higher reinfection risk from XBB as compared with other circulating omicron sublineages.

Drop In European Cases May Bode Well for U.S.

The United States has been bracing for a surge in coronavirus infections based on increasing COVID-19 numbers in Europe. While cases had been ticking up in Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) announced in a weekly update on October 27 that COVID-19 infections and deaths slightly declined last week, although hospitalizations remained about the same. The U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) also reported decreased COVID-19 activity last week. The UKHSA noted that hospital admissions are still highest among those age 85 and older.

Police and Firefighters Had Job With Highest COVID-19 Death Rate

A new study published in National Vital Statistics Reports (PDF) found that firefighters, police officers, and other protection service employees had the highest COVID-19 death rates in 2020 in the United States compared with other occupations. The death rate for this job category was 60.3 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000, followed by food service occupations (57.5 deaths per 100,000), and construction jobs (57.3 per 100,000). “These workers were most often required to work in person throughout stay-at-home orders in 2020, and job tasks and working environments associated with many of these occupations and industries may increase SARS-CoV-2 [coronavirus] exposure risk,” wrote the researchers.

Heart Disease Deaths Spiked During COVID-19

U.S. deaths from heart disease spiked in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic after a steady decline from 2010 to 2019, reversing a public health success, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 (November 5 to 7). “Prior to 2020, death rates from heart disease had been declining among adults for decades, which has been recognized by the CDC as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the last century,” said lead study author Rebecca C. Woodruff, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist at the CDC, in a press release. “The increases in death rates from heart disease in 2020 represented about five years of lost progress among adults nationwide and about 10 years of lost progress among younger adults and non-Hispanic Black adults.”

Friday, October 28, 2022, 1:37 P.M. EDT

China Steps Up Lockdowns in Line With Zero-COVID Policy

As China on Thursday reported a third straight day of more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases nationwide, cities from Wuhan in central China to Xining in the northwest sealed up buildings and locked down districts, according to Reuters. As of October 24, 28 cities were implementing varying degrees of lockdown measures, affecting more than 207 million people. Even though these infection numbers are far from the height of the pandemic, China has repeatedly vowed to stick to a zero-tolerance response to COVID-19 and implement what the authorities say are necessary measures to contain the virus.

First Uptick in U.S. Hospitalizations Since July

Analysis by Forbes of data from the CDC revealed that an average of 3,277 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 were admitted to hospital each day during the week ending October 24. The number is up 1.1 percent from the previous seven-day average, marking the first uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations since July.

COVID, Flu, RSV Increase Hospitalizations in NYC

The New York Times reported Thursday that about 1,100 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus in New York City on October 24, up from 750 in mid-September, according to state data. Visits to NYC emergency departments for children under 5 for respiratory issues are now at the highest level since the first omicron surge last winter, with many having respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or flu.

‘Nightmare’ Variant Likely Already in Massachusetts, Boston Doctors Say

As reported by NBC News this week, Boston doctors are saying XBB — a variant of omicron that has been dubbed the "nightmare variant" in Singapore, is almost certainly already circulating in Massachusetts. The variant is known to be extremely immune-evasive and it’s uncertain if current vaccines will offer protection. According to Fortune, at least 16 cases have been identified in the United States.

Humans Transmit COVID-19 to Pets, Study Finds

Research published this week in a new edition of the CDC’s publication New Emerging Diseases indicated that household transmission of the coronavirus from humans to animals occurs frequently, and infected animals commonly display signs of illness, such as difficulty breathing, coughing, or decreased interest in playing, walking, or eating. From tests of 81 dogs and 32 cats from households where at least one adult had tested positive for COVID-19, investigators discovered that 40 percent of dogs and 43 percent of cats were seropositive for the virus, meaning they had coronavirus antibodies in their blood. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests found that 5 percent of dogs and 8 percent of cats were PCR positive. Pet owners participating in the study commonly reported close human-animal contact.

Cases Continue to Drop Globally

The weekly COVID update from the WHO estimated that the number of new weekly cases decreased by 15 percent and new weekly deaths dropped 13 percent globally during the week of October 17 to 23 compared with the previous week. The WHO said infections either decreased or remained stable in all regions of the world. Countries recording the most cases were Germany, France, China, the United States, and Italy.

Still, as Reuters reported, daily global COVID-19 infections are projected to rise slowly to about 18.7 million by February from the current 16.7 million average daily cases, driven by the northern hemisphere's winter months, according to analysis from the University of Washington.

Tuberculosis and Disease Rose During Pandemic

The WHO's 2022 Global TB report?released Thursday revealed that an estimated 10.6 million people fell ill with tuberculosis (TB) in 2021, an increase of 4.5 percent from 2020, and 1.6 million people died from TB. This is the first time in many years an increase has been reported in the number of people falling ill with TB. The WHO noted that the pandemic’s impact on TB response has been particularly severe.

Americans Die Younger in Conservative States

Analysis of mortality rates for all causes of death in all 50 states from 1999 to 2019 published in the journal PLoS One found that people die younger in states with more conservative policies, and more than 171,000 lives could have been saved in 2019 if those states adopted more liberal policies.