CDC Updates Mask Guidance in Light of Changing Nature of Virus
New Research Sheds Light on New Omicron Strain
New Research Sheds Light on New Omicron Strain
Lost in all of the global headlines this week was a major announcement regarding mask usage in the U.S. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors. Here is the latest on this updated mask guidance and the COVID-19 pandemic.
New CDC Metrics Change Mask RecommendationsRead More »
With the new metrics in place, there are just over 25% of Americans that live in counties where masks are still recommended in public indoor settings. The previous metrics only looked at transmission levels. Under those old parameters, approximately 99% of Americans were under the umbrella of recommended mask usage.
The CDC continues to recommend that all eligible Americans get vaccinated and boosted as the best line of defense against the virus. The government agency also recommends that the vulnerable populations continue to wear masks.
The change in the recommendations comes as daily cases continue to plummet. As of the latest data release from John Hopkins University, cases are only one-tenth of what they were at the January peak. The U.S. was averaging over 802,000 cases per day on January 15. Six weeks later, that number is down 90% to 75,000.
New Metrics in Detail
The latest change to the metrics designate counties as having either high, medium, or low community transmission levels. Those counties under the low designation have fewer than 200 new confirmed cases per 100,000 residents. This designation also specifies that there needs to be fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents or less than 10% of its total hospital beds occupied by those with COVID-19 over the past week.
Levels are considered to be medium if a county has between 10 and 19 new COVID-19 hospital admissions for every 100,000 residents or between 10% and 14.9% of the staffed beds filled with COVID-19 patients. Lastly, levels are high if a county has 20 or more new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 and at least 15% of its beds occupied by patients battling COVID-19.
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The updated parameters look beyond the metric of confirmed cases, taking into account how an area is handling the influx of hospitalized patients. This new guidance reflects the fact that while more Americans are getting COVID-19, the effectiveness of the vaccine has led to fewer hospitalizations and deaths.
Two Studies Signal That Virus Originated at Wuhan Market
Two new studies released on Saturday are offering further evidence that the COVID-19 virus first appeared in animals before spreading to humans at the Hunan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China in late 2019. One study leaned on spatial analysis techniques to demonstrate that the earliest cases of the virus came from the market in December 2019. The data also showed that the environmental samples that were positive for the virus were connected to the live-animal vendors.
The additional study asserted that the two primary lineages of the virus came from at least two separate events in which the strain moved from animals to humans. The first transmission is estimated to have occurred in either late November or early December of 2019. The second transmission likely happened just a few weeks later, setting the stage for the rapid spread of the virus in motion throughout Wuhan.
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The results of these studies discredit the theory that the virus originated in a lab. It is important to note that neither of these preprint studies have been peer-reviewed or published.
New Omicron Variant
The latest Omicron variant is proving to be even more virulent than the original. The BA.2 variant is estimated to be approximately 30% more transmissible than its cousin, BA.1. This information comes from two studies out of the U.K. and Denmark.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is estimating that the new strain is responsible for about 20% of new confirmed cases on a global scale. While cases are dropping rapidly throughout the world, this particular strain is on the rise. The BA.2 has now overtaken the original Omicron variant in at least 43 countries, raising the red flag that yet another wave may be on the horizon.
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Similar to the BA.1 strain, BA.2 also exhibits features that make it more likely to escape vaccine immunity. In addition, the new strain is also more resistant to the most common type of monoclonal antibody treatments that have been used to treat COVID-19 in the past.
The good news is that the latest research signals that recent booster shots can help to guard against the virus. Antiviral medications are also still working against the subvariant.
It is also promising to learn that those individuals who were recently infected with the original Omicron variant and the Delta strain are proving to exhibit strong levels of protection against its cousin. Those who do become reinfected are more likely to be unvaccinated, leading more credence to the fact that vaccines guard against further infection. Additionally, symptoms have been reported to be mild in those who are reinfected.
FDA Doubles Recommended Dosage of Monoclonal Antibody
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it was revising its emergency use authorization (EUA) for the monoclonal antibody treatment known as Evusheld, doubling the recommended dosage. This treatment is designed for immunocompromised individuals and for those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons.
The change in dosage comes as more data comes in about the effectiveness of Evusheld against some types of Omicron subvariants. New data indicate that a higher dosage of the treatment from AstraZeneca is more effective in guarding against infection.
The challenge in the new recommendations is that the drug is already in short supply. Initially approved on December 8, the U.S. government has shipped about 600,000 doses of the treatment since December 13. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the government bought another 500,000 doses in January.
However, this number falls well short of the roughly 7 million Americans eligible to receive this treatment
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