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The Texas Grid Came Close to an Even Bigger Disaster During February Freeze

May 28, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – The Texas electric grid came within five minutes of a complete collapse in mid-February. The problem could have been much worse. A little-known network designed to jolt the grid back to life wasn’t working properly. Texas grid operators, like their counterparts all over the country, rely on standby generators called “black starts.” Their job is to rescue the grid by supplying electricity to power plants so they can restart after a grid failure—roughly akin to jump-starting a car with a dead battery. When a freak winter storm hit Texas, nine of the 13 primary generators designed to get a downed system going again were, at times, out of commission, according to grid operators. And six of 15 secondary generators—the fail-safe for the fail-safe—had periodic trouble as well, including freeze damage and problems getting fuel. Those problems haven’t previously been reported. (Read Full Article)

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Time Is Running Out in Covid-19 Origins Inquiry, Say WHO-Led Team Members

May 28, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – Members of a World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of Covid-19 urged the United Nations agency’s member states to mandate a second phase of research, warning that time was running out to examine blood samples and other important clues in China regarding when, how and where the pandemic started.  The researchers also called for the U.S. to share with the WHO any intelligence supporting the hypothesis that the Covid-19 virus might have spilled from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, saying they had already unsuccessfully asked Washington for that information. The first confirmed cases of Covid-19 emerged in Wuhan in December 2019. (Read Full Article)

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Texas Standoff Embodies US Battle Over COVID Vaccines

May 28, 2021

(Medscape) – There is an escalating fight between Houston Methodist Hospital and wary healthcare workers who say they don’t want to have to choose between their jobs and a vaccine that isn’t fully FDA approved. Houston Methodist made headlines in April when it told employees they would have to get vaccinated for COVID or be fired, becoming the first large health system in the United States to mandate COVID vaccinations. (Read Full Article)

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DOJ Charges 14 with COVID-Related Fraud Nearing $150M

May 28, 2021

(Medscape) – The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday announced charges against 14 defendants across the country who allegedly engaged in healthcare fraud schemes that exploited the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in over $143 million in false billings to Medicare. Among the defendants, a DOJ news release said, were a telemedicine company executive, a physician, marketers, and medical business owners. (Read Full Article)

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Lisa Shaw Death: BBC Presenter Had Blood Clot After AstraZeneca Jab, Family Says

May 27, 2021

(The Guardian) – The award-winning BBC radio presenter Lisa Shaw died in hospital after suffering blood clots following her AstraZeneca vaccination, her family has said. The 44-year-old, who was a well-known broadcaster in the north-east of England and had worked for BBC Radio Newcastle since 2015, developed severe headaches a week after having the jab and fell seriously ill a few days later, relatives said in a statement. (Read Full Article)

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Taiwan Struggles with Testing Backlog Amid Largest Outbreak

May 27, 2021

(Associated Press) – Praised for its success at keeping the virus away for more than a year, Taiwan had until May recorded just 1,128 cases and 12 deaths. But the number of locally transmitted cases started growing this month and it soon became clear that the central government was ill prepared not only to contain the virus, but to even detect it on a large scale due to a lack of investment in rapid testing. (Read Full Article)

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Why a Grand Plan to Vaccinate the World Against Covid Unraveled

May 27, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – This spring, American epidemiologist Seth Berkley had to break some bad news to the world’s poorest countries: millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses promised to them weren’t coming. The nations were counting on getting shots from Covax—a multibillion-dollar program to immunize the world, led by Dr. Berkley and championed by the World Health Organization. But shipments from Covax’s main supplier in India, where Covid-19 cases were surging, suddenly weren’t coming through. (Read Full Article)

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Covid-19 Is Killing Hundreds of Pregnant Women and Babies in Brazil

May 27, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – More than a hundred pregnant women are dying from Covid-19 every month in Brazil, more than twice the rate last year, according to government figures—a tragedy researchers largely blame on the P.1 variant of the virus that first emerged in the Amazon and overwhelmed hospitals. In total, more than 800 expectant and postpartum mothers in Brazil have died from the disease since the pandemic began. At least 1,000 pregnant women have died from complications related to Covid-19 in the Americas, according to an estimate from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Tuesday, based on data from 24 countries. Pregnant women in Brazil face the highest risk of dying from the disease in the region, it said. (Read Full Article)

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AI Emotion-Detection Software Tested on Uyghurs

May 26, 2021

(BBC) – A camera system that uses AI and facial recognition intended to reveal states of emotion has been tested on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the BBC has been told. A software engineer claimed to have installed such systems in police stations in the province. A human rights advocate who was shown the evidence described it as shocking. (Read Full Article)

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The Mini Lungs and Other Organoids Helping to Beat COVID

May 26, 2021

(Nature) – Shuibing Chen spent close to two months tending to her mini lungs — some half a million of them. Each one looked like a tiny storm cloud, ensconced in a warm dish and protected by a jelly-like dome. Chen, a stem-cell biologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, and her team had nurtured them from clumps of human cells, adding nutrients every few days as they grew into 3D air sacs. These lung organoids matured until they reached the size of a lentil. Then, the team packed them up and transported them just a few blocks away, to a laboratory authorized to work with SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. There, the organoids were drowned in virus and each was doused with one of 15,000 drugs. Almost all of the mini lungs died, but a few of the drugs stemmed the infection — representing a handful of possible treatments for COVID-19. (Read Full Article)

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Shuttered Hospitals, Soaring Covid-19 Deaths: Rural Black Communities Lose a Lifeline in the Century’s Worst Health Crisis

May 26, 2021

(STAT News) – This tragedy was only made worse by institutional failings: All three relatives ended up in different, far-off hospitals across southwest Georgia. Early in the pandemic, the hospital nearest Taylor’s house stopped accepting Covid-19 patients, and then, in the middle of the worst public health crisis this century, it shut for good. A larger hospital managed by the same group, Phoebe Putney Health System, received $89.7 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provider relief fund during the pandemic. But the company said it was unable to develop a financial plan for its more rural location, which needed $10 million to upgrade and renovate the facility. (Read Full Article)

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Rich Countries Cornered COVID-19 Vaccine Doses. Four Strategies to Right a ‘Scandalous Inequality’

May 26, 2021

(Science) – He was right. Today, some rich countries are vaccinating children as young as 12 years old, who are at extremely low risk of developing severe COVID-19, while poorer countries don’t even have enough shots for health care workers. Nearly 85% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses administered to date have gone to people in high-income and upper middle–income countries. The countries with the lowest gross domestic product per capita only have 0.3%. Tedros lambasted the “scandalous inequity” again in his opening speech at the World Health Assembly on 24 May. By September, at least 10% of the population in every country should be vaccinated, he said. (Read Full Article)

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Controversial New Guidelines Would Allow Experiments on More Mature Human Embryos

May 26, 2021

(NPR) – For decades, scientists have been prohibited from keeping human embryos alive in their labs for more than 14 days. The prohibition was aimed at avoiding a thicket of ethical issues that would be raised by doing experiments on living human embryos as they continue to develop. But on Wednesday, an influential scientific society recommended scrapping that blanket taboo, known as the “14-day rule.” The International Society for Stem Cell Research released new guidelines that say it could be permissible to study living human embryos in the lab for longer than two weeks. This guidance will now be considered by regulatory bodies in each country that conducts this type of research to decide what research will be permitted and how. (Read Full Article)

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Contact-Tracing App Curbed the Spread of COVID in England and Wales

May 26, 2021

(Nature) – The idea behind digital contact tracing is that, when an individual tests positive for an infectious disease such as COVID-19, an app on their smartphone can send a notification to other smartphones that have been in close proximity, such as within 2 metres, for more than a certain period of time, say 15 minutes. However, such apps can be difficult for people living in a democracy to accept because of concerns about data privacy. Writing in Nature, Wymant et al. demonstrate effective implementation of a digital contact-tracing app on a large scale in a democratic society: England and Wales in the United Kingdom. (Read Full Article)

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Google Strikes Deal with Hospital Chain to Develop Healthcare Algorithms

May 26, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – Alphabet Inc.’s GOOG 1.02% Google and national hospital chain HCA Healthcare Inc. HCA 0.77% have struck a deal to develop healthcare algorithms using patient records, the latest foray by a tech giant into the $3 trillion healthcare sector. HCA, which operates across about 2,000 locations in 21 states, would consolidate and store with Google data from digital health records and internet-connected medical devices under the multiyear agreement. Google and HCA engineers will work to develop algorithms to help improve operating efficiency, monitor patients and guide doctors’ decisions, according to the companies. (Read Full Article)

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Large Vessel Stroke Linked to AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine

May 26, 2021

(Medscape) – The first cases of large vessel arterial occlusion strokes linked to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have been described in the United Kingdom.  The three cases (one of which was fatal) occurred in two women and one man in their 30s or 40s and involved blockages of the carotid and middle cerebral artery. Two of the three patients also had venous thrombosis involving the portal and cerebral venous system. All three also had extremely low platelet counts, confirmed antibodies to platelet factor 4, and raised D-dimer levels, all characteristic of the vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) reaction associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Read Full Article)

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WHO Seeks More Data on Second Chinese Covid-19 Vaccine Up for Approval

May 26, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – The World Health Organization is seeking more data on Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s CoronaVac as it weighs whether to authorize a second Chinese Covid-19 vaccine under international pressure to help distribute more shots to poor countries. In recent weeks, the WHO has asked for more details regarding the safety of the shot and requested data about Sinovac’s manufacturing process to assess whether it is compliant with WHO standards, according to people familiar with the matter. One senior WHO official now expects a decision to be delayed into June. (Read Full Article)

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Scientists: Canceling Tokyo Olympics “may be the safest option”

May 26, 2021

(Axios) – With less than two months until the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony, scientists are warning that “canceling the games may be the safest option,” according to a paper published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Why it matters: As Japan anticipates 20,000 athletes and support staff from 200 different countries, the country remains in a state of emergency with nearly 70,000 active cases and only 5% of the population vaccinated, the lowest rate within OECD countries. (Read Full Article)

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The Truth About Deinstituionalization

May 25, 2021

(The Atlantic) – When a person has a mental-health crisis in America, it is almost always law enforcement—not a therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist—who responds to the 911 call. But most officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with mental-health emergencies. And while laws intended to protect civil liberties make it exceedingly difficult to hospitalize people against their will, it is remarkably easy to arrest them. As a result, policing and incarceration have effectively replaced emergency mental-health care, especially in low-income communities of color. In many jails, the percentage of people with mental illness has continued to go up even as the jail population has dropped. (Read Full Article)

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Man Blinded for 40 Years Has Sight Partially Restored Using Gene Therapy

May 25, 2021

(Gizmodo) – Researchers say their experimental gene therapy was able to partially restore a man’s eyesight 40 years after he lost most of his vision. The findings are exciting, but the authors of the new study caution that more research will be needed to confirm the effectiveness of this treatment. Gene therapy has emerged as a promising approach for largely incurable ailments that are often caused by defective genetic mutations. It can include editing the genes of cells collected from the body in the lab, then putting them back in (CAR T-cell therapy for cancer is one example of this) or editing cells inside the body directly, also known as in vivo gene therapy. (Read Full Article)

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