COVID Variants Continue Impacting NE U.S.

Key Points:

  • In today’s Recommendations for Industry, we discuss the latest COVID transmissibility data from both TAG’s matrix and CDC’s mapping. Read more below.
  • Today, North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown as it’s acknowledging its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak (AP News). 
  • COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Africa and the Americas. In fact, “16 major healthcare societies […] called on federal [U.S.] officials to extend the country’s public health emergency.” While cases drop globally, cases in Africa and in the Americas are driven by Omicron subvariants. Additionlly, “[t]he five countries that reported the most cases were the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, and South Korea. The WHO added that a sharp spike in Australia’s cases is due to revised case numbers from those confirmed by rapid tests.” In both regions, “[t] he WHO has said that rises in both regions are fueled by Omicron subvariants, including BA.4 and BA.5 that were first identified in South Africa and BA.2.12.1 that was first identified in New York.” (CIDRAP).
  • “[T]he American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, National Rural Health Association, American Health Care Association, and 12 other groups” have sent a letter to the U.S. HHS Secretary “calling for the federal government to extend the public health emergency (PHE)—set to expire in mid-July—or risk having 15 million Americans (6.7 million of them children) lose medical coverage.” Additionally, long-term care facillities “are uniquely posed to suffer if the PHE expire.” Having PHE “promotes a state of readiness by ensuring hospitals, health systems, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, clinical laboratories, and other providers have the ability to rapidly increase their capacity to care for patients, most effectively utilize their workforce, and pivot to caring for both COVID-19 patients and those in need of ongoing care.” (CIDRAP).
  • The E.U. will no longer recommend masking requirements for air travel (NYT); this will come into effect next Monday. However, mask-wearing rules are still allowed to be set by airline carriers.
  • With new variants emerging, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases “that while children account for less household COVID-19 transmission, their infectiousness appears to be on the rise as new SARS-CoV-2 variants emerge.” In fact, “[s]econdary infections spread by children made up 30% of 207 secondary infections, compared with 70% for adults.” (CIDRAP).
  • The FDA is warning consumers against using “Skippack Medical Lab SARS-COV-2 antigen rapid test” due to its risk of false results. This brand is currently undergoing a Class 1 Recall.
  • On the topic of vaccines, new research from Singapore has found that mixing and matching mRNA COVID vaccines may actually offer better protection against the Omicron variant (CIDRAP).
  • The FDA has updated its guidance on limiting the use of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine to certain individuals, specifically “individuals 18 years of age and older for whom other authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or clinically appropriate, and to individuals 18 years of age and older who elect to receive the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine because they would otherwise not receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
  • President Biden “will appeal for a renewed international commitment to attacking COVID-19 as he convenes a second virtual summit on the pandemic and marks ‘a tragic milestone’ as the U.S. approaches 1 million deaths.” The summit will begin, virtually, on Thursday and will continue to ask for more funding (AP News).

Public Health & Food Safety:

  • Reuters has written an article discussing why food prices are rising, exploring the causes that have led to this point, the conflicts involved, which foods have the highest costs (including cereal grains , “meats, poultry, fish, and eggs”) as well as when prices might decrease and who is most impacted.
  • The Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences funded new research on hazards in low-moisture foods to fill “critical knowledge gaps and identif[y] cutting-edge decontamination tools […] as part of a multi-center research collaboration between the University of Guelph, Health Canad and North Carolina State University.” Findings from their research include: (1) identifying novel genes that facility survival of Salmonella in LMF; (2) modeling Listeria monocytogenes survival on Model LMF; (3) pathogen inactivation (Salmonella or LM) on “dried strawberries, dried apples, raisins, chocolate crumbs, cornflakes and pistachios”; (4) comparing viral recovery and isolation on “on chocolate, pistachios and cornflakes” to determine which matrix allowed for more rapid extraction of viruses; (5) measuring the “survival of Listeria monocytogenes was measured during long-term storage on three fruits” wherein “Listeria monocytogenes is rapidly inactivated during storage on raisins and dried strawberries at 23 degrees C, but capable of long-term survival at 4 degrees C.”; (6) examining “the survival of foodborne viruses in LMF during four-week storage at room temperature” using various methods for inactivation including “UV radiation, ozone, and peroxide”; and (7) understanding the viability and culturability of Salmonella on strawberries and raisins (Food Safety News). 
  • Walmart is seeking to prioritize employee mental health by working to “open up the conversation about mental health and help break the stigma that often surrounds it. The retailer is launching a program to spread awareness among its associates about mental health issues and also teach them the skills necessary to aid or even save a life.” This will be done through a 4-hour Mental Haelth First Aid training course to “teach Walmart employees how to identify, understand and respond to people who are struggling with mental health challenges” (Progressive Grocer). 
  • A new study suggestes that a “high-fiber diet is associated with fewer antibiotic-resistance genes in gut bacteria” (CIDRAP).
  • The global number of unexplained hepatitis cases in kids is now over 450 individuals (CIDRAP).

Recommendations for Industry

COVID Variants Continue Impacting NE U.S.

As can be seen by TAG’s weekly COVID matrix, as well as CDC county-level mapping of COVID cases, the Northeast is continuing to be a hotspot for cases. From the CDC variant tracker (CDC Map/Data 2) below, the BA.2.12.1 variant appears to be the main driver in the Northeast due to its higher transmissibility. It is interesting, however, that this same characteristic has not caused significant geographic spread beyond that, as shown by CDC Map 1.

As the BA.2.12.1 variant replaces BA.2 in other parts of the country as the predominant circulating strain, we expect to see similar rises in case rates elsewhere. These increases won’t be as pronounced as the original BA.1 surge was at the beginning of the year, although the risk of indoor and workplace transmission will increase as community case rates rise. With the onset of allergy season, and with other respiratory illnesses in circulation, reminding employees to take COVID tests if they’re experiencing new symptoms can help lower the risk of spread in the workplace.

CDC Map 1
CDC Map/Data 2

Risk Matrix:

This week, cases are rising across the U.S. still fueled by Omicron subvariants. The same four states that have been in Medium Risk still remain as such including Washington D.C., Delaware, Maine, and New York.

In Case You Missed It:

  • In Tuesday’s Recommendations for Industry, we discussed the continuing evolution of COVID variants and what this means for your business. Read more here.
  • The CDC has put out more information on long-COVID and Post-COVID conditions. The CDC currently discusses Post-COVID conditions by: “Some people who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can experience long-term effects from their infection, known as post-COVID conditions (PCC) or long COVID. People call post-COVID conditions by many names, including: long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC), long-term effects of COVID, and chronic COVID.” Things that they want everyone to know:
    • Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems; these conditions can last weeks, months, or years.
    • Post-COVID conditions are found more often in people who had severe COVID-19 illness, but anyone who has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can experience post-COVID conditions, even people who had mild illness or no symptoms from COVID-19.
    • People who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 and become infected may also be at higher risk of developing post-COVID conditions compared to people who were vaccinated and had breakthrough infections.
    • There is no single test for post-COVID conditions. While most people with post-COVID conditions have evidence of infection or COVID-19 illness, in some cases, a person with post-COVID conditions may not have tested positive for the virus or known they were infected.
    • CDC and partners are working to understand more about who experiences post-COVID conditions and why, including whether groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 are at higher risk.
  • A recent news release through the European Association for the Study of Obesity has found that within the first half year of the COVID-19 pandemic, “the proportion of overweight or obese children and teens from low-income families in Ohio climbed from 38% to 45%”, basically 18%! The study continues to find that, “the early months of school closures, bans on social gatherings, disruptions to sleep and lack of exercise, increased screen time and snacking, as well as heightened stress and anxiety created the perfect storm for having issues with weight gain.” (CIDRAP).
  • While lockdowns in China continue (with Shanghai city official tightening restrictions) and Beijing also finding districts coming into lockdown (CIDRAP), Taiwan is moving away from the “zero-COVID” policy (NYT).
  • In South Africa, COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically with cases fueled by Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. (CIDRAP/Bloomberg)
  • On May 20th, Israel will be removing mandatory COVID-19 airport testing.


  • Seasonal flu cases and activities continue to rise across the U.S. However, cases are variable globally. In Canada and Peru, cases are rising. Additionally, Australia is also warning of the upcoming flu season.
  • The H5N1 avian flu continues to spread, now with more than two thirds of US states affected (34 states). New outbreaks are happening in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana. In Washington and Oregon, outbreaks are occurring in backyard flocks. (CIDRAP). 
  • There have been a few human cases of avian flu; however, given the current illnesses, the WHO concluded that, “Currently, limited available epidemiologic and virologic information suggests that this avian influenza A(H3N8) virus has not acquired the ability of sustained transmission among humans. Therefore, the risk at the national, regional and international level of disease spread is assessed as low.”

Public Health & Food Safety:

  • A monkeypox case has been reported in the U.K. (CIDRAP).
  • Regarding the current hepatitis cases of unknown origin, “Cases were reported from four of the six regions into which the WHO divides the world; many other countries have reported incidences, including Argentina, Indonesia, and Panama.” The current hypothesis around this is more so that “[c]hildren’s immune systems have been weakened by keeping their distance and other corona measures and were therefore exposed to fewer viruses due to any contact restrictions. This resulted in their being unable to develop corresponding antibodies” with the potential that “[a]s with the SARS-CoV-2 variants, a more aggressive and contagious adenovirus variant could have emerged.”