First Edition: Dec. 16, 2021

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Nurses In Crisis Over Covid Dig In For Better Work Conditions

Nurses and health care workers across the country are finding strength in numbers and with labor actions not seen in years. In California, which has a strong union tradition, Kaiser Permanente management misjudged workplace tensions during the covid-19 crisis and risked a walkout of thousands when union nurses balked at signing a four-year contract that would have slashed pay for new hires. In Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Massachusetts, nurses have been embroiled in union battles over staffing and work conditions. (Spolar, Kreidler and Bichell, 12/16)

Covid Shots For Kids Are Scarce — And Demand Is Mixed — In Rural Montana 

When children ages 5 to 11 were approved for Pfizer’s lower-dose pediatric covid-19 vaccine in November, Annie Edwards was eager to get her daughter Hannah, then 5, the shot because of underlying health conditions she has stemming from her premature birth. “She was on a ventilator for the first month of her life. Throughout this whole covid ordeal, I just keep thinking of those memories,” Edwards said. (Bolton, 12/16)

Omicron Thrives In Airways, Not Lungs; New Data On Asymptomatic Cases 

Major differences in how efficiently Omicron and other variants of the coronavirus multiply may help predict Omicron’s effects, researchers said on Wednesday. Compared to the earlier Delta variant, Omicron multiplies itself 70 times more quickly in tissues that line airway passages, which may facilitate person-to-person spread, they said. But in lung tissues, Omicron replicates 10 times more slowly than the original version of the coronavirus, which might contribute to less-severe illness. (Lapid, 12/16)

What Makes Omicron Spread So Quickly? A New Study Offers A Tantalizing Clue

Why is omicron such a superspreading variant? Preliminary data, published online Wednesday, gives us the first look at how omicron may behave inside the respiratory tract — and the data offers a tantalizing clue as to why this heavily mutated variant is spreading so fast and even outcompeting delta. The omicron variant multiplies about 70 times faster inside human respiratory tract tissue than the delta variant does, scientists at the University of Hong Kong report. The variant reaches also higher levels in the tissue, compared to delta, 48 hours after infection. (Doucleff, 12/15)

Moderna Vaccine No Match For Omicron Except With Booster, Study Finds

There’s more mixed news about the power of vaccines to protect people against the omicron variant — this time about the Moderna vaccine. A preliminary study made public Wednesday studied blood samples in the lab from 30 people who had gotten two Moderna shots, and it found that the antibodies in their blood are at least about 50 times less effective at neutralizing the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Previous research had indicated the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also less protective against omicron. (Stein, 12/15)

The Hill:
Study Suggests Antibodies From Two Moderna Doses Less Effective At Neutralizing Omicron

A preprint study published Wednesday indicated that the antibodies in blood samples from recipients of two Moderna doses were less effective at neutralizing the omicron variant, suggesting an increased risk of symptomatic breakthrough cases. … They found these antibodies in two-dose Moderna recipients were at least 50 times less effective at neutralizing the omicron strain, which “could lead to an increased risk of symptomatic breakthrough infections.” (Coleman, 12/15)

COVID MRNA Vaccines Lose Strength Against Delta Over Time

Two new studies highlight waning mRNA COVID-19 efficacy against infection against the Delta (B1617.2) variant, with one showing that two doses of the Moderna vaccine were highly effective against all variants but that protection against Delta fell over time since vaccination. The other reveals a precipitous drop in mRNA vaccine effectiveness after the emergence of Delta among an older group of US veterans. (Van Beusekom, 12/15)

The Washington Post:
CDC Advisers To Weigh Limits On Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Because Of Continued Blood Clot Issues 

Vaccine advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are meeting Thursday to weigh possible limits on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of continued blood clot issues, mostly in young and middle-aged women, according to clinicians familiar with the agenda. … The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will be presented with new data that appears to show the rate of the clots in people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot has increased since April, although the problem is still rare. There have been about nine deaths related to the issue, according to a federal official familiar with the situation. (Sun and McGinley, 12/15)

NBC News:
Fauci Pushes For Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

The scientific quest for a universal coronavirus vaccine received a boost Wednesday, as three top federal researchers, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, outlined a path to develop new vaccines that could tackle a variety of ailments including Covid-19, some common colds and future viruses. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci and two colleagues said the virus that causes Covid-19 is unlikely to be eliminated, and current vaccines are too limited to prevent the emergence of new variants. Other coronaviruses are also likely to spill over from animals to become future pandemic threats, they wrote. (Bush, 12/15)

NBC News:
White House Unveils Plan To Replace Every Lead Pipe In The U.S.

President Joe Biden promised his infrastructure proposal would replace every lead pipe in the country. Now the White House says it has a plan to deliver, despite a significant funding gap. The administration’s plan for lead pipes and paints, which Vice President Kamala Harris will detail in a speech Thursday, illustrates how officials are hoping to cobble together enough money to meet Biden’s goal through sources like the infrastructure law, Covid relief funding and the president’s stalled Build Back Better bill. (Lederman, 12/16)

The Hill:
Biden Administration Releases Plan For Tackling Lead Pipes 

The plan, announced Thursday in a fact sheet, notes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will “begin to develop” new regulations for lead and copper pipes. But, in the meantime, a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday, a twice-delayed Trump rule concerning lead pipes will be allowed to take effect.  (Frazin, 12/16)

The FDA May Be Poised To Ease Access To Abortion Pills

Before the pandemic, doctors like Nisha Verma could only prescribe abortion pills to patients who came to her clinic in person. But at least for now, the Biden Administration is allowing patients to get the pills by mail. “I think that makes it much more accessible for people where they don’t actually have to physically come into a clinic, they don’t have to expose themselves to COVID, they can do this all from the comfort of their home,” said Verma, an OBGYN and abortion provider based in Washington, D.C. (McCammon, 12/15)

‘Quite Hopeful’: Abortion Pill Decision Could Reshape Reproductive Health War

As the Supreme Court weighs the fate of Roe v. Wade, the Food and Drug Administration is set to open a new phase in the abortion wars this week, when it issues a key decision on how doctors can dispense pills to end an early pregnancy. Regulators are due to decide Thursday whether to uphold, revise or scrap longstanding restrictions on the abortion drug mifepristone — a review triggered by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the rules in court. Loosening the rules, which have already been suspended due to the pandemic, would allow any doctor to prescribe the drugs online and send them by mail, allowing patients to terminate a pregnancy at home even if justices strike down or cut back Roe v. Wade. (Ollstein and Tahir, 12/15)

The Hill:
Democratic Talks With Manchin Show Signs Of Melting Down 

Democratic negotiations with centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) over President Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending bill are close to melting down as Manchin appears to be backing out of an earlier deal with the White House to extend the child tax credit for one year. Manchin is now floating the idea of extending the child tax credit for multiple years so that the cost of a proposal that is likely to be extended by Congress in the future is fully reflected in the Build Back Better bill, which is now officially projected to cost roughly $2 trillion over 10 years. (Bolton, 12/15)

The New York Times:
Manchin Balks On Social Policy Bill; Democrats May Punt To 2022 

Democrats privately conceded on Wednesday that they were all but certain to delay consideration of President Biden’s $2.2 trillion social policy bill in the Senate until 2022, missing a self-imposed Christmas deadline as negotiations with a key centrist holdout, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, sputtered. Private talks this week between Mr. Biden and Mr. Manchin, who is pushing to curtail the scope of the package and shrink its price tag, have failed to resolve crucial differences, according to White House officials and congressional aides. And leading Democrats have yet to complete work on the complex social safety net, climate and tax package. (Cochrane and Tankersley, 12/15)

The Hill:
Court Reinstates Health Worker Coronavirus Vaccine Mandate In Half Of US 

A federal appeals court on Wednesday effectively revived a Biden administration vaccine mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding in roughly half of the U.S. The procedural ruling by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit temporarily scaled back a nationwide injunction put in place by a Louisiana-based federal judge late last month. (Kruzel, 12/15)

The Washington Post:
Biden’s Vaccine Policy For Private Companies To Be Reviewed By Three-Judge Panel 

A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected requests to initially review the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine or testing requirements for large private companies with a full complement of judges and will instead handle the case with the usual three-judge panel. The decision divided the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and drew sharp dissents from a pair of judges who used the opportunity to express deep concerns about the legality of the administration’s policy, which is set to take effect Jan. 4. (Marimow, 12/15)

Navy Starts Kicking Out Sailors For Refusing Covid Vaccine As Republicans Rage Over Mandate 

The Navy has begun kicking out sailors who refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccine, but it won’t slap dishonorable discharges on anyone for their decision to ignore a direct order. Overall, 5,731 active-duty sailors remain unvaccinated, and at this point Navy officials say they believe most of those will likely continue to refuse the order, weeks after the Nov. 28 deadline for full vaccination. (McLeary and Forgey, 12/15)

The Washington Post:
Vaccine Mandate: Republican Governors In Five States Object To National Guard Requirement 

Five Republican governors have asked the Pentagon to withdraw its requirement for all National Guard members to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, expanding the front of GOP resistance to President Biden’s directives that the federal workforce and government contractors be immunized. Governors from Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, Mississippi and Nebraska on Tuesday signed a joint letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying they agree he has authority to impose requirements on service members under federal control. That includes National Guard troops — ordinarily under the state command — when they are mobilized for duty beyond their borders, such as overseas deployments. (Horton, 12/15)

New California Rules End Distinction For Vaccinated Workers

Workplace regulators are poised on Thursday to extend California’s coronavirus pandemic regulations into next year with some revisions that business groups say could worsen the labor shortage. The main change to the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised temporary rule is that it would erase current distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Both would be barred from the workplace if they come in close contact with someone with the virus. (Thompson, 12/16)

Biden COVID Official: “No Need To Lock Down,” Even As Cases Surge 

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday that there will be “no need” to shut down the U.S. economy “in any way,” adding that the country has the tools necessary to fight the Omicron variant. There is an increase of coronavirus cases, driven by the Delta variant, across the country, and CDC director Rochelle Walensky has said that the number of Omicron cases is “likely to rise.” (Gonzalez, 12/15)

The Boston Globe:
Omicron Is Spreading Faster Than Labs’ Ability To Track It

New evidence suggests that the Omicron variant may be charging across New England and the rest of the country at a breakneck pace, threatening to push legions of additional patients into hospitals already overwhelmed with patients sick from the Delta variant, the flu, and other illnesses. Boston on Wednesday reported three new cases in young adults, who had mild symptoms. And researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which does the lion’s share of COVID testing in the state, told the Globe they have reported about 15 Omicron cases to Massachusetts and federal public health agencies. But the Baker administration has so far reported only a single Omicron infection in the state, and declined to answer questions from the Globe about cases linked to the new variant. (Freyer and Andersen, 12/15)

The Atlantic:
What To Do When You Get An Omicron Breakthrough Infection

If only the official guidance were this straightforward. Rebecca Wurtz, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told me that people are perplexed “partly because, I think, the guidance is confusing.” The CDC’s guidelines are limited: Isolate if you’ve either tested positive in the past 10 days or are experiencing symptoms, and end your isolation after 10 days only if you’ve gone 24 hours with no fever (without the use of Tylenol or other anti-fever drugs) and your other symptoms are improving—not counting the loss of taste and smell, which could take a couple of weeks to return. “They’re unclear as they’re stated, and they’re a little too complicated in any case,” Wurtz said. (When I reached out to the CDC for comment on its guidance on breakthroughs, a spokesperson pointed me back to the recommendations on the agency’s website.) (Tayag, 12/15)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Non-Vaccinated In Wisconsin Dying At Rate 12x Greater Than Vaccinated

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health Services released data surrounding illness after vaccination compared to illness in those not yet fully vaccinated and it showed, again, the strong protection provided by the vaccines. Throughout November, people not fully vaccinated died from COVID-19 at a rate 12 times higher than people who were fully vaccinated, according to the DHS. (Bentley, 12/15) 

COVID Patients Overwhelm Hospitals In Colorado Yet Again

Harold Burch lives in a home with a spectacular view in Paonia, a rural part of Colorado’s Western Slope. But that’s been little consolation to Burch, 60, as he’s battled a cascade of health problems during the pandemic. “It’s been a real rodeo,” Burch says. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs and lately it’s been mostly just downers.” Burch has battled chronic osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and had two major intestinal surgeries. One specialist he was seeing left her practice last year. Another wouldn’t accept his insurance. Then, Nov. 1, he started experiencing major stomach pain. (Daley, 12/15)

The Washington Post:
Hospitals Are Still Limiting Visitors Due To Covid. Here’s What You Need To Know.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, keeping up with visitor restrictions is one more stressor for already anxious friends and family of hospital patients. In addition to limiting visitors, some hospitals have shortened visiting hours, restricted visitors to one for a patient’s entire stay, and closed lobbies and other public places. (Some loosen certain restrictions if a patient is in hospice care.) Some hospitals also require all visitors to be vaccinated. (Haupt, 12/15)

Roll Call:
Burnout Among Pharmacists Slows COVID-19 Booster Shots 

Facing a shortage of pharmacists, drugstores nationwide are urging people to make appointments for COVID-19 shots rather than walking up — even as the Biden administration promotes vaccination as the key to ending the pandemic and relies on pharmacies as the main supplier. Between flu season and the rush for COVID-19 vaccines, both neighborhood and chain pharmacies in some places are experiencing a crush of demand. A tight labor market could pose an extra obstacle to vaccination as infections tick up. (Kopp and Cohen, 12/15)

CBS News:
COVID-19 Again Upending College Life As Campuses Shut Down

Multiple schools around the country this week have abruptly announced that students would finish out their semesters remotely, given alarming COVID-19 positivity rates within their communities. Although many students were invited back to campuses in the fall, the Omicron variant is sending them home early. On Wednesday, New York University announced that a “considerable acceleration” in new COVID-19 cases in the area would effectively shutter its campus before winter break begins on December 22. The surge is taking place despite 99% of NYU’s in-person students and full-time faculty members being vaccinated.  (Cerullo, 12/15)

Albuquerque Journal:
Colleges Go Back To Drawing Board — Again — To Fight COVID

Facing rising infections and a new COVID-19 variant, colleges across the U.S. have once again been thwarted in seeking a move to normalcy and are starting to require booster shots, extend mask mandates, limit social gatherings and, in some cases, revert to online classes. The threat of the omicron variant comes as a gut punch to schools that were hoping to relax safety measures this spring. Now, many are telling students to prepare for another term of masking, testing and, if cases get bad, limits around social life. (Binkley, 12/15)

HHS Forecast Shows Omicron Stretching U.S. Covid Testing Supply

Biden administration health officials are privately warning Covid-19 test makers and laboratories that demand for tests could double or even triple over the next two months as cases surge across the country, five people with knowledge of the matter told POLITICO. Internal modeling developed by the Health and Human Services Department’s Testing and Diagnostic Working Group projects that the nation’s supply could be stretched by the need to conduct 3 to 5 million tests per day by late January or early February — a sharp increase from current daily levels of more than 1.6 million. (Lim and Cancryn, 12/15)

Chicago Schools Giving COVID Test Kits To Hard-Hit Areas 

The Chicago Public Schools will distribute about 150,000 take-home COVID-19 test kits Friday to 309 schools in communities hit hard by the pandemic, the district announced. “In Chicago, we are in a wicked post-Thanksgiving COVID surge — 929 daily cases on average here in the city of Chicago. As the city goes, so goes CPS,” Dr. Kenneth Fox, CPS’ chief health officer, said at Wednesday’s monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting. “When cases surge in the city, so, too, do they surge at CPS.” (12/16)

CBS News:
Why Does It Still Take So Long To Get A COVID-19 PCR Test Result? 

New COVID-19 restrictions for international travel and other activities are fueling consumer demand for highly accurate polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests with rapid turnaround times. Some clinics can deliver a PCR test result within hours, which these days can be as essential as a plane ticket for air travel. The downside? It will likely cost you hundreds of dollars. (Cerullo, 12/15)

The Wall Street Journal:
CDC’s Early Covid-19 Test Hampered By Design Flaw, Contamination 

A design flaw and contamination caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s initial batch of Covid-19 tests to fail, an investigation by the agency concluded, adding to the understanding of a major misstep in the early U.S. response to the pandemic. In February of 2020, public-health laboratories reported errors with the PCR test that the CDC designed to identify the virus that causes Covid-19. That left the U.S. partly blind to Covid-19’s early spread. (Abbott, 12/15)

Asymptomatic COVID-19 Infections Common, Finds Global Review Of Studies

asymptomatic (symptom-free) COVID-19 among nearly 30 million people was 0.25% among those undergoing screening and 40.50% among those with a confirmed case. On Feb 4, 2021, researchers from Peking University in Beijing reviewed 95 studies from around the world involving 29,776,306 people, 11,516 of whom had asymptomatic infections at screening. Of 19,884 patients with confirmed infections; 11,069 were asymptomatic. Twenty-one studies were published in June 2020 or before, and 74 were published after. (12/15)

AP Source: NFL Plans Changes To COVID-19 Protocols 

The NFL is planning “significant changes” to its COVID-19 protocols amid the worst three-day stretch for the league during the pandemic, a person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press on Wednesday night. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because details haven’t been finalized, said the league and the NFL Players Association are discussing three main areas: testing protocols; return to play guidelines to allow asymptomatic players who’ve tested positive to return sooner; and encouraging booster shots. (Maaddi and Dixon, 12/16)

What Living With Endemic Covid Will Look Like In 2022 And Future

Almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, an end might finally be in sight. Experts say that Covid will likely lose its “pandemic” status sometime in 2022, due largely to rising global vaccination rates and developments of antiviral Covid pills that could become more widespread next year. Instead, the virus will likely become “endemic,” eventually fading in severity and folding into the backdrop of regular, everyday life. Various strains of influenza have followed a similar pattern over the past century or more, from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 to the swine flu pandemic in 2009. (Stieg, 12/15)

Modern Healthcare:
COVID-19 Relief Led To Nearly 10% Jump In 2020 Health Spending

U.S. healthcare spending rose 9.7% to $4.1 trillion last year, primarily due to federal COVID-19 relief spending, the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported Wednesday. The jump marks the largest growth in health expenditures since 2002 and spending was more than 5% higher than during 2019. Much of the increase came from federal spending related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Provider Relief Fund and Paycheck Protection Program loans, according to a report the CMS Office of the Actuary published in Health Affairs. (Goldman, 12/15)

Health Spending Growth More Than Doubled In First Year Of Pandemic

The rate of growth in U.S. health care spending more than doubled in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the medical system accounting for just less than a fifth of the U.S. economy at the end of 2020, according to a federal report released Wednesday. Spending on health care rose 9.7 percent last year, up from 4.3 percent increase in 2019 — the fastest year-over-year jump since 2002, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ office of the actuary. Nearly the entire increase came from the burst of federal spending as the government mobilized to contain the spread of the virus. (Levy, 12/15)

Modern Healthcare:
OSHA’s COVID-19 Prevention Standard Could Lapse Within Days

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has less than a week to extend its emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 prevention for healthcare facilities but hasn’t yet moved to make the policy permanent, and stakeholders aren’t sure what happens next. Emergency temporary standards from OSHA are supposed to be finalized within six months of their release. Policies stay in effect until replaced by a final action, an OSHA spokesperson wrote in an email. The spokesperson wouldn’t say whether failing to extend the current standard would count as a final action. The standard is set to expire Dec. 21 unless OSHA issues a final rule. (Goldman, 12/15)

Modern Healthcare:
Hospitals Rattled By HR Company Ransomware Attack

Healthcare systems are struggling to manage timekeeping and employee pay following a ransomware attack on one of the country’s largest human resources management companies. The Dec. 11 cybersecurity incident affected Ultimate Kronos Group, whose services are used by thousands of organizations, municipal governments, university systems and hospitals. So far, the company has determined that the attack specifically impacts those using the Kronos Private Cloud, which houses banking and scheduling solutions as well as healthcare extensions, said Bob Hughes, UKG executive vice president, in a blog post on Monday. (Devereaux, 12/15)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Morehouse School Of Medicine Delays $6,300 COVID Grants To Students

Morehouse School of Medicine administrators say the $6,300 grants it would give students this week will be delayed as federal education department officials review the plans. The school’s president, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, announced the delay in a letter Tuesday to students. The letter also says some students, such as those who don’t have children and aren’t caregivers for their own parents, may receive $4,800 instead of $6,300. The 754-student school, located near downtown Atlanta, said earlier this month it planned to provide grants from federal coronavirus aid to help students with ongoing pandemic costs such as child care, health care, housing and transportation. (Stirgus, 12/15)

Modern Healthcare:
Cigna Drops Livongo As Preferred Digital Health Tool

One of the largest health services businesses in the U.S. dropped Livongo from preferred status in its digital formulary Wednesday, with the move coming as the digital health startup’s ongoing merger with telehealth provider Teladoc Health reportedly hits bumps in the road. Cigna’s $98.6 billion Evernorth, which houses its Express Scripts pharmacy benefit manager, prioritized rival Omada Health over Livongo for chronic disease management in its annual formulary review of digital health apps and therapeutics. (Tepper, 12/15)

Amazon Elevates Former Prime Boss Neil Lindsay To Run Health Efforts

Amazon’s former Prime boss has been moved to a role overseeing the company’s health efforts. Neil Lindsay last month was elevated to senior vice president of health and brand within Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, according to his LinkedIn profile and people familiar with the move. (Palmer and Coombs, 12/15)

Bowing To Pressure, J.P. Morgan Says Health Care Conference Will Be Virtual

The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, biotech’s biggest annual conference, will be virtual, the bank said Wednesday, bowing to pressure from big-name drug companies that balked at an in-person meeting amid escalating cases of Covid-19. “The health and safety of our clients and employees is of the utmost importance, and given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we have made this decision,” J.P. Morgan said in an email to registered attendees, obtained by STAT. “We were not only hopeful to meet in-person but also understand how much this conference means to the San Francisco community, which we fully support.” (Garde and Feuerstein, 12/15)

Houston Chronicle:
Breast Cancer Breakthrough At Houston Methodist Could Double Patients’ Odds Of Responding To Treatment

On Dec. 15, a research team led by Chang published a study in the journal “Science Translational Medicine,” describing how a combination of chemotherapy and a drug typically used to treat cardiac failure is able to regress tumor growth of triple negative breast cancer and prevent the cancer from spreading. “This is an effective way of cutting short drug development and getting it into patients as quickly as possible,” Chang said in a statement from the hospital. “This process has taken us less than five years and saved billions of dollars, giving us the opportunity to provide this new therapy faster for our patients.” (Peyton, 12/15)

USA Today:
EPA Sees Increased Health Risk In PFOA, Other Cancer-Causing Chemicals

After his father died in 2013 from a cancer that started in his kidney, Michael Hickey was troubled by more than his grief. John Hickey was 70, never smoked and rarely drank. He did work a night shift at a Saint-Gobain textile plant in their hometown of Hoosick Falls, New York. The plant historically produced fabrics coated with a Teflon-like substance, similar to nonstick pans and other products. When a local schoolteacher also died from cancer shortly afterward, Hickey’s suspicions skyrocketed. “We seemed to have a ton of this cancer, and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. (Bagenstose, 12/16)

UK COVID Cases Hit Record; Top Doctor Warns Of Worse To Come 

The U.K. recorded the highest number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections Wednesday since the pandemic began, and England’s chief medical officer warned the situation is likely to get worse as the omicron variant drives a new wave of illness during the Christmas holidays. Professor Chris Whitty described the current situation as two epidemics in one — with omicron infections rising rapidly even as the country continues to grapple with the older delta variant, which is still causing a large number of infections. Public health officials expect omicron to become the dominant variant across the U.K. within days. Omicron already accounts for a majority of cases in London. (Kirka and Lawless, 12/15)

Beijing Olympic Athletes And Their Garbage Face Restrictions

Beijing Winter Olympics organizers say measures to prevent cross-infections between athletes and the outside world are being extended to holding their garbage inside the bubble dividing the two. Officials said on Thursday that a team of special workers will be deployed to collect and transfer garbage inside the bubble to prevent the risk of coronavirus leaking out into the outside world. The Beijing Games begin Feb. 4. (12/16)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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