Omicron Subvariant BA.2 Now Cause of 11.6% of COVID-19 Cases in the United States

In recent news, the CDC estimates that the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 now accounts for 11.6% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States, based on data from February 27, 2022 to March 5, 2022. This is an increase from 6.6% from February 20, 2022 to February 26, 2022. The Omicron subvariant BA.2, which may sometimes still be referred to as “stealth omicron,” has been spreading quickly in other parts of the world, particularly parts of Europe and Asia, and is the dominant variant in South Africa. Earlier this year, the WHO stated that while this variant seems to be more transmissible than the BA.1 strain of the Omicron variant (which caused the initial spike in cases here in the United States this winter), it does not seem to cause more severe disease. Early data out of the United Kingdom, however, suggests that vaccines are similarly effective against the BA.2 variant as it is against the BA.1 variant of Omicron. Early data also suggest that treatments that have worked for the initial Omicron variant, BA.1, also work for BA.2. While it is still too early to tell whether there will be a surge in cases from this subvariant like we’ve seen in other countries, it is best to protect yourself and others to the best of your ability, such as getting vaccinated and boosted if you can, continuing to wear masks, and socially distancing.      

More information:

Recent Study From U.K. Shows Even Mild COVID-19 Linked to Brain Damage

In a recent study published in the journal Nature, researchers from the University of Oxford looked into the effects of mild COVID-19 and whether there would be any significant changes, particularly involving the brain. There were a total of 785 participants ages 51 to 81 who were imaged at the beginning of the study and, on average, 141 days later. 401 of them tested positive for COVID-19 between the two brain images, and 384 of the participants were controls. Out of the 401 who tested positive, almost all were mild cases of COVID-19, with 15 participants requiring hospitalization. For those who tested positive, it was found that those participants had less gray matter as well as higher rates of other abnormalities in the brain. In addition, overall brain volume was less in those who tested positive for COVID-19 compared with the controls, with older participants showing a greater decrease in brain volume regardless of COVID-19 infection or not. In addition to a loss of smell, cognitive function was found to be imparied in those with COVID-19 infection compared to controls, as well. This is one of the first studies looking at potentially long term harmful effects of COVID-19, particularly in mild disease. The researchers noted that there seemed to be clear effects on the brain, with reversibility of this damage currently unknown. The brain does have the ability to essentially heal itself, however this process can take a very long time and this study doesn’t necessarily show when the harmful effects of COVID-19 stops. While this is also a relatively small study, it is important not to minimize the effects of COVID-19, including “mild cases” and that if you can, take measures to protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated, continuing to wear effective masks, and socially distancing.

More information:

Newly Unsealed Documents Show Johnson & Johnson's Role in 1960s Medical Testing on Incarcerated Black Men

Recently unsealed documents show that in the 1960s, Johnson & Johnson funded a study in which a dermatologist injected people incarcerated at Holmesburg Prison, most of whom were Black men, with asbestos. The goal was to compare asbestos, which can cause cancer, to talc, which Johnson & Johnson used in baby powder. The study itself was not a secret, but Johnson & Johnson's role in it only recently came to light. The dermatologist stopped conducting testing on prisoners in 1974 due to public outcry. The disclosures are related to a series of recent lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson regarding cancer caused by their baby powders, which include claims that the powders were contaminated by asbestos.

The historical use of Black people, including those who are incarcerated, as test subjects in dangerous medical experiments is a major cause of distrust in medical systems and research by Black people in the United States today. Johnson & Johnson is one of the three companies that makes COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S., and it is understandable for Black people to distrust the company, based on its past behavior. A spokesperson for the company issued a statement saying that they "deeply regret the conditions under which these studies were conducted, and in no way do they reflect the values or practices we employ today."

More information:

U.S. Congress Finally Passes Anti-Lynching Bill

On Monday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that makes lynching illegal at the federal level. The House passed the bill last month, and President Biden is expected to sign it soon. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act classifies lynching as a hate crime that results in injury or death, and makes it punishable by up to 30 years in prison. While the legislation is an important step forward, the fact that it took until 2022 for an anti-lynching bill to become law is staggering. The first anti-lynching legislation was introduced 120 years ago, in 1900, and even in 2020, legislators were objecting to the wording of bills that would criminalize it.

More information:

U.S. Households Can Receive a Second Set of 4 At-Home COVID-19 Tests

In January, the U.S. government announced that every home in the country was eligible to receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests. Last week, it was announced that all homes are now eligible for two sets of four tests. As a result anyone who has already ordered their first set of four tests can now order a second set of tests. To order your tests, visit

More information:

Half of US Population Exposed to Lead in Early Childhood; Black Adults Disproportionately Impacted

A new study found that half of the United States population was exposed to high levels of lead in early childhood, resulting in an average IQ loss of 2.6 points per person. The largest effect was on people born between 1951 and 1980. Leaded paint was banned in 1971 and leaded gasoline was gradually phased out starting in the 1970s, until being fully banned in 1996.

Due to the impacts of systemic racism, the impacts are more pronounced on Black adults than white adults. The report states that "Understanding racial disparities in BLLs [blood-lead levels] across the time—particularly Black/White disparities—are an additional, essential next step for legacy lead-related research. Existing work shows that African Americans have disproportionately higher BLLs at the national level...Our own that most Black adults now under age 45 y experienced considerably higher levels of BLLs in early life than their White counterparts, not just those born between 1976 and 1980."

More information:

Moderna Pledges to Never Enforce COVID-19 Patents in Some Countries

On Monday, Moderna announced an updated pledge "to never enforce its patents for COVID-19 vaccines against manufacturers in or for the 92 low- and middle-income countries in the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), provided that the manufactured vaccines are solely for use in the AMC 92 countries." In other countries, the company will "license its technology for COVID-19 vaccines to manufacturers in these countries on commercially reasonable terms." Moderna had previously stated that it would not enforce its COVID-19 vaccine patents during the pandemic. The move, while positive, is far short of what should be done: Moderna should be sharing the details of how to make its vaccine, not just allowing others to invest millions to try to recreate it for use in countries where the company won't make as much profit. The result is millions of unnecessary deaths while years of unnecessary research are conducted to recreate something that has already been developed. The announcement comes more than a month after a South African company working with the World Health Organization announced that it had almost completed the process of reproducing the vaccine.

Moderna also announced that it had entered into an agreement with the government of Kenya to establish a new mRNA manufacturing facility. The facility is intended to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines each year, and will be investing up to $500 million.

More information:

Ethnic Slur Removed From Name of Common Invasive Moth

Note: An ethnic slur for the Romani people is used in the following paragraph to ensure that readers know which species is being described.

On March 2nd, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) announced that a well-known invasive species of moth would have a new name. Lymantria dispar, which used to be known as the "gypsy moth," is now the "spongy moth." The insect's previous name included an ethnic slur for the Romani people, and the ESA announced the removal of the slur last year. After receiving hundreds of new name suggestions, they settled on spongy moth, derived from "spongieuse," the name for the insect in France and Canada, which is a reference to the egg masses it lays, which are sponge-like in appearance.

More information:

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