Sources and updates, September 4

Omicron BA.4.6, a newer version of BA.4, is currently more prevalent in the Midwest than other regions of the country. Chart via the CDC, retrieved September 4.
  • Slow rise of BA.4.6 is worth watching: As I mentioned in today’s National Numbers post, a newer subvariant labeled BA.4.6 is gaining ground over other versions of Omicron in the U.S. BA.4.6 evolved from BA.4, and has an additional mutation in the virus’ spike protein that enables it to bypass protection from prior infections. It’s unclear whether BA.4.6 will be able to fully outcompete BA.5, which is currently causing the vast majority of U.S. COVID-19 cases—these two strains are similar enough that the competition may go slowly. So far, the subvariant has been more prevalent in the Midwest than other regions of the country, according to CDC data. Also worth watching: BA.2.75, a subvariant that is dominating some European countries but hasn’t shown up significantly in the U.S. yet.
  • Up to 4 million people may be out of work due to Long COVID: Last week, policy research organization the Brookings Institute published a new report discussing the massive impacts Long COVID is having on America’s labor force. The report utilizes recent data from the Household Pulse Survey (released in June) estimating Long COVID prevalence, in conjunction with research on how many long-haulers might be out of work due to their condition. The results: between two and four million Americans potentially lost their jobs (or are working significantly less) due to Long COVID, costing at least $170 billion a year in lost wages. Even the low ends of these estimates are staggering.
  • U.S. life expectancy declined again in 2021: Americans born in 2021 may expect to live for 76 years on average, according to the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System. This is the lowest life expectancy has been since 1996. CDC researchers attribute the sharp decline in the last two years to the pandemic and drug overdose deaths. Disparities in life expectancy have also increased: Native Americans born in 2021 may expect to live only 65 years on average and Black Americans may expect to live 71 years, compared to 76 years for white Americans.
  • Biobot expands wastewater surveillance for opioid tracking: In the last couple of months, we’ve seen wastewater used to track monkeypox and polio, in addition to COVID-19—suggesting the technology’s capacity for broader public health surveillance. This week, leading wastewater company Biobot announced a new initiative to track opioid use and other high-risk substance use through a similar platform to its current COVID-19 efforts. Tracking the opioid crisis was actually the original focus for Biobot’s founders pre-pandemic, so it’s notable to see the company expanding in this direction now.
  • New technical report on monkeypox outbreak: Speaking of monkeypox, the CDC recently released a detailed report on how the disease has spread through the U.S. and other countries. It’s a new reporting format for the CDC, with the agency releasing data more rapidly than it might have in a scientific study—possibly emulating the U.K. Health Security Agency’s Technical Briefings. Notably, the CDC Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, the agency’s new modeling center, was a key contributor to the report. Former CFA leader Caitlin Rivers shared key findings from the report here. (And for more on CFA, see this story I wrote for FiveThirtyEight in June.)

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