- In today’s Recommendations for Industry, we discuss COVID protection strategies in food manufacturing. Read more below.
- The C.D.C. found 43 Omicron cases in the first week of December. Almost all cases were mild (NYT). One individual, who was vaccinated, required a brief hospital stay, but there were no deaths. The most common symptoms were cough, fatigue and congestion or runny nose, but the report warned that “as with all variants, a lag exists between infection and more severe outcomes.”
- Pfizer said trials of its COVID pill Paxlovid confirmed that it helped stave off severe disease. If given within three days of the onset of symptoms, it reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent. Pfizer has applied to the FDA for authorization.
- Across the U.S.
- New York State will require masks in indoor public spaces that do not ask for proof of vaccination (NYT), due to the state’s spike in cases and hospitalizations. Businesses could face civil and criminal penalties, and fines of up to $1,000, for failing to comply; local health departments are tasked with checking on them.
- Philadelphia to require COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining establishments. Proof of a COVID-19 vaccine will be required to eat inside a food establishment beginning January 3.
- Companies of all sizes are rethinking return-to-office plans due to Omicron, with Google and Ford delaying plans and other businesses whose employees have returned are considering adding extra precautions, like masks.
- As U.S. nears 800,000 virus deaths, 1 of every 100 older Americans has died. Those 65 and older are among the most vaccinated groups but make up about 3/4 of the nation’s coronavirus death toll.
- Global news
- In Europe: Germany is mandating vaccination for health workers, effective mid-March and has announced a lockdown on those who are unvaccinated. France is expected to be hit by a sixth COVID wave in January, fueled by Omicron – even while still in the midst of the current, Delta-fueled, fifth wave. Officials in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway and Sweden have asked people to work from home if they can.
- Chinese workers are urged not to travel home for Lunar New Year as nearly 80 percent of the country’s latest locally infected COVID-19 cases are found in the manufacturing powerhouse province of Zhejiang.
- Experts warning that Papua New Guinea is a potential breeding ground for new COVID variants, as less than 5% of the adult population is vaccinated, causing opportunities for the virus to spread and mutate.
Food Safety & Public Health:
- FDA Issues Improvement Plan Focused on Modernizing Foodborne Illness Outbreak Responses. The plan is designed to help enhance the speed, effectiveness, coordination, and communication of foodborne outbreak investigations. It focuses on four priority areas expected to have the most impact on outbreaks of human food:
- Tech-enabled product traceback.
- Root-cause investigations (RCIs).
- Strengthen analysis and dissemination of outbreak data.
- Operational improvements.
In the US (CDC, etc.)
- Seasonal influenza activity in the U.S. remains low but continues to increase.
- The dominant strain remains H3N2, an Influenza A
- Flu vaccine rates are lower than normal in some places
- Illness rates also are lower than would be typical, largely attributed to COVID precautions (e.g., mask wearing, hand washing) that are still in place.
- Norovirus cases are also increasing, particularly in group settings – schools, a homeless shelter, etc.
- National Influenza Centres (NICs) and other national influenza laboratories from 102 countries, areas or territories reported data to FluNet for Nov 8-21, 2021. Of more than 335,864 specimens tested in WHO GISRS laboratories, 3,844 were positive for influenza viruses, of which 1,658 (43.1%) were typed as influenza A and 2,186 (56.9%) as influenza B.
- Globally, influenza activity continued to increase but remains well below levels observed in previous seasons.
Recommendations for Industry
COVID Protection Strategies in Food Manufacturing Proven Effective
A new study led by researchers at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health confirms that, when combined, the food industry’s COVID-19 infection control strategies prevent the spread of COVID-19 in enclosed food manufacturing facilities. This work also supports currently available guidance aimed at minimizing COVID-19 transmission in workers in the food industry – like what TAG has developed.
The study indicates that when bundled together, food industry COVID-19 strategies (masking, physical distancing, ventilation, handwashing, and surface disinfection) provide significant protection (resulting in a less than 1 percent risk of contracting COVID-19 during an 8-hour shift).
Combining these measures with vaccination (whether partial or in full) provide additional individual protection, especially within close contact (distances of 3 feet or less). The researchers note that COVID-19 vaccination alone is not sufficient to protect food workers in such close proximity to one another and needs to be combined with additional strategies such as masking for optimal worker protection against person-to-person transmission.
Related to the Omicron variant, TAG is seeing that cases are continuing to stay fairly flat. So, despite the increases in vaccination, masking, and lockdown requirements around the globe due primarily to Omicron fears, TAG recommends that businesses not overreact. All indications are that, while transmission rates may be higher, severity is much lower with most cases reporting only mild symptoms. And with the study results noted above, businesses should continue enforcing employee protection strategies – but don’t panic.
In Case You Missed It
- In Thursday’s Recommendations for Industry, we discussed the continuing wave of the Delta variant and the importance of including handwashing in protective measures. Read more here.
- The U.S. Senate has approved and passed the bill to overturn Biden’s vaccine mandate (Reuters).
- The FDA has updated its COVID-19 Tests page with updates on different mutations including that for the Omicron variant. There are a few tests currently being used that may “fail to detect the SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant” due to the variant’s mutations. Check this site and check with your testing provider.
- As of today, the Omicron variant has been detected in at least 57 countries. While Omicron has been identified in at least 20 US states, Delta is still the dominant variant in the U.S. and continues to fuel the COVID-19 surge (especially in states like Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio) (CIDRAP-1). In a few early studies, there is increasing evidence that the Omicron variant has significant immune escape in vaccinated individuals (CIDRAP-2).
- The WHO is encouraging those “with health issues or inactivated vaccine” to get a COVID-19 booster dose “to protect against waning immunity” (Reuters). A recent early study through Pfizer also found that those “who have received a booster shot might be better protected” (NYT). However, the company plans to develop a vaccine to neutralize the Omicron variant by March 2022. Counter to this, there are medical individuals, including the WHO’s chief scientist, who believe that “booster doses are probably not the solution” in the long run (CIDRAP).
- A pre-Omicron study published in New England Journal of Medicine in Israel found that individuals who received a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, “at least 5 months after [their] second dose,” have 90% lower mortality (death) than those who did not receive a booster.
- In Europe, UK cases of the Omicron variant are doubling every 2-3 days (CNBC). In Germany, protests against COVID-19 restrictions are increasing (France 24), yet Germany has also hit its highest number of daily cases since February 2021 (CNN). In South Africa, Omicron cases in children are rising, increasing suspicion that “COVID positivity rates in the community settings are very, very high at the moment and increasing” (NYT).
Public Health/Food Safety:
- Recently published in JAMA, a new study finds (through cohort studies) that there is “no association […] found between an increase in seafood consumption of 1 oz equivalent per day and all-cause and [cardio-vascular disease (CVD)-related] mortality. In addition, blood mercury level was not associated with all-cause or CVD-related mortality.” This means that “environmental mercury exposure at the currently low to moderate level and seafood consumption were not associated with risk of all-cause or CVD-related mortality.”
- This week, the CDC “announced a major initiative to bolster the global response to antimicrobial resistance.” The CDC awarded $22M to 28 organizations in over 50 countries to establish capacities that don’t exist or need to be further developed. “Focus on preventing and limiting the spread of drug-resistant infections in healthcare settings, building laboratory capacity to detect and understand emerging resistant organisms in the community and the environment, and developing methods to identify and respond to resistant pathogens more quickly.” (CIDRAP).
- Rhode Island has confirmed its “first Jamestown Canyon virus case in years.” Jamestown Canyon virus is a mosquito-borne disease that is spread primarily between deer and mosquitoes. “The RIDOH also reported its second West Nile virus case of the year. Connecticut has confirmed 6 West Nile cases in people this year, and Massachusetts has reported 10.” (CIDRAP).
- China has reported its first fatal H5N6 avian flu infection (CIDRAP).