The Perfect Enemy | This week in COVID: Biden still positive; disparities in booster uptake; new research on rebound cases
February 29, 2024

President Joe Biden continued to test positive for COVID-19 Friday, the day he could have ended isolation from a rebound infection, according to guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Biden, 79, tested positive for the first time July 21 and received a five-day treatment of Paxlovid, given to those at higher risk for severe illness. He tested negative on July 26 and 27, prompting him to end isolation. But three days later, on July 30, the president again tested positive and returned to isolation. Biden’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said his symptoms hadn’t reappeared. 

Rebound infections after taking Paxlovid can occur. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, experienced a similar rebound infection. Most people, however, aren’t tested as often as the president and the actual rate of rebound cases is probably around 5%, White House COVID response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said in a series of tweets.

It’s not clear whether a rebound after taking the antiviral Paxlovid is any different than a rebound without the drug. In the trial that led to Paxlovid’s authorization, the percentage of people who developed rebound infections was similar among those who took the medication and those who didn’t. 

A preprint study posted Tuesday found 27% of people who recovered from COVID-19 saw a rebound in symptoms regardless of whether they were treated with Paxlovid. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

Also in the news:

► The CDC may update its COVID-19 guidance, including in schools, easing quarantine recommendations and de-emphasizing regular testing, according to a CNN report.

► A federally sponsored study found neutralizing antibodies against omicron decrease substantially within three months of getting a COVID-19 booster.

 The U.S. government has secured 66 million doses of Moderna’s new booster vaccine targeting the BA.4 and BA.5 strain of the omicron variant, according to a company statement.

► A large study looking at Californians’ life expectancy from 2015 to 2021 found it declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 81.4 to 78.37 years.  

📘What we’re reading: Are these furry creatures to blame for the COVID pandemic? Study finds ‘reasonable’ origin in raccoon dogs. Read more here. 

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US stuck in ‘horrible plateau’ of COVID-19 deaths

“COVID is over” might trend within social media circles, but weekly U.S. death tolls tell a different story.

The pace of COVID-19 deaths has remained steady since May, despite an uptick in July to about 400 a day, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. In July, more than 12,500 Americans died of COVID-19.

“We’re sitting on this horrible plateau,” said Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease specialist with Pro Health Care in New York and a clinical instructor of medicine at Columbia University.

Most Americans who died of COVID-19 were immunocompromised or older than 75, experts said. These patients ranged in vaccination status – from unvaccinated to receiving all recommended vaccines and boosters.

What appears to make the biggest difference between patients who recover from COVID-19 or die, Griffin said, is whether they receive treatment within the first week of diagnosis.

Study finds racial and ethnic disparities in COVID booster uptake

As it became clear the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing health disparities, officials invested in concentrated, programmatic efforts to narrow the gap. But a recent report shows those disparities continued with booster uptake.

As of March, Black people were 15% less likely to receive a booster and Hispanic people were 21% less likely when compared to the population average. Asian people were 24% more likely to get their booster and white people were 7% more likely, according to the study published Monday in Health Affairs.

“Across doses, we found large racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 vaccination uptake,” study authors wrote. “Vaccinations drive outcomes: Relative to those who have received boosters, morality rates are 78 times higher for those who are unvaccinated.”

Booster uptake across all racial and ethnic groups followed similar trends as first doses, except among Hispanics. While they were least likely to get a booster, the number of Hispanics who got first doses was 26% higher than the population average.

“Vaccination campaigns focused on Hispanic people may want to promote booster doses to address low rates of uptake among a population that has demonstrated both the willingness to receive and the ability to obtain first doses,” study authors wrote.

Nursing homes fail to replace staff that quit amid COVID outbreaks

Nursing home staffs shrunk in the weeks and months after severe COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a new study, and federal data shows most facilities lost more than half their nurses and aides in the past year.

The study found facilities have struggled to refill openings, particularly certified nursing assistants, who provide most bedside care – findings that both complicate and underscore the need for President Biden’s push to establish nationwide staffing-level requirements.

Increased nurse staffing is linked to better health outcomes for nursing-home residents, with registered nurses playing a particularly important role in managing the spread of infectious diseases. That reality gained broader significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased public awareness of nursing-home shortfalls.

The pandemic also brought attention to the challenges faced by nursing-home workers, who historically have been paid less than their counterparts in hospitals or government-run health programs. 

– Jayme Fraser, USA TODAY 

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT. 

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.