Walmart offers employees a more ‘flexible’ way of working, asking them to return to the office next month

walmart sign
  • Walmart asked all of its corporate associates to return to the office in a memo released Friday.
  • The retailer did not disclose if this change is mandatory.
  • The transition will begin on November 8, according to Walmart’s chief people officer Donna Morris.

Walmart asked its corporate associates to return to the office next month, saying in a note to employees “there is no substitution for being in the offices together.”

The note, posted on the company’s website, stated that associates who work in the companies campus offices will return November 8 as part of a “new, more flexible way of working” after operating remotely for most of the coronavirus pandemic. The company’s Global Tech team will continue to work remotely, the note said.

Walmart did not respond to Insider’s request to comment on whether or not the return to campus offices is mandatory for employees. Walmart also did not disclose any specific details related to this plan or if employees will have the choice to work remotely.

“Given all campus associates will be fully vaccinated or have an approved accommodation in November, we will transition to working together in our campus offices on a more regular basis starting the week of Nov. 8,” Donna Morris, Chief People Officer, said in the note. “There is no substitution for being in the offices together,” she added.

The move comes as many companies grapple with whether to make a return to the office mandatory for employees who transitioned to remote work about 18 months ago in the early days of pandemic lockdowns. Many workers have said they would refuse to come back to offices full time. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent Alphabet Inc., said this week the company would enact a hybrid model. Amazon this month said it would let corporate employees work from home indefinitely.

In July, Walmart mandated corporate employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Employees had until October 4 to get vaccinated, Insider reported. Walmart was the first major retailer to require certain corporate employees get vaccinated.

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The color blue is the latest victim of the supply chain crisis as paint manufacturers run out of additives

Directly Above Shot Of Paint Can And Brush On Hardwood Floor.
  • Dutch paint maker Akzo Nobel is low on chemicals used to make certain shades of its blue paint.
  • The cost of materials needed to make paint increased by over $323 million since last year, according to the manufacturer.
  • Other paint companies like Sherwin-Williams are experiencing similar issues and expect shortages to go into 2022.

Manufacturers are running out of supplies needed to make shades of blue paint, the latest good to be affected in the ongoing supply chain crisis.

“To make paint you would need between 50 and 60 ingredients,” a spokesperson from Dutch paint maker Akzo Nobel explained in a statement to Insider. “Some additives are difficult to get.”

The cost of raw materials and other variables needed to make paint increased by over $323 million compared to 2020, according to the company’s third quarter results. Prices of Akzo Nobel have increased by 9% over the past year.

“During the third quarter, as predicted, extraordinary levels of raw material costs and supply disruptions impacted our business,” Akzo Nobel’s CEO Thierry Vanlancker said.”As we’ve already indicated, the headwinds are likely to be with us going into 2022.”

The issue is causing “complete chaos” for the company, Vanlancker said, according to Bloomberg.

The company expects the availability of additives to return to normal in six to nine months, Akzo Nobel told Insider. Akzo Nobel does not see a reason why there would be a lasting supply and demand imbalance.

Other paint manufacturers like Sherwin-Williams are running into similar headwinds as they battle shortages related to the supply chain. Sherwin-Williams told investors in September that the company is facing raw material shortages and that is increasing the overall cost to make paint, according to CNN Business. Sherwin-Williams’s CEO John Morikis expects prices to be up for a while, CNN reported.

“The actions we’re taking say we’re expecting them to be longer term rather than shorter term,” Morikis said a call with investors, according to CNN.

The ongoing supply-chain crisis is the result of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic paired with a boom in demand. Shortages of workers, equipment, raw materials, and space have only exacerbated an already dire situation. Experts predict the disruptions will continue well into 2023, despite efforts from the government to mitigate the issue.

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What’s in store for the future of big healthcare bets

Hello,

Welcome to Insider Healthcare. I’m healthcare editor Leah Rosenbaum, and this week in healthcare news:

If you’re new to this newsletter, sign up here. Comments, tips? Email me at lrosenbaum@insider.com or tweet @leah_rosenbaum. Let’s get to it…


Karen DeSalvo Google Health
Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google’s chief health officer.

At the HLTH 2021 conference, execs spoke about the future of healthcare

This week, we sent almost all of our healthcare team out to Boston for the 2021 HLTH conference.

Our reporters met with dozens of executives to find out what the next big trends in healthcare will be.

We’ll have more coverage of HLTH in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, we want to know, what did you take away from the conference? Reply to Blake Dodge’s tweet asking that here.

Read more>>

Google’s health chief lays out the company’s next steps after shying away from a full healthcare business


Japanese man receiving moderna vaccine
An employee (R) of Japan’s Suntory Holdings receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccine for Covid-19 .

FDA and CDC OK booster shots for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines

In an exciting announcement on Wednesday, the FDA authorized booster shots for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to people at high risk for severe disease and older adults. People in these categories can get booster shots 6 months after their second Moderna shot.

At the same time, the FDA authorized a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for anyone who got a single dose of the vaccine at least 2 months ago. Andrew and I covered the big news.

On Thursday, the CDC agreed with the FDA and booster shots became official US policy.

Up next: an expert FDA panel is set on Tuesday to review the evidence around the use of Pfizer’s vaccine in kids 5-11. Ahead of that recommendation, Pfizer released new results on Friday that show the vaccine is 91% effective in that age group.

Here’s what you need to know>>

The FDA just authorized booster shots of Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines and is letting users mix and match shots


woman in scrubs prepares covid-19 vaccine, with patient and doctor chatting in background
Chanei Henry, senior research coordinator of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine.

Mix & match becomes mainstream

Researchers have been talking for months about the potential benefit to “mixing-and-matching” COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.

On Wednesday, the FDA announced that the agency now authorizes people to do it. These “heterologous” vaccines can sometimes produce a stronger immune response, research has found.

Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce and Hilary Brueck discuss how they work.

Dive in>>

How ‘mix and match’ COVID-19 booster shots work, and why we’re using them


More stories that kept us busy this week:


-Leah

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Rep. Katie Porter calls out Johnson & Johnson over trying to split company during baby powder lawsuits

Johnson & Johnson logo
  • Rep. Katie Porter blasted Johnson & Johnson for trying to separate its company.
  • She said that the company is trying to “shield its assets” during lawsuits.
  • The lawsuits allege that the company knew their baby powder had asbestos in it for decades.

Rep. Katie Porter called out Johnson & Johnson on Twitter for moving to separate the Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder portions from the company as it faces lawsuits from tens of thousands of women alleging the Baby Powder and other talc products from the company were contaminated with asbestos.

“Johnson & Johnson filed in court last week to split its Baby Powder from the rest of the company,” the congresswoman tweeted. “Why? J&J knew asbestos laced some bottles but kept it a secret for decades. Tens of thousands of women with ovarian cancer are suing, and the company wants to shield its assets.”

“J&J sold the powder for 60 years, and now that it has to pay for these women’s medical bills, it wants the courts to treat ‘Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder’ as a separate company,” California congresswoman continued.

A 2018 investigation by Reuters reported that small amounts of asbestos were found in the company’s baby powder between the early 1970s and the early 2000s. The investigation found through documents that the company failed to disclose that information.

The company has repeatedly denied the claims.

Reuters reported last week that cases against Johnson & Johnson cost to company about $1 billion to defend, and settlements and verdicts have been an additional $3.5 billion.

In June, J&J had to pay out $2 billion to women who claim their products caused ovarian cancer.

Nearly 40,000 plaintiffs are suing Johnson & Johnson, alleging that their talc-based products caused cancer and mesothelioma.

In one suit, the plaintiffs allege “Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder was aggressively marketed to Black women as a product that would ‘maintain freshness and cleanliness,'” Insider’s Aleeya Mayo previously reported. “But, the group says, internal documents from a study conducted in 1968 suggest that the powder contained talc which may have been contaminated with asbestos and that the company knew there was a ‘carcinogenic nature of talc and the effects of talc use.'”

The company put these claims into a company called LTL Management LLC, which filed for bankruptcy last Thursday, October 14, halting the cases, according to Reuters. The lawsuits are currently paused while the bankruptcy is negotiated. J&J said will fund the company’s legal costs, but the amount is under review, Reuters reported.

Court paperwork by the newly filed company said that the case was “necessitated by an unrelenting assault by the plaintiff trial bar, premised on the false allegations that the … talc products contain asbestos and cause cancer,” according to Reuters.

“There are countless Americans suffering from cancer, or mourning the death of a loved one, because of the toxic baby powder that Johnson & Johnson put on the market that has made it one of the most profitable pharmaceutical corporations in the world. Their conduct and now bankruptcy gimmick is as despicable as it is brazen,” Linda Lipsen, who is a part of the American Association for Justice, said in a statement, according to ABC News.

The company did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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Remote work can take a toll on company culture – here are 7 ways to strengthen your work relationships

mother working from home
Today’s work environment requires a stronger focus on creating positive company culture.

  • Remote work has changed workplace dynamics, both between coworkers and with customers.
  • Fostering team engagement and customer satisfaction is even more important to companies’ long-term success.
  • Leaders should extend virtual company culture, balance flexibility and practicality, and reward productivity.

Even before the recent COVID-19 pandemic when more people began working remotely, I noticed the dynamics changing in many workplaces – both between employees as they interacted with peers, and in their interactions with customers.

People on both sides seem to have a shorter attention span, appear less tolerant, and are less interested in building personal relationships related to business.

In my role as a business advisor, my challenge is to understand the reasons for these cultural changes and to offer guidance on what you can do to keep your team engaged and positive.

Studies have shown that work productivity is related to happier work culture, and customer satisfaction and loyalty are also dependent on the culture. Here are the key elements I see to building a strong culture:

1. Make your company culture virtual

Building and maintaining a winning work culture is no longer just a function of the office. You must regularly host online meetings, as well as external networking and team-building exercises.

Don’t wait for word-of-mouth to spread your culture. Use marketing, blogging, and industry conferences to get the message out. For example, Mathilde Collin, CEO of Front, has implemented a weekly “Ask Me Anything” call with her team, a virtual game night, and birthday shout-outs for all.

2. Balance remote work and contract assignments

The trend toward more remote work, flexible work hours, and outsourcing can eliminate productive work relationships and communication between functions. Customers will be impacted and less likely to have a memorable experience. Your challenge is to enable communication between all teams.

Some business leaders don’t realize that managing remote work and outsourcing always increases their communication and project management workload, rather than reducing it. Thus, the move to remote workers can actually increase costs and risks, unless anticipated and balanced. Don’t eliminate the home-office team too quickly as you learn.

3. Facilitate work on favorite personal devices

The advent of powerful new devices, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets, affords everyone with alternatives that are more productive and satisfying for them, without sacrificing productivity. The stigma of a clunky desktop today can easily lower worker engagement and satisfaction.

This trend to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is catching on rapidly across many offices. Of course, you may have to set boundaries and take extra steps to protect your data, their personal data, and IT infrastructure from devices no longer entirely in your control.

4. Give extra credit for smarter work versus more work

Make sure your team members get rewarded for changes and new tools for improving overall productivity, not just personal hours worked. This requires that everyone understand the total process as well as your business goals, and that you enable collaboration rather than isolating functions.

5. Move to modern platforms for more collaboration

Customers and peer groups, including freelancers, are already using popular social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, so make them a part of your team culture. Newer collaboration platforms, such as Zoom and the Cloud, are a step up from your legacy internal platform.

6. Measure results in terms of customer satisfaction

It’s easy to count the number of products sold, or service requests completed, and because of that, these metrics can become your focus, rather than the number of customer advocates, or repeat customers. The result can be employees who don’t see the value in positive relationships and collaboration with peers.

7. Don’t overlook the interests and benefits of Boomers

As your customer population ages, they will relate more to your mature workers, and both will be more satisfied. Studies have found that these hires are often productive and conducive to positive relationships and the collaboration that builds the workplace culture you need to survive.

As a business leader, it should be apparent to you that the workplace environment is changing just as fast as the market and technology. This might be more important to long-term survival and success than product innovation: It’s an opportunity for you to win over competitors and expand your market. Make it part of your strategic plan today.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The FDA is reportedly planning to allow ‘mix-and-match’ booster shots

Hello,

Welcome to Insider Healthcare. I’m healthcare editor Leah Rosenbaum, and today in healthcare news:

If you’re new to this newsletter, sign up here. Comments, tips? Email me at lrosenbaum@insider.com or tweet @leah_rosenbaum. Let’s get to it…


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A COVID-19 vaccine.


The FDA plans to allow people to ‘mix-and-match’ their COVID-19 booster shots, a new report says

Find out more>>


An Emergency Room nurse tends to a patient at the Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital on August 18, 2021 in Houston, Texas

Nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and simple questions can set them off

Get the full story>>


Empty rooms in a California hospital ICU.
In this Thursday, April 9, 2020, file photo, the Intensive Care unit at the St. Vincent Medical Center building in Los Angeles is viewed.

Thousands of California hospital workers strike over ‘critical staffing shortages’ at nearly a third of hospitals in the state

  • Thousands of healthcare workers in California have gone on strike or plan to strike, CalMatters reported.
  • They’re striking over burnout and continued staffing shortages fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • About a third of California hospitals reported “critical staffing shortages” to the federal government last week.

Dive in>>


More stories we’re reading:


-Leah

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I got my first COVID shot in Nigeria and the second in the UK, and the difference was infuriating

A masked woman administers a shot to a man in front of a wall with chipped paint.
The author, Paul Adepoju (left), got his first Covid vaccine shot in Nigeria. The center was so crowded that there was no room to sit down.

  • In Nigeria, less than 3% of the population has gotten the Covid vaccine. In the UK, 68% of people are fully vaccinated.
  • Life is returning to normal in both places – but in Nigeria, most people must make do without the vaccine.
  • There’s a growing push to speed up vaccine access in poor countries.

I got my first COVID-19 vaccine shot in Nigeria in September.

I arrived at the health center at 5 in the morning and waited in line for hours. When it was finally my turn, the center was so packed with people that I had to stand up while getting my shot. Still, I considered myself lucky, since the day’s supply often runs out.

A couple of weeks later, I was in the UK.

On Oct. 1, I strolled into an empty walk-in vaccination site and got my second dose. There was no registration system to navigate, no wait, and no risk that the center would run out of vaccine shots.

The two experiences were totally different and offered a stark illustration of how uneven the path out of this now two-year-long epidemic has been for those in Western countries versus places like West Africa.

A hand holds up a vaccination card with empty chairs in the background.
The author got his second shot at Turreff Hall, a UK vaccination site in the town of Donnington.

In Nigeria, a country of 200 million people, just over 7 million vaccine doses have been administered, according to the World Health Organization. The most progress has been made in Lagos, a city that’s home to over 21 million people, where nearly 474,000 residents have been fully vaccinated.

In the UK, around three quarters of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, and 68% are fully vaccinated. A booster shot is already available to those who qualify.

Thanks to the large number of fully vaccinated individuals across America, the UK, and other countries that have more than enough doses to vaccinate all their residents, stadiums, nightclubs, schools, comedy clubs, churches and others are returning to normal. Even as mask and vaccine mandates are still polarizing, the vaccine is available at supermarkets and health centers to whoever wants it.

The picture is very different in Nigeria, where vaccine doses have been trickling in from the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility. Things are largely back to normal – mostly because people don’t have much of a choice. In January, the World Bank predicted that the pandemic will contribute to 10.9 million more Nigerians entering poverty in the next year.

Nigeria has said that a vaccination will soon be mandatory for civil servants. Schools have resumed full in-person classes. Tightly packed churches are also holding multiple services weekly and wedding parties are fully back at venues nationwide without vaccine requirements.

Meanwhile, people are still dying of Covid in Nigeria. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 207,979 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 2,756 deaths. (That’s also the case in the UK, where officials just announced 45,066 new Covid cases and 157 additional deaths.)

But due to inadequate, and the high cost, of testing, Nigeria’s numbers likely mask the true scale of the pandemic.

On October 14, the WHO announced that six in seven COVID-19 infections go undetected in Africa.

“With limited testing, we’re still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said in a statement. “Most tests are carried out on people with symptoms, but much of the transmission is driven by asymptomatic people, so what we see could just be the tip of the iceberg.”

A long, stressful wait

In Ibadan, Nigeria’s third-largest city, the Alegongo Primary Healthcare Center opens at 9am. People begin lining up at around 5 in the morning, hopeful that they will get a Covid vaccine. The whole process might take five hours.

Until early September, the center said they could only administer 50 shots a day, and only to people over the age of 18. On most days, if you arrived after 6:30 in the morning, you would be out of luck and would have to try again another day. Now, the center has about 100 doses per day to give out.

A row of people, some masked and some not, sit on a bench as others stand nearby.
The Alegongo Primary Healthcare Center in In Ibadan, Nigeria, where the author got his first vaccine shot.

Taiwo Ilori, a middle-aged businessman who I met on line, said it had taken him three tries to get his elderly parents vaccinated, and only then did he try himself.

It’s not enough to simply show up. If you want a vaccine, you must first sign up on the vaccination registration portal. There’s no choice as to which vaccine you will get.

Health workers on night shifts at the center are often saddled with the task of arranging people on the queue and trying to enforce social distancing. Meanwhile, the facility also provides emergency services, routine care for illnesses like malaria and typhoid, care of pregnant women, and immunization shots.

In my case, and from what I’ve heard from others, there was no information given about possible side effects, how the vaccine works, or post-vaccine shot monitoring.

“It is very calm here”

Turreff Hall in Donnington, a UK city 120 miles northwest of London, has been serving as a COVID-19 vaccination center for the area. Here, over 70% of people aged 12 and over have been fully vaccinated. In some age groups, more than 97% have been fully vaccinated.

It has been very easy to get vaccinated at the historic hall, which was built during the Second World War by the American army. You can show up anytime between 9am and 4pm.

A crowd of people carry a coffin with signs that read "Drop the Patent" and "Stop blocking global Covid vaccines"
A protest against Covid-19 vaccine patents on October 12, 2021 in London.

When I visited at around 12:40pm on Oct. 1 – it happened to be Nigeria’s Independence Day – I found an open space with empty chairs that were spaced a socially-distanced length apart.

The employees running the site told me that since most everyone in the area had been vaccinated, only a few people, especially visitors and foreigners, now visit for the shots. When locals show up, it’s mostly those that qualify for booster doses.

“It is very calm here these days even though we have sufficient vaccine doses,” one of the officials said.

Right away, I was given my vaccination shot and told about possible side-effects. Afterwards, I was told to wait for 15 minutes in one of the chairs in case I experienced any post-vaccination complications.

I got the Pfizer vaccine, although the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines were also available at different sites nearby.

‘Ignoring a whole continent’

From early September, when universities prepared to begin their fall semester, there’s been a surge in Nigerian students travelling to the UK, as well as confusion around the vaccination rules.

Since February, anyone arriving from Nigeria and other African countries – even if they were fully vaccinated – was required to show a negative Covid test before boarding a UK-bound airplane, and then isolate for 10 days upon arrival and submit to another two Covid tests.

This week the UK government announced that fully-vaccinated travelers from Nigeria would no longer be required to self-isolate or take multiple Covid tests.

Two men walk past a billboard that says "No Card / No Entry"
Pedestrians walk past a billboard in Benin City in southern Nigeria on Sept. 16, 2021.

The UK estimates that around 190,000 people born in Nigeria live in the UK, including around 10,000 university students.

“I was fully vaccinated before I came to the UK but it was very embarrassing to find out that the vaccination I received meant nothing to officials here,” a Nigerian student in Birmingham, who asked not to be referred to by name, told me. During her quarantine, she said, she received a check-in visit from the UK’s National Health Service. “At some point they indirectly threatened me when they said a Nigerian woman and her two kids were deported because they were not at home when the officials visited their address.”

At the recently held General Assembly of the United Nations, several African leaders urged countries like the UK to urgently stop vaccine hoarding and share with African countries.

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo noted that around 900 million people in Africa need to be vaccinated in order to get to a level of vaccine coverage that the UK and other Western countries have attained.

This week, the head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told CNN that Western countries should delay administering booster shots until people around the world have access to the vaccine.

“To start boosters is really the worst we can do as a global community,” he said. “It is unjust and also unfair because we will not stop the pandemic by ignoring a whole continent, and the continent that doesn’t have any manufacturing capacity of other means.”

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We’re getting closer to a J&J booster shot

Hello,

Welcome to Insider Healthcare. I’m healthcare editor Leah Rosenbaum, and today in healthcare news:

If you’re new to this newsletter, sign up here. Comments, tips? Email me at lrosenbaum@insider.com or tweet @leah_rosenbaum. Let’s get to it…


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A vial of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen’s) Covid-19 vaccine.

A Johnson & Johnson booster shot just got closer to reality, as the FDA’s expert panel unanimously supports an extra dose

Check it out>>


Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel attends a meeting with President Donald Trump in March 2020.

Leaked memo: Moderna’s CEO responds to criticism that the $135 billion biotech is prioritizing vaccine profits over helping poorer countries

Get the full scoop>>


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Quris launched with a $9 million seed round.

See the 15-slide presentation this AI company used to raise $9 million for its approach to changing how we test the safety of drugs

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More stories we’re reading:


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Fauci: Americans who are fully vaccinated can enjoy the holiday season with their family

Fauci
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said fully vaccinated Americans can “enjoy” the upcoming holiday season.
  • “If you’re vaccinated and your family members are vaccinated…you can enjoy the holidays,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
  • His comments come after he said “it’s too soon to tell” if holiday gatherings were safe earlier this month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, says that fully vaccinated individuals can enjoy the upcoming holiday season.

“If you’re vaccinated and your family members are vaccinated…you can enjoy the holidays. You can enjoy Halloween, trick-or-treating, and certainly Thanksgiving with your family and Christmas with your family,” Fauci said on ABC News’ “This Week.”

His comments come after he said “it’s too soon to tell” if holiday gatherings were safe, noting that the focus should be on lowering COVD-19 infections earlier this month.

But, in the interview on Sunday, he emphasized that being vaccinated for the holidays could help keep cases down.

“That’s one of the reasons why we emphasize why it’s so important to get vaccinated not only for your own safety, for that of your family, but also for the good of the community to keep the level of infection down,” the White House chief medical adviser added. “When you do that there’s no reason at all why you can’t enjoy the holidays…the way we’ve traditionally done it all along.”

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance with recommendations on how to safely celebrate the holidays. According to the agency, wearing a mask indoors in areas with higher infection rates, avoiding crowded places, and staying home if you are ill are ways to help curb the spread of the virus.

Earlier this week, Fauci said that deaths and hospitalizations in the country are declining, but we have “to do better,” according to the Washington Post. Data from the CDC shows that 56.9% of Americans are fully vaccinated.

Read the original article on Business Insider

New York reports a record 15 cases of a rare disease linked to rat urine in 2021, as vermin complaints flood in

A dog is seen clutching the body of a dead rat in its jaws.
A jagdterrier holds a dead rat in its mouth after hunting it in a dumpster in lower Manhattan on May 14, 2021.

  • New York has recorded 15 cases of leptospirosis, and one death, in 2021. The rare disease comes from exposure to rats.
  • Three of the people infected were experiencing homelessness.
  • To help drive down the city’s rat problem, a volunteer group of dog-owners go rat hunting on Friday nights.

Rats have been terrorizing New Yorkers even more than usual this year, teaming up in clan warfare during the food-scarce days of strict Covid lockdowns and harassing sidewalk diners once the city began opening up.

And this year, more New Yorkers have been falling seriously ill from a rare but potentially fatal bacterial disease called leptospirosis, which is spread through exposure to rats, and specifically through contact with rat urine or contaminated water.

Last month, the city’s health department reported 14 cases of leptospirosis – an unusually high number since just New York has documented a total of 57 cases in the 15 years since 2006 – and alerted healthcare providers to be on the lookout for symptoms. Of the first 14 cases, 13 people were hospitalized with acute renal and hepatic failure, and one person died as a result of an infection, the alert said.

Last week, there was a 15th case. That person appears to have recovered, the health department told Insider.

A man holds a bag of green pellets.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee to be the next mayor of New York, holds a bag of rat poison in 2019.

The disease is treatable with antibiotics and some people won’t experience any symptoms, though one in ten cases progress to severe complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every year, there are roughly 150 cases of nationwide, according to the CDC, with most cases occurring in Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

The last time leptospirosis made news in New York was in 2017, when a cluster in the Bronx landed three people in the emergency room – sparking a wave of media coverage and criticism of the city’s rat mitigation efforts. A 46-year-old man who worked in a meat processing facility had been hospitalized for muscle pain and shortness of breath after cutting his hand at work. He eventually developed the first documented case of testicular swelling associated with leptospirosis.

The two others lived or worked on the same block where the first man worked. Of the three, two recovered and one person died, the city said at the time.

A few months later, New York issued a veterinary medical alert when dogs started falling ill, some of which were believed to have slurped contaminated water in standing puddles while taking walks during the unusually warm winter.

There are about 16 cases of canine leptospirosis a year in New York, according to a surveillance report. Canine cases do not predict where human cases will occur, and while canine to human transmission is possible, no case has ever been documented in New York.

Climate change, homelessness

The 15 cases of leptospirosis reported this year came from all over the city. The city’s health department says it can’t say for certain what’s behind the higher number of cases.

Climate change is a likely driver, since warm, moist environments contribute to higher rates of leptospirosis. “Changes in climate that allow bacteria to persist could contribute to an increase in human cases,” a health department spokesperson told Insider this week.

The spokesperson said that none of the leptospirosis cases had been traced to the widespread flooding in September from Hurricane Ida. Similarly, no infections had been linked to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Housing insecurity also puts people at greater risk of coming in close contact with rats and contaminated water. Three of the people infected this year were experiencing homelessness, and all of the local infections recorded in the health department’s database since the year 2000 involved a person who was experiencing poverty.

A sign affixed to a tree reads "Caution" and shows an image of a rat.
A health department notice about rat control is seen on a street in Brooklyn on June 16, 2017.

Dr. Robert Glatter, a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said leptospirosis frequently goes undiagnosed because it affects vulnerable populations who often can’t access healthcare.

“The main issue for practicing physicians in big cities is to know about the disease, and then consider it in patients presenting with certain risk factors such as poverty or homelessness,” he said in an email.

A task for Sisyphus

Brown rats, sometimes known as Norwegian rats, have been a fixture of New York City since they began arriving on boats from Western Europe in the 1700s. In 2014, statistician Jonathan Auerbach estimated that there were about 2 million rats in New York, which is about a quarter the size of the city’s human population.

There’s no reliable headcount of New York City rats and how many of them carry the disease. Dr. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist who co-authored a 2014 study on pathogens including leptospirosis in New York rats, said that the best thing the city can do is invest in rodent control.

The city spends millions of dollars a year getting rid of rats. There’s even a regular “Rat Academy,” which is aimed at turning community members into soldiers in the war on rats. (It will be held virtually this year, starting Oct. 21, and you can register here.)

But as Joseph Lhota, who was known as the city’s “rat czar” in the 1990s, put it once: “Anybody who’s in charge of eradicating rats in New York knows exactly what Sisyphus felt like.”

A masked man is seen walking by a pile of trash and a poster of the New York mayor.
A poster of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen on a street where trash bags have been left out for collection during the Covid19 pandemic in June 2020.

Just a few months after the 2017 outbreak in the Bronx, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio demanded “more rat corpses” and announced a $32 million anti-rat plan on top of the city’s regular sanitation budget. This included $8.8 million for new trash compactors and another $16.3 million to put down concrete “rat pads” over the dirt, basement floors at the city’s public housing units with the worst rat issues.

But then came Covid. While it appears that the widespread closures of restaurants and bars in March of 2020 helped to depress the number of rats scampering through the city, New York’s vermin population appears to have more than recovered, says Dr. Robert Corrigan, a New York urban rodentologist who has guided several mayors on their anti-rat initiatives.

Rat complaints to New York’s 311 hotline dipped down during 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and have increased by 20% so far in 2021, for a total of almost 20,000 complaints.

That coincided with a $45.6 million sanitation department budget cut, which reduced trash pick up around the city, including a 25 percent reduction in the areas identified by de Blasio’s plan for rat mitigation.

Last week, a resident from Mariana Bracetti Plaza in the East Village – one of the developments included in de Blasio’s anti-rat plan – posted a video to Instagram that went viral. In it, rats were plundering the pile of trash outside her window so voraciously that it woke her up.

A spokesperson for the New York Housing Authority said that inspectors had responded to the infestation and that no recent leptospirosis infections had been reported at its properties.

A man holds up a dead rat for two other people to see, as they all hold dogs by the leash.
Richard Reynolds holds two dead rats hunted by his Jadterrier.

A Batman for New York’s rat-averse

Richard Reynolds knows all too well the problem of rats repeatedly returning to a pile of garbage.

Reynolds leads a double-life: By day, he’s an American Kennel Club certified dog show judge. By night, he runs a volunteer group of rat-hunting dog-owners, becoming a version of Batman responding to calls from desperate city residents. He gets complaints from public housing projects “constantly,” often to the same trash cans.

Most Friday nights, for over thirty years, he makes the trip into New York from his home in New Jersey to lead rat-hunting trips with his terriers.

The resulting spectacle is not for the squeamish, as fresh blood streams from the dogs’ mouths and maggot-infested rat carcasses are dragged out into the open.

Reynolds says he’s never had a dog get sick as long as he’s been hunting rats.

“You can tell when you see a pile of dead rats if they look sick and dehydrated, they probably have lepto,” Reynolds said. “Our dogs walk right past those rats.”

A row of dead rats are seen near to a group of leashed dogs.
Richard Reynolds with other members of the volunteer R.A.T.S. squad in lower Manhattan.

Like others, Reynolds is well aware that ridding New York City of rats is an uphill battle.

“If you have two rats today, you’ll have 24,000 rats a year from now if there’s enough trash for them to eat,” he said.

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