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If you happen to get COVID-19, even if you are vaccinated, you can at least find comfort in the fact that you probably will be safe from a new infection for a few months because your body likely will produce antibodies to protect you. That is until the rapidly evolving virus produces a subvariant that does an end-run around the antibodies. And that is what the newest subvariant, XBB, may turn out to become.
The World Health Organization says the XBB subvariant has shown up in 35 countries and it appears to be the ability to spread fast. But, so far, the infections are not making people sicker than previous subvariants.
The XBB subvariant has emerged on both coasts, in New York and California. It is too early to know whether this variant will create a winter wave, but some experts say it has that potential.
Nationwide, the XBB subvariant represents about 5% of known cases, but in some parts of the country, it is more than 11%.
You can check your HHS region here. The XBB subvariant comprises only a few percent of cases in most of the country’s midsection.
One county, 10,000 new COVID cases one day
This was Los Angeles County’s Monday COVID-19 count. The figure was exaggerated by weekend test cases, but it is a significant increase.
On Tuesday the positive cases were up another 3,125 cases and more than 1,200 patients are in California hospitals with COVID-19, 151 were in ICU beds.
CBS News said, “The Sacramento Unified School District says its indoor masking requirement could be reinstated if COVID-19 cases continue to increase.”
Our vulnerable electrical grid is under constant attack
Probably today, repair crews will restore power to thousands of North Carolinians after somebody shot up an electrical substation. The vandalism is another reminder of how the American electrical grid is dangerously vulnerable. Since 2020, The Department of Homeland Security has been warning about credible plans to attack electrical grids in Idaho and Las Vegas. On average, the Department of Energy’s data shows, there is a physical attack or act of sabotage and vandalism on some part of the nation’s power grid about once a week. In recent years it has been even higher.
Cyberattacks on the electrical system are even more common than physical attacks, and looking at this Department of Energy log of physical attacks, it might surprise you how often they occur nationwide. This spreadsheet version may make it a little easier to sort and analyze. And you can turn to the DOE to pull reports — called Electric Disturbance Events — from previous years too. The chart shows that there have been nine physical attacks on the U.S. electrical grid so far this year, as well as about 60 acts of vandalism on electrical systems. That number is a little higher than in previous years.
Part of the vulnerability comes from the fact that America gets electricity from 6,400 power plants, 55,000 substations and 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines serviced by 3,000 companies.
Probably the most infamous of these power grid attacks was in 2013 when somebody, we still do not know who, fired shots at a California power substation that caused $15 million in damages. That attack involved somebody firing 100 .30-caliber rifle rounds into expensive equipment like transformers. Utility companies started investing in thick steel casings that might protect the electronics from ordinary rifle rounds.
Bloomberg said security experts suggest other precautions:
There are several reforms that would protect the grid, said M. Granger Morgan, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University. First, install walls or visual barriers so gunmen can’t aim directly at transformers and circuit breakers. And second, create a coherent national strategy to protect the grid instead of leaving the task to state regulators.
“We have substations sitting out in the open all across the country,” said Morgan. “We’re still very vulnerable.”
FDA recommends Lasik warnings
The FDA is suggesting new language that warns patients that Lasik eye surgery comes with some risks. The FDA says patients should be warned about conditions like “dry eye,” droopy eyelids, problems with future eye care and possible persistent eye pain after surgery and patients may have to wear glasses after surgery. Physicians and surgeons who perform the procedure point out that the warnings don’t mention the potential benefits of Lasik and that 90-95 percent of patients are satisfied with their surgical outcomes. The FDA’s assessment of patient attitudes is a bit less rosy. The FDA said:
One (1) week following surgery, up to 85% of patients experience dry eye symptoms.
At six (6) months following surgery:
• Up to 27% of patients experience dry eye symptoms.
• About 41% of patients may experience visual symptoms such as glare, halos, starbursts, and double images, with or without glasses or 779 contact lenses.
• Around 4% of patients may have “very” or “extremely” bothersome symptoms.
• Around 2% may have “a lot of difficulty” or “so much difficulty that I can no longer do some of my usual activities” when not wearing glasses or contact lenses.
What do layoffs at Pepsi mean to you?
This week, word began leaking that PepsiCo will soon announce layoffs, possibly hundreds of jobs cut, many of which appear to be coming from the front offices, not the production lines. The confusing picture of America’s economy includes last week’s report that the U.S. added 263,000 jobs in November but in the same week, we see high-profile companies cutting staff. The Washington Post reported:
The puzzling economic picture has economists split on whether the United States will enter a recession sometime next year, especially as high-profile layoffs and hiring slowdowns continue to play out. Disney, AMC Networks and Cisco have all announced significant staff reductions. BuzzFeed said in a filing Tuesday that it would cut about 12 percent of its workforce. Amazon is expected to cut about 10,000 corporate workers, a big turnaround after the e-commerce giant’s years of massive growth. Meta said it would slash 11,000 staff members, and Google and others announced hiring slowdowns.
It is unclear whether the tech and media layoffs are a harbinger of recession, but the spread to other industries has some analysts and observers increasingly wary. Ford Motor Co., DoorDash and H&M have all announced deep cuts in recent months. On Tuesday, CNBC reported that the global investment bank Morgan Stanley eliminated about 2 percent of its workforce, affecting 1,600 people.
Wednesday, used car dealer Carvana’s stock tanked as the company makes all of the moves that signal an imminent bankruptcy, new financing or debt restructuring.
Steroid use in the competitive bodybuilding world
I can’t say I am surprised by what The Washington Post found when it went inside the world of competitive bodybuilding to investigate the deaths of more than two-dozen bodybuilders who mostly died right before or after competitions.
Unlike other professional sports, the IFBB Pro League, the largest professional bodybuilding federation in the United States, does not routinely test athletes for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. There’s no health insurance or union to protect athletes. Nearly all steroids are illegal without a prescription in the United States, but bodybuilders say they are easily obtained and widely used by competitors.
Jim Manion, who runs the IFBB Pro and an amateur organization, the National Physique Committee (NPC), declined to answer specific questions and issued a company statement: “The health, safety and welfare of all our competitors has, and always will be, of utmost importance to us.”
Part of the problem, the story says, is that judges are awarding those whose body shapes are nearly impossible to achieve without illegal drugs.