Friday, January 7, 2022 | Kaiser Health News

Time To Adjust To ‘New Normal’? Former Biden Advisers Argue For Covid Strategy Shift

A group of transition health advisers to President Joe Biden published journal articles that advocate for learning to live with covid, rather than focusing on eradication, at this phase of the pandemic. When asked about those arguments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “The president’s ultimate goal continues to be to defeat the virus.”

The Washington Post:
Former Biden Advisers Call For ‘New’ Covid Strategy 

Six former health advisers to President Biden’s transition team released a series of journal articles on Thursday calling for a “new normal” in the nation’s approach to fighting the coronavirus and other viral threats. In the articles, the advisers lay out dozens of recommendations, sometimes explicitly and often implicitly criticizing the federal response. For instance, they urge the administration to create a “modern data infrastructure” that would offer real-time information on the spread of the coronavirus and other potential threats, saying inadequate surveillance continues to put American lives and society at risk. They also suggest investments in tests, vaccines and prevention beyond what the White House has done, such as mailing vouchers to Americans that could be used to obtain free, high-quality face masks. (Diamond, 1/6)

The Hill:
Former Biden Transition Advisors Call For Change In COVID-19 Strategy 

The authors made clear that COVID-19 is not endemic yet, and that the U.S. is far from that point. But they said the administration needs to clearly communicate the current goals and strategies, instead of shifting from one crisis to another. For instance, they said it was shortsighted for Biden to declare last summer that the U.S. has “gained the upper hand against this virus.” (Weixel, 1/6)

In related news —

PBS NewsHour:
As Experts Say Biden Should Pivot On COVID, Harris Sees Current Strategy Making Progress

Vice President Kamala Harris stood by the White House’s approach to COVID-19 pandemic response on Thursday, saying the Biden-Harris administration has made progress over the last year and “we have, still, work to do.” While acknowledging that the pandemic at this moment “is extremely frustrating” for everyone, Harris told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff that vaccines, boosters and masks have helped schools and businesses reopen, noting, “We have seen progress… but there are still steps to go.” (Santhanham, 1/6)

Fox News:
CDC’s New COVID-19 Isolation Guidance Called Out By American Medical Association

The American Medical Association (AMA) called out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday for releasing what it deemed “confusing” and “counterproductive” COVID-19 quarantine and isolation guidance. In a statement, the group’s president, Dr. Gerald Harmon, said the American people should be able to count on the agency for timely, accurate and clear guidance. Instead, he said, the CDC’s new recommendations are “not only confusing, but are risking further spread of the virus.” (Musto, 1/6)

KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Contagion Confusion

The covid-19 pandemic is now entering its third year, and the ever-evolving health advice to combat an ever-evolving virus is leaving Americans more cranky and confused than ever. Meanwhile, covid isn’t the only health agenda item slipping from 2021 into 2022. Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to figure out how to salvage President Joe Biden’s huge health and social spending bill, and the rise of prescription drug prices still angers many Americans. (1/6)

Scientists Investigate Why Some Rapid Tests Aren’t Picking Up Omicron; Should You Swab Your Throat, Too?

Some prominent experts have started recommending the additional swab in the throat because omicron appears to be more concentrated there. People on social media have begun swapping instructions for how to do that with at-home test kits.

Scientists Try To Pinpoint Why Rapid Covid Tests Are Missing Some Cases

Marianna Parker, a Boston-area pediatrician, wanted to make sure she, her husband, and her toddler didn’t have Covid-19 when they developed a nasty cold around Dec. 18. Over the course of a week she used five Covid rapid tests and took three PCR tests, testing negative. Her husband tested negative on a rapid test on his second day of infection but positive on his sixth, a result that was confirmed via PCR. “If he hadn’t decided to do that random test on day 6 we would never have known,” she said. Nevertheless, she’s convinced all three of them had Covid, and that the tests simply produced the wrong results. In a Facebook post, she advised friends to remember that if they are vaccinated, their tests might only be positive for a short period of time. (Herper, 1/6)

In related news about test efficacy —

Bay Area News Group:
Yes, You Can Have COVID-19 But Test Negative

Rapid antigen tests are quick, cheap and easy. But a new study suggests they can also be wrong, particularly about omicron. Cupertino native Nick LaRocca found that out the hard way, accidentally infecting a friend after trusting test results that were negative. “I tried to do everything the right way. I thought everything was good, even though I felt really crappy,” said vaccinated LaRocca, 36. “And I got one of my friends sick. That’s the last thing I wanted. … I was literally walking around infecting people not even knowing it. ”In the new study, antigen tests — such as Quidel’s QuickVue and Abbott’s BinaxNOW, which can be easily used at home – missed detection of COVID-19’s omicron variant during the first early days of infection. (Krieger, 1/6)

With Omicron’s Prevalence And Testing In Short Supply, Anyone With Symptoms Should Assume They’re Positive And Isolate, Doctor Says 

With Covid-19 tests hard to find in many parts of the country and the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, health experts are advising those with symptoms to isolate themselves if they even only suspect they have the virus. And with the recent news that rapid antigen tests may lag in detecting positive cases when compared to PCR tests, the best time to take a rapid test may be a day or two after symptoms arrive, epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina said Thursday. “The important thing is, when you feel symptoms, assume you’re positive at this point, especially with Omicron being so prevalent,” Mina said in an interview with telehealth company eMed, where he is chief medical officer. (Caldwell, 1/7)

Chicago Tribune:
Feeling Guilty, People Experience Shame For Testing Positive For COVID 

She’d thought through the travel for the holiday carefully. Working remotely, limiting activities to school-related outings and curbing any other possibility for exposure. And still, the second day of the trip, Christine Hutchinson’s nose felt sniffily. She thought it was related to travel, or simply being a Chicagoan: “Our noses run.” But when other people within the friend group her family had traveled with internationally also began feeling ill, she took a test. It came back positive for COVID-19. (Bowen, 1/6)

Where are all the tests? —

The Washington Post:
White House, USPS Finalizing Plans To Begin Shipping Coronavirus Test Kits To U.S. Households

The White House is finalizing details with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver 500 million coronavirus test kits to households across the country, according to four people familiar with the plans, kick-starting a key part of President Biden’s response to the raging omicron variant. The administration will launch a website allowing individuals to request the rapid tests, those people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private planning sessions. Officials aim to begin shipping the kits by mid-January. (Bogage and Diamond, 1/6)

Omicron Variant, Travel Led To Spike In Testing Demand, Abbott CEO Says

Abbott Laboratories’ top executive said that the company is ramping up production of its Covid-19 tests after the convergence of a highly contagious variant with the holiday travel season led to an unprecedented surge in demand. Chief Executive Officer Robert Ford said that Abbott expects to produce 70 million of its at-home BinaxNOW tests this month, and that “I am working with my team every day to see if we can get us to 100 million.” (Brown and Ludlow, 1/6)

The Wall Street Journal:
Cost Of Covid-19 Testing Exceeds $100 For Some Families As Omicron Surges 

Some families say they are spending hundreds of dollars on Covid-19 testing during the surge in cases across the country, as efforts by the Biden administration and local officials to distribute free tests lag behind the Omicron variant’s rapid spread. Facing hourslong lines at free testing sites, some people have turned to companies that sell more-convenient laboratory testing options, in some cases at prices of more than $200. And until the Biden administration begins making free Covid-19 testing more widely available, some people say they will continue to pay $20 or more for over-the-counter, at-home tests. (Restuccia and Abbott, 1/6)

The Baltimore Sun:
Maryland To Open 10 New COVID Testing Sites At Hospitals Throughout State 

Maryland is launching 10 new COVID-19 testings sites at hospitals as a surge in the virus has led to hours-long lines at testing centers throughout the state, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday. Hogan spoke at the University of Maryland’s Laurel Medical Center, a former hospital that houses one of the new testing operations. The facility reopened more than 100 hospital beds in the early months of the pandemic in spring 2020 to treat coronavirus patients. (Oxenden and Wood, 1/6)

Health News Florida:
DeSantis Clarifies That There Will Be No Restrictions On COVID Tests In Updated Guidance 

COVID-19 tests will continue to be available to all Floridians that need one, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday, clarifying earlier statements about recommendations the state is developing. DeSantis said the state would simply be putting out updated guidelines that would point out what is “high-value testing” versus “low-value testing” based on risk for COVID-19. He claims that a lot of people are getting tested out of fear rather than need. “If you’re somebody who is very low risk, no health problems, no symptoms, just testing over and over again is not really clinically proven to be very much of a value,” DeSantis said. “Again, you’re free to do it. But we’re putting that out there so that people understand.” (Prieur, 1/6)

Bay Area News Group:
Santa Clara County Leaders Pushing For At-Home Testing To Be Swiftly Ramped Up

As omicron cases continue to spike across the region and testing sites in Santa Clara County become bombarded with requests, local leaders are now calling for at-home alternatives to get pushed out to residents to help tamper down the ever-increasing demand. “We’ve got to get on it,” said District 5 Supervisor Joe Simitian. “We’ve got to get on it fast.” Simitian wants the county to quickly distribute at-home rapid tests to residents by Jan. 25, citing a strategy that officials in Colorado and Washington, D.C. have taken, as well as countries like the United Kingdom and Singapore. While he envisions the tests could be either delivered to residents directly or picked up at a distribution center, the sheer number that he says is required to meet the demand is in the “millions” — considering the fact that the county has almost two million residents. (Greschler, 1/6)

Also —

COVID Tests And Vaccines Lift Walgreens’ Profits 

Walgreens increased profit projections for the rest of its fiscal year due to surging demand for at-home COVID-19 tests, drive-thru tests and vaccinations amid the latest outbreaks. Pharmacy chains continue to reap massive financial gains from the pandemic, as they often serve as the first place people go when they need a COVID test or vaccine. In 2021, Walgreens employees administered 56 million COVID vaccines and conducted 23 million COVID tests. (Herman, 1/7)

WHO Says Omicron Seems Less Severe, But Do Not Call It ‘Mild’

The World Health Organization’s messaging is that while is seems like omicron infections are hitting people less severely, people are still being hospitalized and are dying. News outlets cover other omicron news, including breakthrough infections and how the variant changes risk calculations.

Fox News:
Omicron Should Not Be Categorized As Mild, WHO Says

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, said Thursday that while the COVID-19 omicron variant seems to be less severe than delta, it should not be categorized as mild. “Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people and it is killing people,” he said. “In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world.” (DeMarche, 1/6)

Is The Omicron Variant Less Severe? And What Are Its Symptoms?

With infections at all-time highs in the U.S., the clinical picture is now coming together and starting to confirm what other countries have found — a typical case of omicron not only presents slightly differently but also likely carries a lower chance of getting seriously ill. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University have preliminary evidence that the risk of being admitted to the hospital or the intensive care unit during the omicron surge in the U.S. is about half of the risk observed during the delta surge. And this reflects what doctors across the country are now seeing firsthand with their patients. (Doucleff and Stone, 1/6)

USA Today:
Vaccinated Americans Without Risk Factors Immune To Worst Of COVID

The skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and the increased frequency of breakthrough infections may be unsettling even for those who are vaccinated and boosted. The latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should offer some reassurance. A study of more than 1.2 million people who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021 found only people with at least one risk factor had severe outcomes or death, and even among those the instances were rare, 1.5 per 10,000 participants. (Ortiz, Bacon and Thornton, 1/6)

NBC News:
As Omicron Changes Infection Risk, Experts Share Their Approaches

NBC News asked four public health experts about their own personal behavior and risk calculus during this chapter of the pandemic. All of them advised vaccinated people to remain vigilant and conscientious — and not to return fully to pre-pandemic life — but there was no firm consensus around some activities like air travel. (Arkin, 1/6)

In more news about the spread of the coronavirus —

The New York Times:
Global Coronavirus Cases Top 300 Million 

It took more than a year for the world to record the first 100 million coronavirus cases, and half that time to tally the next 100 million. The third 100 million have come even faster, in barely five months, as large segments of countries, rich and poor alike, remain unvaccinated and a wily new variant has proved able to infect even those who are. (1/6)

Setbacks, Shortages Undercut Our Options For Treating Covid-19

On paper, the list of outpatient treatments for Covid-19 seems reassuring. Two oral antivirals have arrived, companies have churned out monoclonal antibody treatments, and all of them, to varying degrees, can help prevent patients from getting so sick they need to be hospitalized. But shortages and setbacks have undercut those options — at a time when more people than ever are getting sick. Supply of some of the treatments, particularly the prized new oral treatment Paxlovid, is extremely constrained. The ascendance of the Omicron variant has nullified the power of some of the monoclonal antibodies. (Joseph, 1/7)

Los Angeles Times:
Orange County Reports Third COVID-19 Death Of A Child Under 5

Orange County officials confirmed Thursday night that a child under the age of 5 died in December of complications from COVID-19. The announcement comes as cases are climbing in Orange County and throughout California, driven by the Omicron variant. “We have lost another precious young life to this terrible virus; it is our third pediatric death in Orange County since the start of the pandemic,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s health officer. “This is yet another somber reminder that we must continue to do everything we can to protect our loved ones, especially our little ones under 5 years of age who are not able to be vaccinated.” (Yee, 1/6)

Official: California COVID Surge Could Ease Next Month 

The California surge in coronavirus cases has shut down schools and sidelined thousands of police, firefighters, teachers and health care workers but officials are hoping it will be short-lived. “My hope is that, you know, by the time we get to February, we’re on the downside of seeing that massive amount of community transmission,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday. (Melley, 1/7)

The CT Mirror:
As Omicron Spreads, CT’s Prison System Isn’t Spared

After a year and a half of the pandemic working its way through the state’s prisons and jails, COVID-19 had slowed down in the corrections system by the beginning of September. Fewer prisoners were being sent to the medical isolation unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, infection rates among the incarcerated population were falling and no one had died since Jan. 25. As fall transitioned to winter, four incarcerated people died from the virus. Infection rates ticked up as vaccinations remained low among the incarcerated and corrections staff. (Lyons, 1/7)

The Boston Globe:
‘True Definition Of Soul Mates’: A New Hampshire Couple Died Of COVID-19 Just Seconds Apart, Holding Hands As They Took Their Last Breaths 

Bill and Carol Stewart were always inseparable, right until their final few breaths. On Dec. 30, after spending more than a week in the intensive care unit of a New Hampshire hospital battling COVID-19, the couple died hand-in-hand, their close family gathered around while dressed head-to-toe in protective gear. “As soon as they touched hands, Dad took his last breath, and seconds later, Mom took hers,” said Melissa Noke, one of the couple’s daughters. “They were happy to be next to each other.” (Annear, 1/6)

In ‘Major Shift,’ Massachusetts Hospitals Change Covid Reporting

Regional hospitals will soon report whether patients were admitted due to covid, or tested positive after admission for other issues. The goal is to get a better grip on how the latest covid surge is affecting hospital capacity.

The Boston Globe:
Mass. Hospitals Will Begin Reporting Primary Vs. Incidental COVID-19 Admissions On Monday, DPH Says

In a major shift, Massachusetts hospitals will soon begin reporting how many patients are admitted primarily due to COVID-19 versus those admitted for other ailments and also test positive for the virus. State public health officials currently count both types of admissions in its COVID-19 hospitalization totals. On Wednesday, the state reported that 2,426 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital, almost exactly matching last winter’s peak of 2,428 on Jan. 4, 2021. But starting Monday, hospitals will begin reporting whether admissions are primary or incidental to COVID-19, the Department of Public Health said Thursday. That data will likely become public the following week. (Fatima, 1/6)

The CT Mirror:
CT Asks Nursing Homes To Take COVID-Positive Transfers From Hospitals

Nursing homes are being asked to accept COVID-positive admissions from hospitals, according to new guidance from the Department of Public Health, even as positivity rates within nursing homes are increasing sharply. The latest guidance from the DPH is an indication that the state is trying to alleviate the growing crush of COVID-19 cases in hospitals as they near record numbers of patients. Until Thursday, the health department required any patient transferred from a hospital to a long-term care facility to have a negative COVID test performed in the hospital within 48 hours of their transfer, but that requirement is now waived. (Altimari and Carlesso, 1/6)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Patients Wait In ERs For Days As COVID-19 Patients Overwhelm St. Louis-Area Hospitals 

People unsure of their illness leaving before they are seen by doctors. Sick patients waiting for hours, sometimes days, in an emergency room because there is nowhere for them to be admitted. Others dying in small-town hospitals unable to access the services they need in urban centers like St. Louis. Those are some of the scenarios Dr. Aamina Akhtar, chief medical officer for Mercy Hospital South, said are playing out in emergency departments across the region as the hyper-infectious omicron variant pushes COVID-19 hospitalizations to record levels and sickens health care staff. (Munz, 1/6)

On staff shortages —

Modern Healthcare:
New CDC Guidance Jeopardizes Patients And Staff, Nurses And Doctors Warn

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently put out new COVID-19 guidance aiming to mitigate staffing shortages, but the recommendations could harm patients and healthcare staff, nurses and doctors claim. CDC recommends that healthcare workers who are asymptomatic or experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms and aren’t feverish return to work at short-staffed hospitals after five days of isolation, even if they haven’t had a negative test. Healthcare providers—many of which are operating near or at capacity—are left to weigh the consequences of exposing workers and patients to the virus and not having enough staff to care for every patient. (Kacik and Christ, 1/6)

The Boston Globe:
‘It’s All Hands On Deck’: Hospitals Scramble To Staff The Front Lines As Surge Continues

Hospitals across Massachusetts are confronting an unprecedented number of workers sidelined by COVID-19 as the Omicron variant continues to surge, and many facilities are already at or near capacity with critically sick patients. The chief executive of UMass Memorial Health in Worcester donned protective gear Thursday and swabbed the noses of patients at a COVID-19 testing center, filling in for workers who were out. At Baystate Health in Springfield, retired and senior physicians who don’t normally see patients staffed phones and helped cover telehealth appointments. (Lazar, 1/6)

Salt Lake Tribune:
Utah Hospital Staff Are ‘Afraid,’ Monoclonal Antibodies Are Running Out And COVID-19 Test Sites Are Flooded

Utah’s supply of monoclonal antibodies and antiviral medications for COVID-19 is running out as the number of new cases broke a state record again Thursday. And Utah’s hospital leaders are warning that more bed shortages are imminent amid record coronavirus infections. “Our staff are afraid to come to work,” said Tracey Nixon, chief nursing officer for University of Utah Health. “They know we do not have the staff to care for the patients the way we need. ”In a single hospital department on Tuesday, Nixon said, “I had three nurses leave because they can’t do this again. They feel like we’re going backward.” (Alberty, 1/6)

Hospitals Recruit International Nurses To Fill Pandemic Shortages 

Before Mary Venus was offered a nursing job at a hospital here, she’d never heard of Billings or visited the United States. A native of the Philippines, she researched her prospective move via the internet, set aside her angst about the cold Montana winters and took the job, sight unseen. Venus has been in Billings since mid-November, working in a surgical recovery unit at Billings Clinic, Montana’s largest hospital in its most populous city. She and her husband moved into an apartment, bought a car and are settling in. They recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. Maybe, she mused, this could be a “forever home.” (Ehli, 1/7)

Also —

WUSF Public Media:
A Young Nurse Reflects On Caring For COVID Patients In A Deadly Pandemic 

I started working in the hospital when I was 20 years old (as a certified nursing assistant). I’m 25 now. In June is when we started being the COVID unit at my hospital. And we actually still are to this day. So I’ve seen all the ups and downs of it for the past year and a half. It’s been very scary at times. And it is, to a certain extent, still unpredictable in the way of some people are fine, and they’re asymptomatic. And, you know, they have an easy time going. But for other people, they struggle, and it’s a long journey. (Sheridan, 1/6)

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