Coronavirus Tidbits #255, July 23, 2023


First, there is now a Resources Page here for the most commonly asked questions I'm getting.

Happy to continue to answer your questions/concerns as best I can, so don't be shy about that.

Reminder, Resilience: One Family's Story... is increasingly pertinent, as some of our politicians shift rightward. All proceeds go to Holocaust education.

Available here.





New post:

In-N-Out Burger’s New Masking Policy Threatens Their Employees’ Health

In-N-Out finally released a statement about their discriminatory mask ban policy. They are doubling down on valuing "smile" over the health and safety of their employees and their families.  - Dr. Lucky Tran

Call In-N-Out at 1-800-786-1000 about their discriminatory policy banning masks.



COVID-19 Weekly Update for the United States

Key Data Takeaways (as of 7/17/2023)
• COVID-19 indicators, including emergency department visitstest positivity, and wastewater levels, have begun to show small increases nationally.
• Hospital admissions have leveled off after steadily declining.

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Had COVID but no symptoms? You might have this genetic mutation

At least 20% of people who become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus never feel sick. Now scientists have identified a genetic mutation that is linked to a higher likelihood of avoiding symptoms during infection1.

This mutation might give an advantage to the immune cells of people who have previously been exposed to ‘seasonal’ coronaviruses, which cause the common cold. That extra boost means the immune system can quickly track down and destroy SARS-CoV-2 before it goes haywire trying to defend against the pathogen, says Jill Hollenbach, an immunogeneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-authored the report. It was published on 19 July in Nature.

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More on genetics from Eric Topol:

It has taken 3 years, but our genetics that play a role in the highly variable response to Covid, from no illness to #LongCovid, are getting unraveled. And that can lead to better prevention, treatment and vaccines

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Asymptomatic #COVID19 is linked to a gene variant that boosts immune memory after exposure to prior seasonal cold viruses
     @onisillos   Jul 20
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Long Covid affects 16% study finds

Caveats first: In the rush to share information early in the Covid-19 pandemic, long Covid studies in children may not have met the highest research standards, authors of a new review in Pediatrics stipulate, citing only a vague definition and a dearth of control arms for comparison. Still, their analysis of 31 studies published through December 2022 offers a picture of long Covid in children: Persistent symptoms three months after confirmed infections affected 16% of children and adolescents. (Studies of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children with Covid-19 are also limited by that rush to share data, the authors note.)

If you remember, at first children accounted for fewer and milder cases of Covid. Later variants infected more children, who eventually had lingering symptoms. Overall, girls were more likely than boys to feel long-term problems, including sleep disturbances and headaches. Other symptoms included fatigue, depression, cough, sore throat, and GI illnesses.

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New study showing that of those with cognitive dysfunction at 12 weeks after COVID, only 17% were recovered at 38 weeks. #LongCovid --

Cognitive deficits following SARS-CoV-2 infection were detectable nearly two years post infection, and largest for individuals with longer symptom durations, ongoing symptoms, and/or more severe infection. However, no such deficits were detected in individuals who reported full recovery from COVID-19.
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‘Brain fog’ of long Covid comparable to ageing 10 years, study finds

Symptoms of infection can last two years, but researchers find no lasting cognitive impairment after individuals fully recover

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The Social Security Administration & the US Dept of Health and Human Services has published a guide describing the kinds of medical evidence needed to evaluate disability claims filed by people with #LongCovid:
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The Biden administration has suspended funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology after it failed to answer safety and security questions, according to reports byBloomberg and the New York Times.

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WHO adds Omicron EG.5 to variants under monitoring

EG.5 is a descendant of XBB.1.9.2, with one extra spike mutation. Global prevalence has been rising since the end of May. The WHO now has seven VUMs. The number of variants of interest remains at two, including XBB.1.5, which is steadily declining, and XBB.1.16, which is holding steady at 20.7% of sequences.

US among countries seeing EG.5 activity

The United States is one of the countries seeing rising EG.5 proportions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its last estimates on Jul 8 that EG.5 made up 13% of samples. The WHO said so far there's no evidence that EG.5 is fueling any rises in cases or deaths or that infections involving the virus are more severe.



Gain-of-function research is about much more than dangerous pathogens

Interesting op-ed in Stat 

By Saskia Popescu, Yong-Bee Lim and Angela Rasmussen  July 21, 2023

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve heard a lot about gain-of-function research, and some of its risks, particularly regarding the possible creation of dangerous pathogens.

But there’s a lot more to this field than that, including research that could potentially be quite beneficial to human society. If we focus solely on the risks, we may miss those benefits.

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INTREPID (International Readiness for Preventing Infectious Viral Disease) Alliance

  • Seven pharmaceutical companies today announced the launch of the INTREPID Alliance to speed the discovery and development of new antiviral treatments for use in future pandemics. In a press release, the group said the effort supports the "100 Days Mission" established by G7 countries, which has a goal of having 25 antivirals for viral diseases with pandemic potential ready for phase 2 and phase 3 trials by 2026. As a first step, the INTREPID Alliance plans to publish an initial list later this year. The companies are AbbVie, Amgen, Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Roche, and Takeda.

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Avian flu, COVID outbreaks prompt calls for shutting down fur farms over pandemic risks

Thomas Peacock, PhD, and Wendy Barclay, PhD, both with Imperial College London, detailed their concerns in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

...Mink could provide an ample opportunity for reassortment between H5 avian flu subtypes and human-adapted flu strains, they warned. Fur farming should be in the same high-risk category as bush meat trade and live-animal markets, they concluded.

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Tornado damage to Pfizer plant could aggravate drug shortages

STAT  July 21, 2023

The timing could not be worse. The tornado that struck North Carolina Wednesday damaged a Pfizer plant that makes almost 30% of sterile injectable medicines sold to U.S. hospitals, just as the shortage of prescription medicines escalates. While the Rocky Mountain plant is one of Pfizer’s biggest manufacturing facilities, the impact is still being determined. In addition to sterile injectables, it produces glass vials, plastic vials, syringes, flexible containers, and semi-rigid bottles. Local media reports suggested warehouse inventory may have been wiped out.

Current shortages range from ADHD pills to injectable treatments for syphilis and different forms of cancer, traced to quality control failures at manufacturing plants and surging demand, famously for weight loss drugs. “It’s hard to know exactly what the impact will be, but this stands to just make things worse,” said Erin Fox of University of Utah Health Care.

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85 people in Arizona suffered severe burns from contact with pavements

heated up to 180F (82C). 7 of them died. In total, 257 people had underlying cause of death listed as "exposure to excessive natural heat".



Scent dogs can detect COVID-19 more rapidly and accurately than current tests, finds review study

Scent dogs may represent a cheaper, faster and more effective way to detect COVID-19, and could be a key tool in future pandemics, a new review of recent research suggests. The review, published in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, found that scent dogs are as effective, or even more effective, than conventional COVID-19 tests such as RT-PCR.

Dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory cells, compared to just 5 or 6 million in humans, and use one-third of their brains to process scent information, compared with just 5% for humans. Dogs trained to recognize specific volatile organic compounds created in the body during disease have successfully identified patients with certain cancers, Parkinson's and diabetes.

Drugs and Vaccines:

COVID vaccine in pregnancy yields antibody responses in moms, babies for 6 months

mRNA COVID-19 vaccines induced an antibody response in both mothers and babies for at least 6 months after birth, with no adverse outcomes, according to a single-center study published late last week in JAMA Network Open.

University of California researchers evaluated the medical records of 76 COVID-naïve mothers in San Francisco who received an mRNA vaccine during pregnancy from December 2020 to December 2021, with follow-up through March 2022.

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Only 1 in 5 US nursing home residents given monoclonal antibodies, antivirals for COVID

A new study published in JAMA finds that fewer than one in five US nursing home residents received evidenced-based treatment with monoclonal antibodies or oral antiviral drugs for COVID-19, despite being at high risk for poor outcomes. The rate had improved to one in four by late 2022.

Nursing home residents are at elevated risk for severe COVID-19 owing to a tendency toward older age, higher number of underlying illnesses, and living in a congregate-care setting with possible lower rates of compliance with public health efforts to mitigate viral spread.

Devices and Masks:

Upgrading PPE from surgical masks to N95s

for staff working on COVID-19 wards cut hospital-acquired infections dramatically

Epidemiology/Infection control:

COVID-19 outbreak declared at Toronto hospital

Toronto hospitals dropped masks July 5th. Outbreak reported about 3 weeks later. Same thing happened in SF BayArea. April 3, no masking in hospitals. About 2 weeks later, Covid outbreak. So predictable.

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C0VlD wastewater levels in the U.S. have risen 46% in the last 3 weeks. For context, these levels increased 40% the 3 weeks after omicron was first detected in the U.S. fall/winter 2021. This means this current surge in 2023 is heating up faster than original omicron. Bad news.
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Clear increase in wastewater viral concentration in the Biobot data via NWSS with many sewersheds skewing higher than my late-May baseline.
Another Dataviz from PeoplesCDC:
Title reads “COVID-19 Wastewater Levels As of July 12, 2023.” A map of the United States in the upper right corner serves as a key. The West is green, Midwest is purple, South is pink, and Northeast is orange. A graph on the bottom is titled “Wastewater: Effective SARS-CoV-2 virus concentration (copies / mL of sewage).” The line graph shows dates between June 4, 2023 and July 9, 2023 with regional virus concentrations plateauing through late May into mid June, but rising in every region from late June into early July. A key on the right side states concentration as of July 12, 2023: 264 copies / mL (Northeast), 146 copies / mL (Midwest), 270 copies / mL (South), and 263 copies / mL (West).

Tips, general reading for public:




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Advocacy tips: from @editoremilye  Nov 11, 2016  Emily Coleman
I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here's what I learned about how they listen to constituents.
First, tweeting or writing on Facebook is largely ineffective. I never looked at those comments except to remove the harassing ones.
Second, writing a letter to the district office (state) is better than sending an email or writing a letter to DC.
But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office. They have to talk to you there....
Also, recognize that your letters and your emails get seen by staffers, just like your phone calls get answered. That's the way of it.
If you want to talk to your rep, show up at town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can't ignore. Pack that place and ask questions.



27% of people with #LongCovid did not get needed health care because of costs. 23.8% currently have medical bills that are past due. #pwLC are more likely to not get needed health care because of how difficult it is to find clinicians.
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Texas women who suffered medical complications when they were denied abortions are back in state court today (represented by (@ReproRights) challenging the state's ban. Texas has asked the judge to dismiss the case.
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Ohio: Must watch ad:
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Climate change:
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Women's care:
We all know women make less money than men. Did you know people are compensated less for performing procedures on female patients than if performing similar procedures on male pts? We’ve know this in the US, where compensation is based on RVUs which are determined by a group of……almost exclusively men. A recent study found the same thing in Canada, where compensation is totally different! Urologists and ob/gyn surgeons created a list of procedures performed for female patients and identified analogous procedures performed on male patients…70% of these procedures were compensated more highly when performed on male patients. 
Screenshot of a figure showing compensation for procedures performed for female patients to similar procedures performed for male patients. Bars extending to the left are ones where compensation is lower for caring for female patients. The majority of the bars extend to the left.
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Trump and Allies Forge Plans to Increase Presidential Power in 2025

The former president and his backers aim to strengthen the power of the White House and limit the independence of federal agencies.

Free link here.

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In the 1950s and 60s, southern officials regularly ignored court orders affirming the rights of Black Americans. In 2023, this is still happening. The Alabama legislature is ignoring a Supreme Court ruling to create a second majority-Black Congressional district
The Alabama House just passed a new congressional map that does not contain a second majority-Black district as SCOTUS required in its Allen v. Milligan decision. Today, the state Senate will vote on a separate map that also fails to include a second majority-black district.
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How a Saudi firm tapped a gusher of water in drought-stricken Arizona

Lax rules let the foreign-owned company pump water from state land to grow alfalfa for the kingdom’s cattle

Free link here.

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Ron DeSantis defends Florida’s new history curriculum standards teaching that slaves learned skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit” — He says it’s “rooted in whatever is factual”... some slaves learned how to be “a blacksmith.”
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DeSantis underscores that he wants to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants in his newly released immigration plan
  @StefWKight   Jun 26
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Florida just approved new Black history standards that includes noting enslaved people developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit”
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Vetting Georgia’s voter rolls was once largely the domain of nonpartisan elections officials. A post-2020 change in the law enabled activists to take on a greater role. ⁦

@DougBockClark found 6 right-wing activists filed 89k voter roll challenges.
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Georgia plans to cancel 191,000+ registrations next month of voters who officials believe have recently moved away. Voting rights advocates are worried that the cancellations will affect voters who still reside and are eligible to vote in Georgia.
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Officers working for Abbott’s border security initiative have been ordered to push children into the Rio Grande, and have been told not to give water to migrants, according to an email from a DPS trooper who described the actions as “inhumane.”
     @benwermund   Jul 17
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A farmer trying to get Texas troopers to remove the “booby-traps” of razor wire that they’ve placed on his land was told that the illegal order to violate his property rights was coming “from the top” and that they weren’t going to remove it.
The farmer happens to be a Republican. “But there’s right and there’s wrong, and this is wrong,” he said. "And Gov. Abbott is outside of what’s right, and so is everybody else within DPS.”
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@TexasTribune   Jul 16
There are no federal or state standards that specifically protect workers from heat illness, and Texas cities and counties will soon be barred from making local rules with that purpose.

Feel good du jour:

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Human decency thread: So our apartment is a mess; it’s just something that happens when dealing with severe chronic illness. I’m too sick to clean and my partner works a full time job while being a full time caretaker. We need help, so I asked an old work buddy, a friend, for help.
They happily agreed and we set up a date and time for a little cleaning party. Here comes the hard part: asking them to test beforehand as a safety precaution due to me being high risk and immunocomp. Their reaction to being asked was
So. Refreshing. A breath of fresh air. They replied *enthusiastically*, of course they’ll be happy to test! And without prompting added they have a stash of fresh masks too. The best part though, was their next text:
“… I promise you never have to tip toe around that topic with me “ I felt so loved, and most importantly I feel safe with having them over, and it was effortless. It doesn’t cost a cent to be compassionate. We need more people like them in this world
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Just wonderful. The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute
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Comic relief:

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Bits of beauty:


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