Wastewater levels are now increasing in every region of the United States for the first time in months, with the national average increasing for a second week straight. Alarm bells should be ringing as the data are clear: across the country, surges are happening this summer, and we need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and each other, especially in the face of massive gaslighting by our institutions and our own communities. As we take such action, know that you are not alone: we are in this together.
The current variant landscape is a concerning soup of nearly equally dominant strains, several rising very quickly. X.B.B. 1.5, once the dominant strain, is now at 16.1% of cases, surpassed by newer strain X.B.B 1.1.6 (17.5% of cases). Meanwhile, several other newer strains are also quickly catching up, with E.G.5, X.B.B.2.3, X.B.B. 1.16.1, and X.B.B. 1.19.1 all being at varying percentages between 9%-13%. This underscores the importance of layers of protection: vaccines may not be updated to account for all COVID variants, but high quality respirators, clean indoor air, and other basic safety measures are variant-independent and will offer protection against every COVID variant.
As you may know, last week we reported that Readercon will be holding a conference with layers of protection, requiring vaccination and high-quality masking, and recommending outdoor dining. This week we are happy to report two additional conferences that are doing the same.
Netroots Nation Conference this past week had universal masking to make the conference safe and accessible to all. This is huge because as a conference focused on grassroots organizing, this means that organizers everywhere of all stripes are seeing once again the importance and value of COVID protections which they will hopefully bring back with them to their local organizing efforts.
Big Bad Con, a tabletop gaming convention made to support gamers from marginalized backgrounds, is also planning on implementing COVID protections when they meet in Sep 28 – Oct 1. They will require universal masking with KN95 grade or better masks and provide them, while proof of vaccination will be required and a negative COVID test result is being requested, providing such tests for those who need it. This is a major testament to how we as people who care about protecting our health can still meet people and have fun and provides a major blow to the gaslighting narrative that fun and community are not possible or hindered when COVID protections are involved.
Scientific and medical research conference organizers, take notice. While poor COVID policies exclude scientists who acknowledge and understand the dangers of the ongoing pandemic from in-person conferences, conferences in other fields are stepping up to allow for an increasing number of people who are able to participate safely. By doing better than many scientific research conferences when it comes to COVID protections, these shining examples of COVID-conscious conferences are proving that you don’t have to be a scientist to put science in practice to protect people, and that many scientists themselves are worse at this than non-scientists with a shred of empathy.
This Week’s Critique:
The US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recently tweeted that “the more often you get COVID, the higher your risk of complications.” While it is good that they are publicly acknowledging the reality of the situation that many of us have been saying for years now, the fact remains the same that the policies our public health authorities are implementing in response are harmful and putting us at risk of infection from COVID multiple times. They are not recommending universal masking but are instead encouraging public places including hospitals to drop universal masking. They are not treating COVID as an emergency but instead suppressing it from public memory. They are not practicing what they preach in the slightest, and so we must continue to fight back against their gaslighting and promote policies that actually help protect us from these harms.
The CDC’s Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) reconvenes on August 22, 2023, and registration to give public comment at the virtual meeting is open until August 17. In their last meeting, HICPAC downplayed the need for N95 respirators for COVID and other airborne pathogens, suggesting that baggy blue surgical masks might be enough. We must take action to stop this dangerous shift and to reinstate universal masking in healthcare. Written comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by August 25. You can also ask your senators to require healthcare masking as well as healthcare-acquired infection tracking, and stay tuned to our Substack for further ways to take action.
COVID Impacts on Wildlife
Although shared air among humans is our main focus when we consider COVID transmission, a recent study analyzed COVID transmission to and among white-tailed deer. The results highlight risks of outdoor transmission (deer don’t tend to spend much time indoors!), potential ecological harm from COVID spillover into wildlife, and risks of transmission to other species, including pets.
For those who may have contact with non-human animals, we urge you to take precautions around animals where a risk of transmission may exist, both for their sake as well as ours. Sensible precautions include isolating from pets when you may be ill or test positive, masking around animals outside your household, and keeping an appropriate distance from wildlife. Importantly, COVID transmission in wildlife is not a cause for fatalism. Human-to-human transmission under “let-it-rip” policies remains the key driver of human infections and new variants.
How can you keep in-the-know about your COVID status now that our government has rapidly been making PCR testing less and less accessible? This Nature article reviewed a study that demonstrated rapid antigen tests miss 90% of asymptomatic cases; these tests are much more effective if repeatedly taken over the course of multiple days. We additionally recommend swabbing the throat and cheeks for more effective results.
Can’t access the Nature article? We’re as confused and disappointed as you are, considering how important this kind of information is to protect ourselves and each other. What’s doubly problematic is that the Nature article for the deer COVID transmission IS accessible to the public–indicating that there is inconsistency in Nature’s decisionmaking on what the public is allowed to access regarding COVID. The closing of free access to relevant scientific information to the public is yet another dire sign of the increasingly anti-science and autocracy-laden era we’re living in, and must be protested at all cost. We have a copy of the article here that you can access in the meantime.
COVID and the Immune System
The research keeps piling on that our immune response to COVID becomes weaker after subsequent COVID infections. A new study adds to the growing body of literature showing our COVID-targeted memory T-cells that our bodies use to fight future infections become weaker and less responsive after primary COVID infection, and in particular even worse after asymptomatic or less severe infections. This study also suggests the possibility of the same happening after multiple COVID infections, though that would require a future study to ascertain it. Once again, we urge you to continue to protect yourselves and your loved ones from COVID, through multiple layers of protection including high-quality respirators, vaccinations, testing, and clean air.
Erratum: We previously shared that the studies above showed a causation between reinfection and a weaker immune response. We acknowledge this was misinterpreted and revised the language above.
There is hope for a better future: pretty soon, you might be able to detect COVID in the air via a special machine. Scientists have recently made a device that can in real time detect COVID in the air. It comes in the form of an approximately cubic foot box that uses a biosensor to detect COVID in incoming air within 5 minutes. The devices would be most effective in preventing transmission if used in isolated spaces (such as homes or apartments) before people gather. If used in shared spaces, contact tracing infrastructure must be reinstated for proper notification of people who may have been exposed.
Making this technology cheap and widely available will require significant funding and policymakers who are not ignoring COVID, adding another front to our fight for COVID protections. It is critical that we keep fighting for protections generally–PCR testing, rapid testing, universal masking, clean indoor air, and more–so that the groundwork is laid for technologies like this to actually be used by society, rather than ignored like the rest of the protections that we have. We additionally caution against new technologies as being the only thing that helps–we learned this lesson the hard way with the vaccine-only strategy largely failing to protect us from infection, and so we urge that the new policy not be a COVID-detecting machine-only strategy, either.
COVID is a labor issue and a civil rights issue, and that has became significantly more clear this week as In-N-Out announced a new policy that in some states their workers now need a doctor’s note in order to work with a mask on. This is an escalation of the general anti-mask policies that have been becoming normalized the past few years, and a direct attack on our rights to work safely, our bodily autonomy, our freedom to live a good, healthy life, and our civil rights.
Grassroots action is our one reliable tool we have left in this situation. Please support In-N-Out workers by boycotting In-N-Out, by signing this Change.org petition showing your support for workers’ right to wear a mask, and contacting In-N-Out to let them know you are opposed to this kind of discriminatory, deadly policy. It appears that they are indeed taking the feedback from people and letting their executives know, so let’s keep the pressure on. Someone has even made posters that you can print and put up in strategic public locations to make the issue visible in your community.
In this same vein, please join us this Wednesday, July 19, to tell the CDC that we want them to report on COVID transparently and honestly. Dr. Jernigan from the CDC will be hosting a zoom webinar + Q&A called “Research! America Alliance Discussion with Dr. Dan Jernigan, Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID).” The zoom registration link is here. Let’s make it clear to them that we are not going away, and that we will continue to be a thorn in their side until they do the right thing.
Finally, if you’re in Northern California, we urge you to join or support Senior & Disability Action (SDA)’s masked rally outside University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) on Tuesday, July 18, at noon calling on them to bring back masks in healthcare for healthcare workers and patients. UCSF has been a key voice in the “COVID is over” gaslighting campaign, so we need a strong and determined showing at this flashpoint in our struggle for our most basic of human rights.
We recognize due to recent events like Musk’s temporary closing of public twitter posts and various news sources’ paywalling of important information that internet links that are accessible now may not be accessible in the future. In light of this, we decided to put the links (including tweets) cited in this weather report onto the internet archive. In the future, if you go back to this weather report and discover that any of these links have since become broken, you can copy that link and paste it onto the internet archive’s wayback machine and view a screenshot of the article or tweet from this day. We intend to give reassurance that even in the face of rising internet censorship, we can still ensure open access to important information, years after this weather report was published.
Corrections to Last Week’s Report
Last week under “This Week’s Critique” we said “And, recently released U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that there are tens of thousands more people with a disability now compared to pre-pandemic.”
However, we realize we made a slight mistake, and have since clarified that sentence to “And, recently released U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that there are millions more disabled people now compared to pre-pandemic.”
Sorry for the confusion! In any case, what is clear is that millions are becoming disabled due to the ongoing pandemic, which is a very big deal–something that you can bring up the next time someone tries to gaslight you into no longer taking protections against COVID! And please, if you find any errors in what we report, do not hesitate to let us know. We’re human too, and make mistakes just like anyone else does.
Notes: 1) The numbers in this report were current as of 7/15/2023. 2) Changes in testing access as well as data reporting have led many federal data sources to become less reliable. Fewer federal data sources may be included in current and upcoming Weather Reports, and we will do our best to provide context regarding the representativeness of limited data. 3) Check out the links throughout & see our website for more! https://peoplescdc.org