New CDC Data Shows Effectiveness of Masks in Preventing COVID-19 Infections

A new CDC report provides clear data on how effective different types of masks are at preventing the spread of COVID-19. The study, which took place in California from February-December of 2021 found that masks significantly lowered the odds of a person testing positive for COVID-19. Cloth masks lowered the odds by 56%, surgical masks by 66%, and N95 or KN95 respirators lowered the odds by 83%. The data make clear that wearing a mask is a critical way to protect yourself from COVID-19, and that wearing an N95 or KN95 is much more effective than a cloth mask.

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People who reported always wearing a mask in indoor public settings were less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than people who didn’t*

Wearing a mask lowered the odds of testing positive

Among 534 participants reporting mask type†

*Matched case-control study, 1,828 people, Feb 10-Dec 1, 2021

†Compared people with similar characteristics (e.g., vaccination)

#Not statistically significant

United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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CDC Data Suggests COVID-19 Booster Protection Wanes After 4 Months

A new weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the CDC looking at vaccine effectiveness showed that 4 months after getting a booster shot, protection against COVID-19 seemed to drop. The study looked mainly at emergency department (ED) and urgent care (UC) visits as well as hospitalizations from August 26, 2021 to January 22, 2022, and within the first two months after receiving a booster shot, vaccine effectiveness in preventing ED and UC visits was around 87% and hospitalizations at 91%. By the 4th month after a booster shot, vaccine effectiveness had dropped to 66% for ED and UC visits and 78% for hospitalizations. It is important to note that this data only included medically related COVID-19 infections and did not include COVID-19 cases that did not result in an ED or UC visit or a hospitalization. 

The data looked at 241,204 ED/UC encounters as well as 93,408 hospitalizations amongst adults who presented with confirmed COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness during the time period above. This data continues to show that vaccines do protect against such medical visits and hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Also, as expected, protection with a booster shot is strong but does wane, suggesting that future boosters may be necessary, such as those already needed in individuals who are immunocompromised. If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to us and in the meantime, get vaccinated or boosted if and when you can!

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Racism in the NFL

Last week, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who is Black, filed a lawsuit against the National Football League and three teams for racist hiring practices for coaches and general managers. While there is a lack of diversity in leadership roles (only 6% of head coaches are Black), approximately 70% of NFL players are Black. The league requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coach positions, known as the Rooney Rule, but this has not made much of an impact across the league, and does not eliminate the impact of racism in hiring practices. Currently, out of the 32 teams, only five have BIPOC coaches - two of which were hired this week. While the Rooney Rule may bring in more BIPOC candidates to interview, it has not translated to having more representation in leadership roles. While the league has this rule in place, the teams are franchised, and therefore can hire whoever they choose. There are no consequences or accountability in place to even enforce the Rooney Rule. The League’s Commissoner, Roger Goodell, addressed the claims of racism and discrimination this week in a press conference, saying that the league will not tolerate either and take these claims very seriously on all levels and want to get to the bottom of it. The NFL is just another example of how racism seeps into every facet of life in the United States. 

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State of California Sues Tesla Over Racism and Discrimination Against Black Workers

The State of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit this week against Tesla based on allegations from Black employees regarding racial discrimination at a Tesla factory. Black employees claim that they are subjected to slurs including the n-word, are put in segregated areas referred to as "the dark side," and are given worse jobs. DFEH stated that the Tesla human resources department is understaffed and not properly trained, resulting in failures to address issues.

This isn't the first time the company has been sued for racial harassment: In October, a federal jury awarded over $100 million to a former employee who said he was subject to constant racism and harassment, and that managers ignored his complaints. Multiple other cases are ongoing, but the DFEH lawsuit is likely to include more workers than others.

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US Passes 900,000 COVID-19 Deaths; <28% of Country Has Received Vaccine Booster

Cases of COVID-19 in the US have fallen dramatically after the major surge in cases a few weeks ago, and are now approaching levels from the fall of 2021. That said, the pandemic is not over. There were over 150,000 new COVID-19 cases in the US on Thursday alone, and most importantly, the rate of deaths is still very high. On average, more than 2,000 people in the US have died every day in the past three weeks, and the total number of people in the country who have died of COVID-19 is over 900,000, and is likely to break 1 million in the next two months.

1 million people dying in the US, when the majority of deaths could have been prevented, is not acceptable. Failures in government leadership, the prioritization of corporate profits over lives, anti-science beliefs, selfishness, and a refusal to take basic safety measures by large numbers of people have taken a massive toll on the country.

While public health officials in Europe are discussing a "plausible endgame" to the pandemic and Dr. Fauci has said that we're "heading out of" "the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19," the head of the World Health Organization made clear that "COVID isn’t finished with us." While cases are declining rapidly in many parts of the world, the most recent surge in cases (like all of the others before it) was brought on by a new variant that spread globally, and the global situation is still dire. A large portion of the world's population, particularly in less wealthy countries, does not have access to vaccines. Even in the US, only 27.6% of the population has received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is essential for protection against variants like Omicron.

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Biden Administration Purchases 600,000 Treatment Courses of COVID-19 Antibody Drug

In an announcement from Secretary Becerra of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Biden Administration stated it was going to purchase 600,000 treatment courses of the monoclonal antibody bebtelovimab, and will distribute it to states free of charge. This antibody treatment, made by Eli Lilly and Company, is said to be effective against mild to moderate COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant. This treatment, which was just approved for emergency use by the FDA, is much needed in the face of COVID-19, now that the Omicron variant has been the dominant variant for a while. Previously, there were three monoclonal antibody treatments, however since the Omicron variant became the dominant variant, the only monoclonal antibody treatment that has worked for COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant was sotrovimab, made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and has been facing severe shortages. Bebtelovimab is a crucial addition to treatments that are effective in treating COVID-19. Importantly, the FDA states this treatment is not approved for those who are hospitalized due to COVID-19 or requiring oxygen therapy as it has not been studied in this population and can actually exacerbate disease.

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FDA Delays Meeting Where Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Children Under 5 Was to be Considered

In a reversal of action, the FDA recently announced that it would postpone their next upcoming vaccine advisory committee meeting in which the authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years of age was to be discussed. The meeting was originally scheduled for February 15th. This comes after the FDA had initially been requesting Pfizer to submit for authorization. The postponement was largely due to the need to gather and review more data, especially as much of the data that had been collected thus far was prior to the Omicron variant becoming the dominant variant and infections have been increasing in younger populations. While this is somewhat unfortunate news, especially for folks who have been looking forward to soon vaccinating and protecting their children who are under 5, it does show that in addition to effectiveness, safety is also a necessity when it comes to vaccines. Hopefully, this is only a temporary setback and the Pfizer vaccine, as well as others, will be found to be safe and effective for  children 6 months to 4 years of age soon. In the meantime, people 5 and up should get vaccinated and get their booster shot, and everyone should wear the best mask available (N95, KN95, and KF94, preferably) , washing their hands, and socially distance  to continue to protect themselves and everybody else around them.

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ICHD Rescinding School COVID-19 Emergency Orders

The Ingham County Health Department announced that it was rescinding two emergency orders, effective February 19th at midnight. Both orders are specifically related to COVID-19 mitigation in schools, and both were initially put into effect on September 2nd, 2021. The first set isolation and quarantine requirements for students, teachers, staff, and visitors to schools with COVID-19 symptoms, who have tested positive for COVID-19, and their close contacts. The second required that masks be worn in schools. Without a county mandate, school districts will set their own policies related to COVID-19 and masks. Most importantly, it is still recommended that everyone in schools wear a mask, regardless of any specific rules or mandates, and parents and children should take appropriate health precautions to keep themselves and those they care about safe.

The removal of the local orders follows a broader trend around the US to eliminate mask mandates and other COVID-19 requirements. While cases have dropped significantly in recent weeks, misleading data is being used to make things sound better than they are. For example, ICHD officials stated that 62% of 12-15 year-old in Ingham County had received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but all available evidence shows that a single dose of a vaccine is not enough - two doses plus a booster are needed to provide reasonable protection from the Omicron variant, and even vaccinated people should wear a mask to keep themself and those around them safe.

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DHS Terrorism Bulletin Lists Threats to Racial Minorities and Influence of COVID-19 Misinformation

The US Department of Homeland Security issued a new National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin on Monday, stating that "The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors," and identified the ongoing threat from violent extremists motivated by COVID-19 conspiracy theories, as well as anti-vax and anti-mask extremists, in addition to threats against racial minorities and immigrants.

The Bulletin lists three "key factors contributing to the current heightened threat environment" main factors:

The first factor, focused on false and misleading narratives, specifically calls out false information about COVID-19 as inspiring terrorism: "...there is widespread online proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19. Grievances associated with these themes inspired violent extremist attacks during 2021."

The second factor explicitly notes that "government, healthcare, and academic institutions" are under threat from violent extremists due to efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19: "COVID-19 mitigation measures—particularly COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates—have been used by domestic violent extremists to justify violence since 2020 and could continue to inspire these extremists to target government, healthcare, and academic institutions that they associate with those measures."

The second factor also includes threats to racial minorities (i.e., BIPOC), for example, stating that "Threats directed at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other colleges and universities, Jewish facilities, and churches cause concern and may inspire extremist threat actors to mobilize to violence." Threats to immigrants (particularly those belonging to racial minority groups) are also highlighted: "A small number of threat actors are attempting to use the evacuation and resettlement of Afghan nationals following the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan last year as a means to exacerbate long-standing grievances and justify attacks against immigrants."

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Ohio Police Detained a 60-Year-Old Black Man When Told the Suspect Was a White Man in His 30s

Last month in Ohio, two police officers were looking for someone who was accused of shoplifting at a Meijer. A Meijer employee described the person as a white man in his 30s, wearing a dark green or grey Carhart jacket with a red hoodie underneath. Instead, the first person they stopped and questioned was a 60-year-old Black man, Eric Lindsay, in a burnt orange North Face jacket and a brown scarf. From the body cam footage from one of the officers, Mr. Lindsay questions why the officers are stopping in, points out that his jacket is not the same color they are looking for, and states that he entered the store after them. The officers did not respond to why they stopped him even when the descriptions did not align. The officers were still questioning him when another officer arrested the actual shoplifting suspect. The manager of the store was there while Mr. Lindsay was being questioned and did nothing to stop the interrogation, even though he did not match the description of the suspect. Mr. Lindsay has now sued the officers and the Meijer store for the incident for unlawful detention and states that he suffered humiliation, embarrassment, and severe emotional distress. This is just another incident, among many, where a Black individual is unfairly and unjustly stopped by the police for no reason besides bias and racism. 

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):