Texas governor guards emergency powers to block local health efforts

Texas governor extends pandemic emergency to block public health orders

Governor Greg Abbott has renewed Texas’ pandemic disaster declaration for the 31st time, making his state one of 12 that still has a COVID-19 emergency order in effect, according to a national tracking tool from the National Academy of Public Health Policy. The governor, who was among the first to lift virus mitigation measures, also has no plans to lift them soon, according to a report by the San Antonio Express-News. Abbott’s office told the newspaper that he plans to renew the pandemic order not necessarily to use those powers, but to block regional public health officials’ efforts to combat the virus. “Ending the COVID disaster declaration will allow local governments to reimpose employment restrictions, mask mandates and vaccine mandates,” Abbott spokesman Rene Eze said. “Gov. Abbott will not allow any government to trample on the right of Texans to choose for themselves or their children whether to wear masks, open their businesses or get vaccinated.”

Bivalent booster may be no better against BA.5 than original vaccine, study finds

When given as a fourth dose, the updated bivalent mRNA vaccine targeting the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants did not elicit superior neutralizing antibody responses in humans compared with the original monovalent vaccine formulation, according to to a preprint study published Monday that has not yet been peer-reviewed. The updated injections, made by Pfizer and Moderna, were not tested on humans but on mice before receiving emergency-use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in August.

In an actual clinical trial, researchers from Columbia University and the University of Michigan found that after three to five weeks, individuals who received the new booster dose “had similar neutralizing antibody titers to those receiving a fourth monovalent mRNA vaccine against all SARS-CoV variants tested. CoV-2, including BA.4/BA.5.” They added that “the findings may be indicative of immunological imprinting,” the phenomenon in which exposure to a viral strain limits the development of immunity against later minor variant strains of the virus , sometimes also called “original antigenic sin”.

Eric Topol, executive vice president of Scripps Research in San Diego, who was not involved in the study, said the result could be expected. But he added that vaccines are still effective in reducing deaths and hospitalizations, even as newer omicron subvariants such as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 become dominant and encourage people to maintain their protection. “Bottom line: until more data are available, consider the bivalent booster equivalent to a booster that boosts and extends immunity without specific anti-BA.5 properties,” Topol said. His comments set off a lively discussion on Twitter.

UCSF’s Wachter says Newsom has right to lift emergency order: ‘World is different’

Dr. Bob Wachter commented on the booster’s poor absorption and the threat of the coming winter wave in a wide-ranging conversation on KQED’s Forum radio show Monday. The head of the department of medicine at UCSF, who has built a significant Twitter following with his data-driven pandemic updates, endorsed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to end the COVID-19 state of emergency in February, saying “it’s appropriate.” with the availability of life-saving vaccines and antiviral treatments. “I think the world is different,” he said.

But Wachter is also concerned that people are becoming too careless about the pandemic, especially during the winter months when newer, more immune-evading sub-variants of the coronavirus emerge. “We’re all sick to the bone with all of this and we don’t want to think about it anymore,” he said, noting that about 350 Americans are still dying from the virus every day. “The COVID is still here. It will still harm people, kill some.

He attributed the slow uptake of the new bivalent booster shots to a combination of misinformation, fatigue and general indifference. “We are in a lull. Relatively few people die. People really want to move on,” Wachter said. “People are wondering and worried about this injection, which has not been tested in humans to the extent that previous injections have been. There are some people who think, “I’ll wait either until there’s more information or closer to signs of a spike in COVID.”

Wachter expressed confidence that the updated vaccine will protect against the worst outcomes, even if there is limited data on its effectiveness. “It really reduces the chance of infection by 60-70 percent,” Wachter said. “The question is, how long does this last?”

And he still personally does everything he can to avoid the virus because of the threat of lingering COVID, which can cause complex, persistent symptoms even after a mild infection. “There is no blood test, no X-ray, that will tell you that you have long-term COVID,” he said. He later added, “There is no treatment that we have found that works reliably.”

While he thinks people in the Bay Area may start wearing masks again if there’s another sharp spike in cases, he said it’s unlikely other parts of the country will react the same way. “This whole behavior change factor is a big unknown,” he said.

California, San Francisco reading and math test scores well for school districts

With few exceptions, California schools saw significant declines in standardized test scores compared to pre-pandemic levels, with less than half of students proficient in reading and a third performing at grade level in math.

Read more here about the recently released comprehensive look at impact of distance learning, high absentee rates, grief, mental health issues and other struggles students have faced over the past two years.

Rapid tests are less reliable with newer subvariants, experts say

Newer subvariants of the coronavirus make it difficult for rapid home tests to recognize a COVID-19 infection the moment symptoms begin, according to infectious disease experts. “You can also have a negative test and still be infected simply because you are not infected or not infected enough to cause a positive test,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto Global news. He said people usually have to wait a few days from the start to see a positive result with the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 strains. Rapid tests have a harder time recognizing specific subvariant peaks, but they can still identify the virus, he said. Furness suggested swabbing your throat and nose as the best method to get an accurate test result. A study published in April in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology found that the sensitivity of rapid tests can be altered by different variants. “Although these new omicron sublines have several different mutations in this part of the virus, this is not expected to render the rapid antigen tests any longer ineffective,” said Samantha Yamin, Ontario science communicator. “But it may take more than one test to catch it, or it may take being further along in your symptoms to catch it.”

Most common symptoms have changed, the data show

Some symptoms of COVID-19 commonly reported during the earlier phase of the pandemic, such as loss of taste and smell, have given way to different indicators, according to new data released last week from the ongoing ZOE Health Study. Dividing the participants into three categories—those who received two doses of the vaccine, individuals who received one, and the unvaccinated—the researchers found that the four most commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 among all groups were now sore throat, runny nose, persistent cough and headache. “Previously ‘traditional’ symptoms, as still outlined on the government website, such as anosmia (loss of smell), shortness of breath and fever, rank lower on the list, at 6, 29 and 8 respectively,” the researchers wrote. “A persistent cough now ranks number 5 if you’ve had two doses of the vaccine, so it’s no longer the primary indicator of having COVID.”

Biden will get an updated booster shot

President Biden is scheduled to receive the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday and will “deliver remarks on the ongoing fight against the virus,” the White House said in an email Sunday. Biden tested positive for the virus in July and had a repeat case of COVID-19 shortly after taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends waiting at least two months after a previous vaccine dose or infection to receive the updated vaccine. The administration is encouraging more Americans to get the bivalent boosters before the holidays. So far, about 20 million people have received the vaccines, according to federal health data — a figure that represents less than 10 percent of the more than 216.2 million people eligible.

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