Photo: Michael Swan, Creative Commons License 2.0

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread far more aggressively than earlier variants, and America is, as medical experts put it, in the shit. The New York Times reports that hospitalizations have exceeded last winter's peak, with 142,388 people hospitalized with COVID-19 nationwide as of Sunday, according to US Health and Human Services data,

surpassing the peak of 142,315 reported on Jan. 14 of last year. The seven-day average of daily hospitalizations was 132,086, an increase of 83 percent from two weeks ago.

That total also includes people who tested positive for the virus after going to hospitals for other reasons; the Times says there's "no national data showing how many people are in that category."

Remember, because Omicron is both far more infectious but causes somewhat milder cases of the disease (I guess the phrase is "milder still isn't mild"), the experts have been saying that the hospitalization numbers are a better marker than case numbers of how serious the Omicron wave is. So hello, we have arrived at "this is bad again." [NYT]

Also too, the World Health Organization warns that Omicron is likely to infect 50 percent of all people in Europe within two weeks, which is a reminder to all us USA-ians to get vaccinated and boosted if you're not already.

If you're in Europe, hi hello there we love your healthcare, and make sure you get a booster if your country has them, I just sort of assume they do but this is a roundup so I'm not going down that rabbit hole, or as they say in France, Pommes de terre. [ABC News]

Los Angeles: All The Kids And Teachers Gots COVID

Well, OK, "only" 65,630 students, teachers, and staff in the Los Angeles Unified School District have actually tested positive. The really good news is that LAUSD is requiring ALL employees and students to be tested before returning to school. The start of the spring semester was delayed one day, to today, for kids, although faculty and staff reported back to work yesterday. Currently, the positivity rate for students is 16.6 percent, and 14.9 percent for LAUSD employees.

Masks are required for everyone on school grounds, even with the testing, and all LAUSD employees are required to be vaccinated. Way to go, LAUSD.

CDC May Recommend Everyone Wear N95 Masks If Possible

In a no-paywall story, the Washington Post reports that due to the increased infectiousness of Omicron, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering an update to its recommendations on masks, according to an "official close to the deliberations." If adopted, the new guideline would be for people to wear N95 or KN95 masks instead of simple surgical masks or cloth masks, if they can, at least. Experts have been saying that on TV for a few weeks now, and are urging the Biden administration to update the guidance. (N95 is the US standard for filtering out 95 percent of airborne particles; KN is the similar Chinese standard, but China doesn't certify all its export products.)

“The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of omicron,” the official said. “We know these masks provide better filtration.”

The updated guidance is expected to say that the best mask is the one that is worn consistently and correctly. N95 masks, which were predominantly used in health-care and industrial settings before the pandemic, are supposed to be individually fitted and are sometimes hard to wear all day, physicians and other health-care personnel have said. The CDC guidance is expected to say that if people can “tolerate wearing a KN95 or N95 mask all day, you should.”

No, that does not mean that if you can't really handle an N95 or KN95 all day you should just give up on masking altogether, jebus, Tucker. A consistently worn mask is better than no mask, and an N95/KN95 is best if you can. If you have a beard, the masks won't provide the tight fit you need for best protection; I'm seriously thinking about shaving, because freaking Idaho, nobody masks.

Where to find definitely not-counterfeit N95 or KN95 masks? CDC warns that about 60 percent of the "KN95s" being sold are counterfeit (hell no don't buy 'em from Amazon). I bought mine from Project N95, a nonprofit that sells only genuine masks, and which also distributes free N95/KN95 masks and kids' masks to folks who can't afford them. [WaPo no paywall]

Much more information and other shopping resources at HuffPo, too!

Insurers Will Cover 8 Free At-Home Rapid Tests A Month

Starting this coming Saturday, people with health insurance can have the costs of up to eight FDA-approved over-the-counter home COVID tests reimbursed by their insurance companies, the Biden administration announced yesterday. And yes, the government will begin mailing out free at home test kits later this month as well.

NPR has some deets on how it'll work:

Insurance companies and health plans will be required to cover eight free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month, according to White House officials. For instance, a family of four all on the same plan would be able to get up to 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month.

Here's the full How To Do It FAQ from HHS's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) which administers the new rules, including options for people who don't have insurance.

Also too, NPR notes that folks on Medicaid and kids on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are already able to get FDA-approved home test kits with no cost-sharing. Folks on Medicare have a somewhat weirder situation, which we hope gets fixed soon. They

already have their COVID-19 diagnostic tests, such as PCR and antigen tests, performed by a laboratory "with no beneficiary cost-sharing when the test is ordered by either a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized health care professional," the Biden administration says.

But for the moment, at least, Medicare doesn't reimburse the cost of at-home tests, which seems dumb, although they are eligible for the same free testing options as uninsured folks, and isn't that a bizarre exception? (Also, Medicare Advantage plans may cover free home test kits.) Fix that, please, and also if we had universal health coverage with cost controls like the rest of the civilized world, this would be much easier, AHEM. [NPR / CMS]

Red Cross Wants Your Non-Omicronned Blood Please

We're in the middle of a new wave of the pandemic, but the American Red Cross wants you to bleed, and this week if you can. The Red Cross announced it's facing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade, so if you can give blood, please make an appointment ASAP.

"While some types of medical care can wait, others can't," Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross, said in a statement. "Hospitals are still seeing accident victims, cancer patients, those with blood disorders like sickle cell disease, and individuals who are seriously ill who all need blood transfusions to live even as Omicron cases surge across the country."

If you can, please go make an appointment at their handy-dandy location searchable website. I've been giving blood every other month pretty much since I was in my late 20s, because my blood's good for pediatric surgery. Making an appointment myself, too. [ABC News / Red Cross]

Photo: Michael Swan, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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