Friday Stats and More

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From the Omicron and siblings front, the Centers for Disease Control’s weekly interpretative summary of its Covid statistics explains


As of November 30, 2022, the current 7-day average of weekly new cases (43,300) decreased 1.2% compared with the previous 7-day average (43,837). A total of 98,777,220 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States as of December 30, 2022.

Variant Proportions

CDC Nowcast projections* for the week ending December 3, 2022, estimate the proportion of lineages designated as Omicron with estimates above 1%: BA.5—and four of its sublineages (BQ.1, BQ.1.1, BF.7, and BA.5.2.6)—BA.4.6,and XBB. XBB is a recombinant of two BA.2 sublineages.

New Hospital Admissions

The current 7-day daily average for November 23–29, 2022, was 4,201. This is a 17.6% increase from the prior 7-day average (3,572) from November 16–22, 2022.


As of November 30, 2022, 655.3 million vaccine doses have been administered in the United States. Overall, about 267.3 million people, or 80.5% of the total U.S. population, have received at least one dose of vaccine. About 228.4 million people, or 68.8% of the total U.S. population, have completed a primary series.

Of those who have completed a primary series, about 114.8 million people have received a booster dose,* and more than 39.7 million people have received an updated (bivalent) booster dose. But 48.3% of the total booster-eligible population has not yet received a booster dose. Learn more about who is eligible.


The current 7-day average of new deaths (254) decreased 32.4% compared with the previous 7-day average (376). As of November 30, 2022, a total of 1,077,303 Covid-19 deaths have been reported in the United States

The CDC also released an encouraging report about Paxlovid’s efficacy.


What is already known about this topic?

Nirmatrelvir-ritonavir (Paxlovid) is an outpatient antiviral medication recommended for adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who have elevated risk of severe illness.

What is added by this report?

Among U.S. adults diagnosed with COVID-19, including those with previous infection or vaccination, persons who were prescribed Paxlovid within 5 days of diagnosis had a 51% lower hospitalization rate within 30 days after diagnosis than those who were not prescribed Paxlovid.

What are the implications for public health practice?

Paxlovid should be offered to eligible adults irrespective of vaccination status, especially in groups with the highest risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as older adults and those with multiple underlying health conditions.

Also from the public health front, the CDC’s Fluview tells us

  • Seasonal influenza activity is high and continues to increase across the country.
  • Of influenza A viruses detected and subtyped this season, 79% have been influenza A(H3N2) and 21% have been influenza A(H1N1).
  • Two influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported this week, for a total of 14 pediatric flu deaths reported so far this season.
  • CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from flu.
  • The cumulative hospitalization rate in the FluSurv-NET system is higher than the rate observed in week 47 during every previous season since 2010-2011.
  • The number of flu hospital admissions reported in the HHS Protect system during week 47 almost doubled compared with week 46.
  • The majority of influenza viruses tested are in the same genetic subclade as and antigenically similar to the influenza viruses included in this season’s influenza vaccine.
  • All viruses collected and evaluated this season have been susceptible to influenza antivirals.
  • An annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu. Vaccination helps prevent infection and can also prevent serious outcomes in people who get vaccinated but still get sick with flu.
  • CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu vaccine annually. Now is a good time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already.
  • There are also prescription flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness; those need to be started as early as possible.

The Wall Street Journal offers a helpful overview of the tripledemic situation.

From the Alzheimer’s Disease front —

STAT News reports

Scientific meetings about Alzheimer’s disease can be funereal affairs, with researchers from around the world gathering in hopes that the latest in a long line of negative clinical trials might light the path to a long-awaited success.

This year was different. Nearly 2,000 people showed up to the Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s Disease meeting, a conference record, to hear about lecanemab, a drug from Eisai and Biogen that appears to have broken the decades-long cycle of disappointment.

A packed audience repeatedly burst into applause during Eisai’s lecanemab presentation on Tuesday — with onlookers clapping even when they learned that the results had been concurrently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Supplemental figures don’t usually don’t draw cheers, but the warm reception underscored how overjoyed researchers were to have any kind of success against Alzheimer’s, even a modest one. * * *

Several researchers compared this moment in Alzheimer’s research to the early days of cancer therapy or HIV treatment — the first drugs aren’t smash hits, but they’re something for scientists and doctors to build on and learn from.

“It’s not like you’ve won the war with lecanemab,” said Eric Siemers, chief medical officer of Acumen Pharma. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. But this is an inflection point. There’s no question about it.”

In that regard, BioPharma Dive points out lessons learned from testing a Roche drug similar to lecanermab.

After one year of treatment, [the Roche drug] gantenerumab reduced amyloid burden in patients only half as well as the trials’ designers had expected based on previous research, said researcher Randall Bateman, a neurology professor at Washington University in St. Louis who helped lead the studies.

Moreover, around half as many gantenerumab patients as predicted tested negative for amyloid over the course of the trial. Almost none tested negative after one year of treatment, and only around a quarter did after more than two years, researchers revealed.

Data for lecanemab and donanemab presented at CTAD, meanwhile, showed stronger amyloid clearance, helping boost confidence in those drugs.

Bateman also pointed to a post-study analysis researchers conducted of Roche’s trials that hinted at better outcomes for trial participants who had higher reductions in amyloid, although this finding wasn’t statistically conclusive.

Taken together with data from other trials, gantenerumab’s results should help researchers as they try to optimize available therapies and develop new ones, Bateman said.

“I see this as one of the missing essential pieces of the puzzle of figuring out how to optimally treat along this pathway for amyloid removal,” he said.

Meanwhile, the New York Times tells us about “A Promising Trial Targets a Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s
Preliminary results offer hope that gene therapy can protect people with a version of the brain disease driven by a particular gene variant.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front, Healthcare Dive reports

Advocate Aurora Health and Atrium Health announced Friday the two providers have closed their merger deal, becoming the nation’s fifth-largest nonprofit health system by revenue.

The new system, Advocate Health, will generate revenue of more than $27 billion and operate 67 hospitals and more than 1,000 sites of care in six states. The system expects to treat nearly 6 million patients each year. * * *

The two systems do not have any geographic overlap, an aspect that has tripped up prior hospital mergers.

Instead, economists told Healthcare Dive, the FTC is likely to examine insurer overlap in the case of Advocate Health. The combined entity operates in Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama.

From the federal employment front —

Govexec informs us

The Biden administration will allow agencies to hire employees in certain positions on a temporary basis for up to 10 years, more than doubling the current cap limiting the assignments for those workers.

The Office of Personnel Management issued the rule on Thursday, finalizing a proposal first put forward by the Trump administration. The rule will enable federal agencies to appoint employees in STEM jobs for a decade. OPM said the change would give agencies more flexibility when tackling long-term science, technology, engineering and mathematics projects. Previous regulations required agencies to get special permission from OPM to keep any term employee on staff for longer than four years.

Viet Tran, an OPM spokesman, said the rule showed the administration’s “commitment to STEM hiring.” He added it would allow for more federal, rather than outsourced, hiring. 

“With this final rule, agencies have more flexibility and support (and less administrative burden) to hire employees—rather than contractors—for non-permanent STEM positions that agencies expect from the outset to last longer than 4 years but not more than 10 years,” Tran said. “This is another tool to help agencies better compete for talent.”

As the FEHBlog has explained, federal employees can expect a 4.6% pay raise for 2023 with 4.1% of the increase being distributed across the GS schedule and the remaining 0.5% allocated to locality pay. As it turns out, the Society for Human Resource Management tells us

Employers in the U.S. plan to boost salaries an average of 4.6 percent in 2023, up from 4.2 percent this year, according to a new study.

Employers say inflationary pressures and the ongoing challenges of finding and keeping workers are the main reasons for the higher projected increases. Indeed, 3 in 4 of the 1,550 U.S. employers in the latest Salary Budget Planning Report by consultancy WTW say they continue to experience problems attracting and retaining workers. The survey was conducted from Oct. 3 to Nov. 4, 2022.

From the plan design front, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report explains the growing use of all sizes of employers to provide retiree health benefits through Medicare Advantage plans.

This analysis uses data from the 2022 KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey to examine the extent to which large private and non-federal public employers that offer retiree health benefits are turning to Medicare Advantage and why they are making this shift. However, the Survey does not include information about union-administered benefits. For additional information about methods, see Survey Design and Methods.

Based on the Survey, we find:

  • Half (50%) of large employers offering retiree health benefits to Medicare-age retirees offer coverage to at least some retirees through a contract with a Medicare Advantage plan, nearly double the share in 2017 (26%).
  • About 44% of large employers that offer Medicare Advantage coverage to their retirees do not give retirees a choice in coverage options. 
  • Among larger employers with 1,000 or more workers that offer retiree health benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan, the most commonly cited reason they elected this option was the lower cost.

FEHB plans also are implementing integrated Medicare Advantage plans as a cost-saving measure.

From the HHS front, “Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra marked the one-year anniversary of HHS’s Overdose Prevention Strategy (Strategy) by announcing the progress the nation has made since the release of the Strategy, showing expanded treatment capacity, lives saved from an overdose, and commitment to long term recovery supports.” Kudos. Here is the fact sheet.