Here are six other COVID-19 news items from the past week that didn’t quite warrant full posts:
- The CDC made its COVID-19 isolation guidance even more confusing, somehow. On Tuesday, the CDC updated its isolation guidance again—and the new guidance is, kind-of a “dumpster fire,” as the headline on this article by The Atlantic’s Katherine J. Wu aptly puts it. The agency still isn’t requiring rapid tests to get out of isolation early, but it says you can test if you have one available. Also, wear a mask if you leave isolation after five days and avoid travel, restaurants, and other high-exposure activities. Wu’s article provides a good summary of the guidance (and criticism of that guidance), as does this Your Local Epidemiologist post from Dr. Katelyn Jetelina.
- New reporting recipe explains how to explore “uncounted” COVID-19 deaths with CDC data. Last week, I shared a new investigative story from my team at the Documenting COVID-19 project that dives into unreported COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. Up to 200,000 deaths may have gone unrecorded thanks to a lack of training, standardization, tests, and other issues with death reporting. This week, the team published a reporting recipe aimed to help other journalists do similar stories in their states, cities, and regions. If you have questions about the project or recipe, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- B.1.640.2, or the “IHU variant” from France, is not currently cause for concern. In the past few days, you might have seen headlines about a new variant called B.1.640.2 that was identified in France last November. The variant has a number of mutations, including some mutations that have also been identified in other highly-contagious variants, according to a recent preprint from French researchers. But it’s not currently a concern, say experts at the World Health Organization and elsewhere. This variant actually predates Omicron, and only 20 cases had been reported between early November and early January (compared to well over 100,000 Omicron cases in the same timespan). Omicron is the main variant we should be worrying about right now.
- “Flurona” means getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time; it’s not a new mutant disease. Another buzzword you might’ve seen in headlines this week: “flurona,” a portmanteau of coronavirus and flu. Los Angeles and other places have recently reported cases in which a patient tests positive for both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. While having two respiratory diseases at once is certainly unpleasant—and might lead to increased risk of severe symptoms—it’s not necessarily worth freaking out over. Roxanne Khamsi covered these potential coinfections in The Atlantic back in November 2021, writing: “Recent screening studies have found that 14 to 70 percent of those hospitalized with flu-like illness test positive for more than one viral pathogen.”
- Senators call for HHS to answer key questions about COVID-19 testing. This week, Senators Roy Blunt (Missouri) and Richard Burr (North Carolina) wrote to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra requesting information on COVID-19 test spending. The Senators note that over $82.6 billion has been “specifically appropriated for testing,” yet the U.S. continues to experience dire shortages and delays for both PCR and rapid tests. The letter includes questions about Biden’s initiative to distribute 500 million rapid tests for free; little information has been shared about the initiative so far.
- New meta-analysis estimates one in three COVID-19 patients have persistent symptoms for 12 weeks or more. In a meta-analysis, scientists compile results from a number of studies on the same topic in order to provide overall estimates for an important metric, like the risk of developing a particular condition. A new analysis from researchers at a Toronto hospital network and other co-authors examined the risk of Long COVID symptoms following a COVID-19 diagnosis, combining results from 81 studies. Their main findings: about 32% of patients had fatigue 12 weeks after their diagnosis, while 22% had cognitive impairment at 12 weeks; and the majority of those patients still had these symptoms at six months. (H/t Hannah Davis.)
Note: this title and format are inspired by Rob Meyer’s Weekly Planet newsletter.