Wastewater levels continue to increase in the Northeast and Southern regions of the United States with a slight decrease in the Midwest and Western regions of the United States, and the national average increasing for a fourth week straight. This ongoing summer surge suggests that we must remain vigilant, protect ourselves and each other. We provide these urgent recommendations not to alarm, but out of concern for this community, your family, friends, and colleagues. This ongoing summer surge reminds us to remain vigilant to protect ourselves and each other. We are in this together.
The current variant landscape remains a mix of nearly equally dominant strains since the last report from July 8, 2023. XBB.1.16 is now the dominant strain, representing 14.8% of infections. This underscores the importance of layers of protection. Vaccines may not be updated to account for all COVID variants, but high-quality respirators and masks, clean indoor air, and other basic safety measures will offer protection against every COVID variant.
In our previous report, we highlighted several conferences that provided layers of protection to minimize COVID infections at gatherings. We wanted to highlight a pledge to safer gatherings and also wanted to note that virtual options should always be made available. This past week, two other conferences employed multiple layers of protection: FOSSY, a software development conference and Dysautonomia International, a conference for clinicians, researchers, patients, and caregivers. If these groups are able to ensure COVID safer gatherings, other scientific and medical research conference organizers must take notice!
Healthcare settings are one of the most vulnerable settings for all individuals. Masking must return to healthcare settings. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Scottish Healthcare Worker Coalition has recently demanded the return of masking in healthcare settings.
Hospitalizations and Deaths:
During the week of July 8th, over 6,000 Americans were newly admitted to the hospital for COVID while over 300 died from COVID, most likely an undercount. COVID is not over. We would not continue to see this many hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID if the pandemic had ended.
Across the Pacific Ocean, Japan is similarly enduring a rise in COVID cases with over 6,000 hospitalizations last week up from over 4,000 weekly hospitalizations last month. Global deaths remain elevated, higher than expected, most likely driven by COVID.
COVID is an airborne disease. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology branch acknowledges this fact and has even developed a tool that accounts for the various conditions and estimates the total length of time for the decay of SARS-CoV-2. A recently published study based in China examined a COVID superspreader event at an outdoor night market that strongly suggests outdoor transmission, in particular, a crowded setting highly likely with limited air flow and no wind. The study reported 131 subsequent COVID cases traced back to the outdoor market as a result of three individuals, two of whom were unmasked. The study observed that under appropriate conditions aerosols can remain suspended in the air for 1 hour and 39 minutes. While the study concerns a BA5 variant that is no longer circulating, COVID can still be a serious risk for infection, including in outdoor settings, and wearing a high-quality mask is a simple step to reduce that risk.
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.
In-N-Out continues to keep its new policy in some states requiring their workers to bring a doctor’s note in order to work with a mask on. This policy is a direct attack on our civil rights, our right to work safely, our bodily autonomy, and our freedom to live a good, healthy life. Please support In-N-Out workers by boycotting In-N-Out, 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 discriminatory, deadly policy.
Notes: 1) The numbers in this report were current as of 7/24/2023. 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