Sources and updates, December 18

  • Federal government opens up at-home test orders: The Biden administration has revived its program to mail out free COVID-19 at-home rapid tests, just in time for the holidays. Every household can now order four more tests. This feels pretty minimal (and late in the season) for a surge already overwhelming hospitals, but it’s better than nothing. Also, remember to report your results from these tests to the National Institutes of Health’s new portal!
  • COVID-19 vaccines saved millions of lives: A new report from the Commonwealth Fund estimates the hospitalizations and deaths saved by two years of COVID-19 vaccines, in honor of the two-year anniversary of those shots first becoming available. About 80% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, the authors write, “with the cumulative effect of preventing more than 18 million additional hospitalizations and more than 3 million additional deaths.” The modeling data underlying this analysis are available for download.
  • Congressional COVID-19 subcommittee issues final report: House Democrats on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently released their final report, a 200-page document outlining how the U.S. should prepare for the next public health emergency. The report sums up information from three years of research and hearings, including some new findings from more recent investigations. It was released in time with the Subcommittee’s final hearing last Wednesday, which also focused on preparedness. Next year, the Republican-controlled House will have new COVID-19 priorities.
  • Helix and CDC build multi-disease surveillance program: This week, leading viral surveillance company Helix announced that its partnership with the CDC has expanded to include sequencing other respiratory viruses, beyond COVID-19. The company will work with major health systems in Minnesota and Washington to track viral variants for the coronavirus, flu, RSV, and other pathogens—and will build infrastructure connecting that sequencing data to electronic health records. That second piece is particularly intriguing, as variant data usually aren’t connected back to health records in the U.S.
  • State-level wastewater surveillance expansions: The University of Minnesota is working on a process to test wastewater for the coronavirus, flu, and RSV simultaneously, according to reporting by local outlet KARE11. A team of researchers at the university’s medical school currently test wastewater from 44 sewage treatment plants in Minnesota, and is working to broaden this work with grants from the CDC and state health department. Across the country, New Hampshire’s state health department has announced that it will start publishing results of its COVID-19 wastewater testing program online in the coming weeks. The New Hampshire program includes 14 plants across the state.

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