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Rising Covid-19 Cases and Hospitalizations Underscores the Long Road Ahead

June 17, 2020

(STAT News) – The country as a whole is tacking on about 20,000 new Covid-19 cases to its 2.1 million infection tally each day, a clip that’s been steady for weeks, according to STAT’s Covid-19 Tracker. But cases are surging in about half of states, some of which dodged major outbreaks in the spring as the Northeast and other pockets like New Orleans became inundated. The local outbreaks are leading to increasing hospitalizations in Arizona, Texas, Alabama, and the Carolinas — raising concerns about capacity when the original rallying cry of “flatten the curve” was meant to prevent overwhelming health care systems.

Racial Bias Skews Algorithms Widely Used to Guide Care from Heart Surgery to Birth, Study Finds

June 17, 2020

(STAT News) – Decision aids that U.S. physicians use to guide patient care on everything from who receives heart surgery to who needs kidney care and who should try to give birth vaginally are racially biased, scientists reported on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. It is the latest evidence that algorithms used by hospitals and physicians to guide the health care given to tens of millions of Americans are shot through with implicit racism that their creators are often unaware of, but which nevertheless often result in Black people receiving inferior care.

The Pandemic Broke End-of-Life Care

June 17, 2020

(The Atlantic) – Palliative care is about providing comfort—physical and emotional—to patients who are seriously ill, including those who may be close to death. Before the pandemic, deLima Thomas’s team worked with patients with kidney disease or cancer or heart failure, but this spring, they all switched to COVID-19. They embedded themselves in the ICUs. Palliative care is a field especially invested in the power of a hug, a steadying hand, and a smile. In other words, palliative care is made especially difficult by a virus that spreads through human contact.

Schools Shut in Beijing as Coronavirus Flares

June 16, 2020

(New York Times) – Beijing raised its level of health alert to the second highest on Tuesday, ordering schools to close and urging people to work from home as China’s government pressed to extinguish a spike in coronavirus infections menacing the capital. The city announced the intensified health emergency footing late in the day, after having revealed that medical authorities confirmed another 27 infections from the virus, creating a total of 106 cases since last week, all traced to the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market in the city’s south.

Cheap Drug Is First Shown to Improve COVID-19 Survival

June 16, 2020

(Associated Press) – Researchers in England say they have the first evidence that a drug can improve COVID-19 survival: A cheap, widely available steroid reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients. The results were announced Tuesday and the British government immediately authorized the drug’s use across the United Kingdom for coronavirus patients like those who did well in the study. Researchers said they would publish results soon in a medical journal, and several independent experts said it’s important to see details to know how much of a difference the drug, dexamethasone, might make and for whom.

‘We Have a Job to Do’: Cancer Patients and Their Doctors Carry on with Clinical Trials During Covid-19

June 16, 2020

(STAT News) – Around the world, Covid-19 has disrupted all types of clinical trials, decreasing by 74% the number of new patients enrolling. In cancer, the number of new patients entering Phase 2 and 3 cancer trials in the U.S. plummeted by about 46% to 48% in the last two weeks of March, said Margaret Mooney, associate director of the Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program in the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis at the National Cancer Institute. By the last week of May and first week of June, the cliff wasn’t so steep, moderating to a 25% to 30% decline.

‘We’ve Got to Be Able to Move More Quickly.’ The Pandemic Reality of COVID-19 Clinical Trials

June 16, 2020

(Science) – The novel coronavirus has upended the world of clinical research, with scientists under pressure to identify effective treatments for COVID-19 and vaccines to prevent new infections. More than 22,000 papers on the virus have been published this year, and more than 2000 trials are underway. They are testing everything from clot-busting drugs to monoclonal antibodies to convalescent plasma donated by patients who have recovered—not to mention a growing number of vaccines. But with speed borne of desperation comes risk and confusion—of trials too small to yield answers, of treatments overhyped, and of uncertainty about how to design the best studies possible.

Iran Ends Provision by State of Contraceptives and Vasectomies

June 16, 2020

(The Guardian) – Iran’s state hospitals and clinics are no longer performing vasectomies or giving out contraceptives in an attempt to revive flagging population growth, a senior health official has told state media. Iranian women were now having 1.7 children on average, well below the 2.2 required to maintain the population, Hamed Barakati, director general of the Ministry of Health’s Office of Population and Family Health, told the Islamic Republic News Agency in an interview on Sunday. On current trends about a third of the country would be over 60 years old by 2050. “Whether we like it or not … we will become an ageing country,” he said.

The Last Anointing

June 16, 2020

(New York Times) – The country is facing a deeply personal crisis of spirit, not only of health or economics. A virus has forced a reckoning with the most intimate questions we have, questions not only about how we live, but also about how we die. About what we can control, and what we cannot. About how to name human dignity, despair and hope. And especially about how to make meaning of our final hours on this earth.

In a Landmark Decision, FDA Greenlights a Video Game for Kids with ADHD

June 15, 2020

(STAT News) – The Food and Drug Administration on Monday for the first time gave a green light to a game-based therapeutic: a video game meant to be prescribed to kids with ADHD. The game, known as EndeavorRx and developed by Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs, can now be marketed as a way to improve attention function in kids with ADHD as measured by computerized testing. Physicians can prescribe it to children between the ages of 8 and 12 who have an ADHD diagnosis and have demonstrated an issue with attention.

Coronavirus Death Rate Is Higher for Those with Chronic Ills

June 15, 2020

(Associated Press) – Death rates are 12 times higher for coronavirus patients with chronic illnesses than for others who become infected, a new U.S. government report says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday highlights the dangers posed by heart disease, diabetes and lung ailments. These are the top three health problems found in COVID-19 patients, the report suggests. 

A Hospital’s Secret Coronavirus Policy Separated Native American Mothers from Their Newborns

June 15, 2020

(ProPublica) – A prominent women’s hospital here has separated some Native American women from their newly born babies, the result of a practice designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 that clinicians and health care ethicists described as racial profiling. Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque implemented a secretive policy in recent months to conduct special coronavirus screenings for pregnant women, based on whether they appeared to be Native American, even if they had no symptoms or were otherwise at low risk for the disease, according to clinicians.

Abortion in England and Wales Reach Record High

June 15, 2020

(The Guardian) – A record number of women in England and Wales had an abortion last year, and numbers rose particularly sharply among women aged 30 and over. A total of 207,384 procedures were carried out, official figures show, the highest number in a year since the historic vote in 1967 to legalise abortion in Britain through the Abortion Act. Pro-choice charities said the trend towards older motherhood, financial problems facing some women and difficulties getting contraception were all factors behind the increase. Anti-abortion groups declared the figures “a national tragedy”.

Medical Workers Resort to Parking-lot Deals and DIY Projects to Get Safety Gear

June 12, 2020

(The Guardian) – Medical shortages in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, have left many healthcare workers in a desperate hunt for medical supplies. Community clinics, nursing homes and independent doctors, in particular, find themselves on the fringe of the supply chain for masks, gowns, gloves and ventilators. Desperate administrators wire money to offshore banks to acquire supplies.

Mutation Allows Coronavirus to Infect More Cells, Study Finds. Scientists Urge Caution.

June 12, 2020

(New York Times) – For months, scientists have debated why one genetic variation of the coronavirus became dominant in many parts of the world. Many scientists argue that the variation spread widely by chance, multiplying outward from explosive outbreaks in Europe. Others have proposed the possibility that a mutation gave it some kind of biological edge and have been urgently investigating the effect of that mutation. Now, scientists have shown — at least in the tightly controlled environment of a laboratory cell culture — that viruses carrying that particular mutation infect more cells and are more resilient than those without it.

Moderna to Start Final Testing Stage of Coronavirus Vaccine in July

June 12, 2020

(Reuters) – Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) on Thursday confirmed it plans to start a trial of 30,000 volunteers of its much-anticipated coronavirus vaccine in July as the company enters the final stage of testing. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech said the primary goal of the study would be to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The key secondary goal would be prevention of severe disease, as defined by keeping people out of the hospital.

Balls of Cells Mimic Unseen Stage of Human Embryo Development

June 12, 2020

(Science) – After a human sperm and egg unite, a new embryo spends its first few weeks looking blobby. There’s no obvious top or bottom, and it is unclear which cells will give rise to which body parts. After about 14 days, the embryo elongates and forms layers, revealing a rough plan for the body. But this dramatic transformation, called gastrulation, has never been directly observed in human embryos: Growing them to this stage in a lab is technically difficult and ethically fraught. Now, researchers have made structures from human stem cells that mimic some features of embryos after gastrulation, an advance that could reveal how genetic mutations and chemical exposures can lead to miscarriages and birth defects.

1st Known U.S. Lung Transplant for COVID-19 Patient Performed in Chicago

June 12, 2020

(NPR) – Doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago announced Thursday they’ve performed the first successful double-lung transplant on a COVID-19 patient in the United States. The woman in her 20s was otherwise healthy but developed a severe case of COVID-19 that resulted in hospitalization, says Dr. Ankit Bharat, Northwestern’s chief of thoracic surgery. For two months, she was in the intensive care unit on a ventilator and another machine, known as ECMO, that pumps and oxygenates blood outside of the body. Although she eventually cleared the coronavirus from her body, she remained in severe condition.

Health System Changes Spurred by COVID May Be Here to Stay

June 12, 2020

(Medscape) – The U.S. health care system is famously resistant to government-imposed change. It took decades to create Medicare and Medicaid, mostly due to opposition from the medical-industrial complex. Then it was nearly another half-century before the passage of the Affordable Care Act. But the COVID-19 pandemic has done what no president or social movement or venture capitalist could have dreamed of: It forced sudden major changes to the nation’s health care system that are unlikely to be reversed.

Big Tech Companies Back Away from Selling Facial Recognition to Police. That’s Progress.

June 11, 2020

(Vox) – Microsoft President Brad Smith announced on Thursday that his company did not sell facial recognition to the police, and would not until the government passes federal legislation regulating the technology. His statement follows a Wednesday announcement from Amazon explaining that the company would institute a one-year moratorium on police use of Rekognition, the company’s facial recognition software. 

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