Five more things, February 20

A few additional news items from this week:

  • Omicron has caused more U.S. COVID-19 deaths than Delta. Despite numerous headlines proclaiming the Omicron variant to be “milder” than previous versions of the coronavirus, this variant infected such a high number of Americans that it still caused more deaths than previous waves, a new analysis by the New York Times shows. Between the end of November and this past week, the U.S. has reported over 30 million new COVID-19 cases and over 154,000 new deaths, the NYT found, compared to 11 million cases and 132,000 deaths from August 1 through October 31 (a period covering the worst of the Delta surge).
  • 124 countries are not on target to meet COVID-19 vaccination targets. The World Health Organization (WHO) set a target for all countries worldwide to have 70% of their populations fully vaccinated by mid-2022. As we approach the deadline, analysts at Our World in Data estimated how many countries have already met or are on track to meet the goal. They found: 124 countries are not on track to fully vaccinate 70% of their populations, including the U.S., Russia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, and other large nations.
  • Anime NYC was not an omicron superspreader event, CDC says. In early December, the Minnesota health department sounded the alarm about a Minnesotan whose COVID-19 case had been identified as Omicron—and who had recently traveled to New York City for the Anime NYC convention. The CDC investigated possible Omicron spread at this event, both by contact tracing the Minnesota case and by searching public health databases for cases connected to the event. Researchers found that this convention was not a superspreader for Omicron, despite what many feared; safety measures at the event likely played a role in preventing transmission, as did the convention’s timing at the very beginning of NYC’s Omicron wave. I covered the new findings for Science News.
  • Americans with lower socioeconomic status have more COVID-19 risk, new paper shows. Researchers at Brookings used large public databases to investigate the relationship between socioeconomic status and the risk of COVID-19 infections or death from the disease. Their paper, published this month in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, found that education and income are major drivers of COVID-19 risk, as are race and ethnicity. The researchers also found that: “ socioeconomic status is not related to preventative behavior like mask use but is related to occupation-related exposure, which puts lower-socioeconomic-status households at risk.” 
  • The federal government has failed to disclose how much taxpayers are spending for “free” COVID-19 tests. One month into the Biden administration’s distribution of free at-home COVID-19 tests to Americans who request them, millions have received those tests. But the government has not shared how much it spent for the tests, making it difficult for journalists and researchers to determine how much taxpayer money was paid for each testing kit. “The reluctance to share pricing details flies against basic notions of cost control and accountability,” writes KHN reporter Christine Spolar in an article about this issue. The government has also failed to share details about who requested these free tests or when they were delivered, making it difficult to evaluate how equitable this distribution has been.

Note: this title and format are inspired by Rob Meyer’s Weekly Planet newsletter.

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