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Monday, April 18, 2022

Even while unpacking and settling into a new home, I’ve noticed a few new developments in the world of COVID. Even so, I won’t use the phrase “game-changer” again. Our first coronavirus pandemic has taken twists and turns I never would have imagined. But it will be decades before history’s narrative determines whether any of these changes makes a real difference in the course of events.

Here are a few headliners that stand out this week:

Breath test for COVID: A few days ago, the FDA authorized the first breathalyzer test for COVID. You breathe into a tube and it gives a result in three minutes. The device, literally a “black box,” detects five volatile organic chemical compounds associated with COVID through the technology of gas chromatography gas mass-spectrophotometry. InspectIR Systems, located in north Texas, specializes in portable instruments that detect opioid, cannabis, and now, COVID-19.

InspectIR Breathalyzer from InspectIR Systems

New variants: Forget Delta. Omicron has taken over and is spawning numerous variants of its own. The latest CDC Data Tracker shows Delta as the little orange bar, shrinking fast. First came B.1.1.529, then BA.1.1, and now in the lead is BA.2, wearing a pale shade of purple below. Each more contagious than the one before, the U.S. is now seeing surges in the Washington, DC, and New York as well as Rhode island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Alaska.

CDC: United States Variants Jan. 2 – April 9, 2022

In the meantime, a new descendent called XE is spreading rapidly in the U.K. where a new surge is underway. XE was also been found in Japan for the first time, just a day ago. XE is a combination of BA.1 and BA.2. These names bother me.

If they keep numbering the Omicron variants like this, we will lose all the advantage of the Greek alphabet nomenclature, which was so much easier to remember. My friend in England, where there is a surge right now, just calls them “Son of Omicron.”

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine: Remember J&J’s one-shot vaccine? In new data from the CDC, this vaccine has been shown to be more effective in blocking breakthrough cases than Pfizer and Moderna. The study showed 18.8 breakthrough cases per 100,000 as of March 19, whereas Pfizer and Moderna had 31.6 and 32.6 respectively. CIDRAP reported on similar results in November 2021 based on a study of thousands of Mayo Clinic records and published in JAMA (link below).

From CIDRAP, Nov. 3, 2022

Just think–in a century this period of time will be an early phase of the twenty-first century, occupying the time-slot that twentieth-century history assigns to the Roaring Twenties. Maybe then we can identify the real “game-changers.”

Have a great week, everybody!

Today’s Notable Headlines

“FDA authorizes first-ever breathing test for detecting Covid-19 infection,” Business Standard, April 16, 2022.https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/fda-authorizes-first-ever-breathing-test-for-detecting-covid-19-infection-122041600103_1.html

“What is Omicron XE? Symptoms of the new Covid variant as hundreds of cases found in UK,” Independent, April 18, 2022. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/omicron-xe-symptoms-covid-cases-uk-b2059944.html

“Experts warn of possible XE subvariant outbreak in Japan,” The Japan Times, April 17, 2022. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/04/17/national/science-health/xe-covid-19-japan/

“New, highly transmissible forms of omicron may pose latest covid threat,” The Washington Post, April 15, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/04/15/new-omicron-variants/

“Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot holds its ground amid breakthrough cases,” Seeking Alpha, April 17, 2022. https://seekingalpha.com/news/3823676-johnson-johnson-covid-19-shot-holds-its-ground-amid-breakthrough-cases

“Real-world study shows J&J COVID-19 vaccine 74% effective,” CIDRAP, Nov. 3, 2021. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2021/11/real-world-study-shows-jj-covid-19-vaccine-74-effective

Other Sources

InspectIR Systems, LLC. https://inspect-ir.com/

CDC, Monitoring Variant Proportions, week ending 4/9/22. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#variant-proportions

“Analysis of the Effectiveness of the Ad26.COV2.S Adenoviral Vector Vaccine for Preventing COVID-19,” JAMA, Nov. 2, 2021. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2785664

Why am I doing this?

The pandemic hit like a tsunami and the ripple effect will be felt for decades. World upheavals, deglobalization, housing shortages, the Great Resignation, supply chain disruptions–we’re navigating changes not entirely caused by the pandemic, but accelerated by it. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience both in the media and in everyday life, drawing on my experience as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through extraordinary times.

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