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The CDC says this COVID variant is now the most dominant. And it hits younger people.

April 7, 2021, 10:55 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday pointed to the so-called U.K. variant of the coronavirus as the leading cause of new COVID cases in the U.S. And it’s hitting younger Americans, including those in their 30s and 40s, the hardest.

“The B.1.1.7 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky during a briefing this afternoon, referring to the scientific name for that particular strain of the coronavirus.

“Trends are increasing in both case numbers and hospitalizations,” Walensky said, citing day care centers and youth sports as the progenitors of newly reported outbreaks.

As readers know, viruses know no borders and don’t harbor nationalities. They change, they mutate, they evolve in order to meet their specific need to spread and survive as long as possible. So while it’s convenient to label a new strain of a pathogen according to national origin, the reality is that a virus will do what a virus always does: Multiply and spread.

The concerning part, as Walensky laid out, is that this variant of the coronavirus appears to be hitting people who may be too young to be eligible for a vaccine dose yet.

It’s unclear exactly what the age breakdown is when it comes to this variant strain, since the situation is in flux and information is still trickling in. But there have been more than 16,000 confirmed cases of this particular variant, according to the CDC, which led Walensky to urge caution and distancing measures when it comes to youth sports and indoor gatherings.

The Biden administration has been pushing to open up eligibility, including its recent announcement that all American adults should be eligible in less than two weeks to get a shot.

The theme here is: Vigilance. Yes, a younger person without underlying conditions is likely to pull through a COVID infection without too much difficulty.

But with a highly transmissible strain that appears to be spreading among younger people, which can still knock them down or make them feel miserable, even if it’s not fatal, the immunization campaign and social safety measures remain critical.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sy.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Fitbit, Stanford still want to use wearables to detect disease. In a case of "meet the pandemic moment" - while taking advantage of a boom in interest in the digital health space - Fitbit and Stanford Medicine have announced a new initiative to suss out early signs of (you guessed it) infectious diseases. "My lab wants to harness that data and see if we can identify who’s becoming ill as early as possible — potentially before they even know they’re sick," said Michael Snyder, chair of genetics at Stanford's School of Medicine, in a statement. The technology involves the usual hodgepodge of biometric measuring data, including recording heart rates and skin temperature as subtle differences begin to take effect. The proactive nature, though, is intriguing, as the COVID pandemic and many other maladies have shown us that you're probably getting sick before you even know that you're sick.

INDICATIONS

Big business is backing Johnson & Johnson in its talc powder lawsuits. Johnson & Johnson's ongoing trial saga over claims that its talc powder products have caused cancer in women has taken yet another, if somewhat predictable, turn as business groups defended the pharmaceutical giant. In a brief filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and other industry-allied groups urged SCOTUS to review a $2.1 billion consolidated verdict against J&J in the talc powder case. (Bloomberg)

THE BIG PICTURE

Biotech's diversity problem. COVID hasn't so much revealed inequities in the life sciences industry as it has shone glaring light on this long-festering problem. Minority populations are regularly left out of clinical trials while also having less opportunity to access medical services. It's a health care double whammy that entrenches long-existent inequality. Genentech CEO Alexander Hardy spoke with Fortune chief Alan Murray and my colleague Ellen McGirt on how the biotech giant is trying to address this very issue. "We realized that [we] needed to make sure we were recruiting into our studies these underserved populations, because they were suffering at a really unimaginable level. And, as we all know, it’s not just the virus that they’re facing, but health equity issues that span the whole continuum, from diagnosis to treatment," he said. (Fortune)

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