COVID-19 Round-Up: Scientists Spot Clues to Why Omicron Infections Are Milder; and More

Members of Biden Transition Team Call for New COVID-19 Plan

Former members of President Joe Biden’s transition team are calling for a new long-term strategy that envisions a world in which humans learn to live with the new coronavirus.

Six former advisers published several opinion articles Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailing what needs to be done now to make that happen. Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., an oncologist, medical ethicist, and University of Pennsylvania professor who advised former President Barack Obama, is the driving force behind the effort.

The experts suggest that the Biden administration take a broader view of the pandemic and acknowledge the virus will not be going away. They expressed concern about a “perpetual state of emergency” in response to new surges, such as the highly contagious omicron variant.

Some At-Home Tests May Miss Omicron in Early Stages of Infection

The Abbott BinaxNOW and Quidel QuickVue — two widely used rapid at-home COVID-19 tests — may sometimes fail to spot evidence of the omicron variant in the first days after infection, even when people are carrying substantial levels of the virus, preliminary research suggests.

The researchers focused on 30 people infected with COVID-19 at five workplaces that experienced what were most likely outbreaks of the omicron variant last month. The people received both saliva-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and rapid antigen-based tests involving nasal swabs. It took three days, on average, for people to test positive on the two rapid antigen tests after their first positive PCR result, researchers reported. In four cases, people transmitted the virus to others after a negative result. The study was posted on a preprint server online and has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Study: How Extremist Groups Are Spreading Health Misinformation to Parents Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Parenting communities on Facebook were subject to rampant misinformation early on in the COVID-19 pandemic; misinformation that drove them closer to extremist groups, according to a new study published by researchers from George Washington University. To conduct this study, Neil Johnson, a professor of physics at GW, and colleagues, analyzed Facebook communities (with over 100 million users in total) that became ensnarled in online health debate through 2020. After identifying one community, they sought to find a second strongly associated with the original, and so on, to better understand how the groups interact.

According to the results, mainstream parenting communities were exposed to misinformation via two different sources within Facebook. First, the researchers noted, during 2020, alternative health communities, which generally focus on positive messaging about a healthy immune system, became a link between mainstream parenting communities and pre-COVID conspiracy theory communities that promote misinformation about topics such as climate change, fluoride, chemtrails, and 5G. This conduit augmented the bond between these communities, and enabled the proliferation of misinformation.

Scientists Spot Clues to Why Omicron Infections Are Milder

New animal research offers a compelling explanation as to how the Omicron variant causes less severe disease than some of its predecessors: It seems to settle in the nose, throat and windpipe, rather than traveling down to the lungs.

More than six studies have found Omicron is milder than the Delta variant and others. While previous variants have scarred the lungs and caused breathing difficulties in humans, several studies with mice and hamsters have found that the variant caused much milder symptoms. This included research in Syrian hamsters, which had been found to become severely ill with other variants, the Times reported.