HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Half of New Cases Now Tied to Delta Strain

The delta variant is set to become the predominant Covid strain in the U.S., boosting concerns it could lead to a surge in cases in under-vaccinated hot spots.

The highly transmissible variant made up 30% of positive samples sequenced in the U.S. for the two-week period ending June 19. The variant is predicted to increase to 52% in the two weeks ending July 3, according to Jade Fulce, a spokesperson at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In June, the CDC classified the B.1.617.2 strain, first identified in India, as a variant of concern. On July 1, the Biden administration announced the deployment of response teams to combat delta’s spread, and U.S. health officials have promised to boost testing and provide therapeutics.

“Without such measures, we will have surges throughout the coming year and we risk the emergence of a SARS-CoV-2 strain that could have higher rates of vaccine breakthrough and/or severe cases in vaccinated individuals,” Samuel Scarpino, a co-founder of Global.health that tracks Covid cases and variants internationally, said.

The proportions of the variant across the country vary, ranging from about 30% in the Pacific Northwest to more than 80% in the Midwestern region of the country. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Study Says Virus Origins Mirror SARS’s: Early Covid-19 cases traced to markets in Wuhan, China, mirror the initial spread of SARS 17 years earlier, scientists said in a paper concluding that an animal contagion is the most likely explanation for the genesis of the pandemic. The epidemiological history of SARS-CoV-2 is comparable to prior animal market-associated outbreaks of coronaviruses and offers a simple route for human exposure, 21 researchers wrote in a review of scientific evidence. Read more from Jason Gale.

Trade Groups Urge Biden to Restart International Travel: Two dozen trade groups are urging the Biden administration to ease international travel restrictions by July 15. The organizations are pushing for the administration to reopen travel between the U.S. and the U.K., permit fully vaccinated people from lower-risk countries to enter the U.S. quickly, and ease entry restrictions by next week. The group, led by the U.S. Travel Association, includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Read more from Lillianna Byington.

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What Else to Know

Pelosi, Maloney to Talk Drug Price Report: House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. today with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to release a report from the panel analyzing financial data of 14 of the largest drug companies to evaluate investor and executive compensation in relation to investment in research and development of new treatments, and how that data the can affect Medicare price negotiations, according to a statement.

Congress Urged to Delay Child Sodium Mandate: Lawmakers negotiating the Child Nutrition Reauthorization must consider delaying current sodium goal mandates until July 2024 and eliminating next year’s final target sodium limits, the School Nutrition Association said in a report yesterday. Extra congressional funds would help keep school meal programs economically sustainable, the nonprofit recommends.

School nutrition directors were not only concerned about future sodium regulations, but also continued pandemic disruptions to supply chains, staff shortages and low meal participation, the report shows. “Congress and USDA must focus on supporting meal participation, rather than mandating severe sodium reductions that will result in fewer students eating healthy meals and further financial losses for school meal programs,” President Reggie Ross said in a statement, Megan U. Boyanton reports.

Emotional Distress for Disability Bias Before SCOTUS: The U.S. Supreme Court will clarify next term whether victims of disability discrimination under federal law can win emotional distress damages, after it granted review of a Fifth Circuit decision. “Emotional distress” damages are intended to compensate people for intangible injuries, including humiliation or embarrassment, that don’t have a readily assignable economic value. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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